The Avengers vol 3 #56 was the end of writer Kurt Busiek's epic 56 issue run (give or take an issue) on the book. Busiek and Perez relaunched and revitalized Earth's Mightiest Heroes back in 1997 and created some of the best damn Avengers comics ever during their time on the book. In my mind, the true climax of Busiek and Perez's run came with their JLA/Avengers mini-series, aka Fanboy Nirvana, but this is the true chronological end of the era. After that it was Geoff Johns turn on the book, and we got Hank Pym doing some flesh spelunking and ultimately, Avengers Disassembled.
This issue is sort of a low-key coda to the Busiek/Perez era, because instead of going out with a big epic battle against impossible odds, instead of ending on a high note, we get... sniff sniff... what's that smell? I smell an inventory issue! Unless I'm totally high, this is one of those one-shot issues that editors keep on tap that they can just drop into their publishing schedule as need be. In this case I'm guessing that Geoff Johns and Kieron Dwyer, the next creative team, needed some breathing room so editor Tom Brevoort just plopped this story into the mix. Don't get me wrong, I actually dig this comic, but it's just sort of an anti-climactic end to such a great run of comics.
In Avengers #56, a team of ad hoc Avengers must meet with accountants from the Maria Stark Foundation, the organization that bankrolls them, to justify their expenses on a recent mission. Here, the accountant will explain everything:
The accountant thing is a neat idea and serves as a narrative device that allows each Avenger present to tell the story of a battle against The Elements of Doom in a series of interviews. Each character narrates a little bit of the battle and interacts with the suits. And yes, hilarity ensues as the white-collar world of the accountants meets the fantastic world of our heroes.
Being an inventory issue, Busiek is careful not to screw with continuity and tells a one-issue story about a mission featuring an ad hoc team of active and inactive Avengers - She-Hulk, USAgent (ugh), Thor, Iron Man, Jack of Hearts, Cap, Wonder Man, Silver Claw, and the plush doll version of The Beast from The X-Men. It's a perfect fill-in story because it doesn't screw with the status quo or mess up anything that the next creative team is going to do, but you can kind of tell that it's designed to be non-intrusive, continuity wise. Look, even the cover is generic and sort of timeless, aside from Thor's costume, which is easy enough to change.
I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining, because I do like this issue. Penciller Yanick Paquette, whose Wonder Woman work I really dug, does a great job with inker Ray Snyder on this issue. Some of Snyder's inks have a sure-handed Kevin Nowlan vibe to them, and Paquette goes out of his way to draw She Hulk's butt in this issue, so he gets extra points there.
Plus - the Avengers fight the Elements of Doom in this issue, and that's never a bad thing.
I may be the world's #1 Elements of Doom fan. First appearing in The Avengers #188, the Elements were a bunch of monsters made out of different elements (duh) that were created by a Russian mad scientist type. They later reappeared in Busiek's Thunderbolts and here again in The Avengers #56. They're pretty much just what you would imagine: Chlorine is a gas monster, Plutonium is a radioactive monster, etc.
The Elements of Doom are one of those inevitable comic book ideas that had to happen somewhere - it's one of the things I liked about them so much. Seriously, if they hadn't appeared in a Marvel comic first, Superman would have fought them. Some concepts just have to be turned into super-villain groups, and if you don't do it, darn it, somebody else is just going to beat you to the punch. (See? No Profanity Week is still in effect) They're like DC's Royal Flush Gang. Somebody had to base a bunch of villains on a deck of cards - DC just got there first. Same with The Zodiac. Or The Chessmen from Iron Man. Or the Ani-Men. Or Captain Carrot and his Zoo Crew. Okay, I've gone too far now.
Anyway, here's a shot of The Avengers in battle with the Elements of Doom. I know what you're thinking - nice booty on Silverclaw. But isn't she, like, sixteen? I don't know if I'd let her out of the Mansion wearing that if I were Captain America. I mean, I know she's from South America, but still...
As you might imagine, things work out for our heroes. They defeat the Elements of Doom and the accountants. Thor gives them a bag of Asgardian gold to cover any damages. She-Hulk gets all lawyerly on them. Captain America has all the correct forms filled out. And Iron Man owns the darn Maria Stark Foundation, so he can do whatever the heck he wants.
It's a clever issue, and I have to give Busiek props for not making it too cute. Plus, and I never say this, but great lettering by Richard Starkings' crew - it's a pity Marvel doesn't use them anymore. (Do they?) Like I said, I kind of wanted the Busiek era to end with Something Huge, but I'll take what I can get. A Busiek inventory issue is still way better than the stuff that was to follow in the pages of The Avengers. Busiek wins.
Hey, Ric Flair and special guest Vince McMahon - can I get a "wooo" for not using profanity?
Thank you, Mr. Flair. I truly do understand now: "To be The Man you gotta beat The Man."