AVENGERS #65-70/480-485 (2003): The Red Zone

Red Zone is pretty much universally accepted as the high water mark for Geoff Johns’ run on Avengers.

The story is basically The Avengers rescuing a town from a chemical attack (a “red fog”), and in the process Jack of Hearts accidentally over-irradiates She Hulk and makes her hulk-out like her bigger, angrier cousin. The punch line of the story is that the chemical attack was actually perpetrated (albeit accidentally) by the U.S. Government as part of a military weapons test.

But I want to start by talking about this panel…

fantastic four 65

It’s from part one (issue #480).  It’s a rare instance of “normal” humans being shown in comics having a real conversation that extends for over a page.

But look at it: They are wrestling with the real problems that face normal humans, and a super-threat comes along that is supposed to put it all into perspective.  Like if something really awful can happen, then your problems don’t matter.

I hate this philosophy.  It drives me nuts.  It’s complete bullshit.

As a person with a chronic and painful disability, I am often the one that people look at and say, “Wow!  I’m grateful I’m not him!”

That is so Goddamn demeaning.

My experiences are real and valid and valuable, and I don’t need your contempt/pity disguised as “You’re so strong/brave/how-do-you-do-it!”

Mortgages, washing machines, providing for our families are all real problems for real people.  The fact that superfolks can come along and have big fights doesn’t change that or add perspective.

It’s just something else that makes life a challenge.

Pardon the rant.

Getting back to the comic, when The Avengers venture into the red zone they are met by military forces.

Scarlet Witch tries to contain the chemical threat.

As for the rest of the storyline, I like how Olivier Coipel snatches an opportunity to pay tribute to Savage She Hulk, though. Shulk hadn’t looked like that since the 1970s.

oliver Coipel's she hulk

I get why people like this story. It’s fine, it’s just that it’s basically the same as so many Hulk stories, only this Hulk has boobs. Granted, everything is a little better with Boobs, so, hey, there’s that. It also has the heroes up against a bio-attack, which is something they really can’t fight–although towards the end they do take on an army of A.I.M. scientists

We also get to see the return of Bill Foster and some solid conflict between Tony Stark and T’Challa about what it means to live in a country whose own government develops a bio-weapon and releases it within its own borders. In the above panels, they’re held by the corrupt government officials.

As the story develops, we finally see that the evil Secretary of Defense is Red Skull, who makes a speech about why he did all the bad stuff that’s happened. It’s here that the story falters a bit. Up to Red Skull’s appearance, this has been a story about conspiracy and corruption. In the final act, it’s just another pile-on against Red Skull. Not terrible, just not all that different from anything we’ve seen before. It’s worth noting that Red Skull’s own blood is the sole source of antibodies against the chemical threat, and Black Panther gets that blood out of him the old fashioned way.

In the aftermath, Vision’s sensitivity is on display.

Geoff Johns is doing a good job at renewing Vision’s humanity and his relationship with Wanda.

Gyrich is redeemed at the end by no less than George W. Bush himself.

In all, a solid story. As I said, this is the story most people will say is the best of Geoff Johns’ run on Avengers. My personal favorite is this single-issue story. But this arc was a fun read.

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