Thursday, June 23, 2016

From The Heart Of The Sun Strike... The Sentinels!

Roy Thomas's swan song as writer on The Avengers in late 1972 had him turning in his honorary Avengers I.D. card on a high note, with a 2-part story which shifts into gear after the Scarlet Witch is taken captive in Central Park by one of the deadly Sentinels--mutant-hunting androids which had returned in force for reasons unknown. It was Thomas himself who set the stage for this story, when, writing for the X-Men title three years earlier, he was joined by artist Neal Adams in returning the Sentinels to prominence--featuring Larry Trask, the son of their creator, spearheading a plan of revenge against the X-Men for the death of his father. At the end of that encounter, Cyclops had tricked the Sentinels into a suicide mission that took them into the heart of the sun--but now, with one of their own captured and another having gone missing, the Avengers assemble to face an uncomfortable truth, one that Iron Man announces on this issue's splash page:

The Sentinels have of course gone on to become very popular in comics stories, particularly given their role in the very well received "Days Of Future Past" saga that began in Uncanny X-Men and continued in one form or another in other stories as well as in feature films. These robotic beings have a curious mandate, their operations dictated by programming to safeguard the human race by capturing mutants--yet often acting autonomously when the need arises and following their own sense of logic in carrying out that directive, which usually ends up endangering the very people whose safety they strive to preserve. They thus make excellent antagonists, both for their unpredictability and their tendency to implement their programming in ways that prove deadly to even the innocent.

Following the incident that saw Wanda captured, the Avengers scramble to dig up any leads on the Sentinels, whom they've never faced before and appear to be in the dark on. As is sometimes the case with stories by Thomas that involve ascertaining facts and connecting the dots, steps and assumptions which you or I might believe are reasonable are often side-stepped or omitted from consideration in order to have the story build anticipation for the reader, and, in that respect, Thomas is in fine form in his final Avengers tale. Consider, for instance, the Avengers, with their ties to government agencies and law enforcement, nevertheless coming up empty in trying to either locate the Sentinels or build any sort of profile on them--with even someone as resourceful as Iron Man throwing in the towel.

Iron Man's dramatic statement is more for our benefit as readers than providing anything substantive to bring to the Avengers' attention in a planning meeting, especially given the dearth of information they possess on their foes. There's no reason for Iron Man at this stage to suspect that the entire world is in danger, imminent or otherwise; there's not even cause to believe that New York is in danger, or Washington, or military installations, or... well, you get the drift.

Also consider the lack of concrete information in itself. We're being asked to swallow that SHIELD, the intelligence organization that would have a packed-to-the-brim dossier on the Sentinels if anyone did, hasn't a shred of useful intel on these androids, with even Nick Fury later calling in to confirm that. Seriously? The Sentinels had previously conducted two major operations, both covered broadly by the news media and both involving the X-Men. The first had the military arriving in force to mop up things and summon medical care for the X-Men after the Sentinels were defeated; and the second involved major ties between the Sentinels and a federal committee that included both Trask and a federal judge, featuring detailed reports on the Sentinels that were aired on national network news while the androids conducted incursions all over the world in their sweeps for mutants. None of that made it into that SHIELD file? Not even the potentially valuable lead of the location of the Sentinels' fortress in western New York?

And what's this double-talk from Iron Man? SHIELD's data on the Sentinels was prepared from expert testimony--but wait, there aren't any experts, rendering that statement a total non sequitur. No experts, really? Not even the X-Men were asked to testify? No one knocked on Judge Chalmers' door--the man who worked directly with Larry Trask? To add insult to injury, Quicksilver is off following leads on his own, and is conspicuously missing from the Avengers meeting--a fact which Thomas makes it a point to mention, though it also conveniently serves to deprive the Avengers of someone who could fill them in on the Sentinels.

That said, Thomas's decision to make this a two-pronged investigation between Quicksilver and the other Avengers throws a welcome spotlight on the former, who practically hijacks this issue in his frantic search for answers as to Wanda's whereabouts. Naturally, the first place Pietro thinks to check out is the former HQ of the Sentinels--now abandoned, but still providing Pietro with an idea as to where he should head next.

"Think, Pietro! Stir that fine mutant memory of yours!" An odd remark for Quicksilver to make, given that Thomas spent the prior page having the character once again resent being constantly referred to as a mutant, this time by humans he passed on the highway. You can't have it both ways, Mr. Thomas.

At any rate, with his mention of Trask, that's two vital pieces of information that Pietro could have shared with the Avengers--or, for that matter, with SHIELD, which has a direct line to Avengers Mansion and could have solicited Pietro's intel on the Sentinels at any time.

With the Avengers twiddling their thumbs and hoping for leads to just drop into their collective lap, it falls to Quicksilver to assemble the pieces of this puzzle and carry the bulk of the story's action, at least for now. His speed allows him to take the direct route--in this case, to the residence of Judge Chalmers, whose house guest is the one Pietro seeks. But with Chalmers' objections in letting Trask be questioned, Pietro is forced to take measures to ensure that he's allowed to gain the answers he seeks.

Back at Avengers Mansion, the assemblers find themselves diverted from their search for the Sentinels, as Peter Corbeau--the creator of the orbital satellite known as Starcore One which keeps tabs on the sun--notifies them of deadly solar flares which could potentially threaten the Earth. Flares that are being induced by technology based on Earth.

