Collects Avengers vol.3 issues 12-23 & #0, Annual 1999; Avengers: Rough Cut.
Publisher: Marvel
Publication date: 2012

Issues 8-15 are collected in Avengers: Clear and Present Dangers and issues 19-22 (and 0 which I don’t have! Sob!) are collected in Avengers: Ultron Unlimited.

Avengers 12, “Old Entanglements” is a double sized issue and picks up a few weeks after the end of the previous issue. Hawkeye has left and has been reported with the Thunderbolts who have been outed as criminals. Vision has finally been repaired and he’s back in action. Even though Wonder Man and the Scarlet Witch are now together, Vision is clearly not over Wanda and wants her back, even though he won’t admit it. Meanwhile, Vance is increasingly uncomfortable with being in the same team as the Living Legends he has admired so long. Hank (Pym) manages to cure Angel’s health problems so ironically Angel is now more comfortable being an Avenger than Vance who desperately wanted into the team in the first place.

Then, the Thunderbolts are spotted in the old Dominus base and the Avengers head there to get some answers. Of course, a fight breaks out. Finally, the Thunderbolts and the Avengers united to defeat a common enemy. However, Hawkeye stays with the Thunderbolts.

The Thunderbolts and the Avengers exchange some heated comments during the battle and have clearly trouble in trusting each other. Hawkeye is his old self; the first battle was supposed to be a training opportunity which goes a bit wrong.

The next issue, “Lords and Leaders”, spotlights Vance and brings in a new enemy, the Lord Templar. The New Warriors guest star and Vance realizes how comfortable he is with his old teammates Night Thrasher, Nova, and Speedball. Captain America is off dealing with his own problems and Wanda becomes the new deputy leader. She proves herself immediately during the battle with the mysterious Lord Templar. He spouts about wanting to bring peace on Earth, with firepower, of course, and manages to escape.

Vance was ready to quit the Avengers but Angel is now really comfortable with the team and wants to move into the mansion. I rather enjoyed this reversal of their roles and it was great to see more of Angel and Vance.

In the next issue the Beast returns! It was great to see the old friends Simon and Hank (McCoy) reunited! Hank, Wanda, Simon, and the Vision have a long heart-to-heart talk with each other about the awful things they’ve done in their past. Simon is haunted by his rampage before he died and Wanda remembers her own rampage. Then Pagan, a very powerful new villain attacks. He shrugs off the Beast and the Vision, and even goes toe-to-toe with the Wonder Man. He, too, escapes in the end in front of cameras.

I really enjoyed the Wanda/Vision/Simon talk. They are all characters with serious baggage; in other words they have been victims of some very strange plot devices and it was great to see them acknowledge these and try to get through them somehow.

In the Three fold path in issue 15, Triathlon returns and we get to see a bit more about his religion, the Triune Understanding, which apparently seeks to help humans have balance inside themselves. Meanwhile, the Avengers are searching for the Lord Templar with gadgets that Iron Man built. The new deputy leader Wanda tries to bring the current Avengers members closer together and more comfortable with working together. Now they have a rotating leader for the weekly meetings and paring off people who aren’t used to working with each other during training and on the field.

Lord Templar’s trail leads, of course, to the Triune Understanding’s residence. Triathlon is at first pleased to see the Avengers but doesn’t want to let them in to search the grounds. Then Pagan attacks. While the Avengers protect the crowd, Pagan mops the floor with Triathlon. Then the Lord Templar appears and seems to easily imprison Pagan. The media is there, of course, and once again the Avengers have been humiliated in front of the cameras. Wanda remarks that in previous fights Thor has bested Lord Templar but Pagan has bested Thor, so it’s illogical for Lord Templar to defeat Pagan. On the second to last page we get to see that the leader of Triune Understanding, Jonathan Tremont, is in fact Lord Templar. The plot thickens! And it thickens even more, with a one page glimpse of the Wrecking Crew being transported away and on the last page where Ultron boasts: “…total irrevocable destruction of the human race it at hand!” Yay!

Next up is the three issue (16-18) arc with the guest writer and artist Jerry Ordway. These were very good issues with the team divided and a galore of guest Avengers (well, okay, four. But I’m a fan of both Monica and Carol and it was great to see them). I rather enjoyed this arc, too, and it’s a shame it hasn’t been collected elsewhere.

