Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Sal Buscema/Brett Breedings
(Clipped from my Avengers article in Back Issue #56.)
Roger Stern was perhaps the most underrated writer for Marvel Comics during the 1980s. Despite the volume and quality of his work, which included major titles like The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, Captain America, and Doctor Strange, he was considered a superstar, like Chris Claremont, John Byrne, or Frank Miller.
What made Stern’s five-year run on The Avengers so successful and memorable were his characters. Each character had their distinct attitude and direction, as well as flaws, which set them apart from the typical superhero stereotype. Stern understood what it meant to be a hero: being a hero, even at the power levels of the Avengers, required a human connection. It was never about their god-like powers or super-human abilities; it was about their humanity with all of its strengths and weaknesses.
On how he got The Avengers writing assignment, Stern said: “I asked for it. Seriously, The Avengers was the first assignment that I actively sought out at Marvel. Before that, on Doctor Strange, The Incredible Hulk, or The Amazing Spider-Man, an editor had always asked me to write the series. But with The Avengers … well, I'd edited the book for a couple of years, and it had always been one of my favorites. So when I heard that Jim Shooter was going to be stepping down from writing Avengers, I called Mark Gruenwald and tossed my hat in the ring.”
The Avengers #227 kicked off with Stern cleverly using a psychiatrist who was trying to determine Pym’s mental fitness to stand trial, to flashback through Pym's past. Pym recounted his early history as a scientist, his relationship with the Wasp, his career as an Avenger, and his fall from grace. His narrative was compelling and moving and wove together 20 years of convoluted history written by several writers, each with their own take on the character.
At the same time, Stern also focused on the Wasp as the leader and chairwoman of the Avengers, and her struggle to find her place without Hank Pym. Despite being a founding member of the Avengers since way back in 1963, her presence on the team wasn’t anything more than a sidekick, fashion diva, or plot device, usually the damsel in distress. She had always lived in the shadow of Hank Pym and his various superhero incarnations. Her most significant developments as a character seemed to be her exhaustive wardrobe.
“Don't forget, the Wasp was a kid when she first became the Wasp – she was a debutante, just barely twenty – not that much older than, say, Spider-Man. We saw her come of age in the Avengers.”
The Wasp worked around the Avengers government clearance that mandated only seven Avengers by instituting the Avengers-in-Training program. She did so by pulling some strings as the First Lady and she had the same masseur! From Stern’s first issue, he’s already taking her in a new direction and expanding her character. She was confident, driven, and resourceful.
And as impressive as her new attitude was, Stern showed the depth of her personality as she struggled to hold it all together: “Maybe I don’t have Hank around to lean on anymore -- But I can tough it out! I’ll show ‘em... I don’t need him... Don’t need anybody! After all, I’m an Avenger. I’m the leader of the Avengers.”
“At the time, there were a few readers who thought it was crazy to have the Wasp leading the Avengers, but seen in the overall context of her life, it really was a natural development,” recalled Stern. “The Wasp was a founding Avenger, and had been with the team for most of her adult life. She was recently divorced from a troubled marriage, and getting her life back together. At that point in her life, Jan was reinventing herself, looking for new challenges, and taking on new responsibilities.”
Stern also invested time with the other Avengers, especially touching on the newly-rejoined Hawkeye and new member, She-Hulk. Each member was given some face time in which their human vulnerabilities were highlighted. For example, Iron Man regretting having romantically pursued the Wasp as Tony Stark while she didn’t know he was Iron Man.
Stern accomplished all of this in just his first issue!
From the letter page of The Avengers #227, Stern wrote:
“Needless to say, I’m thrilled and honored to be writing the adventures of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes -- but said thrill and honor does not preclude an occasional gulp of insecurity. Like most of you, I’ve been a big fan of Jim Shooter’s tenure on the book and stepping into his size-13 sneakers is not going to be an easy task. Still and all, the Big Guy has charted an impressive course through these waters and he’s left me enough concepts, plot-threads, and ideas for a score of adventures.”