At the time of publication, the villains that populated the Marvel Universe rarely stepped outside of their respective publishing houses and into books other than the ones they were created for. What Acts of Vengeance amounted to was a plot on the part of Loki — who was indirectly responsible for the formation of the original Avengers — for major villains to “swap heroes.” The theory being that the heroes won’t be able to cope with the unfamiliar territory, and will fall. it’s a sound idea, and one often used by heroes when fighting multiple villains. From a publishing standpoint, it allowed Marvel to cross-pollinate their titles.
The entirety of Acts of Vengeance is collected into two massive Omnibuses — one focusing on the main Avengers titles and accompanying events, and one focusing on the way the events branched out to affect other people in the Marvel Universe — The Crossovers. This is that title, a 768-page volume featuring separate-but-linked stories from multiple brand-corners of the larger Marvel Universe: the Midnight Sons, The Punisher, Daredevil, and (most prominently) the X-Men.
The degree to which the creative staff uses the Acts setting varies drastically from issue to issue, resulting in a very inconsistent tone. For example: in Uncanny X-Men, the plot-line is not altered at all by Claremont, other than the inclusion of the Mandarin, who fits so seamlessly into the narrative that I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he was a part of the plot long before the Acts of Vengeance tag was mandated. There’s no mention of his being there as a part of Loki’s armada, and he has a valid in-story explanation for his presence. At the same time, these issues do mark a major turning point for the X-Men: this story takes place during a period when there were no X-Men, they all having flown through the Siege Perilous into alternate lives. Only Wolverine & Jubilee remain, and in these issues they journey to Madripoor and find that PsyLocke has been given a different body by the Mandarin: that’s right, these are the issues where PsyLocke goes from British, to Asian. So while its inclusion here is a major shift in the tone of the rest of the book, I can’t say that the issues presented are throwaways like many crossovers are.
Meanwhile over in the Wolverine solo story, the authors make proper use of the Acts of Vengeance plot-line by having Logan battle Tiger-Shark, a character traditionally associated with the Avengers and Namor. Here, Loki’s plan basically works out as it was supposed to: Tiger-Shark, of all characters, comes closer to killing Logan than anyone else has thus far. This was before Logan reached the nigh-immortal levels his healing factor currently allows him, back when he was still slowed down by bullets and knives. Tiger-Shark brings Logan to the bottom of the ocean and plunges his claws into a coral reef, leaving the X-Man to slowly drown. Really, this is ingenious villainy: a way to kill Logan that was plausible and effective. This should have put Tiger-Shark on the map, and is still referenced as a holy-shit moment for the character to this day.
But for every good part of this omnibus, there are two stinkers. The X-Factor entries aren’t even a complete story, they’re a small part of the then-ongoing Judgement War story-arc (a story-arc that wasn’t particularly good itself). These issues don’t even properly follow the Acts dynamic, making their inclusion here head-scratching.
The Doctor Strange chapters a serviceable, pitting him against the demonically-possessed Hobogoblin. The art on these issues is the main grab… not so much the ongoing soap-opera of one of Strange’s ex-girlfriend’s releasing a tell-all book about him and their subsequent appearance together on a daytime talk-show. And while I enjoy this version of the Hobogoblin — and the fact that it made his storyline branch out from Spider-Man to everywhere from here to Ghost Rider to Darkhawk — pairing a mystical villain against a mystical hero sort-of defeats the purpose behind the Acts of Vengeance, meaning this plot-thread fails to make sense from an in-story perspective.
Much like X-Factor, the New Mutants issues (84-86 of their first series) are a small part of a larger story in which they journey to Asgard and, eventually, leave Danielle Moonstar there. While having the New Mutants fight Hela seems like a villain-swap, in reality the New Mutants have had ties to Asgard all through their run, and this is the conclusion of a long-running plot-line in which Dani is a Valkyrie. The real sticking-point here is that the main baddie of all of Acts of Vengeance is Loki, so you’d think he’d be a part of a title that takes place there. Yet he’s curiously absent.
One of the better stories from this collection were serialized between Daredevil issues 275-276. These feature Daredevil, and his then-allies the Inhumans, battling major Marvel-villain Ultron, who has been reassembled by Doctor Doom. Ultron has gone completely insane and is exploring the meaning of life in his new adamantium, indestructible body. Here, Ann Nocenti uses the Acts schima the way it should be used: to thoroughly out-class the title’s main hero, and see if they can still somehow scrape by and prove themselves. Daredevil is completely out-classed by Ultron and these issues, making for one of the most nail-biting DD fights in memory.
Doctor Doom was actually used in many, many titles during the Acts. Overused in fact, to the exclusion of many others on The Cabal. And I call it a Cabal, because this is very much in-line with the secret team-up of villains Norman Osborn birthed years later. The use of Doom is something that perhaps the editors should have stepped in and curbed, forcing authors to evenly spread their resources. In this collection, Doom also pits his resources against the Punisher — and like with DD, Castle should be outclassed: but isn’t. This puts his issues on the negative side. The Punisher writers use him like he’s Batman. Like he always wins because he’s the Punisher. Punisher: Dark Reign would later show the truth: while the Punisher can be interesting, he’s outdone against this caliber of bad-guy.
Actually Punisher is all over this book. Reprinted here are issues of Punisher, Punisher War Journal, and a guest-stint he had in Moon Knight. He brings his negative-mark to the Moon Knight book as well, but not in the same way: this omnibus bizarrely collects the Moon Knight – Punisher team-up issues that lead up to Moon Knight’s Acts of Vengeance issues, along with the one MK issue branded an Act, wherein he fights Ringmaster, Killer Shrike, and other baddies running amok in New York in the chaos created by Loki’s plans. However, this issue ends on a cliffhanger, and the follow-up issue is not collected. Now if you’re going to collect issues surrounding a crossover issue, shouldn’t you do it in a way that makes narrative sense? That, and the Punisher’s appearance complicates his continuity and when all these things happen in his timeline. In short, it’s all kinds of messed up.
In addition to all this, the Damage Control mini-series is collected in its totality, and there are some great one-off issues of The Incredible Hulk and Power Pack. All said, the good and the bad balance each other out fairly well.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“In addition to all this, the Damage Control mini-series is collected in its totality, and there are some great one-off issues of The Incredible Hulk and Power Pack. All said, the good and the bad balance each other out fairly well.”