In Mistaken identity the Doomsday Man has returned from long hibernation and has employed the Wrecking Crew giving them stronger powers. The Crew is a bit dubious about working to him but reluctantly agree to look for Ms. Marvel. The Crew make a bank heist and start wrecking New Orleans where Photon (former Captain Marvel) works with her dad. Monica changes to her energy form and heads toward the crew.

Meanwhile, Vance is desperately trying to chair the Avengers weekly meeting and fails. He’s very upset about it. The Black Knight drops by for a visit and Photon barely makes it back to the mansion to ask for help. Cap, Scarlet Witch, Thor, Firestar, Iron Man, Justice, The Vision, and Wonder Man leave immediately to help. Unfortunately, the Wrecking Crew manages to evade capture because it’s the Mardi Gras and there are lots of innocent people about. The team disperses and looks for the villains. Unfortunately, they aren’t still used to fighting together. The Black Knight inadvertently wounds Justice and the Crew manages to knock Photon unconscious and kidnap her. Then they disappear with her. Meanwhile, Jan runs into Warbird just in time to see her be teleported somewhere.

In Cage of Freedom, the team splits up. Cap, Scarlet Witch, Thor, Firestar, The Vision, and Wonder Man follow the Crew’s, and Photon’s, energy residue to Polemachus, the home world of Arkon and Thundra. Iron Man and doctor Foster inspect Justice’s injury when Wasp and Giant-Man bring word that Warbird has been kidnapped. Iron Man, Wasp, and Giant Man investigate while Justice is put on the injured list, over his protests. The Doomsday Man has indeed kidnapped Carol. She fights him until Iron Man, the Wasp, and the Giant-Man arrive. However, Vance has stubbornly followed the other Avengers and saves the day, further injuring himself in the process.

In Battle for Imperion City, the Avengers in Polemachus fight the Wrecking Crew who have managed to take over Imperion City.

Next is the four issue Ultron Unlimited! One of my favorite Busiek arcs!

“This evil reborn” starts with the Black Panther witnessing a slaughter in a Wakandan plant. The attacker is s robot with glowing, smoking green eyes. Then we move to the Avengers mansion and Angel and Vance moving in. Angel is really exited about it but Vance is till glum with his injuries. Wanda is dancing in a local restaurant to an enraptured audience and among them is Wonder Man and the Vision who flees when Wanda notices him.

Meanwhile, Iron Man, Thor, and Cap are holding a media conference which turns ugly when reporters ask about the incident at the Triune Understanding and accuse the Avengers of religious intolerance and racism as well. It’s almost hilarious, if it wasn’t so sad, to see a reported pointedly asking after non-white Avengers and accusing the Avengers of having mutants in the team in same breath. When the Wasp crashes through the window, tells that Hank has been kidnapped, and the Avengers chase out the reporters. One of them even shouts “the public has the right to know!”.

Then, the Avengers hear that the Black Panther is in combat with a being made of adamantium. They leap to the quinjet where Vision tells Ultron’s history to Firestar very briefly, not even a full page! They storm the factory and find out that the Panther is a bait to lure the team to the clutches of Alkhema-2. The team isn’t able to contain her until Wonder Man and the Scarlet Witch arrives and Wanda is able to really rattle the robot (literally). Then the team finds out that Ultron has massacred an entire small (European) country.

“This Evil Unfolding” starts with the UN and Avengers uniting against Ultron. There are disturbing scenes about how easily Ultron conquered Slorenia and massacred the entire population with his hovering robot platforms. Several countries have given troops to take back Slorenia and the Avengers are going to lead them. Meanwhile a crack team of four Avengers are investigating the thrashed room from where Hank was kidnapped. The Vision, Wonder Man, Wasp, and the Scarlet Witch reminiscent about Jan’s and Hank’s history and then they are attacked by former versions of Ultron. The battle goes well until Wanda is taken down and then the Ultron copies grab the four and deliver them to Ultron himself who intends to use them as “seeds” for his new race.

The issue actually starts with a little lighter touch with Vance wondering about how easily the Black Panther returns as an active Avengers and Thor gently telling him that the older Avengers are like brothers (and sisters). Lovely scene! The rest is pretty grim. There’s a small scene with Wanda and Vision about why Vision left in the previous issue from the restaurant where Wanda was dancing. Another is with Firestar and Iron Man about how Ultron personifies the fears about technological abuse and Tony fears that his technologies can be used to similar evil. Angel, of course, doesn’t know that Iron Man is Tony. This was a really nice touch. And Vance has to stay behind because of his injuries. Jan tells about her history with Hank and she blames herself for some of it, for marrying Hank when he was in the middle of a break down. She’s also worried about Hank’s continued sanity.

