A lot of creator runs on Marvel characters are highly celebrated, and rightfully so, but a lot of times someone will come along and tell a great story or stories, and for whatever reason they simply fall through the cracks, so to speak, and don’t seem to get the recognition they deserve.
I want to point out a few of them here in the hopes that anyone that reads this might be encouraged to give them a try. Each ‘volume’, if you will, will focus on one particular run, in order to give each one the room I need to do them justice.
So, first up:
-Geoff Johns on Avengers-
Not long before he was as well known as he is today, Geoff Johns spent some time at Marvel while he was doing freelance work for DC. His Marvel works largely were solid, but unspectacular, including a Vision mini-series and a Thing mini-series. But it was his work on Avengers that really showed what he was capable of. Featuring a variety of artists, his run including work by Kieron Dwyer, Steve Sadowski, Scott Kollins (who he would work with on Flash quite a lot over the years), Gary Frank, and Olivier Coipel, on the story that really launched Coipel into the position he is at today, which essentially allows him to pick and choose whatever projects he wants.
The roster of characters for Johns’ run is, as you might expect if you are familiar with his JSA work at DC, rather large. The core roster remains mostly the same, featuring Captain America, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man (Scott Lang), Jack of Hearts, Ms. Marvel (at the time going by the codename Warbird), Yellowjacket (Hank Pym), the Wasp, and the Vision. It also heavily features the Falcon, the Black Panther, Namor, Thor, and Hawkeye, and one story guest-stars the Hulk!
Each story gives each character a moment to shine, especially in the best arc, “Red Zone”. The major players in this story are Cap, Ms. Marvel, Ant-Man, Jack of Hearts, Scarlet Witch, She-Hulk, Iron Man, the Falcon, Black Panther, and Henry Gyrich, the Avengers’ government liason. A huge cloud of red gas, soon discovered as a terribly potent weaponized virus, is released from a bunker underneath Mount Rushmore. Thousands die horribly, and the Avengers investigate. Cap leaves Ms. Marvel in charge of assisting with the civilian evacuation, and the other Avengers enter the cloud-covered area wearing protective gear. When they get to the bunker installation, they find that it’s been attacked, and that the culprits who seemingly released the virus are still there: AIM agents (AIM= Advanced Idea Mechanics, a science based terrorist group). They open fire on the Avengers, destroying She-Hulk’s containment shield. They are destroyed by their own weapons when they fire at the Vision, whose super-density causes deadly ricochets. Cap orders Jack of Hearts to evac She-Hulk, and while doing so Jack inadvertently draws the gamma radiation out of her body, causing her to revert to her regular Jeniffer Walters form. When she comes to she transforms back to her Hulk form, and smashes the crap out of Jack. She’s now much more wild, like Banner when he’s the Hulk. Her story continues later.
While all of this is going on, Starktech is trying to use their resources to come up with a vaccine for the virus. Black Panther gives them access to the findings of his Wakandan scientists, and they seem to be making progress when they are attacked by the U.S. government and captured! While this is happening, Gyrich has been meeting with Dell Rusk, the U.S. secretary of defense. He clearly doesn’t trust or like the Avengers, and seems to be hiding something. When Gyrich goes to meet with the Falcon to tell him about his meeting with Rusk, they are both shot by Rusk himself! Gyrich then figures out, just as the reveal is made to the readers, what has been under everyone’s noses pretty much since the beginning of Johns’ run. The secretary of defense isn’t Dell Rusk, but rather the Red Skull! He was practically daring someone to figure it out. All he did was re-arrange the letters of his name!
Anyway, the Skull has come to embrace the United States since he has figured out he easily corrupted our officials are and how easy it is, with the right leverage and the right amount of money, to get away with anything at all. He is going to use his position as secretary of defense to start war, using the cloud he ordered AIM to release as his cause. The first target will be Wakanda, the Black Panther’s home, which he brags about later right in Panther’s face. Stark and T’Challa (Panther) were arrested under the authority of Rusk’s office, and he now has Iron Man, the Black Panther, the Falcon, and Gyrich in his custody.
While the other Avengers are trying to save lives from the virus, Cap is furious. He has figured out that the bunker the virus was released from was a U.S. military bunker, and knows that the military designed this horrible thing. He wants answers, and when he goes to confront Rusk finds the Skull with his friends. Cap attacks, and is winning, when Skull gasses the Falcon in front of him. Cap tries to save his friend, and is exposed, too. While the other Avengers are dying, and Stark is trying to save them, the Black Panther faces off with the Skull, who dismisses T’Challa as any kind of threat simply because he’s black. Remember, the Skull is a dirty Nazi douchebag. He tells Panther that his “filthy hands will never touch” him. So Panther makes a point of taking off his gloves so that Skull can see his skin color up close as he’s beating the shit out of him. As he puts it, putting his fists up, “I’m going to break your jaw, Skull.”
Unfortunately for the Panther, the Red Skull, like Captain America, is a bona fide super soldier, and isn’t exactly easy to beat up. Things look grim until the Falcon gets a moment of lucidity, and summons every bird he can to attack the Skull. It’s just a moment’s distraction, but enough time for Panther to break the fuck out of the Skull’s jaw and put him down.
The Avengers are able to help as many civillians as possible while the scientists from Wakanda and Starktech synthesize a cure, the Skull’s plan is busted, and the day ends happily for everyone. Well, everyone except for the thousands of people that died, and the fact that Cap now has serious trust issues with the government, and the fact that She-Hulk is nowhere to be found, and the fact that a lot of the Avengers think Jack might have drained her on purpose (he didn’t).
Johns’ run is all about character moments, and you can tell he knows exactly who all of these people are, each with their own distinct voices and personalities. Nobody is in his stories that doesn’t have a part to play, or a reason for them to be in the story. Under his watch not only did we get “Red Zone”, but we saw the Wasp and Yellowjacket come to terms with their relationship, we saw Ant-Man and Jack of Hearts go from a severe mutual dislike to a begrudging respect, we saw Thor part ways with the Avengers, Stark and T’Challa reach a mutual understanding, the death of an Avenger, the return of Hawkeye, the evolution of She-Hulk, and the entire world handing over the reins to the Avengers, however temporarily (“World Trust”). He really fleshed out Ant-Man, Jack of Hearts, the Falcon, and the relationships between all of the Avengers so that they felt like real people. So while his run was all about character, it’s not like nothing exciting was happening.
It’s a shame that it looks like he’s never leaving DC, which is clearly where his heart is, but he has said that he had a really cool idea for a multi-year story with a new Masters of Evil forming and really fucking the Avengers up something terrible, and he had great ideas for runs on X-Men, the Hulk, Spider-Man, and Ghost Rider. Oh, well, until that fateful day that he does cross back over, if ever, you can still read his awesome Avengers run.