If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe looking to dive into the historic and storied source material, and you can stomach a little self-referential snark from one of the medium’s greats, then Marvel: The Avengers Vault may be the coffee table book for you.
Vault is a hefty, fully-illustrated hardcover that stands about 12 inches in height and features an iconic action shot of the team’s movie characters on the front. The connection to comic books themselves is enforced from the very beginning, though, as one of the first things inside the cover is a montage of Silver Age appearances, followed by a double-page spread that graced the first issue of Jonathan Hickman’s current Avengers run.
The Avengers Vault begins by introducing the team, then follows up with chapters devoted to each of the main players – Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk. A final chapter takes a peek at how the Avengers are portrayed in other media, and is followed by an appendix listing every character lucky enough to have ever been issued an ID card.
Writer Peter David, perhaps best known to long-time Marvel fans for authoring The Incredible Hulk for over a decade, dutifully describes how each hero came to be, including the conflicting recollections of their creators. In addition to painstaking character histories, each chapter also examines their alternate identities and throws in a few descriptions of their regular villains, for good measure.
The accounts are snappy, humorous and easy to read, but it’s hard not to see some industry veteran cynicism in places. David never misses an opportunity to poke fun at admittedly silly super hero tropes, such as noting that when Captain America first defrosted, he “greeted the Avengers in the time-honored method that superheroes typically employ upon first encountering each other: he tried to fight them.” Strangely enough, David saves his sharpest barbs for the Hulk, reminding us that his origin “doesn’t make a lick of sense,” before spending a couple paragraphs defending his own work on the character against some of its more common criticisms.
It’s all still informative and easy for a Marvel neophyte to digest, with a few nuggets that may even surprise the enthusiast, such as the fact that Joe Simon’s inspiration for the Red Skull came from the cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae. But the book’s real value is in some neat reproductions that come packaged at the end of each chapter. These vary in size and include reprints of original Jack Kirby art and a booklet called “All About Iron Man,” which originally appeared in Tales of Suspense #55.
Marvel: The Avengers Vault isn’t all it could be, but it’s a decent Avengers primer for those who want to dig deeper into a mythology they discovered through more mainstream media. The extra inclusions are fun and maybe even suitable for framing if you’re so inclined. Who doesn’t want a Walt Simonson Frog of Thunder poster hanging in their living room?
Marvel: The Avengers Vault, by Peter A. David, is 163 oversized pp. and is currently available wherever books are sold, with a retail price of $34.99 (but is available from Amazon for just $26.24!). Published by Thunder Bay Press of San Diego, Calif.