Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Sound And The Fury!

Despite the danger from two deadly super-villains in "All The Sounds and Sights of Death!", there's a good deal more to enjoy in this 1974 Avengers story from writer Steve Englehart, with three separate conflicts of various Avengers beginning to reach their crescendo and all of them playing a part in the story's crisis. Englehart by this point has hit his stride with this series, with nearly two years as scripter under his belt--which works out to halfway through his Avengers run. However, artist Bob Brown, whose work as penciller has been primarily inked by Mike Esposito, concludes his time on the book with this issue--this time with inks by Dave Cockrum, whose finishes complement Brown's rough pencils quite well. Brown's work on The Avengers brought a somewhat harsh look to the book which Cockrum could have helped to smooth out; his touches, for instance, would have been welcome on and remarkably changed the look of the issues featuring the Avengers/Defenders war.

With Englehart having comfortably found his legs as the book's writer and beginning to develop the characters beyond a collection of heroes who respond to their HQ's alert klaxon and race to a battle, his stories now bring a welcome sense of continuity to each issue, featuring individual concerns and preoccupations which transfer to their sense of teamwork in the field and make for more compelling battle scenes. The recent fight with Zodiac is an excellent example; and now, it seems like the appearance of two powerful foes will coincide with different Avengers members facing their own inner turmoil as well as their enemies.

And those personal struggles are what Englehart opens this story with, problems that simmer beneath the surface and demonstrate that the Avengers must at times deal with matters closer to home, which even we readers can relate to. For instance, during the Zodiac affair, the Swordsman became aware of what he perceived to be a personal interest on the Vision's part toward his lover, Mantis--leading to an outburst while on a mission in outer space that alerted a shocked Wanda to the situation. And so, as the Vision continues to look on the matter with disregard, it remains of concern on two fronts. There's the Swordsman, of course, who attempts to maintain the interest and respect of his woman in the only way he knows how--though Mantis's wandering eye now seems occupied elsewhere.

As for Wanda--brother, you haven't seen "simmering" yet. In fact, Englehart and Brown handle her preoccupation with the matter so deftly that it's a wonder the Vision doesn't feel a slight chill on his stroll through the mansion.

In addition, there's Captain America's personal trial, having recently concluded a case which caused him to doubt his role as a symbol of the nation--a nation that, given what he's witnessed at the highest levels of government, now seems a poor fit for the ideals he once held dear. And he finds himself seriously considering giving up his costumed identity, to the dismay of his friends and comrades.

While the Black Panther is also considering giving up a role--but which role remains the question, as he finds himself torn between his life as an Avenger and his responsibilities as a ruler.

With the preliminaries of the character conflicts sufficiently laid out, "that man" that the Panther has spotted serves as the catalyst for this story's main plot. He is Ronald Pershing, the ambassador of the nation of Rudyarda, which many readers of Fantastic Four might recall as the white supremacist nation which unjustly jailed T'Challa after he'd travelled there to investigate the theft of a Wakandan device designed to utilize the stored power of vibranium. Nor does Pershing fall far from the tree of his country's policies, as he demonstrates that he is a racist of the first order when coming to call on the Avengers.

Yet once this group of Avengers departs with Pershing, the others inside the mansion are soon startled by a disturbance outside--and, rushing to investigate, they witness a hostage situation involving their comrades as well as Pershing, coordinated by the solar-powered Solarr and Klaw, the murderous Master of Sound!

In Rudyarda, it was Klaw who masterminded the theft of the vibranium device--and Klaw who was forced to remain behind in the country in police custody when the Panther, aided by the Thing and the Human Torch, put an end to his plan. And it's his extended stay in that country which explains his current course of action where T'Challa is concerned.

(A slight oversight on Brown's part, since in the previous story the Thing had crushed Klaw's sonic claw. If it had remained intact, as we see here, Klaw would have been well able to lash out at his captors and escape his imprisonment with no trouble.)

