♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his seventh in an occasional series about comic series that never were. Today it’s the turn of George Perez’s Avengers Assemble…
George Perez’s Avengers Assemble
But, all of that would change. Perez – who is probably one of the few creators truly qualified to discuss the best the super-hero genre has to offer – would find himself inspired, not by the future of the House of Ideas’ premier super-team, but instead by its humble beginnings.
“(Former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief) Tom DeFalco suggested I do a ‘retro’ story,” Perez continued, “which led Ralph and myself to come up with the beginnings of an Avengers ‘Year One’ story. Still, I needed a hook that would make it stand out from the rest.”
The “hook” Perez would eventually come up with was to tell the story from the point of view of the heroes’ supporting cast: Namely, Jarvis, Jane Foster from Thor, and Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts from Iron Man; for Giant Man, Perez found a little known FBI agent by the name of Lee Kearns.
“(Lee Kearns) appeared once or twice in the entire history of Marvel Comics,” Perez said. “But that’s Giant-Man for you, though. He barely had a supporting cast.
“It was (the late Comics Buyer’s Guide editor) Don Thompson who made the comment, ‘Super-heroes are never as interesting as the people they affect.’ That’s what makes these modern gods so interesting – how people react to them. And, when I set out to write this story, I wondered how I would feel knowing someone with super-powers. So, through Jarvis, Jane, Pepper, and the rest – they were my proxies. Their first reactions to these heroes were similar to my reaction to these characters when I was introduced to them in the pages of Avengers and their own books.”
“I also wanted to do what Kurt (Busiek) eventually did with Marvels, in that I wanted to show how people reacted when they first saw these heroes – that first palpable sense of wonder mixed in with a sense of duty, since the supporting cast was actually involved with the super-heroes. They were the hired help. In order for the super-heroes to be super, these characters had to take care of the mundane, everyday activities.”
“Another angle I had,” Perez remembered, “was centring the story in the Stark Mansion. I basically started calling it, ‘Backstairs at Avengers Mansion,’ was transformed from a public domicile – a haven, as it were – into the fortress that would become the headquarters of the mighty Avengers.”
Deciding where he wanted to go with the story, Perez changed the format of the project from a graphic novel into a two-issue mini-series, while Macchio assigned artist Angel Medina to illustrate the epic tale that would’ve been Avengers Assemble. In short, the term “epic” was an understatement for what Perez had planned..
Perez wanted to document the Avengers’ early days, while also portraying the supporting characters’ real sense of horror from being in such close proximity to what – at the time – were strange and fantastic super-humans with powers far beyond those of mortal men.
“Something I wanted to get across was that the Avengers were originally something new and unknown to the populace at large. The Hulk was a hunted animal. Thor was a god, which up until that point, nobody believed existed. Everybody knew that Iron Man was a heavily armed private bodyguard to one of the richest men in the world – but nobody knew who was in the suit. And, as for the Wasp and Giant-Man, well, the Wasp was a spoiled socialite that no one took very seriously, and Giant-Man wasn’t very good with people. In fact, it was only when Captain America –a living legend – showed up, did the Avengers begin to get respectability. And, that’s where my story began.”
While chronicling how the world would first react to the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Perez was also doing what he did best: Exploring the little things that often got away from the reader. “I wanted to take this opportunity to divulge the little things that no one noticed. For example, I wanted to show how the servants of Avengers Mansion would not be able to communicate with Ant-Man (another alter-ego of Giant-Man), because he was so small you’d have to use receivers to communicate with him. I also had a scene where Happy Hogan almost catches Tony Stark becoming Iron Man – which would prove that he’s not as stupid as people think he is.”
“Something else I wanted to give readers was an idea of how loyal Jarvis really was to both his subordinates and his employers,” said Perez. “In fact, I had Jarvis quit at the end of the first issue because he was concerned about the safety of the Mansion’s employees, with all the sophisticated weaponry it would contain and the constant threat of attack. There was no way Jarvis was going to let other people be in danger. And, it takes Captain America – Jarvis’ childhood hero from World War II – personally asking him to stay, while promising that the safety issues for the Mansion will be met, that keeps him on staff. Jarvis could say no to Tony Stark – a man who’s worked for Tony’s family for years, but he could never say no to his hero, Captain America.
“Jarvis would also find a love interest in the story – one of the other servants – who wants him to fly back to England with her. But like Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day, he realises that his work is too important to him; it’s who he is. And, he must regretfully decline her invitation – although it breaks his heart to do so.”
“At the end of Avengers Assemble,” Perez added, “reporter Gaynor Green and Lee Kearns (who is revealed to be a villain in the story) get trapped in the Avengers’ version of the Danger Room – their Exercise Area – and none of the team is there to come to their aid. Of course, Jarvis finds out that somebody is in the room, so he, Pepper, and Happy attempt to rescue them. Finally, the Avengers do show up and save the day. It is then that the team realizes that the Mansion cannot be opened to the public, and that security has to be increased. They also realize that these two intruders could very well have died; therefore, they agree to have a group of Avengers who are Mansion-bound. Since Cap has no place else to go, he agreed to be part of the group. And, as was established, the new members Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch also lived in Avengers Mansion when they joined the team – and that’s one of the reasons they were chosen. The original members knew that when the call was sounded, the world needs full-time Avengers!”
“So, I was going to end the mini-series with the events of Avengers #16, when the roster changed. After working so hard at getting the respectability and trust of the public, what happens to the Avengers? Everyone except Captain America leaves – only to be replaced by super-humans with criminal records. Of course, as we would eventually learn, the public would be willing to give those new Avengers a chance, because Captain America stayed behind. That’s where I would have left it.”
But, Perez would never have a chance to tell his story. Although it appeared that everyone was ready to move forward with the project, Perez soon discovered that appearances can be deceiving.
“Angel had to bow out to take over the art chores of Incredible Hulk,” Perez explained. “Having lost my penciller, I then asked Ralph, ‘Why don’t we get this guy by the name of George Perez to draw it?’ Because all of the time I wrote the story, I couldn’t help imagining what I was going to do with it visually.”
Having solved one problem, Perez soon found himself plagued by a larger one. Unbeknownst to him, the House of Ideas would enlist Image Comics’ Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee to remake theEarth’s Mightiest Heroes during their yearlong, ultra-successful, albeit controversial “Heroes Reborn” event. And, when Marvel finally got the characters back in 1997, new creative teams were brought on (including Perez, who would wind up penciling the top-selling Avengers monthly comic) – ultimately leaving Perez with a lost tale.
“I had certain things planned with some of the characters’ backgrounds such as Iron Man,” Perez added, “that I can’t do now since Kurt Busiek wrote his book. And, I would never impose my opinions on other people’s stories. But, since he was also the writer of Avengers, and he and I agreed on how to depict specific characters, we were able to incorporate some of those ideas from Avengers Assemble into the series. But unfortunately, Avengers Assemble is a dead project, and that’s what it must stay.”
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