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Classic comic review: The Marvel villains unite for their ‘Acts of Vengeance’

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Doctor Doom has tangled with the Fantastic Four and lost numerous times. The Kingpin of Crime has faced Daredevil and Spider-Man with the end result being defeat. The Red Skull has yet to best Captain America. Magneto’s plans are always thwarted by the X-Men. The same goes for the Mandarin against Iron Man, and the Wizard against the Fantastic Four. Countless times these villains have taken the fight to their foes and countless times their attempts have ended with another mark in the loss column. The fights get quicker each time as the heroes have grown accustomed to their villains’ strengths and tactics.

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The familiarity breeds defeat time and again. But there is one villain who enters the picture and unifies these six villains as orchestrators of an overall plot to defeat the heroes of the Marvel Comics Universe. A mystery man posing as a lackey, in the service of Doctor Doom, the Kingpin, Red Skull, Magneto, Mandarin, and the Wizard, unifies them with a common goal, getting their well deserved revenge against the heroes.

The plan is for the villains of the Marvel Universe to swap opponents fighting do-gooders who are not as familiar with their attacks and strategies. These are the “Acts of Vengeance” and the subject of a comic book crossover from the Fall of 1989. The focus of the event was collected recently by Marvel in the “Acts of Vengeance Omnibus,” a 744 page hardcover volume that retails for $99.99.

The main story of the “Acts of Vengeance” took place in the “Avengers” themed comic book titles where the effects were felt in a profound manner. These titles included issues of “Avengers,” “Avengers West Coast,” “Avengers Spotlight,” “Captain America,” “Iron Man,” “Thor,” and “Quasar.” The story spilled into the Spider-Man line of books, “Amazing Spider-Man,” “Spectacular Spider-Man,” and “Web of Spider-Man.”

This era of Marvel Comics was the pinnacle of the characters’ iconic nature as if the heroes and villains had reached the limits of their potential and were as pure and distinguishable as they could get. Many of the foibles of the heroes had subsided as time and again they faced victory.

The main spine of the story crossed through the above ten titles for three months. Other titles from the Marvel Universe felt the sting of the villains’ vengeance, but the important parts of the story were contained in these books. Why did the Avengers feel the brunt of the attack? Not only are they Earth’s Mightiest Heroes but the orchestrator of the vengeance had deep ties to the Avengers and wanted them eliminated above all others.

Nine different writers and 18 artists paired up to delve tell the story, but the continuity of the event was tight. The story unraveled with bits and pieces coming into the various titles slowly bringing the scheme together. Where the orchestrator may have recruited the Red Skull in an issue of “Captain America,” he found the Wizard in an issue of “Avengers Spotlight.” Slowly the plan came together over these months. Villains recruited other villains to take out their chosen opponents.

With the villains on the rise and organized for the first time ever the heroes felt the weight of the attacks. The Avengers were spread thin and they took devastating losses. Not only was the Avengers Headquarters destroyed, their name was dragged through the mud and public opinion was turned against its champions.

One hero rose to the challenge more than any other, Spider-Man. This was the time where Spider-Man received strange new powers of a cosmic nature. More powerful than ever, Spidey received more attention from the villains behind the attacks on the heroes. Doctor Doom and Magneto took personal interests in the hero to test his abilities and see if he could come to their side and aid them in their personal goals outside of the “Acts of Vengeance.”

Each story fueled the next. Marvel Comics’ Editorial team worked well to coordinate the impact of the events. Read individually each story stands on its own but a complicated tapestry of interconnected stories makes the overall impact of the event stronger.

The overall story is driven by the events in the books written by John Byrne as he wrote the six issues taking place in “Avengers” and “Avengers West Coast.” As an editor for many of the titles in the book and writer of “Captain America” and “Quasar” Mark Gruenwald’s legendary attention to detail was likely a catalyst to the coordination of the event.

The art of the book can be uneven with the varying levels of talent. In 1989 Marvel still stuck close to their model sheets so characters were recognizable in each book. The “Acts of Vengeance Omnibus” contains artwork from comic book legends Byrne, Sal Buscema, Ron Frenz, Erik Larsen and even an issue by Todd McFarlane. The all-star creators working on the book make the story a great read as the pacing is fast and keeps the excitement coming.

In the end the egos of the villains threaten to destroy the vengeance they had sown. Each brings their own agenda to the forefront as they try to manipulate the events to best suit their own personal goals. As the Orchestrator of the events reveals himself the real dread of what his plan means takes on a new meaning and a greater level of vengeance.

“Acts of Vengeance Omnibus” is a classic Marvel collection that captures the heroes and villains in a pure form. The story flows well and shows a unified story as all the writers and artists played a part in the overall narrative. There is a second “Acts of Vengeance Omnibus” (“Acts of Vengeance: Crossovers Omnibus”) that covers more of the ancillary Marvel titles of the time but this book captures the main spine and theme of the book and is a great collection for fans of the “Avengers” and “Spider-Man.”

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