Wednesday, October 18, 2017

To The Brotherhood We Return

At the end of 1967, Avengers writer Roy Thomas took a series of steps which would pare down the Avengers and would effectively wipe the slate clean as far as their lineup--leaving a core group of Goliath, the Wasp, and Hawkeye, its smallest contingent ever, but quickly adding the Black Panther to their ranks and building from there. Seemingly crucial to Thomas's plans was the removal of not only Captain America, the group's most steadfast member and arguably the "glue" that held the team together, but also the departure of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who cut their teeth in the Avengers under Cap's leadership along with Hawkeye but were now for whatever reason seen as hangers-on.

There were probably a number of ways for Thomas to have considered for Wanda and Pietro to justify their departure, since the pair are family and have always been joined at the hip as far as making decisions on what to do with their lives and who to form alliances with. But it's probably Thomas we have to thank for stoking the fires of anti-mutant feelings that Stan Lee had only touched on in X-Men and using them to suddenly turn Pietro from Avenger to outcast. Yet there was still Wanda to deal with. Further down the road, Wanda would eventually embrace her own bitter feelings toward humans (and then some); but at this point in time, Wanda didn't share her brother's growing disdain for humans, and was still the loyal Avenger.

But a three-part story--which featured the return of Magneto, a former benefactor of Pietro and Wanda, and a man who had no equal when it came to despising humans--would solve both problems.

As we can see in one of these covers, the story also features the premiere of Dane Whitman as the new Black Knight, assuming the role from his uncle, Nathan Garrett, who fought the original Avengers as one of the Masters of Evil. We indirectly have Whitman to thank (!) for the return of Magneto, who had been taken captive by the Stranger and held on the alien's world. Whitman's experiments with using magnetic rays to communicate with extraterrestrial life were intercepted and hijacked by Magneto in order to facilitate his escape from the Stranger's world and return to Earth; but it was Whitman's self-serving assistant, Norris, taking control of the experiment from Whitman thanks to a well-placed blow to the head, who fails to realize the danger that walks the Earth once more.

With both Norris and Whitman now captives, Magneto makes his plans for reforming his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (sans Mastermind) by bringing back into the fold Wanda and Pietro--and since Garrett Castle at this point is still located in the States, luring the pair to him is as simple as sending a message to Avengers Mansion.

We have to overlook a few omitted details that might have made a meeting with only these two Avengers plausible--for instance, we have to assume this "coded message" was coded so that only Pietro or Wanda could decrypt it, since Magneto would hardly know who was on monitor duty that evening. (Two Avengers on monitor duty? Since when?) And since neither of these Avengers knows who sent the message, how was it worded to compel them to not only abandon their posts but also prevent them from alerting their teammates? Nor, incredibly, do they leave any word as to where they've gone, or why.

But soon enough, their nemesis reveals himself, and his intentions are made perfectly clear.

Even though Pietro and Wanda hardly realize it yet, it's eerie to realize that we're seeing the beginning of the end of their careers as Avengers, at least for the next 27 issues. Yet at the time, the reader of the story still sees two Avengers who have every expectation of not only foiling Magneto's scheme but immediately resuming their lives as loyal Avengers.

As to the former, Magneto begs to differ.

(No, I don't know how or when Magneto suddenly obtained super-strength. He even lugs both Norris and Whitman down to the dungeon under one arm.)

But what's happened to our budding Black Knight, a prisoner in his own castle? Escaping from his confinement in the dungeon, we learn that it's Magneto's presence that finally spurs him into taking up the mantle of his uncle's legacy and instead becoming, hopefully, a hero.

While the Black Knight heads to New York, Pietro has used a hidden transmitter in his costume to signal for help from the Avengers. Unfortunately, if and when the Avengers arrive, those they seek will have left for parts unknown--while the Black Knight, getting off on the wrong foot with the Avengers who at first mistook him for his predecessor, decides to pursue his destiny solo.

It's a curious development concerning the Knight, since it appeared that Thomas was grooming him to eventually help fill the vacancy left by Wanda and Pietro (and, as we'd later see, Hercules). On the other hand, the nascent Knight is still very much untested as a hero, much less an Avenger, though Thomas would give him his chance soon enough.

Speaking of Hercules, you may be wondering: Where is he while all of this is going on? His whereabouts are in Olympus, investigating the disappearance of the entire pantheon of gods who had dwelled there. The culprit is Typhon, an old foe of Zeus who has returned to take his revenge, as promised.

Yes, you, too can wipe out an entire race of gods--simply by snuffing a flame in an unguarded temple.

Back on Earth, Magneto arrives at his formidable stronghold in the Atlantic, where he continues to petition Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch to rejoin him. We still have every indication that these two Avengers will again join their teammates in final battle against Magneto--but Magneto is savvy enough to pounce on an opening when he sees one.

We can see that Magneto has gained entry to the U.N. building thanks to the two Avengers accompanying him who have used their Avengers priority status. But it would seem their involvement as Avengers stops there--for when Magneto flaunts his might, just watch how these Avengers, who have "vouch[ed] for his behavior," stand idly by without lifting a finger to stop him.

Quicksilver doesn't race to intercept the deadly projectile? The Scarlet Witch makes no gesture to stop it? These two are both very out of character from what we've seen of their commitment to the Avengers until now, especially since Magneto is the only person among all those assembled who has overtly made threatening moves. Why are Pietro and Wanda just relegating themselves to being observers?

Since they've obviously forgotten how to be Avengers, here's how it's done.

In the resulting chaos, it isn't long before circumstances turn to Magneto's benefit. He's picked up on Pietro being on the fence in his growing distrust of humans, and the moment arrives when he can make the final push to bring Pietro to his side--and ruthlessly, at that. In the same breath, he becomes the perfect tool for Thomas to use (via Magneto) in removing Wanda from the Avengers, who up until now had neither cause nor motivation to abandon her standing with the team. The solution? To take her choice from her, and avoid dealing with her feelings on the matter altogether.

As far as the other Avengers know, the injury to Wanda which pushed Pietro over the edge occurred accidentally, and so, when the dust settles, they're willing to let it go at that and grudgingly accept the fact that Pietro has rejoined Magneto. Yet the security guards who fired the shots are likely going to be eager to report the strange forces which took over their aim--with, surely, a follow-up briefing made to the Avengers that would clearly implicate Magneto. It's a glaring omission of Thomas's story, considering that the shots from these men were the catalyst for what Thomas, er, aimed to accomplish.

As for the Wasp (remember her?), apparently she feels her "powers" aren't sufficient to put down a single man--one possessing only average strength, who's standing still directly in front of her, at point-blank range.

And so Wanda and Pietro are removed from the Avengers indefinitely, with a two-part Avengers/X-Men crossover serving to resolve their status with Magneto. It wouldn't be until over a year later when Quicksilver becomes interested in returning to the Avengers--first, by bringing to justice a known outlaw such as Spider-Man, and then having no choice but to seek out his former teammates to assist him when Wanda is taken captive by the man called Arkon. Both brother and sister formally rejoin their fellows following that crisis, with Pietro tabling his hatred of humans now that there's no longer any need for it --for the time being.

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