In the early 1960s, Stan Lee and his creative array of artists shifted the Silver Age into the Marvel Age. After the success of the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, the next step in the Marvel Age was to form an all-star super-group. 1963 saw the start of the Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the King of Comics, ensured that the Avengers remained a lasting team to the comics-reading public. Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Volume 1 collects Kirby’s run as penciller with Don Heck taking over in issue nine.
Such awesome talents are on display here: the initial team of Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man/Giant-Man, the Wasp, and the Incredible Hulk. This and some later rosters present in Masterworks are not completely BFFs. It’s well-known comics lore that the Hulk leaves in the 2nd issue but he’s not completely written out. He figures into a few more plots while we get familiar with the stable presence of Captain America and the brave, bold group of Rick Jones & his friends. Issue ten has the Avengers overcoming perceived dissension. Lee eagerly left no detail behind and wrote denser dialogue than many mainstream comics today. These 10 issues are good, well-paced adventures.
Kirby was a supreme adventure and action scene artist. He had to give the reader whiz-bang special effects before the summer blockbuster existed and before technology improved to where we even have movies like the Avengers. His fights scenes are fluid and his subjects are tightly drawn. Don Heck did a fair job in his issues, but his fight scenes lacked the flow and coherence Kirby provided.
Just because the early issues of Avengers represents comics excellence doesn’t mean that it’s flawless. There is sexism, especially with how Hank Pym treats the Wasp. I also noted the strange “appearances” of Bob Banner and Rick Brown. Some of villains have poor plans. Example: why would one bad guy continue to pour adhesive into parts of New York City he had already attacked with the same substance? This is not really a flaw, but Stan Lee really likes his technobabble. Nuclear energy and transistors were so versatile in the Marvel Universe.
Here are the extra features: an introduction by Stan Lee, bios of the creative team, house ads, and one piece of rejected artwork.
If you’re curious on how the Avengers truly began, this full-color, then this 200+ page collection is for you. In comparison, the first volume of Marvel Essentials has 20 issues and has a lower price per page, but lacks color. I chose Masterworks because it contains Kirby’s run on the Avengers and I wasn’t as interested as the other artists. I don’t think you’d go wrong picking Essentials, though. Avengers #1-10 is comics history and I recommend getting Masterworks.