Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Sword and the Spider!

With the Mandarin as well as the Avengers looking to settle accounts with the Swordsman (as well as Interpol likely keeping a sharp eye out for him), you'd think that this daring adventurer would be well-practiced in the art of lying low. Instead, he should be more worried about the phrase "word of mouth," as we catch up with him indulging in displaying his talents at a circus--where, if he's hiding, he's certainly doing it in plain sight. He might as well stamp the word WANTED on his playbill, since all of his audiences spreading the word about the performances of "the Swordsman" will practically be pointing law enforcement officers in his direction.

With instincts like his, maybe it's just as well that the Swordsman didn't cut it as an Avenger, as we saw in his introductory story where he tried to ramrod himself into their ranks. Nevertheless, you've wandered into Swordsman Week here at the PPC, and you'll be seeing a lot of the man during the next few days--as will, of all people, the Black Widow. Brainwashed by her superiors, the Widow now regards herself as an enemy of the U.S., and has returned to the states on a mission to destroy the Avengers. To that end, she's in the process of recruiting some muscle; and since the Swordsman has made himself so easy to find...

The man works at a circus, yet he's startled to encounter "A girl in costume!"

It's a little surprising to see the Swordsman jump at the Widow's offer to strike at the Avengers, given the circumstances of his departure from the team. True, he left under duress--but his rejection by the team was mostly due to a misunderstanding (through his own fault), nor did the story leave the impression that he carried any sort of grudge against them. It was to be expected that he would want to stay clear of them--but eager to stage an attack against them? It doesn't quite follow.

Regardless, the Widow moves ahead with her plan. And when she lures Hawkeye to her residence, he discovers not only that she's in league with the Swordsman, but that she's added another powerful Avengers enemy to her team.

And we see another unexpected development--namely, that the Swordsman has since learned that Hawkeye is the same person that he took on as a partner when they both worked at a carnival, a person he left for dead after the archer had caught the Swordsman robbing the payroll. It's unclear why the Swordsman would have investigated the matter after leaving the Avengers; also confusing is a later story where the Swordsman appears to be learning of his connection to Hawkeye for the first time (courtesy of Egghead). But the master/pupil dynamic between these two, and the extent to which it chafes at Hawkeye, will be dealt with in greater depth later in this tale.

For now, Hawkeye must battle to extricate himself from this trap set by the woman he's in love with. And with Power Man fending off Hawkeye's attacks, the odds are against him prevailing.

Nor does this trio waste time in moving against the rest of the Avengers. Unfortuntely, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver have gone out; the Wasp has recently been injured; and Goliath is out wandering the streets in despair, having learned that he's trapped at a 10-foot height. That leaves only Cap against the combined attack of Power Man and the Swordsman.

Jeez--can anybody just walk into Avengers headquarters?

So far, the Widow and her cohorts are doing pretty well in taking down the Avengers piecemeal. Cap is removed to her residence, and the Widow prepares to make arrangements for his disposition and that of Hawkeye. But the other Avengers have mobilized, and traced Cap's location--and when a rather looming opponent arrives to confront these villains, they discover they're not the only ones who can take their enemies by surprise.

His pity party of one having run its course, Goliath plows into his foes, while Quicksilver speeds to release Hawkeye and Cap. And before you know it, a full-fledged battle has erupted, with the Swordsman and Power Man soon cornered.

Thanks to the Widow's presence and a timely-activated escape route, the trio manage to evade the Avengers for now; and later, at another hideaway, they regroup and prepare to make further plans against the team. But there is dissension in the ranks, thanks to the combination of the ever-seductive beauty of the Black Widow and two chest-beating males.

It appears the Swordsman has grown used to using the technology now present in his sword, where once his skill, boldness, and guile would have sufficed. The "powers" that writer Stan Lee (via the Mandarin) has provided him with have inadvertently removed some of the excitement and interest his early efforts against the Avengers brought to the character--and now, the Swordsman blasts where once he might have charged, or presses a convenient button where once he would have formed strategy. And why would he string along with the Black Widow, while she makes vague plans against the Avengers for reasons which don't concern him?

But before the Widow can move on with another strike against the Avengers, Hawkeye has managed to locate them (thanks to a little covert spying by the Wasp)--and after dealing with Power Man at least temporarily, he means to settle things with the Swordsman once and for all. Though for the Swordsman, it's the challenge he welcomes, given that the student he once took under his wing now faces him as an Avenger.

Aside from the clean slate he now has from the shadow of the Swordsman that's hovered around him for so long, Hawkeye gets some more good news by discovering that the Widow's brainwashing has worn off--and she teams with him to take out Power Man.

The past that's marked the relationship between the Swordsman and Hawkeye may seem like an important part of the Swordsman's history, given how it's cropped up from time to time in the pages of The Avengers; but it's fair to say that, for the Swordsman, it was less significant than it was for the archer. For both men, it was a skirmish that had no real bearing on the lives they would lead, aside from the fact that the Swordsman's tutelage of Hawkeye helped him develop and become more interested in a skill he already possessed; it was really the rejection of Hawkeye's brother, Barney (following Hawkeye's dispute with the Swordsman), which left the greater mark on him. The Swordsman likely only regarded the incident as a turn of rotten luck, seemingly thinking nothing of Clint Barton's apparent death and making a hasty exit from the carnival to pursue more profitable ventures.

The Swordsman for hire! And the Red Skull and the Mandarin snap him up!

The Avengers #s 29-30

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Don Heck
Inks: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Sam Rosen

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