Marvel at 80: Acts of Vengeance
The year was 1989, and it had been four years since Marvel’s disastrous Secret Wars II. Marvel’s new parent company, New World Entertainment fired Jim Shooter and installed Tom DeFalco as the new Editor in Chief. DeFalco’s main plan appears to have been mainly to let people run their comics and tell the stories they wanted to show. There were multiple smaller crossovers between Avengers comics or the chaos with the X-Men continually having line-wide events and reinventing themselves. There was, however, no major event that hit all corners of the Marvel Universe for those four years.
According to what little information I can dig up, Mark Gruenwald cooked up a plan for a brief event that would take place over only a few months and would involve just about everyone. Mark got promoted to Marvel’s official keeper of continuity in 1987, after writing for many of the Avengers books over the years. According to legend, no one could match Gruenwald on continuity, much less remembering intricate tiny details about any comic or character. The idea was a simple one:
The villains would shuffle it up, and fight other heroes in an attempt to take them all down.
Acts of Vengeance was born from that germ of an idea, and it would become an event unlike almost any other. For one, the spectacle would be nearly as unobtrusive as possible to any ongoing comic storyline. Unlike the Beyonder’s antics in Secret Wars II, it wouldn’t derail a comic for months, and instead, the event often worked like a bunch of done-in-one issues that readers could pick up whenever they wanted. While there would be a grand mastermind behind it all, the real focus belonged to the villains and their plans to destroy the heroes.
That said, there was a core storyline to Acts of Vengeance. Running in the books of Avengers and spin-off West Coast Avengers, villains were being collected by a mysterious small man in a suit. While not a mastermind, this white-suited man suggested that they could finally win if they shuffled up their usual fight partners. Fans were treated to nothing short of insane and bonkers story ideas, as 71 issues of Marvel Comics unfolded, all chosen to shuffle things up.
Honestly, Acts of Vengeance is one of my personal favorite event stories. The stories don’t require a ton of involvement or a bunch of issues with reading to understand why Spider-Man is fighting against the Trapster, or why the Punisher is stuck between two different Victor Von Dooms. Acts of Vengeance is just a straight-up popcorn movie in comic book form: Fun, enjoyable, and it doesn’t bog you down with continuity. There are some serious gems in here as well, and rather than summarize the entire event, and we’ll go over a few here.
Ann Nocenti’s run on Daredevil is easily one of the best. It was under her tenure, in issues 275 and 276 where Doctor Doom decided to fight him in Kingpin’s stead. Doom didn’t want to fight Daredevil directly, however, and instead chose to send a repaired and refurbished Ultron after him. Daredevil, the man with heightened senses, versus a robot who kills everything in sight, is coated in adamantium and needs an entire team of Avengers to take down. To make matters worse, Doom programmed Ultron with all 13 of his previous incarnations’ personalities, resulting in a schizophrenic mass-murdering psychopathic robot. Combine this with John Romita Jr on pencils, Al Williamson on inks, Max Scheele on colors, and Joe Rosen on letters? You have a fantastic pair of issues that will please any comics fan.
Thor issues 411 and 412 feature a few remarkable firsts. Thor takes on the Juggernaut with his two-part tale, but it also features the first appearance of 1990s teen team The New Warriors. Credited to Tom Defalco and Ron Frenz, with finishes to the art by Joe Sinnott, these issues sing with the glory of the God of Thunder. Nel Yomtov provides the colors, while Michael Heisler letters the pages, and their contributions help make for some intense magic. The comic is indeed of its time, with the New Warriors making their first “radical” appearance, but the majority of the art almost feels like Jack Kirby himself crawled out of retirement, and seeing the Juggernaut hitch a ride on Mjolnir is just magical.
The Fantastic Four would take the event in stride, as well. It’s hard to make a threat that would work against the combined forces of Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, Ms. Thing, and Ben Grimm. What Walter Simonson would do is put the FF against Congress, arguing against a superhero registration act that would later be revisited in 2005’s Civil War. On top of arguing against the proposed bill, minor villains of all kinds keep crawling out of the woodwork to fight against the FF. While Simonson is poking some fun at the event, it’s also clear he’s having a blast bringing up nearly every ancient and the obscure villain he can conjure. Rich Buckler and Ron Lim share work on pencils, Romeo Tanghal and Mike DeCarlo share the inks, Bill Oakley works on colors, and George Roussos works on the lettering. Overall, it may not gel with the event, but it feels perfect.
Perhaps the best single issue, though, comes from Gruenwald’s own Captain America. Issue 367, titled “Magnetic Repulsion” features both a continuity fix and a piece of wonderful world building. You see, John Byrne was writing on the Avengers books at the time, and he happened to be the first to show off the pool of villains who would be working together. While most of the villains made sense, there was one odd decision: Magneto. At this time, Magneto had just left teaching at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and was still considered a mostly-good-anti-hero. For him to show up in his silver-age costume among villains again was a bit of a shock especially when one happened to be the Nazi known as Red Skull.
Gruenwald took this problematic moment and twisted it, making it so that Magneto was only participating in the event (and fighting Spider-Man, more on that later) so that he could get close to the Red Skull. What happens over the rest of the issue is the most fantastic and cathartic piece of character work that has ever happened to Magneto. The final page of the tale is easily the most chilling piece of work I’ve ever read, though it didn’t stick. If you pick up one issue from this event, make it this one.
The guys over at the Spider-Man office had their unique take on the event. Someone had the idea of making Spider-Man punch above his weight class, taking on guys like Graviton and Magneto. However, the office would twist that by giving Spider-Man the power cosmic, the forces of Captain Universe himself. What would result would be 12 issues (and a few extra issues) of Peter Parker struggling to balance the ultimate power with the ultimate responsibility. While the end of the cosmic storyline would happen outside the event, it made for a seriously wild ride, and one of the more memorable moments of the early 1990s.
Acts of Vengeance hasn’t left nearly the same impact that Secret Wars or even Secret Wars II left on the Marvel Universe. It’s one of those events few comic blogs or YouTube channels remember either, which is a real shame. These days, Marvel has a real talent for throwing significant events that draw everyone in and change everything until the hero’s relative status quos kick back in. Re-Reading a nonconstricting event like this was more enjoyable than almost any significant production in the last several years.
Sometimes all it takes is just an imp making mischief with supervillains to make some entertaining comics.speaking of imps; our next Event will be one that’s become somewhat infamous in the last year. The mad titan of Titan becomes a significant threat to the Marvel Universe in The Infinity Gauntlet.