…and I’m back, with a five alarm trigger warning for…well, a lot of stuff further on down the page.
For some nostalgic reason, I got into a Bronze Age Avengers kick during my holiday hiatus and set about cobbling together a stack of collections covering the eight-year run between issues #181 and #277.
While I had my moments of X-fandom during my wayward youth, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were always my franchise of choice. For all the shunned outsider posturing, the X-Men always felt a bit cliquish to me — “We were born special and if you weren’t born special, you’ll never be one of us.” The Avengers, on the other hand, had more of a clubhouse vibe going on, with a constant churn of members and various hangers-on. One could aspire to be an Avenger and have a reasonable chance of achieving that goal. (They let in Tigra and Starfox, after all.)
The point here is that my love of the franchise goes waaaaaay back to the days of plastic bagged three-packs pegged by the Zayre’s checkout aisles, which happens to be the era collected in the 19th Avengers “Marvel Masterwork” collection. The high price point and low page counts tend to put me off buying Masterwork editions, but this particular one filled a particular gap in my trade paperback collections and a remaindered copy could be had for a reasonable sum.
The volume covers the tail end of John Byrne’s run as the series artist through the brief return of George Perez to that role, and there’s some damn fine stuff in here. There’s Hawkeye doing his dirtbag best against Deathbird, a two-part throwdown with the Grey Gargoyle, a visit from the new Ant-Man and the debut of the Taskmaster, an epic battle against Faux-gun Warrior Red Ronin, and the returning terror of Ultron. It’s ensemble cast superheroics at its disposable best, with plenty of humor, melodrama, and character interactions.
Unfortunately the run also contains Avengers #200, also known as “the worst Avengers story of all time.”
The issue has been the subject of countless hot takes, mostly accurate yet subject to the usual degree of hyperbolic inflation and contextual inaccuracies. That’s no to say the story isn’t utterly appalling, but that a wider angle view makes it look even worse than advertised.
You can google “Avengers 200” for your choice of stomach churning plot summaries…though I’d caution against it.
The short version is that Carol Danvers — who in her Ms. Marvel identity was supposed to embody superheroic second wave feminism, though fell short in the male-written execution — becomes mysteriously pregnant and carries the baby to term at an accelerated rate. The baby rapidly ages to adulthood and reveals himself as son of longtime Avengers frenemy Immortus, who decided to escape his pa’s extra-temporal realm by kidnapping Danvers and slipping her a techno-roofie so he could impregnate her with his “essence” and be born into the material plane. When the device he needed to stabilize his internal energies is destroyed, he is forced to retreat back into limbo…and a weirdly smitten Danvers decides to go with him.
So it’s a story in which a feminist female hero gets raped, gives birth to her rapist’s baby who is also the reincarnated rapist, and then runs off into the sunset with him at the end.
Except there’s more to it, which makes things even worse. If it was simply a bunch of clueless dudes reworking the most problematic parts of “new wave” sci-fi with their thumbs, I could simply vomit and tag it as yet another historic example of why representation matters — an incredibly egregious example, but hardly an isolated incident for the medium, genre and era.
In the following year’s Avengers Annual, Chris Claremont (via Danvers) calls out the team for not realizing how horrible the situation was. It was an overdue correction, but one that itself overlooked the fact that at least team — and the story’s multiple plotters — actually did realize it at the time. Hawkeye smelled a rat from the beginning, and was the one to bust up Immortus Junior’s machine. Iron Man was leery about letting Danvers leave with her rapist when it was happening and when reflecting on events afterwards. The same goes for Wonder Man, who also did his awkward best to offer emotional support to Danvers.
…and Thor? Well, ancient gods have never had great judgement when it comes to these types of scenarios. Compared to swans, “golden showers,” dicks cut from elder gods and tossed in the ocean, getting techo-roofied by the soul-patched son of a wannabe time lord must seem pedestrian by comparison.
Danvers herself consistently asserts the wrongness and her sense of violation to the other Avengers…right up until the moment when she sees her full grown (eeweeweeweeweeweew) “child” and gets all squishy over him.
This wasn’t simply thoughtlessly stumbling into problematic implications. There are enough in-story indications to suggest that at least some of the creative parties involved knew this was dire shit…before going ahead and making things even more horrible anyway. Or were brought in later to tone it down from something even *shudder* more nauseating. Whatever the case was, the issue is a resounding bum note in an otherwise great run.
Fun Fact: The original 1983 Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe does not contain an appendix entry for Marcus (Immortus’s son), nor does it reference him in the “known relatives” line in the entry for Immortus or anywhere at all in the entry for Binary, Danver’s then-current identity.
…and Claremont’s righteous anger about doing right by the victim ended up counting for less than his desire to add a new opportunity for dialect writing to the X-roster.