Sometimes, comics are about gimmicks. Some work. Some don't. Gimmicks in comics are about sales; because at the end of the day, comics are a business more than an art form.
After the 1994 five-issue mini-series Zero Hour, DC paused for an Zero Month. October 1994 was the perfect jumping on point for their super hero line as each issue got a zero issue. Marvel, on the other hand has had both Minus One issues and half - or point-five - issues. In December 1999, Marvel released The Avengers #1.5. Chronologically, it took place between The Avengers #1 and The Avengers #2. It is one of the few gimmicks in comics that works!
The Avengers #1.5 follows what happens next, after Ant-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and The Wasp beat Loki.
Written by Roger Stern (credited as filling in for Stan Lee) with art by Bruce Timm (credited as filling in for Jack Kirby), lettered by Comicraft and edited by Tom Brevoort, the story opens with legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite breaking the story on The Avengers. A story every one sees; man, woman, child, the Fantastic Four in their headquarters in the Baxter Building; Spider-Man swinging through Times Square; and, Doctor Doom in his command center.
Sometime later, a Major Bowman, from the National Security Council, arrives at the mansion to meet The Avengers. While briefing the team on Doctor Doom and his airship, the zeppelin is actually stolen! Bowman and The Avengers race off to recover the vessel. They manage to catch up to the ship in an advanced helicopter provided by Bowman. Ant-Man tells The Wasp to stay with Bowman and his pilot in case of danger and get them to safety as he and the other three Avengers board Doom's airship.
On board they separate and each falls into a trap! Iron Man gets the worst of it as he confronts a Doom-bot that begins to drain power from his armor. Bowman proves that he is not who he claims to be! Ant-Man finds the real Bowman, a prisoner on the ship! The imposter reveals himself as Doom, with The Wasp his captive!
The battle turns when Ant-Man transforms into Giant Man and makes his way through the ship rescuing his team-mates. When The Hulk, Giant Man and Thor reach Iron Man, the Thunder God calls down lightning to recharge the man of steel's armor. When they all finally confront Doom, The Hulk pops the head off another Doom-bot! Realizing that a self-destruct sequence has begun, The Hulk pushes the real Bowman into an escape pod, and The Avengers make a spectacular escape as the airship explodes. The Wasp reveals that she saved the day by guiding Giant Man's actions. The story ends with Thor wondering if they ever really faced the real Doom. Watching from his lair, Doom admits that The Avengers will never know...
Stern's script combined with Bruce Timm's pencils produce a really fun story. The gimmick of a half - or point-five - issue works here. The Avengers are such a unique team in that there's really no reason they should be together in the same room, let alone working together. They have nothing in common. This isn't the Fantastic Four, the X-Men or the Justice League. The Avengers have to get passed their own bickering and in-fighting to be able to stomach working together to beat a common foe the individual team members can not handle on his or her own.
Marvel has really mastered the whole shared universe and cameo appearance concept in a way that DC still struggles the idea. While Doctor Doom is considered the Fantastic Four's adversary, Marvel's rule could be that all rogues are shared. The same with cameos. They are more natural, rather than DC forcing a cameo or guest appearance specifically for sales. For twelve cents, you get not just five heroes, but an extra five, counting the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. That's a dictionary definition of "bang for the buck"!
Bruce Timm's Hulk is hilarious in his facial expressions and comments throughout the story. The moment he is rescued by Giant Man is laugh out loud funny, too. Bruce Timm also provides a mighty Avengers pin-up.
This issue features a bonus, contemporary Spider-Man insert story, as well as covers for other point-five issues that would be great to see: Kid Colt, Outlaw 112.5 and Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos 3.5. The cover price is 250 cents! What a mark-up over 34 years!
If you can find this issue in the back-issue bin of your local comic book store, grab it and enjoy it! Free Comic Book Day 2012 is the Saturday after The Avengers premiere, so check out where the team got it's start! It's worthwhile.