Friday, June 24, 2016

...And Death Awaits Me!

In Part 1 of Roy Thomas's story that would have him bidding farewell to his long run on The Avengers, the assemblers were racing to the Australian base of the deadly Sentinels--from two different directions. Frustrated at his comrades' inability to prevent his sister's abduction by one of the robotic giants, Quicksilver has broken off from the main group and pursued leads to the Sentinels' location on his own--taking in tow Larry Trask, the son of their creator, whose mutant power of precognition has disturbingly revealed not only the deaths of the Avengers, but the destruction of the entire planet by solar flares that have been induced through use of a beam aimed at the sun by the Sentinels. As for the other Avengers, they received warning of the danger posed by the flares thanks to information obtained from Peter Corbeau, the creator of the sun-monitoring satellite Starcore One, and, tracing the beam's origin, have now arrived in Australia to find themselves locked in battle with the Sentinels.

And so Quicksilver and the other Avengers have converged on Australia by way of separate sources of information. But what is the connection between the Sentinels' plans and the Scarlet Witch, the Avenger whose capture has set this story in motion? Right now the concern of the Avengers who assault the Sentinel base is to find the device that's causing the flare activity and put it out of commission--but as for Quicksilver, who has only just landed on the continent and has become aware of the flares through Trask's vision, his primary concern remains in locating his sister, Wanda. To that end, Trask finds himself along for the ride, held in the wake of a desperate Avenger who must run like the wind!

Regardless of the rest of the Avengers reaching the site before him and essentially having obtained the same information concerning the deadly flare activity, it seems that Quicksilver has been well served by pursuing his own leads, since in Trask he has an invaluable source of intelligence on the layout of this second Sentinel base. On the other hand, there's something to be said for having the likes of the Avengers at your side when assaulting a Sentinel stronghold--and whatever information Trask has provided Pietro with could have just as easily been shared with the other Avengers, whose resources could have saved Pietro valuable time. It was only his misdirected rage and pride which caused him to splinter off from the main group, a card that Thomas has played before whenever misfortune has befallen Wanda. It remains to be seen where Pietro's initiative, however questionable, will lead. Does he join up with the other Avengers at some point, either by choice or through circumstance? Or does he spurn them and pursue his own course of action?

Given his startling decision here of declining to join their stand against the Sentinels, it's beginning to look more like the latter.

At the head of the mound, however, a tactic by the Vision helps the Avengers bypass the Sentinels' ability of adapting to whatever force is used against them--and with the defeat of the two Sentinels sent to face them thus far, they gain access to the base and begin to penetrate its many levels. So far in this story, there appears to be little payoff for Quicksilver going his own way, even though the story continues to convey the impression that he's made the right call--but where is the proof of that?

At any rate, we finally learn the details of the Sentinels' plan through their "supreme commander" known simply by his designation of Number Two--a Sentinel that, unlike the others, appears deformed and misshapen, for reasons unknown. Up until now, even Wanda hasn't known why the Sentinels made an effort to capture only her, since their mission has always been to incarcerate all mutants--but Number Two at last makes clear not only why the Sentinels are endangering the entire planet by causing the sun to flare, but also why it's Wanda who's necessary to bring that plan to fruition.

It's admittedly an ingenious plan, allowing the Sentinels to have their cake and eat it, too--preserving their mandate of not allowing harm to come to humans, but eliminating all mutants by arranging for the entire human race to meet its natural end within two generations. Though it's not quite clear from artist Rich Buckler's graphic how humanity survives the solar flare's impact; any flare that causes cityscapes to burst into flames and metal to melt away is going to sear human flesh from the bone. (Also, take notice of that poor man grasping a metal lamppost to steady himself, yet experiences no pain at the touch--while a car is melting within a few yards of him. Maybe the Sentinels have made exceptions for lampposts in their calculations. Just shooting in the dark here.)

Meanwhile, Trask is in mental agony due to the visions that keep hitting him of world's end, as well as the end of the Avengers--forcing Quicksilver to step up his pace (and who better to do that?) and expedite his search for Wanda. Unfortunately, Pietro reverses the intent of an old adage and, in his haste, leaps before he looks.

It's always fun to watch a conversation take place even when the participants are traveling at breakneck speeds. Words, after all, can only reach a certain velocity before they fail to be understandable, and this kind of battle would normally reach its conclusion well before any words spoken by either the Sentinel or Pietro would have any bearing on it. Assuming for the sake of argument that both Pietro and the Sentinel can both speak and hear at super-speed, it's nevertheless something that a story being told through print and artwork can't believably pull off. So when Pietro races toward a final solution to the battle, and the Sentinel warns him of its futility, there simply isn't the time available for the scene to convey the imminent danger of what's about to happen.  The deed will be done even before the Sentinel opens his mouth to speak the first word of his warning.

It's a nice touch by Thomas to have Quicksilver hand the baton off to Trask, even if it reads a bit oddly. Up to this point, Pietro has been preoccupied with finding Wanda--yet he urges Trask to push on in order to stop the Sentinels, without uttering a word about making sure his sister is safe. It's also convenient for the story that Trask hasn't recovered his full memories, since a fanatic obsessed with revenge wouldn't be someone you'd be comfortable with sending to stop androids he once took great pains toward reactivating.

