Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Wrath of Zeus!

In Avengers #100, the Avengers invaded Olympus--and if you raised your window at the time, you could probably hear the collective yawns of readers who had just put down their copy. The issue was probably something of a let-down, for reasons I elaborated on in a prior post. If you want to see a real Avengers vs. Olympus throw-down, jump ahead 181 issues later to Avengers #s 281-285, where Roger Stern, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer give us a five-issue struggle ending with no less than an all-out battle with Zeus!

Of course, we can't have the Avengers falling down into the maw of a vengeful god right off the bat. Stern proceeds fairly logically through the steps by which the Avengers come to be in Olympus, facing off against its various residents (including Hades en masse). Basically, the team is captured to answer for the crippling of Hercules which took place during the seige of Avengers Mansion by the Masters of Evil. Though when you're talking about an angry Zeus, "answering" for something is probably going to mean paying for it, as Hera explains to the captured Wasp:

Readers of the Masters of Evil story know that there were mitigating circumstances regarding Hercules' injuries; unfortunately, the fractured mumblings of Hercules, unconscious and his mind severely damaged, have implicated the Wasp and the Avengers as far as Zeus is concerned, and he's not about to listen to the Avengers' side of the story. So the team has its work cut out for it: assessing the circumstances of their capture and the odds stacked against them, finding possible allies among the Olympians, battling through their ordeal in Hades, and surviving their confrontation with Zeus. It's a test on several fronts for them--not only of the collective power and effectiveness of a relatively new team, but also of the leadership abilities of Captain Marvel, their newly elected chairwoman. It would be her first real test in the field in such a position, and a life-or-death struggle in Olympus is going to make one hell of a baptism of fire.

At the time of this story, the Avengers team consists of a fairly balanced roster of six:

The Sub-Mariner, no longer an active member, finds himself among them in this battle when he's captured by Neptune--by order of Zeus, who apparently finds Namor guilty by association. As for the armor Thor is wearing, he's suffering under a curse from Hela, the Asgardian death-goddess, and battling under a handicap.

I can certainly recommend this excellent story in its entirety, so do pick it up and read it from beginning to end for a truly classic Avengers story that remains one of my favorites. But if you want to get to the main event, let's cut to the chase right now as the Avengers finally face the wrath of Zeus!

When the Avengers finally confront Zeus, he lets his fellow Olympians deal with the mortal team members while he focuses his efforts on Thor. Thunder-God vs. Thunder God would normally be an interesting face-off, but again, Thor's armor is the only thing that's making him capable of being in a fight at all. So the first round goes to Zeus:

But the very fact that Thor battles on even at such a disadvantage makes this one hell of a fight--and one hell of an Avengers story, since the team itself fights valiantly and well against near-overwhelming odds. And with one distinct difference--the Avengers are fighting not to the death, but in self-defense, in an effort to just get the Olympians to listen to the facts. Even so, Thor isn't the type to let himself be humbled by another god who directly challenges him.

It's a standoff in the truest sense. Zeus may be out for blood, and under other circumstances he might have an edge on Thor--but Thor cannot die in his present curse-induced state, though I'm sure those thunderbolts are causing Thor a great deal of agony. But Zeus is about to meet a new challenger, who wields powers somewhat similar to both these combatants and gives Thor a much-needed breather.

Throughout this entire story, Captain Marvel has stepped up to her leadership role in every sense of the word. Just look at the way she asserts her authority here, giving Zeus every chance to comply but making clear that his plans for the Avengers are not acceptable. She'd be hell on wheels on a police force like SHIELD or Code: Blue--but against foes who consider mortals as beings who should know their place when dealing with gods, her assertiveness is impressive, to say the least. Unfortunately, Zeus's anger and impatience is only inflamed by a mortal's presumptuous demands, leaving Marvel no choice.

Sheesh, even I felt that. With her all-out effort, Marvel scores a solid strike against Zeus, despite his posturing to the contrary:

But since this issue is closing in on its final pages, and we have one more issue to go before this story wraps, Stern deals in the other Avengers in order to set up the final showdown. Unfortunately, since they don't have the advantage of Marvel's light-form, Zeus is able to deal with them more physically.

Which is really the only quibble I have about Stern's story at this point--his handling of these two otherwise powerful characters. Granted, Zeus is a brawler from wayyy back, and certainly no foe to be trifled with--and I realize we're running out of issue space here--but to deal both of these characters into this fight only to dispose of them so quickly seems a disservice to their respective power. I also have a similar problem with the Black Knight's "cameo" at the end:

I mean, he's no Namor or She-Hulk, but creeping up on the battle scene and taking cover? Is this guy an Avenger or not?

But with at least Captain Marvel and Thor still standing, and Zeus still frothing at the mouth--oh, and the Black Knight planning his strategy--there's still plenty of battle left to cover. Which we'll pick up next time, because, like this issue, we've run out of room.

All right, there's plenty of room on a blog post. Just cut me some slack for dramatic license!


Edo Bosnar said...

Just read this story about a week ago, and I agree with you 100%: it's an outstanding follow-up to the equally impressive "Under Siege" story, and since Stern rather abruptly left the title soon after, it's sort of a great conclusion to his run.
As for this specific issue, it was great fun. Loved the Thor/Zeus throwdown, although it kind of made me wish for a re-match with Thor at peak capacity...

Comicsfan said...

Hi, Edo. You can read Thor Annual #8 for a Thor/Zeus battle where Thor was feeling more like himself, taking place within the backdrop of the Trojan War.

I was sad to see Stern's run on this title come to an end. I didn't care for Walt Simonson's take on The Avengers at all.

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