Given Pershing's acerbic and offensive nature, it's to the Avengers' credit that they rush to his aid regardless. The next scene, however, wins Englehart no points in his treatment thus far of the Scarlet Witch's power--which, as it currently stands, depends on unpredictability as well as on a lot of "ifs" for its chances of success. Given that this woman is an Avenger, an operative whose effectiveness in the field could tilt a crucial battle either way, it stretches the character's credibility to the breaking point that she's been cleared to employ a power that cannot be controlled or even understood by the one who wields it.

Just to be clear: Wanda has no idea of how to reverse probability around the fallen man, but employs her power anyway? No one stepped forward to say, "Stop, Wanda! You could just as easily kill him with such an attempt!"? And how do her fellow Avengers feel about having someone in their ranks who has no idea what her power will do when it's unleashed? While they were trapped in space by Zodiac, for instance, suppose her attempt to disrupt the field that kept their breathing area intact had instead caused that field to completely vanish, exposing the building's interior to the void? It was disappointing for Englehart to steer clear of the caveat in effect vis-à-vis Wanda's power and the risks associated with its use--risks to her fellow Avengers as well as those they battled, or to anyone in the vicinity. "All that she can be certain of, when she joins her hands together--is that something will happen." Englehart, astonishingly, seems to regard that as a factor in the Avengers' favor.

At any rate, the Avengers aren't the type to stand by and twiddle their thumbs for the hour they have until Klaw returns. There is a combined effort by those within the barrier and those who remain free of it to break through--a fruitless attempt, but which opens the door to some excellent character interaction by Englehart which has the tempers of those within the barrier flaring up, despite the need to focus on the matter at hand.

Oddly, the Swordsman remains virtually ignored here by Englehart, despite how much of an interest he's taken in the character since bringing him to the team. You'd think the Swordsman would have been extremely interested in the conversation that a furious Wanda was having with the Vision over the android's presumed interest in Mantis--yet Englehart turns no attention to him at all, when the man had previously been very confrontational on the subject.

As for the other Avengers, they've used their time to conduct a futile search for Klaw within a radius that the Panther has recommended in consideration of the range of Klaw's power. However, their return empty-handed provides the Panther with insight that helps him to discover the villain's whereabouts--in this case, hiding in plain sight.

We can assume that Klaw and Solarr never did issue threats against the staff of the embassy--either that, or the real Pershing didn't really care about his gardener being burned to a crisp and went on about his business. But on another note, what would Klaw need with a separate power source concealed within that briefcase? He's been shown to wield incredible power that allows him to create any number of sound constructs at will, unaided--including those that the other Avengers dealt with in their search for him.

Still, the story's conclusion is well-handled in terms of the closure it brings to the dilemmas of both the Panther and Cap, as both men separately decide to leave the Avengers. The scene inadvertently provides an interesting touch of nostalgia, since it was Cap who had originally recommended the Panther as his replacement in the Avengers--and now both men, for different reasons, find themselves leaving the group simultaneously. Along with Mr. Brown, they're notable departures, indeed.

BONUS! In a scene above, a challenge is made to any readers who can come up with an explanation of how Klaw teamed up with Solarr--and, skipping ahead four issues to the letters page in question, we turn to alert Avengers reader Chuck Mabry, whose answer appears to be the acknowledged winner!

Given the treatment Klaw suffered as a prisoner, it seems unlikely his jailers would allow him to use a telephone or see that he was provided with the latest reading material--but we're probably not going to argue with oversights that brought Solarr to their doorstep, eh?

The Avengers #126

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Bob Brown
Inks: Dave Cockrum
Letterer: John Costanza


Anonymous said...

In Britain, this story had a fantastic (uncredited) splash page, by

the late Steve Stiles:


Phillip Beadham

Comicsfan said...

Thanks very much, Phillip, that makes for an interesting footnote to this review. :)

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