There are no light scenes in “This evil unveiled”. People die and the Avengers’ fight against the army of Ultrons seems desperate. Ultron has created an army of necro-cyborgs from the bodies of the hapless slorenians his flying robot army has slain and they are now defending the conquered country against UN troops and the Avengers. The Black Panther and Firestar look for Ultron’s command center while Ultron is discussing his plans with his prisoners. Apparently, he wants to reproduce by using and mixing the brain patterns of the Vision, Simon, Wanda, Hank, Jan, and Eric (the Grim Reaper) on his robot army to create individuals instead of just copies of himself. Meanwhile, the Panther gets close to Ultron’s lair and he fights them on his classic command platform. The Avengers give it all and finally manage to destroy him. This puzzles Iron Man who though they shouldn’t have managed it, because no matter what you hit adamantium with, it shouldn’t break. Still, they descend into Ultron’s underground lair – only to be confronted with an army of Ultrons.

Meanwhile, Hank starts to blame himself for everything Ultron has done and will do, and Jan fears for his sanity. In the mansion, Justice tirelessly researches Ultron’s history. And Alkhema has summoned a robot army of her own to free her.

In “This Evil Triumphant”, the five Avengers fight an army of Ultrons. They fight for hours, never giving in, clothes in tatters. Thor especially is the back bone here, since he’s the only one who can destroy the titanium made Ultrons. The fight is epic. And yet, there’s also the human element. The Vision offering to help Ultron to shed his hatred and Hank blaming himself. And Vance having to confront the fact that the Avengers are very human, no matter how heroic they are, and so he can fit in, too.

The arc is very grim and bloodthirsty for an Avengers comic. My only complaint is that there should have been more Avengers or even other heroes. Surely, some of the reserves should have come to help the main team in Slorenia, if not right at the start, then later. After all, the fight lasted hours, maybe a day or two. And doesn’t Marvel have a few European heroes who should have helped, too? I would have been happy to see them in just a few panels to unite with the UN troops, for example, while the main team still took on Ultron.

After several issues of epic fighting, the collection ends with the confrontation between – the Avengers vs. the angry press, and between Simon and the Vision. The team has been getting really bad press in previous issues and they’re now being blamed for pretty much everything from the conflict with the Triune Understanding to creating Ultron. Now there are people outside the mansion gates demanding a black Avenger to the team. The Black Panther is still at the mansion but he can’t stay, and he doesn’t want to stay as a racial token, anyway. Who would in a job where you have to depend on your teammates to survive?

Meanwhile, the Vision and Simon have a long talk. Simon reveals how he’s always been, and still is, insecure and waiting to be punished for all the bad things he’s done in his life. How everything he touches seems to break. And Vision feels like a fake compared to Simon, who is the original. The Vision feels that he has nothing of his own. He leaves.

This was a very emotional issue and brought to foreground a lot of things that have been plaguing the characters before. On the other hand, I felt that this cheapened a little issue 14 where there was supposedly a heart-to-heart talk with Simon, Wanda, and the Vision, and yet the Vision didn’t say anything about these feelings. At any case, the team is again shook up which brings more conflict.

In Annual 1999 we get a glimpse to the time during which the heroes were gone and thought dead. “Day of the Remains” by John Franics Moore and Leonardo Manco starts with a terrorist attack in opera. The Avengers foil it but afterwards Cap reprimands them for not working properly together. Then Jarvis tells Vance about the time when the founding members where thought to be dead because of Onslaught. The Black Widow tried to get a new team together but failed and the Avengers were disbanded. Later, four eerily familiar giant robots declare the current Avengers impostors and mutants and try to save the city from them. This is rather somber story first about how Natasha blamed herself for the “death” of the heroes and then failed to get a new team. Secondly it’s a story of good intentions going awry. Unfortunately, it’s not a memorable story especially suffers in comparison to the epic Ultron story.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this collection and I think new readers would be able to enjoy this one more than the previous collection. While these stories are also rooted in the past, more things are explained and so better accessible to new readers.