Monday, June 3, 2013

Life Ever After

In 1982, Jim Shooter's run as scripter on The Avengers was beginning to draw to its close. And as it did, other writers such as Steven Grant, Alan Zelenetz, and David Michelinie stepped in to fill the gap before Roger Stern would begin his tenure on the series afterward. One of these interim writers, J.M. De Matteis, contributed to one of Shooter's plots and scripted a peculiar tale involving a little boy with a very serious problem--a problem which made itself known in a very jarring beginning to the story:

Up to this point, the "boy" was trying to make clear to the Avengers that he was not really a child, despite appearances--that he was in fact cursed with eternal life. And seeing the cynicism that the Avengers harbored toward him, he gave them a graphic demonstration of his affliction--a demonstration which, as shocking as it was, led to another shock right before the Avengers' eyes:

The boy turned out to be Morgan Hardy, a former billionaire/inventor who recently discovered that he had been involved in a constant cycle of regeneration for hundreds of years. Hardy had sought out the Avengers in the hope that their background and devices could somehow free him from his curse.

It was a change of pace for the book, as the nature of the team's stories is generally that of action, action, action (look no further than the "next issue" caption: "The return of Moondragon and Drax the Destroyer! All out war on an alien world!"); and it also made for a change for De Matteis, who was the regular writer on The Defenders at the time. His stories in that title were able to take advantage of the diverse characters who made up that (non)team, as well as their off-the-beaten-path backgrounds spanning Hades to mysticism to other dimensions to Asgard. The Avengers, by contrast, were more of a known quantity and far more mainstream. The only similar Avengers story that I can think of which had many of the De Matteis touches was the Harlan Ellison story published in issue #101--which, over one-hundred issues past, gives you an idea of how rare these types of stories are in this book.

Once the Avengers are resolved to helping Hardy, De Matteis has them inevitably come face to face with the choice of voluntarily taking a human life, whatever the circumstances.

But in addition to Hardy's situation being unique enough to warrant more than a black-and-white examination and probable dismissal by the Avengers, Hardy himself gives them an idea of what it's like to walk on the path he's constantly forced to relive.

Hardy, who is convinced he can see the writing on the wall as far as the way the Avengers are leaning, decides to take matters into his own hands and seeks out a Starcore launch to the sun as a way to permanently end his nightmare. Or so he thinks.

The Avengers, being the Avengers, get ample story time to engage this creature when it returns to Earth, before discovering that it's indeed Hardy once more brought back to life. Yet this time, faced with a crisis, they have no choice but to destroy him.

But though the creature is thrust into space and destroyed, the Avengers take the precaution of examining the battle site. And sure enough, they're witness to Hardy's cycle of immortal life beginning anew.

This time, though, Hardy's memories of previous lives seem once again suppressed, if not erased altogether. It seems like a decent ending to the crisis for the Avengers, though De Matteis can't help but take one last parting shot at their moral quandary:

You may have noticed that, while Hardy is for all intents and purposes a normal boy starting life with a clean slate and a virtually new, unwritten identity, he'll still have to inevitably face the same problem at this life's end, only this time ignorant of that fate. Though De Matteis provides a curious final panel on that note:

"Curious" because it seems superfluous. Even if Hardy indeed retains his memory of who and what he is, he never was gunning for the Avengers, and thus has no motivation to "lull them into a false sense of security." I think a more powerful ending might have been for Hardy's expression to be one of profound sadness, with the copy reflecting the fact that he now knows there's absolutely no release from living a life over and over again, forever. If you've read any of De Matteis' Defenders stories, you know that he's much more proficient at concluding a story of this nature. But as I implied, the Avengers may not have been the best fit for him.

In any event, Hardy at least paved the way for whatever villains were watching at the time to realize that getting into Avengers Mansion was as easy as walking up to the front door and waiting for the butler to open it for you:

Assuming they were willing to wait, that is.

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