In a Nutshell
Loki launches his opening salvo and the New Warriors make their first appearance.
Avengers Spotlight #26 by Dwayne McDuffie & Dwyane Turner
Avengers #311 by John Byrne, Paul Ryan, and Tom Palmer
Thor #411 by Tom DeFalco & Ron Frenz (words, pictures, plot) and Joe Sinnot (finishes).
(for full credits on each issue, please visit the GCD)
Avengers Spotlight #26: The Wizard is transferred to the high security super-villain prison the Vault, but after a strange man in a suit appears in his cell, the Wizard suddenly escapes, in full possession of his gear. Battling the armored Guardsmen, he frees the other prisoners, triggering a breakout as the guards calls for backup. Iron Man and Hawkeye respond to the distress call, and together, they get the Guardsmen out and, using an EMP arrow, seal off the prison, preventing at least a few of the prisoners from escaping. Avengers #311: Quasar arrives on Hydro-Base, the artificial island home of Avengers Mansion, amidst reports from the support staff of superheroes all over the country getting caught up in fights against foes they've never faced before. Elsewhere, the suited man watches from afar, then meets with Dr. Doom and the Mandarin, pretending to be their servant as Doom announces that his part in their plan is about to commence.
Suddenly, a force of Doombots attacks Hydro-Base, puncturing holes in the floatation apparatus. Quasar leads the staff in defense of the island and they manage to drive off the Doombots, but not before the robots plant a bomb near the fuel tanks which, when it explodes, sounds the death knell for the island. Quasar is able to get the staff to safety, but can do nothing to prevent Avengers Mansion from sinking into the sea. Thor #411: Loki, unable to locate Thor in his secret identity, frees Juggernaut from prison and deposits him in New York to lure out his brother. Thor does his best to defend the city from Juggernaut, but is wracked by seizures, weakening him. Meanwhile, their battle draws the attention of a Richard Rider, who issues a call to action to a group of teens. At the Long Island Railyard, Juggernaut overwhelms Thor, and is poised to strike a killing blow when a group of heroes intervene: the New Warriors.
Firsts and Other Notables
After the mostly-linewide and X-Men-centric "Inferno" crossover the previous summer (and to a lesser extent "Fall of Mutants" and "Mutant Massacre" in the prior two years), Marvel handed the reigns of their next big crossover to the Avengers, crafting a loose narrative in which Loki attempts to takedown the Avengers (whom he inadvertently helped form) by manipulating Earth's villains, the end result of which was mostly a lot of tie-in issues built around the (admittedly fun) idea of heroes facing off against villains they didn't usually fight, giving this issue the largest scope yet, in terms of series involved, of any Marvel crossover yet.
Arguably the most notable event in this batch of issues is the first appearance of the New Warriors in Thor #411. A group of teenaged superheroes, some new, some existing (including former peripheral X-character Firestar), the New Warriors would soon receive their own series which would last through most of the 90s, and would, in various incarnations, remain a presence in the Marvel Universe to this day (most notably serving as the accidental impetus for the events of "Civil War"). Being a group of 90sfied superpowered teens (and given the history of one of their members), the New Warriors will, on occasion, also end up crossing over and interacting with the New Mutants, especially once transition into X-Force (and both titles are being written by the same author), so "Acts" won't be the last X-aminations sees of the group.
Most of the New Warriors who appear in this issue (Nova, Firestar, Marvel Boy, Speedball and Namorita) made previous appearances in earlier comics, but Thor #411 is the first appearance of New Warriors leader Night Thrasher, and his associates Chord and Tai, both of whom will feature in the eventual New Warriors regular series as well.
The opening salvo of "Acts of Vengeance" occurs in Avengers Spotlight #26, as Loki orchestrates a breakout at the Vault, the special prison designed to hold super-villains, thereby creating a convenient excuse for all the super-villains popping up in the various tie-in comics.
The next big event occurs in Avengers #311, as a group of Doombots sink Hydro-Base, the artificial island on which Avengers Mansion was relocated following the "Under Siege" storyline (in which the Masters of Evil took control of the mansion). The island takes the mansion down with it, destroying it for the first time. A Watcher from an alternate reality will eventually restore it, but first, the Avengers will go headquarters-less for about a dozen issues, before a new Avengers Compound is built, which serves as their HQ throughout the early 90s.
Avengers #311 also establishes that the overall plan of "Acts of Vengeance", with Loki having, between issues, organized a group of the more significant villains in the Marvel Universe, dubbed the Prime Movers (though not in this issue, nor do we know it's Loki yet), into acting together against the world's heroes, with Loki concealing his identity and posing as a suit-clad lackey, convincing each of the villains that he is the true leader of the Cabal. As of this issue, we see Dr. Doom and the Mandarin as members of the Prime Movers.
Shortly before"Acts", following the reunification of the team as seen during "Inferno", Captain America had created a support staff for Avengers Mansion, comprised of assorted supporting characters culled from the various Avengers titles (including current TV star Peggy Carter). With the regular Avengers all caught up in other battles, the support staff, get the spotlight in Avengers #311.
