Friday, October 7, 2016

The Avengers Take Over!

In the 1963 story, "Defeated By Doctor Doom!", the Fantastic Four rescued Alicia Masters from the clutches of the good doctor, while foiling his plan to blackmail the United States in exchange for a Cabinet post. Doom managed to escape the FF, abandoning his massive airborne fortress; but thirty-six years later, in a story by Roger Stern, we discover that soon after that encounter, Doom turned his attention to the Avengers, a new super-group which at the time consisted of its original lineup of Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and the Hulk. It seemed that super-heroes were beginning to proliferate--a trend that Doom was determined to nip in the bud.

Stern takes this late-1999 one-shot story back to October of 1963, placing it after the formation of the original Avengers but just prior to their battle with the Space Phantom which, at its conclusion, saw the exit of the Hulk. Joining Stern is artist Bruce Timm, whose style is perfectly suited to comics but which might strike you as a bit farcical where the Avengers are concerned, a team which on the whole has been depicted with a more serious and realistic quality than what Timm's caricature-based art allows for. (You might find yourself being reminded of the late Mike Wieringo's work, which also took on a less dramatic tone and whose characters' features were arguably better suited for storybook fables.)

Others seeing the Avengers' introduction on the news aren't as furious as Doom at the announcement of the new team, though Stern raises fair (and humorous) points in the reactions of both the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.

As with the FF story, Stern's tale mimics closely those events while substituting the Avengers for the FF's presence--even down to having the military soliciting their aid in dealing with Doom. At first you might think that Stern has skipped over an important point or two--for instance, why wouldn't the military simply return to the FF if it needed further assistance regarding Doom? Why shift gears, particularly when the FF at this time has the greater amount of experience and reliability in dealing with such threats? The answers to these questions can be found further within the story, answers which will fall into place when we reach the proper point.

For now, the National Security Council's representative, Maj. Bowman, brings the Avengers up to speed on Doom's prior scheme. But before he can continue, reports come in that Doom has apparently returned, and reclaimed his property.

The story is as yet uncomplicated as far as the involvement of the Avengers, who have offered their assistance in dealing with Doom: Bowman will transport them to Doom's ship, where the Avengers will disembark and attack. Stern has shaped this story to be the Avengers' baptism of fire as a formal team, with Doom taking the place of the Phantom as their first adversary that the Hulk will battle alongside them--and it's in that sense that the story gains its traction, since the Hulk, albeit arrogant and having a hair-trigger temper, proves to be a considerable asset to the team. It seems clear that the Hulk's eagerness to take down Doom is more a result of his volatile temperament and constant aggressiveness than any sense of nobility; yet in addition to his considerable strength, he also displays initiative and a natural sense of tactics that balance the various abilities of the others.

It's thanks to the Hulk that the Avengers are able to board Doom's ship and swing the momentum of the conflict their way in these important initial strikes--but the shocking revelations which lie ahead will shift the odds back to Doom, who it turns out has called the tune all along.

Another minor oversight by Stern, once again concerning Bowman: If the Major was known to have boarded Doom's ship while it was still in possession of the military, why would his officers think he could be contacted at Tony Stark's townhouse in order to be alerted to the ship's theft?

Nevertheless, the story returns to mirroring the events of the FF's boarding of Doom's ship, with the Avengers this time falling into specially-prepared trap-rooms designed to counter their abilities and powers.

Destroying this new assemblage of heroes so soon after they'd organized would indeed be a significant psychological victory for Doom, particularly if he then went on to successfully defeat the FF--effectively wiping out the world's heroes and proving to its governments and populace that he possesses the power to carry out his public threats. And given his already proven ability to hold the population of the U.S. as virtual hostages by sabotaging the country's power grids, his actions would be an important stepping stone to seizing global power while ensuring his impunity from military reprisal.

But Stern does recall one important fact from this period of time--and it leads to the freedom of one Avenger, who then goes on to free the others. And suddenly it's Doom who's on the defensive.

Again bringing the Hulk back into play, Stern gives the brute a generous amount of panel space in the story's concluding pages--a welcome set of pages indeed, as they add to the short amount of scenes we have to look back on with the Hulk fighting as an Avenger.

In addition, we're left with the impression--or perhaps a better word would be "illusion"?--that this team really is going on to greater things, and that the Hulk could actually work out as a team player. (Wolverine, too, had his homicidal scene in his early days where he appeared to commit cold-blooded murder in front of his teammates. Though admittedly he was more certain than the Hulk of his victim's artificial nature.) The continued presence of the Hulk in the Avengers would have been impossible, given the Hulk's circumstances--but Stern has dealt very creatively with the situation in the window that he had to do so. (And all things considered, the Hulk seemed to work out pretty well on the team, didn't he?)

The Avengers 1½

Script: Roger Stern
Pencils and Inks: Bruce Timm
Lettering: Comicraft

Bruce Timm's excellent pinup of the original Avengers.


Anonymous said...

Iron Man: "How'd you know it was a robot?"
Hulk: "Robot?"

Anonymous said...

I'm baffled why Dr. Doom wanted a Cabinet post in the U.S. government. For what reason ?? And which job did he expect to get - Secretary of State ? Agriculture Secretary ? It seems completely bizarre.

Anonymous said...

M.P. :)

Comicsfan said...

Possibly he wanted the post as a stepping stone, Colin. As you say, a Cabinet post wouldn't really do him much good, unless it was attached to the Pentagon or the State Department--but I wouldn't put it past Doom to find a way to gain the access he wanted, once he had his foot in the door.

George Chambers said...

Got to love that tongue-in-cheek cover with its "Mystery Guest Villain." Gosh... grey steel armor... Green cape and hood... wonder who it could possibly be?

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