Ranking - Avengers: In a Strange Land

Avengers: In a Strange Land
Avengers #326-331 (1990-1991)
Written by Larry Hama
Drawn by Paul Ryan
Inked by Tom Palmer
Colored by Christie Scheele (#327-329, 331), Max Scheele (#326), and Nelson Yomtov (#330)
Lettered by Bill Oakley
Edited by Howard Mackie

 

In the Marvel Years Rankings, we randomly select one story (anything from a single issue to ??? issues that make up a single story) to look at, with the ultimate goal of ranking every single Marvel comic book story from best to worst. The rankings are subjective and highly unscientific. They’re intended to be a fun way to kick off discussion, and introduce readers to new stories.

 

Backstory


This story takes place in the middle of an era defined by two separate Avengers teams working simultaneously. The West Coast Avengers operated out of California, while the Avengers team of this title operated out of New York. These Avengers are still in the process of rebuilding their mansion, which was largely destroyed in the late 1980s storyline “Under Siege”.

The current Avengers roster at the start of this storyline consists of: Captain America, Sersi (most associated with The Eternals), She-Hulk, Thor, and Vision.

 

Summary

The Avengers try to contain an out-of-control Russian soldier (Lt. Ramskov), who had been radioactively-powered by the Chernobyl accident. Unable to contain the man or his radiation, the Avengers are forced to take Ramskov into another dimension.

The Avengers quickly discover that the dimension they have transported to is a prison world full of evil monsters. The team fight the monsters, help Ramskov to control his powers, and return safely home.

Along the way, the Avengers were joined by a new urban superhero named Rage, who called Captain America out for the team’s lack of black membership. After proving himself, Rage is made a reserve member of The Avengers.

Everything comes to a head when the monsters of the prison dimension make their way to Earth and team up with Rage’s drug-dealing nemesis – LD 50. The team manage to save Rage’s grandmother from the collective villains when it is revealed that Ngh (the leader of the evil monsters) is actually only one half of a cosmic being that had previously split it’s purely evil and purely good sides as part of an experiment. With Ngh reunited with Ahh, the being is whole once again, and the day is saved.

 

Review

If you couldn’t tell from that long summary, this is one wacky and weird Avengers story. In fact, it’s a bit of a tonal mess.

On one hand, you have the semi-tragic tale of a Russian soldier who remains loyal to his country, despite the awful things they’ve put him through. On the other, is a simple Avengers-punching-monsters story. On an inexplicable third hand, you have the cosmic soap opera of good vs. evil, and where humanity lies in that spectrum. And all along the way, is the well-meaning (but ultimately tone deaf) story of the Avengers’ lack of diversity, and the different views of white culture vs. black culture.

The first two story beats (the Russian soldier and the monsters) make for a fun, if mostly inconsequential ride. There’s something captivating about Ramskov’s refusal to reveal his country’s secrets, despite his transformation. And there’s nothing wrong with a superhero/monster battle.

But after that, things get overly convoluted and ridiculous. The cosmic side of this story is a jumbled mess. There’s a third party in between the “Pure Evil” and “Pure Good” that I never bothered to mention, (the Tetrarchy of Entropy) whose presence is never justified or explained.

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Finally, we get to the elephant in the room – Rage. Rage is a character with some good points, but who comes across as the most stereotypical representation of the “angry black man” archetype. His portrayal in this story (from name and appearance, to general attitude) is problematic to say the least.

Now to be fair to Rage, we learn via a mid-story origin that he is in fact just a child who has been transformed by toxic waste into a full-grown super powered man. It’s actually a good twist, softening the blow of that earlier “angry black man” stereotypes. But even that doesn’t excuse the grating portrayal of the character, and in fact opens up new problematic doors – such as (unintentionally, I’m sure) comparing black anger to childish tantrums.

On an art note, Paul Ryan’s figure work gets the job done but is largely unremarkable. There was a bit of a Jack Kirby-inspired flourish that Ryan seemed to add to the monster faces that I really appreciated, but for the most part this is simple house style storytelling.

Overall, there was maybe more to like here than I got a chance to articulate. I found myself sympathizing with Rage more as the story went along, despite everything. There are also plenty of entertaining and engaging sequences throughout.  

But ultimately, there are too many plot threads (many of which come out of nowhere and/or go nowhere) to make for a satisfying read. The storytelling is jumbled, and the plot sometimes incomprehensible, with somewhat lackluster art. This is not a good story.

 

New Reader Friendly?

Two of the book's three main storylines are essentially continuity-free, making for an accessible read. The third storyline, however, is almost incomprehensible no matter how long you've been reading Marvel Comics.

 

Ranking

I don’t think this is a terrible or irredeemable story, but it certainly shows the lowest lows of any of the stories we’ve ranked so far. Wolverine’s debut in Incredible Hulk may have been underwhelming, and Deadpool: Funeral for a Freak may still be skating by on little more than one fun “Nuff Said” issue – but those don’t compare to this Avengers story. Despite what it does get right, Avengers: In a Strange Land takes the new bottom spot for just how much it gets wrong.

1. Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin
2. The Punisher by Greg Rucka Volume 1
3. Excalibur: The Sword is Drawn
4. Superior Spider-Man: A Troubled Mind
5. Ultimates: The Republic is Burning

6. X-Men: Second Genesis
7. Iron Man: Sunfall
8. Iron Man: Rasputin’s Revenge!
9. Thor: Peace on Earth
10. Marvel Team-Up: Night of the Dragon
11. Iron Man: Old Soldiers
12. Avengers: 1959
13. She-Hulk: Heroic Proportions
14. Deadpool: Funeral for a Freak
15. Hulk: And Now...the Wolverine!
16. Avengers: In a Strange Land

 

What do you think? Agree or disagree with the ranking? Still need to read it yourself to find out? These issues of Avengers are available digitally free for Marvel Unlimited subscribers and for purchase at Comixology.

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