They are joined by Quasar (who is basically Marvel's Green Lantern), a minor character who had been hanging around on the fringes of the Marvel Universe for years but who at the time was receiving a big push from Marvel, having recently joined the Avengers and received his own title.
At the time of "Acts", John Byrne was writing both Avengers titles, having recently returned to the company following his reboot of Superman in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, though he doesn't stay on the titles too long after this storyline.
Thor at this time is residing within the body of architect Eric Masterson, transforming back and forth as with Don Blake in the 60s, a condition of which Loki is unaware, making it difficult for Loki to locate him when he's just Masterson. Thor is also suffering from random seizures (I forget what that's all about) and is living with Hercules, in his Harry Cleese identity.
A Work in Progress
Much of Avengers Spotlight #26 is informed by "Stark Wars", the classic Iron Man story in which Tony Stark went around reclaiming or destroying technology created using his inventions without his permission, including the armor of the Guardsmen at the Vault. It's noted in this issue that the Guardsmen's new armor was provided by Stane International, Stark's competitor, and is inferior to the original armor.
When Iron Man enters the Vault to help with the breakout, he also (understandably) gets a lot of guff from the guards and Hawkeye, having caused the last breakout at the prison when reclaiming his tech. At the time, Stark told everyone that the guy inside the Iron Man suit during "Stark Wars" was fired, but anyone who knows the truth about Iron Man (like Hawkeye) knows that's BS. Stark was also paralyzed at this time, though Hawkeye clearly believes that's a ruse as well.
Hawkeye's hearing aids (which he acquired after going deaf battling Crossfire in his original limited series) are damaged by the EMP arrow he fires at the end of Spotlight #26, a rare recognition of his handicap.
In Avengers #311, the support staff notes multiple reports of Avengers being caught up in battles with uncommon foes.
Juggernaut is released from Crossmoor Prison in Thor #411, which is where he was left the last time he appeared, in Excalibur #3.
Thor notes that Juggernaut is usually handled by X-characters, but says he's not about to be territorial about it, which is pretty much "Acts of Vengeance" in a nutshell.
Juggernaut references his "personal force field" as the source of his invulnerability, which is one of those elements of his powers which is inconsistently depicted. Here, it's enough to stop Thor's hammer cold.
Juggernaut is also referred to as a mutant, which he of course is not, though it is a common mistake.
The Reference Section
Juggernaut compares Thor to Yankees slugger Don Mattingly, who really needs to trim those sideburns.
It's in the Mail
The results from a series of polls conducted on Avengers readers are displayed in the letters page of Spotlight #26. Of note, at the time there were eight Avengers carrying their own series (charitably including Moon Knight, who was technically a member of the West Coast team, briefly and Hawkeye, who often headlined Avengers Spotlight, but didn't technically have his own series), and Spider-Man easily wins the title of Favorite Candidate for Avengers membership.
"Acts of Vengeance" is an odd crossover. Building on the success of the previous year's "Inferno", it's even faurther reaching than that storyline, with nearly every significant title Marvel published participating in some regard. Yet whereas "Inferno" had the narrative spine of the X-books (specifically X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor) to tell the main story while the tie-ins mostly used the setting of a demon-infested New York to tell their own stories, "Acts of Vengeance" lacks that central narrative. It's almost entirely tie-ins. And while, admittedly, the setup of "Acts" is designed to make those tie-ins at best engaging and at least fun, as we see heroes take on new or unexpected foes, there's still a sense that a larger narrative piece is missing.
What narrative spine there is to "Acts" runs through the Avengers titles (another departure from the X-centric "Inferno"), and there's a bit of that in these first few issues. Spotlight #26 depicts a breakout at the Vault, creating a convenient explanation for the sudden surge of super-villains appearing in the various tie-in books, and it's strongly hinted that the mysterious man in the suit orchestrated the breakout for some reason. Avengers #311 introduces the concept of the Prime Movers but is rather vague about it (Loki goes unnamed), though the destruction of Hydro-Base and Avengers Mansion in that issue is certainly a significant enough event to work as the opening salvo of Loki's attack. But the issue ends with a sense that something is missing, that even if you've read both Avengers issues, there's a chapter out there you've missed featuring Loki formulating his plan and approaching the Prime Movers for the first time. But there's not, and there never will be.
For readers approaching this crossover with the benefit of hindsight, the lack of a strong, obvious central narrative can be refreshing, allowing as it does the bulk of the crossover to unfold in the tie-ins, where, in this case, the most fun can be had and the success of an individual chapter is more dependent on the specific creative team or hero/villain pairing than a connection to a larger plot. But for new readers coming to the storyline for the first time, the effect can be jarring, a perpetual sense that a chapter or two or three is missing, and depending on how well you handle that, it can take some of the fun out of otherwise entertaining tie-in issues.
Tomorrow, the "Cross Time Caper" goes ever on in Excalibur #16. Friday, things get rough in Wolverine #18. Next week, "Acts of Vengeance" arrives and Jim Lee returns in Uncanny X-Men #256.