Thursday, January 28, 2016

We're SHIELD... You YIELD


The second 8-issue series of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, which started hitting the racks at the tail end of 2006, begins at the point where the Vision has just been inducted as a new member of the Avengers, though the first issue reveals to us a startling development taking place behind the scenes of the events that originally took place in the book in late 1968--the arrest of the Vision by armed S.H.I.E.L.D. agents without warning or provocation.

At this point in time, the Avengers team consists of its new chairman, Goliath, along with Hawkeye, the Wasp, the Black Panther, and of course their most recent member, the Vision, an assembly which gives writer Joe Casey ample opportunity to see how this new lineup will handle its dealings with government oversight and its ties with SHIELD--with the latter, as we've seen, used to assuming an air of authority whenever it's deemed to be necessary. Now that it's evolved beyond a rotating post, Avengers chairmanship is an entirely new experience for Goliath--the first original Avenger to return to the team but who almost immediately declined to pull rank and instead deferred to Captain America to continue leadership of the group. Now Goliath finds himself in the position of confronting the abduction of one of his team by SHIELD, without having the more forceful and seasoned resources of Thor, Iron Man, or Cap to help lead the charge in recovering him.



Interestingly, Casey doesn't have Goliath turning to and conferring with two men he yet has access to, whose input would be helpful in determining his next move: (a) Tony Stark, who has ties to both SHIELD and Nick Fury, and (b) T'Challa, with substantial resources of his own. T'Challa would be most helpful in an advisory capacity, since he's only recently established diplomatic standing with the United Nations and has no real pull with either SHIELD or the government--but as a man who's no stranger to the position of command, his take on how to proceed would be a point of view well worth considering. Stark's pull with both entities, on the other hand, would be considerable--and as a former Avenger, he would be motivated to "push until it gives," as they say. At the very least, he could likely obtain and provide Goliath with the specific reasons for the Vision's arrest.

In that regard, however, Casey still handles the situation with Goliath quite well, demonstrating that Goliath has no intention of just standing by after an Avenger has been forcefully taken into custody. And while Goliath turns to Captain America in order to proceed, his reasons for doing so make perfect sense, though only as a means to an end. As we'll see, Cap's instinct is to virtually hijack this call and "handle" Goliath's feelings on the matter--but the difference between an "active" and "reserve" Avenger becomes very clear, very quickly here.




Meanwhile, the Vision is brought to SHIELD's New York base--a process which makes an utter laughing stock of either SHIELD's security protocols, or Casey's understanding of them. Consider: SHIELD's chaotic entry into Avengers Mansion is all over the media, so everyone knows something is up with SHIELD and the Avengers--and since there's already been rampant speculation as to the nature of the Avengers' new member, it's likely to conclude that the incident at the mansion is related to the Vision. So how does a top-security agency like SHIELD handle the discrete transfer of an Avenger in their custody?

Why, they park their van--with SHIELD insignia plastered on its side, mind you--outside of the covert "barbershop" front which they use as an entrance to their installation, and have the Vision disembark and enter it IN FULL VIEW OF WITNESSES.




By all means, let's move the transport vehicle, before even more people spot it.  Confiscate all the camera equipment you want, pal--you can't confiscate word-of-mouth. And fogging the windows to a barbershop is sure not to arouse suspicion. In essence, either Casey or SHIELD has completely compromised this facility, while expecting John Q. Public to return for haircuts and shaves as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Heh--"Nothing to see here, folks." Did the Vision look like he needed the services of a barbershop?

In these two Avengers limited series, Casey brings a lot of interesting ideas to the table with his take on deeper story material that could be found in those earlier Avengers stories, though at times he'll make poorly-considered adjustments such as these to lend a more contemporary feel to what we've seen before. Agent Sitwell is a perfect example--previously shown in The Avengers, Invincible Iron Man, and other titles to be a dedicated SHIELD agent whose harmless zeal for demonstrating that dedication has often been a source of humor which not only endeared him to readers but earned him the respect of his superiors and those he was charged to protect. Casey, however, has turned Sitwell's by-the-book quality into cold, hard-nosed insistence that has him playing hardball and throwing SHIELD's weight around. Casey's Sitwell could now be any harsh SHIELD agent who has too much starch in his collar and who's used to getting his way, often at gunpoint.

Sitwell already distrusts the Vision after watching and being influenced by the media's deprecating coverage and speculation of the newest Avenger possibly not being human--distrust which has caused him to link the Vision to the Super-Adaptoid, recently abducted by A.I.M. from a SHIELD transport. The Jasper Sitwell of old would have proceeded with such an investigation diligently, yet fairly--fully informing the Avengers of just what was being investigated and keeping them in the loop. But the Sitwell as interpreted by Casey--well, let's just say that Casey has preceded Homeland by about five years.





The Vision, for his part, is the model prisoner (and a prisoner he is, whatever SHIELD's slant on the situation)--cooperating completely in spite of Sitwell's intimidation tactics. In fact, Sitwell receives full disclosure from the Vision with every question put to him, even confirming how he was originally conditioned by Ultron to destroy the Avengers. In the background, the scans from SHIELD's techs confirm that the Vision, aside from one or two minor similarities, is not the Adaptoid; though it seems the agents are fully on board with how Sitwell is proceeding, even as Sitwell moves in to attack the Vision on a personal level. The scene reveals a deplorable character flaw in Sitwell which, save for the presence of his trademark bow tie, would normally make this man unrecognizable to us.




