Friday, August 31, 2012

Tragedy in Forest Hills

It was one of the greatest battles the Avengers ever won:

...or lost, depending on your perspective.

A little over 20 issues before The Avengers celebrated its 200th landmark issue, Captain Marvel, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Ms. Marvel, a full complement of Avengers--oh, hell, just about everybody--fought a pitched, life-or-death battle in...

...well, in a living room in Forest Hills.

Yeah. Imagine crying "Avengers Assemble!", charging into battle, and trying not to trip over a sofa arrangement, a coffee table, and maybe even an easy chair. Sometimes you've just gotta play the hand you're dealt.

The enemy was Korvac, an old foe of the Guardians, who by accident transformed into an all-powerful being who renamed himself Michael. Though try explaining Michael's threat to Thor, who probably expects to just clock this guy on the head with his fist and call it a day:

Together with Carina, his chosen consort, Michael set about laying the foundation for a reordering of the universe. The two proceeded carefully, covertly, in order to avoid detection--but eventually, the Avengers discovered his whereabouts, and the battle was joined.

However, though the ranks of this group of Avengers swelled with their most powerful members, they become like ducks in a shooting gallery to Michael. The first deaths among them--Quicksilver and one of the Guardians (with another incinerated in space)--galvanize the Avengers into living up to their name. But Michael begins almost effortlessly laying waste to the assemblage, no matter how hard they fight:

Those Avengers and Guardians who weren't able to break through Michael's protective field are soon slaughtered. Yet there are two confrontations with Michael that writer Jim Shooter makes a point of including. The first is Captain America, arguably the team's heart and soul, whose bravado and resourcefulness have so often before snatched victory from defeat. It's almost like an elephant in the room that needs to be dealt with:

Cap's apparent death triggers the violent attack of Wonder Man, who in prior issues has dealt with bouts of hesitation and fear in his battles alongside the Avengers. Shooter picks this decisive moment to bring Wonder Man into his own, putting all of those doubts about himself to rest:

In the end, it was Carina's doubts about their plans that took the fight out of Michael--as well as taking his life. Yet, enraged over Michael's senseless death, Carina resumed the battle, nearly mowing down the surviving Avengers in the process:

Carina, like Michael, finally committed suicide, joining Michael in death. The Avengers were on the cusp of claiming, at great cost, a victory for the history books--were it not for Moondragon, who all but convinced Thor that the Avengers were the ones at fault here, that Michael was not evil, that he wanted only to "free us from the capricious whims of Eternity." She added that before surrendering to death, Michael had reached out and restored to life those he'd killed. Before Thor had time to reflect further, he changed to his mortal doctor persona so that he could tend to the critically injured heroes--while Moondragon covertly removed from his memory everything she'd just explained.

Although I could see what Shooter was going for in this story, its ending rang hollow for me. First of all, it's hard to feel sympathy for a benefactor who has no compunction against murdering to achieve his ends, and brutally at that (even killing Carina's father, who was on the verge of revealing Michael's secret). Also, Michael isn't the only super-being who's had to be taken down because they thought they knew what was best for the universe--something Thor I'm sure would have pointed out to the short-sighted Moondragon, had he not been written to be so conflicted. And why would Moondragon go to the trouble of explaining her version of events to Thor, only to then wipe that conversation from his memory? My guess is that it was to avoid burdening the Avengers with the tragedy she feels they played a part in--though that hardly sounds like the Moondragon as written at that point in time, who never turned down an opportunity to prove how much more enlightened she is than her fellow Avengers.

Michael's death was a "tragedy" that Shooter, in my opinion, had yet to prove to the reader; indeed, the events of What If...? # 32, which carries the premise of this story to fruition, would seem to portray Michael as someone hardly suited to be the one to reshape the universe. If anything, this ending to the Korvac saga might have provided rich fodder for a follow-up story with Moondragon's point of view vs. the Avengers', a character-driven story which would seem to be right up Shooter's alley. It certainly would have provided much-needed closure for an otherwise fine saga.

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