Welcome to Part 3 of Avengers:Transition, our week-long review of the issues of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes limited series from 2005 which dealt with the departure of the original Avengers and the lineup that took their place. Previously, we saw the surprise arrival of the brash Hawkeye, who convinced Iron Man, the Wasp, and Giant-Man of his commitment to make a better start with his life as an adventurer by hopefully being accepted into their ranks; and following Hawkeye's introduction to the press as the newest Avenger, the replacement roster was completed with the addition of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, former (and reluctant) mutant terrorists who had broken ranks with Magneto and answered the Avengers' media appeal for new members.
The formal passing of the torch is yet to come--but the question that remains is, why are the charter Avengers members leaving the team and going their separate ways? If we were to examine Stan Lee's original story for the answer, we'd come away with the impression of general fatigue among the members who remained on active duty after Captain America had departed for Bolivia to confront his old enemy from the war, Baron Zemo, and the mighty Thor had abruptly returned to Asgard. The Wasp wanted to resume a normal life, with a sympathetic Giant-Man ready to follow her--and Iron Man, unable to argue with their wishes, was resigned to disband the team then and there, before the intrusion of Hawkeye gave them the idea of instead having others step in as their replacements.
But was Cap gone for good? Was Thor? We were arguably meant to think so--after all, Iron Man and the others were ready to board the place up and leave dust and cobwebs in their wake. Imagine Thor and Cap returning, say, in a week's time and finding that the other three and turned in their I.D. cards and abandoned the commitment they had all made together. Earth's Mightiest Quitters.
Their charter makes the following provision, which none of these members seem to recall:
"7. Active Avengers may take a leave of absence for any reason simply by notifying the Chairman/woman of said intent."
So let's say for the sake of argument that Cap and Thor so notified whoever the Chairman for the week was at the time--Iron Man would then have no reason to pronounce the Avengers over and done with. But that's not the way Lee plays it, nor is it the road writer Joe Casey takes in the supplemental material he provides for the EMH series. No doubt the resignations of Giant-Man and the Wasp play a pivotal role in both versions.
The best we can hope for is that Casey's new material here will somehow have this unexpected transition make more sense--and that will depend on what Cap, Thor, the Wasp, and Giant-Man have to say for themselves behind the scenes.
In Cap's case, we've already covered the basics in Casey's version of events: Cap has discovered that Zemo is alive, and becomes so obsessed with holding the man accountable for the death of Bucky Barnes that it begins to affect his thinking in the field, and he continues to be preoccupied with the situation. But what really plants the seed as far as the Avengers living on borrowed time, particularly for Giant-Man but also for Iron Man, is the incident where the Wasp almost dies as a result of a clash with the forces of Count Nefaria. At the hospital, Cap and Iron Man exchange a few words on the subject, though it's clear each man has something on his mind beyond the immediate crisis. For Iron Man, it's the nagging feeling that Cap is on the precipice of going AWOL and hunting down Zemo (with possibly fatal implications), and might endanger the A-1 clearance that the National Security Council has recently granted the team should he choose to leave for good; while for Cap, the thought that his preoccupation with Zemo might have caused him to fall captive to Nefaria and thus put the Wasp's life in danger drives him further toward a reckoning with his foe.
The final straw for Cap is when Zemo breaks into Avengers Mansion and abducts Rick Jones, which can't help but raise the fear for Cap that history could repeat itself vis-à-vis Bucky. This time, there's no stopping Cap--but Iron Man makes the attempt anyway, to no avail.
Again, the implication that Cap is leaving for good, a case that neither Lee nor Casey is able to make stick (though to be fair, Lee doesn't really go down that road to any extent). The only thing that we can glean from this scene is that it's been made clear that Cap means to take revenge on Zemo, which would lead to his possible resignation from the Avengers (and perhaps abandoning his role as Captain America) as a result--but that's an assumption the reader is left to make, when it's the story that should be making that clear.
