Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Sword And The Sorceress!

Taking place between an encounter with the so-called Lady Liberators and an adventure in the world of the Squadron Supreme is a single-issue Avengers story which, given its action quotient and the parties involved, you might think would necessitate being extended into at least two parts. But it looks like having their mansion displaced through dimensions, dealing with the savage Arkon, his legions of armed warriors, and a heavyweight like the Enchantress, plus battling an enthralled Black Knight is all in a day's work for the Avengers, who take a mere twenty pages to clean Arkon's clock, fight through his warriors, rescue the Knight, and send the Enchantress packing. And starting with the issue's cover and its compelling splash page, you'll be getting all that and more for your 15¢.

And while you may come away from this story feeling that an awful lot has been crammed into it, more is what you'll indeed find, as writer Roy Thomas handles and paces its story so adeptly (in tandem with artist John Buscema) that everything proceeds from beginning to end sensibly, if perhaps a bit breathlessly--much the same sort of hectic pace that was to be found in the story that wrapped up the Avengers' dealings with Zodiac's operations. Right away, there are many questions the cover and page one have us asking: Why has Arkon returned? Why would he turn against the Avengers, when it was they who saved his entire world? How did the Enchantress become involved with him? How and why is the Black Knight on another world? It would be a step-by-step process that assembles the pieces of this puzzle--and would, in turn, assemble the Avengers, as well.

The key to their involvement is one of their own--the Black Knight, who joined their ranks after a conflict with Kang the Conqueror but who hasn't been seen in the book since, his status perhaps best described as a reserve member. It's nice to see him in play again, though he doesn't appear to be himself--his mystic ebony sword having exerted a growing, violent influence on him. It turns out it's Arkon's world he's mysteriously arrived at, in an effort to destroy the sword and regain his own will. The sword, unfortunately, has taken him past the point of being able to accomplish his mission; but the interesting part of this introduction is how it connects to the rest of the Avengers, one of whom becomes aware of his plight through means that are equally mysterious.

Having a person called the Scarlet Witch in your group is certainly a handy way for Thomas to involve the Avengers in this tale and alert them to the Knight's danger, if only vaguely; otherwise, there's really no explanation why the details of the Knight's experience should reach across the dimensions and manifest as a premonition, to Wanda or to any of her teammates, though at first the rest of the Avengers attribute Wanda's distress to nothing more than a nightmare.

Either Wanda is in the habit of turning in early, or the males on this team tend to stay up playing poker with Jarvis. We really don't know why they're up and about, and still in costume; Wanda could just as easily have experienced her vision lounging in the library with a book. The result is the same--the rest of the Avengers are inclined to assume her account is real, especially after telephoning England and learning the Knight isn't in residence. From there, the wheels are set in motion to investigate further.

As for the Knight, apparently he was caught in mid-fall by Arkon's men and subsequently brought before the Imperion to account for himself, where we're surprised to find the Enchantress standing at Arkon's side. Given how his last encounter with the Avengers was concluded, there's no apparent reason for Arkon (who's presumably learned from the sorceress of the Knight's status as an Avenger--though how would she have known of that?) to treat the Knight as a hostile, much less a spy--unfounded suspicions that the Enchantress picks up on and uses to her advantage, but doesn't appear to instigate.

(If memory serves, this would be the first instance that the Enchantress is presented as a mystic seductress who uses her kiss to weaken the will of one she wishes to place under her control. Other writers would go on to make use of her in this way in future stories--with the Knight, in particular, learning that the kiss of the Enchantress has its drawbacks.)

With the Knight under her sway, he divulges how he came to fear the inherent evil nature of his sword, and was advised by a manifestation of the sword's first owner, the original Black Knight, to destroy it. To that end, he was directed to Stonehenge, where a strange figure was waiting to transport him to the "Well at the Center of Time," into which he would plunge his sword and thereby end its threat. But there were two complications: One would be that the sword's influence had become so strong that the Knight was unable to muster the will to carry out his task, while the other involved the well's location on Arkon's world, the latter eventually leading to an imminent strike against the Avengers.