Then there are those media reports, which seem to conflict with the wave of excitement and general acceptance which has always engulfed both the press and the public with the announcement of a new Avengers lineup, though perhaps that was mostly due to a great deal of speculation involving who the new member(s) would be. It appears that the Avengers have yet to make a formal press announcement involving the Vision, given that it was late at night when he was inducted and that he was taken into SHIELD custody shortly thereafter--so as this part of the series plays out, the story "checks in" with the ongoing news updates while using them to segue to different character scenes. For example, Hawkeye and the Black Widow, whose respective careers continue to interfere with their relationship, and for whom any subject is likely to trigger their disagreement on the matter.





(The newscaster's injection of her own personal feelings into her report reminds me of the film Broadcast News, where a news anchor is just finishing his breaking report on a Libyan plan attacking a U.S. base in Sicily. The crisis passes, and the anchor remarks on the air, "The latest message seems to indicate that the Libyan pilot was acting on his own without authority from anyone else. In other words, I think... we're all okay." To which the producer, in the monitor room watching the broadcast, reacts in annoyed shock and mutters, "Who the hell cares what you think?")

If memory serves, reaction to pending membership for both Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch wasn't nearly so debated, with Tony Stark settling the issue of their criminal pasts with the press and the matter being left at that. (With Hawkeye's criminal beginnings given roughly the same treatment by Iron Man.) The fact that Wanda and Pietro were both mutants wasn't even a point of contention; so the Vision being singled out as an android, when the Avengers are likely to endorse his membership just as they have with anyone else joining the team, doesn't really add up; though for what it's worth, the public would never completely warm to the Vision (and, to an extent, Pietro and Wanda) with the same level of trust and admiration as other members of the team.

Casey, though, is busy in other respects in this story, such as taking special interest in the Panther, in his identity as "Luke Charles," teacher in a Harlem high school.  A position for which he's vastly overqualified, as the school's principal brings to his attention, but to which he responds, "You're asking me why I would devote my energy toward a school system that obviously lacks both funding and support? Miss Parker, these kids deserve our best." And on Mr. Charles' first day, we're given the impression that his students will be getting just that.





But the plight of the Vision hasn't been forgotten by the Avengers, or neglected--and Goliath gets his meeting with Nick Fury. It's Fury who seems to recognize that everyone needs to blow off steam, though, by the same token, he's not the type to back down when aggression is thrown his way--so in these opening minutes, his response is abrupt, but measured, while the Avengers unload on him, each in their own fashion. Goliath, with indignation and blunt points; the Panther, with diplomacy and a cool head; and Hawkeye, who wrote the book on escalation.




Like the Avengers, Fury also finds it difficult to rein himself in when confronted; but now that everyone's had their say regarding SHIELD's arrest of the Vision, Fury moves on to business, which involves more than smoothing the Avengers' ruffled feathers. Which, as it happens, makes the Avengers more receptive to the news about AIM which Fury brings to their attention.






With the preliminaries taken care of in these first two issues, Casey is free to gear this team up as a strike force that makes an impressive assault on the AIM "superbase" in the issues to follow.

The series would also go on to add more depth to the mystery of Yellowjacket; explore the important issues facing Luke Charles; and feature a knock-down drag-out with the Super-Adaptoid which would see the Vision finally gain the trust of the humans he fights to protect. It's curious that Casey didn't move on to a third installment of this series, choosing instead to produce a five-issue series that specifically deals with circumstances of the team's origin. At any rate, if you'd care to have both of these series on your bookshelf in hardcover (the collected TPB is presumably missing a page), you can snag both Series 1 and Series 2 for a song.  And absolutely no backtalk from Hawkeye.

Earth's Mightiest Heroes II #2

Script: Joe Casey
Pencils: Will Rosado
Inks: Tom Palmer
Letterer: Comicraft

2 comments:

George Chambers said...

I've always found SHIELD to be, well, both kind of silly in a superpowered universe, and annoying at worst. Marvel could never even be consistent about whether SHIELD was an American agency or a world-wide one, but what I'd find galling was that they would pull crap like this with never any explanation of where their authority came from to do it, or of who or what oversights them? I'd have loved to see someone like Hawkeye just tell off Fury with something to the effect off, "why don't you call us next time you fail to stop HYDRA?"

Comicsfan said...

Fair points, George. If I remember correctly, SHIELD's primary mandate was to combat Hydra, a dangerous organization whose activities were used by Tony Stark and others to sell Fury into becoming the "division's" director. The word "international" was also originally part of its acronym, though used to describe SHIELD's scope of espionage; while SHIELD's authority (and oversight) likely came at least in part from the Defense Department, though in the beginning Fury reported to a council of presumably international members. In this particular story, SHIELD's authority to act is apparently coming directly from the President, which would seem to put SHIELD under American control and jurisdiction--rather confusing, considering this time period was still seeing SHIELD's early days.

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