As for Thor, Casey's new material is welcome indeed, since Lee only made reference to a story taking place in Journey Into Mystery to account for Thor's absence from an Avengers meeting, with absolutely nothing to indicate that he was leaving the team. In the original tale, it's the Wasp who informs the others of Thor's news; but Casey, having the benefit of knowing just how long Thor would be missing from the Avengers' ranks, appears to feel the need to provide more justification for that absence, from Thor himself--this time in a meeting with Iron Man, where he warns of the possibility that he may not return.
Complicating matters is the fact that, all through their alliance, none of the other Avengers have ever bought into Thor's assertions that he is an actual god, that he is from Asgard, or that Asgard actually exists on some higher plane. There's no doubting Thor's power, of course. But for the others, who have super-powers of their own, Thor's abilities are simply highly impressive; attributing them to godhood is another matter. Yet now, Thor is basing his announcement to depart the Avengers on the need to return to Asgard and participate in a "trial of the gods"--and given all that's at stake for the team, Iron Man finally confronts Thor on his unrealistic pretentions and the world he believes he comes from.
Given his obligations elsewhere, perhaps it was unrealistic for Thor to become a formal member of a mortal organization and remain on call for their missions and weekly business, considering that he could be recalled to Asgard at any time, and for any length of time--though you could make the same case for his medical practice as Donald Blake. On the other hand, the Avengers knew Thor's opinion of himself going in; the fact that they chose to regard his claims of godhood as harmless delusions and not pursue the matter with him is on them. But now, Iron Man has had the literally eye-opening experience of realizing the truth regarding Thor. Again, Thor's return to Asgard for this "trial" is probably being given more dramatic fanfare by Lee than it merits, given its outcome--so it's not necessarily a sound reason for Casey to use as justification for Thor believing he might possibly be leaving the Avengers for good. But at the very least, the discussion that takes place here is a game-changer for Iron Man, especially in light of Cap's solo mission, since it's coming to light that these Avengers members have their own affairs (in their own titles) to tend to which could take them off the team's grid at any time--something Iron Man, who often has his own crises as Tony Stark that need Iron Man's attention, should know as well as anyone.
Yet Casey does put Thor to good use in this scene, since, as Iron Man recognizes, the Asgardian's commitment to the Avengers is genuine. And if anyone can rouse Iron Man to strive on, it's the God of Thunder--an appellation that Iron Man now understands applies in full to this being who stood with him to form the Avengers.
Unfortunately, Iron Man's day goes from bad to worse when, during their deliberations on whether to admit Hawkeye for membership, Giant-Man and the Wasp also voice their desire to leave the team--an announcement which, in Casey's version, takes place after Hawkeye's arrival, and thus reflects a greater impact on Iron Man. After all, why bother with deliberating on a new member if almost the entire team is pulling out?
With Iron Man's last statement, you probably could have heard a pin drop in that meeting room. Yet what follows changes the entire dynamic of the discussion, and proves what Iron Man had lamented to Thor--that he actually is a resourceful man, and capable of "snatching victory from the jaws of defeat... turning a negative into a positive." And in extending the train of thought on replacement members, Iron Man chooses a direction and a standard for the new team that might prove the concept of the Avengers to be as inspirational and lasting as he'd hoped, with Hawkeye playing a greater role in that new direction than the archer ever might have imagined.
How Murch is "handled" will have to keep for another time, but suffice to say that the NSC's watchdog will discover his influence over the Avengers has been both redefined and curtailed.
However, the big question mark over these proceedings has to be Iron Man himself, the man who struggled so hard to not only solidify the Avengers as a team worthy of the public's trust, but to find a way to ensure its survival when it seemed its charter members would be going their separate ways. You'd think that Iron Man, of all people, wouldn't consider leaving--and so far, Casey has given little to no indication that he intends to. So what changes his mind? Why would this man, who believes so much in the need for the Avengers, decide to abandon his commitment and follow the others out the door? The answer, such as it is, is coming up.
The return of Captain America--and the new Avengers assemble!