To say that Arkon is a loose cannon would be putting it mildly, given what we've seen of his temperament. Yet his is a warlike culture, where battle is initiated at the slightest provocation; one wonders why he would go through the formality of interrogating the Knight if he was prone to assume the worst, despite what information he'd gained from it. There's also his failure to consider just why the Avengers would "spy" on him--why they would be planning an attack on him after taking pains to save his world from extinction. The Enchantress is obviously pleased at how he's played into her hands, though it's clear this course of action isn't the result of her whispering doubts and suspicions into his ear. In a sane world--in a sane story--Arkon, lacking just cause for assumption of hostile intent, would be making arrangements to return the Knight to his world, rather than leaping into war and risking another confrontation with the Avengers which would decimate his troops and his weaponry. Yet it's Arkon's savage, volatile nature that allows Thomas to escalate this story (though Buscema seems to think it's the influence of the Enchantress)--and the aggressive climate of Arkon's world has already been well-established to make this kind of leap acceptable, if not sensible.

The Enchantress, of course, relishes the opportunity to make a first strike against the Avengers with a new ally--using her power to capture Avengers Mansion itself, just as the Panther arrives on the premises with Thor in tow.

(The Enchantress can be forgiven for her exuberance here, considering that her power has just snatched the Avengers and their headquarters from sight. There's no actual reason for her to show delight that Thor would recognize her, considering that they're both Asgardians and they've known each other for hundreds of years, if not millennia.)

As for the Avengers inside the mansion, who have found Arkon's troops armed and waiting for them at their doorstep, their resistance turns out to be limited, thanks again to the Enchantress.

From there, the Avengers are encased in will-sapping energy cocoons and taken to Arkon--where they discover that the Knight is now under control of the Enchantress, whose sorceress power fits Arkon's world like a glove and who makes an invincible ally for him. Arkon has made an impressive strike against those he's assumed are enemies--but what now? He doesn't seem at all curious to find out why the Avengers would spy on him--interrogations which would yield information he would be able to rely on as truthful, since it's his own technology at work on their wills. Instead, he has them taken away and imprisoned, apparently not yet informed that there are more Avengers on the way.

Once the Panther frees the others to form up on Thor, Arkon's warriors get the war they wanted and then some. And while the Black Knight's actions put Thor at a disadvantage, events eventually coalesce to return the Knight to his senses and bring him full circle to his original purpose for coming to this world.

While as readers we can appreciate the symmetry of the Knight being returned to the point where he again plays a key role in this story, a staggering set of unlikely developments are used to bring the story to its conclusion. Once Thor has his hammer back in hand, the Enchantress flees--her sorcery at its peak on this world, yet one skirmish with Wanda draining her might completely. And even though the momentum is still with Arkon and his forces, the Knight also notes that Arkon has fled--Arkon, mind you, whose pride or station wouldn't allow him to turn away from foes he's convinced mean to do his world harm. In pursuit, the Knight overtakes him--and guess where both of them end up?

Unless the Well at the Center of Time is nearby the Imperion's capital city, it's obvious that Arkon has fled far from the site of the battle--and far from his troops, who must be astonished to see their warlord abandon both the battle and his men. It also seems the Knight was counting on a battle with Arkon that would result in his sword plummeting--and in a trajectory that would have it impact with a mystic well that didn't appear to be more than ten feet in diameter. Holy bullseye, Batman.

Mission accomplished, the story's closing panels understandably have the Avengers effectively telling Arkon where he can stuff his belated apologies.

Arkon's words to the Knight that shift the blame of this conflict to the Enchantress are nothing short of ridiculous. While it's true that the Enchantress took advantage of the circumstances, she lied about nothing. It was Arkon who outright accused the Knight of being a spy; it was Arkon who chose to disbelieve the Knight's own words, compelled through sorcery, about the reasons behind why he was there; it was Arkon who was inclined to take action against the Avengers and make a preemptive strike; and it was Arkon who imprisoned the Avengers without questioning them. If Arkon is going to "gain wisdom" here, as Wanda puts it, perhaps a good place to start would be by owning up to his own accountability.

The Avengers #84

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Tom Palmer
Letterer: Mike Stevens


Rick said...

There is some fine artwork in comics today, but the Buscema/Palmer team has to be one of the best combinations ever to grace the pages of Marvel comics. Buscema's dynamic layout and Palmer's fine inking style are pretty hard to beat. Direct, cinematic storytelling at its best.

Comicsfan said...

I agree with you on all points, Rick. They're a favorite team of mine, as well.

The Artistic Actuary said...

The artwork! It would be a tough call to pick between this issue and Silver Surfer #4.

Michael Carvalho Silva said...

Enchantress is so gorgeous and wonderful. She and Viper are the two most beautiful and amazing female supervillains in the entire history of the Marvel Universe ever. And Scarlet Witch, Sersi, Karnilla and the original Spider Woman Jessica Drew are the four most gorgeous super-heroines of the Marvel Universe aswell.

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