Friday, March 15, 2013

The Ultimate Avenger

With all the things happening in Avengers Annual #7 and considering the scope of its story, it almost felt like we were left hanging after the issue's conclusion. Adam Warlock had been killed by Thanos; the Avengers and Captain Marvel had fought an inconclusive battle with the Titan, but managed to foil his scheme to use a synthetic power gem to extinguish the stars; Thanos escaped, vowing that the Avengers had only minutes to live; and an invasion fleet of thousands of alien ships presumably remained a threat to Earth. Were it not for that hostile alien fleet still in the vicinity, the issue might have ended quite tidily, since the battle was effectively over and Thanos had been driven off, having no weapon of mass destruction to further his mad plan to court Death.

But we know there's a Part 2 to the story, with a lot of things still on the Avengers' plate. And in a way it's too bad that this isn't wholly an Avengers story, since it would have made one hell of an Avengers story--because all of the Avengers present here make for an effective force to insert into something on this scale, and it would be a priceless opportunity to explore their characterization. After all, Mar-vell is hardly the only clear-thinker here. Some of the best Avengers stories are ones where everyone on the team puts their heads together and act (or, rather, interact) to meet the crisis.

So for Part 2, bringing in the Thing and Spider-Man seems like an odd direction to take the story in, given the kind of personalities and power set we already have available. And not to cut to the chase, but the irony of this choice is that the efforts of these two don't really amount to anything--it's only when Spider-Man frees the Avengers that the battle begins in earnest. That mainly does a disservice to the Thing, who is a veteran of the Marvel lineup and has seen more than his share of powerful foes who lived to regret taking him on. Given that this story is taking place in Marvel Two-In-One (and in its annual, no less), a book which has spotlighted the Thing since day one, wouldn't you expect a battle between himself and Thanos to be one for the record books? And yet, with just the first punch thrown, here's what it boils down to:

As a long-time reader of the Thing's adventures in Fantastic Four, how shall I put this delicately: GIVE ME A BREAK.

But while that blunt observation might give you the impression that I'm coming down on this issue like a hammer on an anvil, I actually ended up enjoying this story more than its predecessor in the Avengers annual. And that's partly because, despite having one story in common, each part is handled very differently.

For one thing, the first story spent a good deal of its focus on Warlock and the build-up to the circumstances of his death. In this follow-up, with that out of the way, we finally get to the point of having the Avengers all in one place and seeing their confrontation with Thanos. That is, eventually. Since this story deals in Spider-Man and the Thing (and very well, I might add, in a believable scene between the two that gets them on board with this story quickly), the Avengers first have to be sidelined for much of the issue until this book's two main players are given ample story time. Writer/artist Jim Starlin takes care of that in a dramatic and efficient "prologue" to the story which taps into the events that the captured Moondragon relays to Peter Parker while he sleeps.

And in his "dream," Peter sees things go downhill for the Avengers pretty quickly. First, the trio of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain Marvel are taken out by a salvo launched by Thanos as they're returning to his decoy ship where the other Avengers are still fighting:

And then, Thanos takes personal charge of his men from the alien fleet which accompanied him, coordinating them into a more effective force against the remaining Avengers and taking them out in short order:

So before you know it, the Avengers and Mar-vell make for a nice trophy display which I wouldn't mind having for myself:

(Gee, wasn't it considerate of Thanos to retrieve Thor's hammer from where it was floating in space and make sure the Thunder God would have his greatest weapon within reach, should he get free? What a swell guy.)

Finally, Thanos has Warlock's body brought to him so that he can appropriate his soul gem and make use of it. For even though the synthetic gem Thanos constructed has been destroyed, Warlock's gem will at least give Thanos enough power to extinguish our own star, in a desperate effort to appease Death. Though as far as I know, Thanos still possesses the other gems he collected--why not simply repeat the process of extracting their elements and constructing another power gem to get his original plan back on track? Maybe Thanos needs a good "right arm" to keep him apprised of such things--I wonder if Victoria Hand is available?

Speaking of that alien fleet, what a convenient--and seemingly pointless--plot device it turns out to be. Having Thanos go solo and completely overwhelm the forces against him would have been stretching it (frankly, he's far too overwhelming in power as it is, and inexplicably so); thus, we have a fleet of thousands of alien ships backing him up, the better to enhance the universal threat he represents. Why stack the deck with "thousands"? I haven't a clue. Nothing alerts and mobilizes your opposition like a massive alien invasion fleet appearing on their radar scopes, so I don't know why Thanos would purposely open the door to his own detection. Also, if you're there to extinguish a system's star and in the process obliterate its worlds, there's not much of a reason to bring an invasion fleet since there's no point to invading any worlds. And surely a much smaller amount of hand-picked forces could guard your flagship long enough to fire your primary weapon at a star.

So this alien fleet is just window dressing, as far as I can tell--something for the Avengers to punch their way through on the way to Thanos' flagship, as well as a big hovering mass of firepower that oddly lets the Thing's shuttle just whiz right through on its way to Thanos. Nor has it occurred to these hired-gun morons that, if Thanos proceeds with his plans, that means no stars or habitable planets will be left to sustain life, including their own.

