Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Look Forward, Avenger!


The third encounter between Kang the Conqueror and the Avengers was something of a turning point for the team, now numbering just four members following the departure of nearly all of the original lineup. With only Captain America remaining to train the three new Avengers--Quicksilver, Hawkeye, and the Scarlet Witch--it quickly became apparent that his training would have to sustain them and see them through the challenges they would face, since they lacked the raw power of their predecessors and they were fewer in number. One other important difference between the two teams is that these three raw recruits lacked the maturity of Thor and the others, as well as being overly competitive with each other--something which the original team members, having distinguished records in their own right, wouldn't have given even a passing thought to.

Ordinarily, Cap might have harnessed that undercurrent of competition in his trainees and channeled it into camaraderie and a stronger sense of unity; but, in asserting himself, he often came into conflict with Hawkeye, who bristled at constantly following Cap's direction and orders and whose discontent and temperament began to affect the behavior of his other teammates as well. Soon, the Avengers found themselves bickering at the drop of a hat, with only the danger of a current threat holding them together for the short term.

It was during the team's desperate battle with the Enchantress and her super-strong ally, Power Man, which led to a moment of truth for the Avengers, where they could either resolve their differences and become a stronger unit or grow even more fragmented than they already were. The machinations of their foes had left them at their lowest ebb--discredited and framed as reckless and unlawful, and eventually declared a public menace and forced to disband. Eventually, Cap was able to uncover the truth about the pair's operation, and the Avengers redeemed themselves with the law and settled the score with Power Man--but the damage was done, and Cap had finally reached his breaking point.



And so the story that follows faces the question of not only if the Avengers will survive, but also whether these individuals are prepared to put aside their petty differences and commit to this team and build it into a force to be reckoned with. With the dust still settling from Cap's abrupt departure, these three are going to have to regroup on several levels before we see indications of improvement. For now, with Cap no longer a focal point for their discontent, it isn't long before the remaining Avengers feel the void of his absence in their ranks--nor has it improved their disposition toward each other.





Meanwhile, the story proceeds in an interesting direction--that is, taking some time to explore the ramifications of Cap's decision through the eyes of the man who made it. Not the type of man to remain idle, the former Avenger finds gainful employment in a position where his particular talents fit like a glove--a boxing glove, that is.





It's a scene laid out well by artist Don Heck--whose work hasn't always been suited to The Avengers or Marvel's other hero-related titles, as it relies a great deal on the writer to supplement its shortcomings--but it's enjoyed its moments.

Yet Kang is waiting in the wings--and the Avengers (or what's left of them) are about to face a man who will prove to be one of the team's most formidable and tenacious foes, one who is quick to take advantage of their vulnerability at this point in time.



(Good lord--a woman with hex power thwarted by a simple locked door.  Words fail me.)


With his technology and weapons providing the means to overcome the Avengers, Kang secures and relocates them to his own century, where he has allowed the planet's ruling body to retain their status but only the semblance of authority. We can see that this issue offers a few gems in regard to Avengers trivia; for instance, it's here we first learn of Ravonna, a woman for whom Kang would in later issues go to great lengths to restore to consciousness following a tragic turn of events that would occur in this story's conclusion. The issue also appears to be the origin of the often-used phrase, "Once an Avenger, always an Avenger"; here, we might presume that it refers to Cap's status with the team, though we'll have to see how things play out. The team could certainly benefit from his prior experience with Kang, as well as his leadership.

For now, Kang is somewhat kept in check by his feelings for Ravonna--who doesn't appear to reciprocate, if her regal snobbery and curt manner are any indication.



Back in the 20th century, Cap's mixed feelings on leaving the Avengers are settled in an instant by a startling news report concerning their sudden disappearance. Too bad, too, because it looks like he was on his way to superseding his sparring partner on the bill and having another career altogether.



But, back to the future (heh heh--a little nod to a certain 30th anniversary milestone), where the Avengers are given the opportunity to break from their imprisonment and see how they fare without their fourth member. And while their struggle is valiant, Kang's technology--and the fact that they fight on his home ground--give him the edge. He even orders his hordes of soldiers to refrain from taking a hand, a fair indication that he has this escape attempt firmly under control.




With only Quicksilver still at large, Kang is free to weigh his options--only to find that there is another Avenger ready to challenge him, as Cap shouts his defiance from two thousand years in the past. We're forced to assume that Kang, for whatever odd reason, has established and maintained an open communications link with the 20th century, given that Cap appears able to not only make contact but also hear and reply to Kang's outraged reaction. Regardless, Kang snaps at the bait--and with a little strategic meddling from Ravonna, one-half of the Avengers are reunited.





Unfortunately, when the two face Kang directly, they're just as daunted by his weaponry--and despite a fierce encounter, Cap and Pietro fall. As for Kang, he knows when to play his trump card with Ravonna--and with the Avengers dealt with, and the safety of her realm now at stake, Ravonna finds herself in the position of having to acquiesce to Kang's demands. It seems the 20th century phrase "shotgun wedding" is one that can span the ages.



But an arrow striking within a fraction of an inch of his head signals to Kang that his terms have been rejected--and he hears defiance once more in the tone of the Avengers.



In spite of the turn of events, however, nothing has really changed here. Kang the Conqueror isn't the type of enemy to just fold, especially when he's in a position of strength; he still retains supremacy on Earth in this century, and he still has legions that await his signal to attack. He's also been pushed to the wall by this confrontation, however hollow it might be on Ravonna's part--and, combined with being rejected by her, he makes the only decision he can under the circumstances. The signal is given--and the Avengers find themselves involved in what could prove to be a very one-sided war.


Can even the Avengers prevail against such odds?

Or are they hoping Ravonna has a DeLorean tucked away somewhere that they can hotwire?

The Avengers #23

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Don Heck
Inks: John Romita
Letterer: Morrie Kuramoto (as "Sherigail")

4 comments:

david_b said...

Heck's tenure as a artist over time has really baffled me.

I **hated**, really HATED his art by the mid-seventies, on Avengers, on Batman Family, on the Titans' '70s revival, you name it.

Just terribly-drawn faces and action, very annoying and disappointing. But here (inked by Romita) he easily shines, along with his earlier TOS Ironman and Cap stories (with various inkers..).

But it's more than that.. If you look at the nice angles and Kang posturings in these panels, he had a nice, creative talent for spacial composites, nice high-angle shots, you name it. He could really make strong stories flow visually.

Was he aping someone like Kirby (who everyone was told to imitate back then...), or what..?

One of my all-time favorite tales.., read in the MTA '70s reprints.

david_b said...

Forgot to add, this is one of the all-time **best** Avengers (or Kang) covers as well.

Comicsfan said...

To be honest with you, david, I've generally seen very little influence of any other artist in Heck's work, Kirby included. His style has always appeared definitive and constant to me through the years, differing only with the touches of his finisher. Though speaking of Kirby, I do agree with you 100% on this issue's cover--it's one of my faves, as well.

david_b said...

Yes, I'd tend to agree, I was trying to come up with **some** influence, but I'd agree that Heck had his own style which served all his titles very distinctively.

Aside from his angles and panel composition, the Romita inks really served Donnie well, far more that his less-than-memorable work in the later '70s.

Thanks for the post.

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