With his injuries sidelining him for the duration, Quicksilver not only exits this story as far as the reader is concerned, but for all intents and purposes he exits The Avengers along with Thomas, since his life as an Avenger would be put behind him in light of the changes in direction the character would go through in other stories and titles (though Thomas would again script him in the Fantastic Four story which follows up on his experience here). That leaves this story and its resolution in the hands of the other Avengers, though Trask will play a major part in the events which play out. At present, the Avengers are meeting heavy resistance with the Sentinels--but the heroes' progress has been made easier by Thomas inexplicably setting aside the androids' ability to adapt.

As the Avengers are confronted by Number Two and three other Sentinels, one can't help but recall the part of Trask's visions that showed the Avengers being blasted to atoms by the Sentinel leader. There are still questions that remain unanswered concerning the air of inevitability surrounding those visions, and the time has come for Thomas to assemble all the pieces and yet still make sure that both the Earth and the Avengers are left intact. For instance, Number Two has already explained that the Sentinels' control over the flares will allow their plans for humanity to proceed without causing the planet's destruction--but how does that explain Trask's vision of the Earth being blasted to cinders? In this case, it all depends on how you look at it--or, rather, how Trask looked at it.

As for Number Two firing on the Avengers and killing them when, normally, Sentinels are forbidden to harm humans, we'll soon learn why Number Two feels that the Sentinels' programming no longer applies to himself in that respect--but for now, we can at least find out why the Avengers don't meet their maker when their foe tries to atomize them.

While the Vision makes good on his word, we find that Trask has been present during these proceedings and has realized the actual meaning of his visions. That is, all but one--the blackness and the void which could only mean Earth's end. Fearing that Number Two will still somehow cause the planet's destruction, Trask realizes he must take action, and ends up activating the room's mutant detector which literally sheds some light on Number Two and his unique standing among the other Sentinels--facts that he's been careful to conceal, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Cap has good reason to look alarmed, since, with Number Two's demise, the other Sentinels begin to topple like tenpins. (At least that's the way it appears; frankly it's unclear why independent units like the Sentinels would be dependent in any way on Number Two to maintain their power or mobility.) And as everyone scrambles to get out of the way of the falling giants, the answer to Trask's final vision becomes painfully clear.

This two-part story is quite a nice sendoff for Thomas, who passes the writing reins to Steve Englehart and has already segued to Fantastic Four (however briefly) where Stan Lee has finally ended his long tenure on the title. It seems fitting to acknowledge his distinguished run on The Avengers by ending this post with his parting message from the letters page of this issue.


Announcement time, people.

This is probably the last issue of THE AVENGERS that I shall write.

The reasons are many, and good: My recent promotion to Editor of the whole Marvel line (under Stan Lee as Editorial Director and Publisher), so that I now must devote twice as much time to editorial-type duties as before; my desire to pick up the writing reins of the FANTASTIC FOUR mag, which Stan has let loose, and to get my group-comix jollies there, instead; my understandable inclination to spend just a few more of my waking hours with my lovely wife Jeanie, so that she doesn't forget what I look like; and maybe, just maybe, a hint of a feeling that it was time for a change anyway--that perhaps a new and fresher hand at the helm of THE AVENGERS might be interesting both to the readers--and to myself!

I don't leave the strip without regret, though. After all, there've been some nice milestones along the way, these past seventy issues.

For one thing, with Stan recently ceasing to write SPIDER-MAN and the F.F., THE AVENGERS had become the longest-running superhero title currently being written by the same author. And it had garnered quite a few nominations (by fans and pros alike) as "best comic-book" of this-year or that-year along the way, too.

I've been amazed and flattered to see the Vision grow slowly and maybe not too surely from just another pretty android into a hero nominated in a recent fandom poll as one of the most popular comix characters of 1971; and the last few issues have seen some dramatic new developments in the lives of Wanda, Pietro, and Hawkeye as well. Developments, I might add, which I know will be carried thru in the near future by my hand-picked replacement, Steve Englehart--one of the few comix scripters I know who's as nutty over superhero groups as yours truly!

And the artists I've worked with! Their names read like a veritable roster of some of the best in the business: John and Sal Buscema, Barry Smith, Neal Adams, Gene Colan, Don Heck, George Tuska--and the most recent addition to that lustrous list, Rich Buckler. It's been a ball, guys.

Okay--so I've said my piece, except for one thing. And that's to thank you--all the seemingly tireless zillions of you who've sent in missives, bouquets and brickbats. Thanks, one and all--even for the letters I disagreed with! I mean that.

And now, with a shower of good wishes for Steve, whose stint as AVENGERS scripter begins next issue, I take my leave of one group--and lock horns with another. FANTASTIC FOUR--here I come!

-- Roy

The Avengers #104

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Rich Buckler
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: John Costanza


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure he meant "illustrious list", given that none of those artists Thomas named were exactly pin-ups.
That's okay, I have poor typing and proofreading skills myself.

Comicsfan said...

I don't know, M.P.--"lustrous" could still apply, in a "shining above the others" sense; in any case, his alliterative way of putting it proves that Stan Lee's writing style definitely rubbed off on the guy! ;)

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