Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When The Going Gets Tough--Disband

My Very First Issue of:

 The Avengers
The Avengers #92

When word balloons began appearing on cover art, there was a lot of backlash from those readers who thought they were unnecessary and didn't want them cluttering up the usually fine dramatic artwork of comic book covers. Granted, some of the balloons were ridiculous, adding no real substance and being more of a sales gimmick than anything else:

Yet these word balloons helped to finally bring me to The Avengers, a group which I'd never really been interested in. Its members had always looked so "stuffy" to me--its membership so centered on its charter members, who were merely several of Marvel's charter characters gathered under one roof. Yet here was a cover which showed a crack in this book's armor and threatened to shake things up with dissension and disbandment. The word balloons, for once, were directly relevant.

So I was surprised at how low-key the majority of the issue was. Intentionally so, though I didn't know it at the time, as it was carefully laying the groundwork for what would be the Kree-Skrull War. For proof of that, you needed to look no further than this panel of Rick Jones remembering his days at the orphanage reading old comic books, an out-of-the-blue detour which had absolutely nothing to do with this particular story but which we know now would play out in a major way near the end of the war:

This was my first exposure to Rick, so you can imagine my confusion as to why this kid was able to hang with the Avengers. Or with Captain Marvel, for that matter. Or why he was getting so much development in the book. I had no idea of his history with the team up to this point. And speaking of the team, for someone who was expecting a more formal tone to the Avengers, page one gave me a far more casual picture:

Knowing the Avengers as I do today, the page still surprises me. Quicksilver kicking back and relaxing out of costume? Mod Wanda? GQ Vision? Yet at the time, it all eased me into the Avengers nicely.

The issue brings us up to speed on things as the story's crisis develops. The Avengers had just foiled a plan by one of the Kree, Ronan the Accuser, to de-evolve humanity; and they'd asked some government technicians caught in the crossfire to keep silent about it, in order to avoid panic. Nevertheless, word about this incursion gets out, and leads to the establishment of the Alien Activities Commission, led by a man named H. Warren Craddock. As you can see, Craddock's fixation on conspiracy can't help but remind you of the McCarthy hearings:

Things are complicated by the fact that the Avengers know Captain Marvel, a Kree exile--and Craddock's commission wants Marvel to testify. Mar-vell has himself suggested that he turn himself in, but the Avengers come to another decision:

While it's easy to feel our hackles go up at the implications of these commission "witch hunts," I can't help but disagree with the Vision's reasoning. First, he makes an almost panicked leap from commission hearing to a planet brought to destruction by suspicious frenzy, which seems more lecture to us than intra-team discussion. But more directly, no one said anything about confining Mar-vell; further, the Commission does indeed have reason to want him for questioning, given that he was on the scene at the time of Ronan's attack. The fact that he's also a Kree makes him an ideal witness for the Commission to question--he can provide insight and answers that not even the Avengers can give.

Yet the Avengers nevertheless vote to send him into hiding. After, of course, he (with help from the Vision) saves a damsel in distress, in this superb full-page artwork by Sal Buscema:

Again, keep in mind that this was my first exposure to the Avengers. So when Wanda shows concern for the fate of the Vision after the crash, this scene had no special meaning to me:

I just interpreted it as a scene showing characterization of the Vision--a figure who was heroic, yet aloof, even to his fellow Avengers. I had no idea it was the result of this scene which played out in the prior issue:

Another thing I was unaware of at the time was that the Fantastic Four had already encountered the Kree--not only the Kree sentry, but Ronan himself--in earlier issues of their own title. Had I known, I probably would have wondered why the FF wasn't put through the same wringer of disclosure that the Avengers--a group with government clearance, mind you--were now going through. No panicked, angry mobs camped out in front of the Baxter Building demanding answers, which I'm assuming meant that the FF briefed the government on the Kree but the government didn't inform the public--probably for the same reason the Avengers wanted to keep their own encounter with Ronan quiet. But since the FF were called as witnesses during the Avengers' hearing with the Commission, we can conclude that the Feds have known about the Kree for some time--so why the establishment of a formal Commission now, which can only make the investigation public? Why not a simple debriefing of the Avengers? It makes no sense.

Reed himself gets off pretty easy on the stand:

Beats me why the government brought him all the way down to the courthouse to repeat in public what they must have already gotten out of him privately.

As for the Avengers, their testimony at the hearing doesn't satisfy Craddock in the least. Nor, apparently, have the Avengers' actions satisfied their other teammates, who have reached an incredible knee-jerk decision:

Given that this scene plays out on the issue's last page, it gives neither the Avengers nor us time to process what's occurred. For all I know at the time, these three have always come across as arrogant overseers of the team--yet with the benefit of hindsight, I know they'd never come to such a decision without getting all the facts through further deliberation with everyone present. But aside from that, I think the circumstances would have to be far more extreme than they are here for them to see disbandment as the solution to a team problem.

So a lot of unanswered questions. But for a new reader, the abruptness of the ending certainly whetted my appetite to explore this story. And look what I got in return: the Kree-Skrull War, the Inhumans, the original Avengers, the Kree Supreme Intelligence, Captain Marvel, and art by Neal Adams, Tom Palmer, and John Buscema. And, of course, writing by Roy Thomas, who blessed me with perhaps my first introduction to one of his conspicuous, tiresome pop culture references:

On the bright side, I could at least count on the fact that neither the Kree nor the Skrulls would be having such references pop up in their dialog anytime soon.


Super-Duper ToyBox said...

if they were really clever, they'd have developed entirely developed bizzaro pop cultures for the Kree & Skrull from which to reference ...or maybe not. The Vision looked funny in a sweater, didn't he? :D

Comicsfan said...

To say nothing of conspicuous, since not many people would put on a pull-over sweater (or any sweater) on a "hot summer's day." But I suppose androids can make their own fashion statements whenever they please. :D

Big Murr said...

Ah, golden days, golden days. At this issue,I had been an seasoned Avengers veteran of nine whole issues.

And the issue with two missteps that suggest Sal Buscema was under some intense deadline pressure. Or, knew Neal Adams was taking over and so Sal was only "phoning it in".

Misstep #1: Vision's chess game. He is playing an intriguing variant if it allows the white bishop to be illegally moved on to a diagonal square. Apparently this English Opening allows bishops to jump pawns.

Misstep #2 is more substantial...in the panel just before the one you have on display, when the Big Three step into view, Captain America only has three fingers. Some have argued since that this was not a misstep in the art, but a diabolical clue that Skrull shapeshifters aren't always perfectionists in their mimicry.

Comicsfan said...

You know, Murray, that explanation's not half bad!