Sunday, June 23, 2013


Dissension In The Ranks

When resentments and disagreements boil over,
even allies can turn against each other in fierce battle that can bring the house down.

(And often does!)


The "Big 3" Avengers

We're so used to seeing the founding members of the Avengers settle the internal differences of the team with deliberation from the perspective of their experience that sometimes it's easy to forget that these three men are also individuals--seasoned individuals, who forged their identities and their status separately, well before deciding to join ranks in common cause. So it's appropriate to acknowledge that, since their lives are often spent beyond the walls of Avengers Mansion, they're at times disposed to handle their affairs as they see fit, without feeling the need or obligation to confer with their teammates. None of these men are perfect, of course--so at those times when one of them has crossed the line in their dealings with their respective foes, their comrades will either decide to stay on the sidelines and see how the situation plays out, or feel the need to step in.

And when Thor decides to overthrow the despotic government of the eastern European country of Slokovia, Iron Man is asked by the U.S. government to definitely step in.

Thor's move comes during the time of his "Lord of Asgard" arc, when he becomes ruler of Asgard and decides to take a more active role in the affairs of mortals. Thor and the Asgardians have only the best of intentions--curing disease, easing famine, and other benevolent acts--yet in so doing they brush aside any political boundaries or protocol, and there are those who are concerned with whether the Asgardians' continued presence and interjection could lead to the home of the gods, now floating above New York, taking a more forceful stance in world affairs.

That match is lit in Slokovia, when a sect of worshippers of Thor (which have sprung up worldwide, coinciding with Asgard's arrival) is being persecuted by their government and cry out for aid by way of their prayers. Thor subsequently sends an Asgardian task force to whittle down the government's army and send a message that further abuse is unacceptable. But there's another player in this drama--Dr. Doom, who is supplying arms to the government, and who sees the Asgardians as a threat to his own rule and would like nothing better than to see conflict ignite in the region in order to eliminate that threat.

But before Thor decides to take a direct hand, Iron Man makes every effort to convince Thor that his proactive stance with Slokovia is only going to lead to trouble:

Yet despite Iron Man's well-reasoned argument, Thor has valid arguments as well for his attempts to alleviate the suffering of the Slokovian people. And Iron Man decides that if things take a turn for the worse, he'd better have some insurance against Thor, who not only is formidable in his own right but now carries the Odin-power. That insurance comes in the form of new armor, powered by an enchanted jewel fragment once given to him by Thor as a possible "green" power source for the mortals.

(Yeah, it wasn't lost on me that this new armor has more than a little resemblance to the Destroyer. Coincidences abound in the world of comics, eh?)

So the eventual time comes when the "standoff," as this three-part story is called, comes to an end. The Slokovian army refuses to heed Thor's warnings, and Thor must finally make his move to overthrow the government. And after Iron Man gives one last warning to back off, and Thor angrily refuses while giving an indication that he might just start toppling such armies worldwide, the next panel we see when we turn the page is inevitable.

Naturally, Thor isn't the type to just say "ouch" and go home. But he's going to have a more difficult time with Iron Man than he otherwise might.

The battle is fierce, but the way it reads from page to page is exquisitely handled, as Iron Man tries to reach his friend on every level:

As you can see, Captain America has arrived--as well as forces of the U.S. government, who have orders from their superiors who have seen things escalate to execute "Operation Righteous Anger." We can speculate as to what that might mean, but we can probably assume that the U.S. intends to settle things by opening fire and scorching just about everything and everyone--and in the process, unfortunately, take the region to the brink of war if not beyond. But Cap, in one of my favorite Captain America moments of all time, pulls rank, as only he can.

I damn well felt like standing up and saluting, myself.

Just don't expect him to have the same luck with Thor. By this point, Thor has savagely dealt with Iron Man--and a well-timed incendiary shot by Doom has foiled Cap's first attempt to defuse the situation. But Cap hasn't given up on Thor yet:

The shock of causing injury to Cap finally stops Thor in his tracks and brings the battle to a halt. Yet even though Cap finally manages to reach Thor, it's at a high cost to the Thunder God as well as to the Avengers.

This story is one of the finest Avengers-themed stories I've had the privilege to read. I've condensed it a great deal for this post, so I urge you to read it in its entirety, if you get the chance--beginning in Thor #58, continuing in Iron Man #64, and concluding in Avengers #63. Collectively, the story captures the motivations of and interplay between these three men in a way that seems natural, given their long history together as well as their respective temperaments. Thor, weighed down as he is in his role as Asgard's ruler, while taking the extraordinary step of merging the gods into the world of men; Iron Man, the realist, who works like hell to reach a diplomatic solution to this crisis but nevertheless makes sure he's technologically prepared for the worst; and Captain America, who assesses the situation on all fronts with a calm eye and expertly handles it, assertively and with a perspective on both the situation and the combatants.

There's also the noteworthy accomplishment of coordinating this story between three books and three different writers, with artist Alan Davis doing the pencils on all three to give it a coherent look and feel. It's a great read, as well as an explosive battle.  But it also has all the hallmarks of these earliest Avengers at their finest--not afraid of asking the tough questions, and resolute in dealing with the answers they may get in return.

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