Of all the fruits of Marvel’s early-to-mid 1980s creative renaissance, pilule Roger Stern’s long stint on The Avengers is the nearest and dearest to my heart. It may not have been as flashy or groundbreaking or popular as some of the other great works of that era, order but it exemplified the unique strengths of the franchise as well as the simple virtues of solidly entertaining craftsmanship.
The latter part of Stern’s run — marked by the classic “Under Siege” storyline and some excellent John Buscema art — is better remembered by fandom, but I’m more partial to the earlier stories, from the “Trial of Hank Pym” up through the conclusion of the “Unlimited Vision” plot arc. The stories, as hit-or-miss as the are, emphasized the team’s role as both the backbone and the crossroads of Marvel’s shared universe, while the illustration team of Milgrom and Sinnott (and Bob Hall and others) delivered some quaint yet iconically classic visuals.
The X-teams share a genetic bond and the Fantastic Four a familial one, but Avengers’ group dynamic is based on the relationships between professionals — a small, relatively fixed core of “lifers” and a cycling roster of “temps” bound by a shared sense of duty. It’s a workplace melodrama dressed up in capes, spandex, and other accoutrements of unstable molecules.
Stern embraced that premise to craft a consistently entertaining narrative woven in and around past and present points of Marvel continuity — including Secret Wars, Walt Simonson’s Thor, Iron Man’s relapse into alcoholism, and plot threads left dangling from the canceled Spider-Woman and Eternals series. Stern also had a rare facility for handling the team’s ensemble cast, doling out just the right amount of facetime and relationship-building while developing the Wasp into a strong, competent character and elevating She-Hulk out of z-lister limbo.
Even more remarkable, he managed to make Starfox a tolerable…
…if inexplicable addition to the team. No mean feat, indeed.
Introduced as a supporting character in the Mar-Vell side of Jim Starlin’s Bronze Age cosmic epics, the Titanian Eternal named Eros was the sibling and symbolic counterpart to the malevolent Thanos. Left devoid of purpose following the deaths of both his Kree-born brah and his genocidal bro, Eros packed up his wanderlust and Brin Londo Signature Hairstyle (if you caught the reference, give yourself a gold star), and trekked to Earth in search of what we Bostonians call “advenchah among tha Avengahs.”
After a presidentially mandated name change to something a little more stupid acceptable to the Comic Code Authority…
…”Starfox” was admitted to the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as an “Avenger-in-training” (provisional, I assume, on learning that “unitard + collar = a fashion faux pas”).
Starfox served the team in the capacity of “strong alien dude who flies” for just shy of three years. When he wasn’t honing his cosmic creeping skills on the local ladyfolk…
…he restored the comotose Vision by networking the dormant synthezoid up via a 300 baud acoustic modem to the Titanian supercomputer, ISAAC — thus setting the stage for the android’s abortive bid at global domination, but, hey, live and learn.
Starfox’s other little gimmick was a secret “special power,” ominously referenced across countless internal monolgues yet pretty fairly obvious to deduce for even the dullest knives in the drawer…
…the ability to sex you up with his mind. Of course, it wasn’t referred to as such in those more family-friendly days of funnybooks, but given the laughable literary contortions performed in order to acceptably euphemize the nature of Starfox’s so-called “pleasure power” – ample use of “sensation,” “ecstacy,” and “stimulation” — they might as well have stuck with “mindfucking” and been done with it.
Towards the end of his tenure as an Avenger, Starfox’s happy-go-sleazy demeanor was rattled by a chance encounter with Nebula, a space pirate who claimed to be the daughter of Thanos. The revelation that his sibling’s evil might have carried over to a new generation of continuity footnotes caused the Ardent Avenger to adopt a grimmer stance, which was…well…
Let me put it this way. My brother and I are very close, and I’m telling you this under the assumption he’ll be a good sport about it. My brother is as much a cheery extrovert as I am an embittered recluse. When he does get angry, his rage manifests itself in what could be described as comic indignation — he shakes, he voice rises an octave, and he begins sputtering his disgust.
There’s nothing wrong with that — except that it is very difficult to discern between his legitimate anger and a put-on. Confusing the former for the latter only makes him angrier…and even more comical to behold. (My dad is not above exploiting this, but that’s akin to stating “water is wet.”)
Any time I read “angry” Starfox dialogue, I hear it in my brother’s high-pitched raging voice. (Sorry, kid, but it’s true.)
Starfox has made a number of appearances since his departure from the Avengers’ roster — either in reference to a some stray thread of Thanos/Mar-Vell mythology or as part of a revisionist, seedy take on his “special power” — but more out of service to continuity maintenance than to popular demand.
The man called Eros is what he is, a stray bit of shared universe fluff who happened to be pulled into a favorite franchise and was put to good effective use for a while. Inspiring neither good will nor ill, he’s the epitome of the “I can take him or leave him” school of Nobody’s Favorites.