The Avengers Vault by Peter A David

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The Avengers Vault by Peter A David

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A sadly misguided look back at the main characters in the biggest collective comic title of them all.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 176 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Aurum Press
ISBN: 9781781313985

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It's not just because the third richest take of any movie is about to get a sequel that we have this pictorial background guide. There have been decades of action featuring the main characters of The Avengers, and they themselves are fifty years old as a collective entity, so this book has a lot of ground to cover. To its benefit there are hardly any mentions of the global behemoth that are Marvel films these days, beyond a couple of references where relevant. Instead we're looking back, with bright and eager eyes, to see what we can find, what the beginner may need to know, and what the fan will have fond memories of.

Of course, it may be cheaper to reprint ancient comics than pay for movie stills to illustrate our story, but the emphasis on the history does serve us well. It doesn't make for the most easy read, however – the thrust of the first page is a debate about who and what was where with whom when the idea for The Avengers first came about, with no preamble to ease us in and tell us why we should be interested. We're supposed to be fans already, and if that's the case we'll be served by very light use of existing quotes from Stan Lee, Jack Kirby et al, the author's own recollections, and many instances of light touching on the build-up that has left the main characters in the situation in which we may find them today.

Fans of Marvel will know what that background material is like when it's reprinted in the comics, or earlier guides, to act as catch-up. It's far too encyclopaedic, and dull as ditch-water. This isn't, partly because we can never really tell what our author is going to come up with next. It might be a gnomic quip, or it might be a sentence as awful as [Thor] had the kind of excitable, unpredictable temperament that one would expect from a god closely associated with nature, considering nature's random and occasionally destructive nature. And then he gives us the revelation he wrote for The Hulk for over a decade.

That insider knowledge surely comes to the fore with the visual elements of this book, which are many, and suitably brilliant. Every key point – each and every variant, every first encounter between hero and villain – gets its relevant splash cover image or first few panels. There are about a dozen things to take out of specially prepared and tagged pouches, containing great artwork, and while the book doesn't have as much going for it as some 'vault' publications I have encountered in the way of things to 'collect', explore and keep etc, this does make the title a bit more cherishable.

Which is not really what the written contents succeed in doing, unfortunately. Beyond the clunky writing at times, the first chapter is a patchy history of the two time lines – the one that The Avengers lived and the one that the publishers lived. Then there's a big chapter for Captain America, one for Iron Man, one for Thor, one for Hulk, and that's just about it bar some mentions of cartoon versions, which either sound or look dreadful. It's damned what I said earlier about how awful the encyclopedia style elsewhere had been, for this is too light, and while evidently geared to the novice strikes me as something far too weak when copious wiki sites will tell you a lot more, at whichever level of fandom you desire to approach things with. So that's also damned what I said about needing to be a fan to jump in at the beginning as we do here. My ultimate verdict then has to be that this will only appeal to the people for whom the visual content is rich, important, and worth the price of admission. It is all that, but the wordage is most certainly not.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell is a better example of how the history of graphic novels can be shown.

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