At any rate, they've presumably been paid, so we're stuck with them. But as I said, they didn't stop the Thing and Spider-Man from approaching, so they're not doing anyone any harm circling aimlessly out there. Why don't we just catch up with Spidey and the Thing, who boarded Thanos' ship only to be quickly taken into custody by the gloating Titan:

Thanos, being a villain in love with his own voice (as well as in love with Death, but let's not go there), divulges his plans to the two heroes--and we've already seen what happened to Ben when he objected with a fist to Thanos' gut. As for Spider-Man, he has something of a panic attack, as he realizes he's clearly out of his league. But figuring that Earth would hold no safety for him if Thanos prevails, he comes up with a plan that might even the odds:

Ha ha. Let's not tell Spider-Man about the poor showing Thor gave Thanos in the previous issue--we might scare the guy even more than he is now. Suffice to say, Spider-Man disables the stasis fields keeping the Avengers immobile, and the team springs into action. And with Thor and the Thing teaming up against Thanos:

That leaves the big guy unable to coordinate his alien troops, a development which the Avengers and Mar-vell take full advantage of:

Unlike the Avengers annual, where Starlin handled the team as if keeping it in reserve, the Avengers coordinate their own efforts more efficiently and are allowed to briefly flourish in this wrap-up issue. Unfortunately, there isn't enough room left to give them a chance to take control of this battle, because the main struggle with Thanos takes precedence. And both Thor and the Thing have lost issue time to make up for:

But again, Thanos has been gulping down those mystery vitamins of his that allow him to sustain no injury whatsoever when attacked by such powerhouses--so it becomes clear that these pages were simply for our benefit, and have no substantive value. Though if you're a Thanos fan, you can't help but be happy right now:

Meanwhile, Chaos and Order--the cosmic entities whose brilliant machinations gave us the Magus, if you'll remember--have been working behind the scenes to orchestrate the fall of Thanos. And their efforts are focused on two unlikely sources--Warlock, dead but whose spirit resides in his soul gem, and Spider-Man, who until now has felt impotent as far as his contribution to this battle:

Flailing his arms in a frenzy, Spider-Man frees the soul gem from its confinement, and releases a force no one expected. And that goes double for a very worried, and perhaps terrified, Thanos:

The end comes quickly. For Thanos, it brings closure to a life spent in pursuit of Death, yet finding that goal awaiting him on Death's dispassionate terms; while Warlock at last finds purpose to his unfulfilled, brief life:

At the issue's end, the Avengers, the Thing, and Mar-vell attend a memorial service for Warlock, with Mar-vell fittingly giving a eulogy that sums up Warlock's life in the grand scope of his limited existence while acknowledging that life's tragic circumstances. As for Thanos, it fell to Chaos and Order to give his epitaph:

Trapped throughout infinity, eh? Apparently Chaos and Order aren't on Marvel time.


Anonymous said...

This issue (and the Avengers annual preceding it) represented to me the end of Bronze Age of Comics, but also also a farewell to my childhood. I had never stopped to consider why Thor would still have his hammer, or why Thanos would bother putting him in stasis at all, except for the theory that Warlock put forth: HE'S SOWING THE SEEDS OF HIS OWN SELF-DESTRUCTION. It's a neat explanation; I think we've all seen that kind of behavior sometime and someplace.
I associate this comic with a time and place, when I was a kid living on a farm in Iowa in the 70's, reading comics and listening to my sisters playing Led Zeppelin, Heart and Fleetwood Mac on the radio. I could walk to the edge of the yard and see a million miles of nothing. I guess I liked to think that there were guys like Adam Warlock, Ben Grimm, Thor or Captain Marvel out there in space. Heroism existed down here, too, but it's sometimes hard for a kid to see that. Ya gotta admit, man, whatever your preferences or whatever your era, it was a good comic.

Comicsfan said...

Absolutely. There are certainly comics, music, etc. that don't "date" well, but this story has stood the test of time. It was a lot of fun flipping through those pages again.

Doug said...

A plug for the recently-released mammoth trade paperback Avengers vs. Thanos. Wow. Is it big, and does it contain a whole lot of Bronze Age love! The stories reviewed today are the concluding tales of that tome.

Well worth the purchase!


Comicsfan said...

That puppy certainly covers all the bases, judging by its issue/titles list. Good lord, 472 pages--that's about half the size of an omnibus. But what a great read, especially for anyone who hasn't yet seen those earlier stories.

I think it's high time I started a linked wish list. :) :)

dbutler16 said...

Great review! I'm no expert on Thanos, but I've always thought of him as a real heavyweight, but you seem skeptical of hisability to take on Thor & the Thing. Was he not as powerful in his earlier appearances?

Comicsfan said...

Thanos, in his early days, was more of a behind-the-scenes manipulator of events (and players), stepping out of the shadows only to take personal control of the endgame of whatever plan he'd set in motion. His abilities seemed to spring forth out of the blue (e.g., the "time mind sync warp" he used on the Destroyer), with only a vague explanation of being self-taught to account for them; mostly, he preferred to rely on his armies, his arsenal of exotic weaponry, and his technology. Aside from his initial struggle with the Destroyer, it was only after he hooked up with Warlock that I noticed he began using his personal power on a more extensive basis (though that wasn't enough to defend against the Magus).

Both the Thing and (to a greater extent) Thor have fought and prevailed against their share of foes who make use of overwhelming force. But Thanos is not only going up against them, but practically everybody--so he's been built to be large and extremely muscle-bound, and he has powers that neither his brother nor his father have ever heard of. Also, he can apparently defeat the Destroyer, a being specially created to battle and destroy him. Yet he still flees from armies, the Magus can humble him, and he fears the flaming specter of Warlock. To me, Thanos's invincibility seems to appear on demand, depending on the situation--and the dramatic ending of this second annual required Thanos to hold the upper hand against the combined forces of the Avengers, the Thing, and Captain Marvel, until faced with the "ultimate Avenger." But, in effect, Thanos was defeated by the equivalent of the Grey Gargoyle. You can probably see why my skepticism is in the red zone when Thanos is around! :)

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