Monday, August 8, 2016

The Road To Redemption!

Here at the PPC we've given a generous (and well-deserved) amount of exposure to both the 2005 and 2007 Earth's Mightiest Heroes limited series by writer Joe Casey and artist Scott Kolins which focused on early periods of Avengers history, supplementing the original stories with new material that provided perspective on the events that played a crucial part in forming the foundation of this famous team. As issues of each series have demonstrated, Casey's interpretation adds a more contemporary feel to those early stories while taking more than a few liberties with the way those events played out--yet it's surprising how intact he manages to keep the stories of the Avengers as we remember them, a merging of old and new that fills in a number of gaps and refurbishes those stories as a whole.

During this week, we'll be taking a look at the segments of this series which dealt with the famous transition period that saw the team change its lineup for the first time, and in a dramatic way--with almost all of the original Avengers stepping down, and a brand new team led by Captain America taking their place. There were some unanswered questions in Avengers #16, with this development appearing to occur from out of nowhere; for instance, it seemed a little early in the game for the original Avengers to tire of their bold commitment and throw in the towel, didn't it? After all, if you go through the formality of creating a charter and by-laws, you're usually in it for the long haul.

According to Sean Howe's Marvel Comics the Untold Story, it was the struggle with continuity that doomed the original Avengers:

"[Stan Lee had] vigilantly kept a consistent continuity between all the titles, so that, for instance, when the Hulk was captured in Tales to Astonish, Reed Richards wondered about his whereabouts in a Fantastic Four Annual. If Tony Stark went missing from Tales of Suspense, he was also AWOL in the next issue of The Avengers. ... Eventually, the demands of such choreography became so tangled that Lee removed Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, and the Wasp from The Avengers, replacing them with Hawkeye, a former Iron Man foe, and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, erstwhile X-Men nemeses. Captain America remained in The Avengers, but his solo adventures in Tales of Suspense now exclusively covered his World War II past, which didn't have to be so tightly synchronized."

It's difficult to put too much stock in Howe's explanation, if it's meant to be interpreted as the sole reason for the lineup change; if so, then it's reasonable to also take into account sales figures for the book. For instance, if the figures were disappointing, that makes Lee's decision to replace the main characters an easy one; but if The Avengers were a high-selling comic book, why make such a radical change in its makeup? Would you pull its money-makers off the team just for the sake of maintaining continuity across the board? It's easy enough to get around continuity conflicts with a simple "This story takes place before (or after) the events of Tales of Suspense #84."  It also bears mentioning that TOS didn't "exclusively" cover Cap's WWII exploits for long.

In any event, before we knew it, Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver were new Avengers and setting up shop, mostly due to a media appeal by the original team that reached out for new applicants. (You have to wonder what form letter the Avengers drafted for the other applicants who knocked on the door too late: "Sorry, the positions have been filled. We appreciate your interest in the Avengers, and wish you success in your endeavor as a hero.") But that whirlwind process left Casey with an opportunity to provide some compelling filler for his first EMH series--and the old order this time doesn't changeth quite so quickly.

As was the case with Quicksilver and his sister, who always seemed uncomfortable with and resistant to Magneto's strike team, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (its very name no doubt reminding them every day of the mistake they'd made), there was nowhere to go but up for Hawkeye, the Marksman, who wound up on the wrong side of the law and, because of his romantic involvement with the Black Widow, became a persistent foe of Iron Man. When he applies for Avengers membership, he's made the decision to turn the corner in his life after feeling responsible for the Widow being targeted by her communist masters for attempting desertion. Yet in Casey's version, it's Jarvis who is instead instrumental in getting him to turn that corner, when the Avengers' butler and his mother are the victims of a mugging in the Bronx and find a good samaritan--armed with a bow and arrows--coming to their rescue.

At this point in time, the Avengers have defeated Kang the Conqueror, with Captain America emerging as a figure who is helping to gain the public's trust in the team--though he's lately become torn with a desire to seek revenge against Baron Zemo, his old enemy now discovered to be alive and the man who was responsible for the death of Cap's young partner during the war, Bucky Barnes. As Hawkeye makes his move on Jarvis' attackers, the Avengers have engaged with Count Nefaria's forces in his castle in New Jersey, leading to the Wasp becoming critically injured--which would also be the catalyst for Cap's building desire to seek out Zemo, since he feels his brooding on the subject is affecting him in the field and thus may have allowed Nefaria to gain the upper hand (if briefly). And Cap is the apparent key for the Avengers' survival as a functional team with government clearance, since the National Security Council has made his continued membership in the Avengers a condition for granting the team its A-1 priority status.

The Wasp pulls through; but because of her near-death experience, she and Giant-Man are privately leaning toward leaving the Avengers. Yet the team isn't in crisis mode just yet as far as all hands abandoning ship--so it's unclear why Jarvis feels the need to pursue Hawkeye with the thought of possibly submitting his name for addition to their ranks.

Of course, this could all be laid at the door of Jarvis being a good judge of character--and as a fan of Hawkeye myself, I certainly can't argue the point. But no, in case you're wondering--they don't just stroll through the gate and Hawkeye gets his Avengers I.D. card. In fact, oddly enough, nothing happens. The next time Jarvis goes looking for Hawkeye, it's obvious that Hawkeye said something like "thanks but no thanks," though why Casey doesn't clarify things is unclear. If you were down on your luck and couldn't make any headway as a hero, and someone offered to break the ice for you with the Avengers, would you really do a 180 and head off in the other direction?

But we know how persistent Jarvis can be when he puts his mind to it, so he makes another stab at changing Hawkeye's mind (for reasons we'll learn of in a moment), though the archer really, really doesn't want his help, nor does he seem to want to join the Avengers. But on both points, why wouldn't he?

The answer comes from either Hawkeye or Jarvis, though from the way it turns out I'm guessing it's Hawkeye's self-respect that's responsible for the turnaround in his attitude, since he finally does choose to join the Avengers--that is, on his own terms. And things play out much as we remember them, though it will be obvious that Casey has jump-started Hawkeye's personality in this modified version--and it's possible that Jarvis wasn't clued in on everything that Hawkeye had up his sleeve for this meeting.

To make the remaining Avengers' "processing" of Hawkeye's application somewhat easier, we should keep in mind that by now Cap has broken ranks to head off to Bolivia and settle accounts with Zemo, which endangers the NSC's terms for the team keeping its A-1 status (and prompts Jarvis to make another attempt to convince Hawkeye to change his mind). Thor has also informed Iron Man that he'll be leaving the team, to attend to an Asgardian matter--leaving Iron Man and the others to sequester and discuss not only Hawkeye's status but also the future of the Avengers. Unfortunately, it's during that meeting that Giant-Man and the Wasp drop the bomb that they're also leaving.

Is Hawkeye boarding a sinking ship? We'll learn how the idea of "replacement" Avengers came about, as this week's spotlight on Avengers:Transition continues.

Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch apply for Avengers membership!
(And, shock of shocks, Pietro's playing hardball.)


david_b said...

I usually don't grab these types of retro issues, but this one looks pretty darn impressive. Clint seems to have been captured quite well.

And WHO doesn't love Silver Age Hawkeye stories..?

Thanks for the GREAT post today.

Comicsfan said...

My pleasure, david!

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