The scene which follows mostly serves to plug the revival of the Captain Marvel series, which has its first issue being published at the same time as this Avengers tale; nevertheless, it's a scene a long time in coming, as Rick Jones appears as the Avengers are making preparations to take off to investigate the cause of the solar flare threat and expects to be taken aboard, no questions asked. And that's always been the case, up to this point--a seat kept warm for Rick, either on a quinjet or at the team's meeting room table. But after all this time, a writer finally provides Avengers readers with a scene that points out the obvious:  that Rick Jones is not an Avenger and doesn't have any role on Avengers missions.

In all fairness to Rick, Iron Man's assumption, just as before, is totally without foundation. There's no reason for the Avengers to believe they're headed toward "the toughest fight of their lives today"; indeed, they don't even know who's behind the threat, or what sort of situation they're flying into. But without Iron Man leading off the scene like that, we're left with only Cap's concern that the team can't divide its attention and worry about protecting Rick--a condition that's always been true whenever Rick was along on a mission, but never addressed.

As the Avengers depart, Quicksilver's interview with Trask zeroes in on the medallion he wears, the one given to him by his father to erase certain memories--and to limit something more. But it's the missing memories Pietro is most interested in, and his hunch pans out.

No, Pietro isn't going to run all the way to Australia. (Though five will get you ten that Rick is probably kicking the thought around.) What's interesting is that, with Trask's crucial piece of information here, it's clear that Quicksilver and the Avengers are now headed toward the same confrontation, arriving there through different methods with neither being aware of the other's progress--and of course with only Quicksilver being aware of the threat he'll find there. At least, that's the way this story has developed thus far--but when the Avengers arrive, we've obviously skipped a scene at some point.

Yes, the Avengers are convinced that it's the Sentinels they'll find lurking in this lair, even though there's been no evidence or suggestion linking them to the solar flares. (And we certainly know that Pietro didn't clue them in; but if they'd checked out their own issue's cover, they would have seen the symbolism of the sun in the background and put two and two together, eh?) It would be understandable if they assumed that it might be Sentinels they'd face here, but speculation is all they had to go on. I'd pay good money to instead see the Masters of Evil crawl out of the rim of that ant hill. "Yes, Avengers! It's WE who caused those deadly flares! HA ha ha! WAIT! Where is Rick Jones??"

However, it's indeed the Sentinels the Avengers face here--and the battle is joined!

Meanwhile, Quicksilver has used his Avengers priority to commandeer a jet to fly to Australia. (His first thought wasn't to assemble the Avengers and have everyone board a quinjet? Really? If only in the interests of time?) But he faces the same problem the Avengers did: How is he going to reach Australia in time, when this flight would normally take hours? The answer lies with Trask, even though by all rights it shouldn't; in fact, Thomas acknowledges as much when he sets the scene. "I don't remember my father's Sentinels as having any space-warp powers like you've told me about... and even if they did, I don't see how a non-Sentinel could latch onto them," Trask says, as if latching onto what must be our own thoughts on the matter. Yet he intensely concentrates, and voilĂ --a space-warp appears that whisks the jet to Australia. "Somehow, you must have mentally intercepted whatever beam is emitted by their power source..." the astonished Pietro remarks. Ah, those wonderful "somehows" in comics.

But as we learned in the prior X-Men story, Trask's medallion concealed another secret--his mutant power, which allows him to have a terrifying vision of the near-future.

With Trask painting such a grim picture of the fate of the Avengers as well as the entire world, Part 1 of this story concludes with a riveting cliffhanger, a style of writing which Thomas excels at and which will be missed when he departs. Given the circumstances here, he seems intent on going out with a bang.

The Avengers #103

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Rich Buckler
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Sam Rosen


The Artistic Actuary said...

That miscoluring of Iron Man has put me off my lunch. ☹️

Anonymous said...

Yay, Starcore One - like Kala's Netherworld it had excellent air conditioning. But, really ? All that money to build a station for warning about solar flares - the last really big solar flare was back in about 1860 which played havoc with the early telegraph system. Massive Earth-threatening flares are extremely rare so life on Starcore One must be pretty dull - and if a massive flare was on its' way to Earth what would we do about it anyway ?

Comicsfan said...

My layman's guess, dangermash, is that this wasn't an error by the colorist so much as an effort by Buckler to provide a shading effect to give the scene a bit more contrast--in this case, possibly the lack of light coming from whatever chamber Iron Man is facing away from. If so, it's probably something that Joe Sinnott could have enhanced a bit, though I can't offhand think of any examples where he's been known to render his finishes in that way. Generally, his scenes are rather well-lit.

If memory serves, Colin, Starcore One is more than a simple early warning system--it was put into orbit to conduct studies on the sun, which would certainly give Peter Corbeau something to do with his time when there were lulls in flare activity.

The Artistic Actuary said...

Error or deliberate, it still looks as if Iron Man's half undressed and adopting an alluring pose!

Anonymous said...

The diligent and dedicated lads at Starcore made a brief cameo in Avengers Annual #7, in which they warned the Avengers that Thanos' fleet of intergalactic ruffians had just entered the solar system.
Where are they now? Still watching the skies? Let's hope so.

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