Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Welcome To The Family

When you're reading the early stories about Eric Williams, the Grim Reaper, and his fixation on revenge for the apparent murder of his brother, Simon (a/k/a Wonder Man), it almost feels like you're peeling an onion. Because as easy as it would be to keep the Reaper ignorant of the truth, and simply continue to sic him on the Avengers without allowing for any further development on this front, he slowly builds on the minuscule amounts of fact which get under his guard--bits of the truth which will either take root, or instead be twisted into the Reaper's warped conclusions. Consequently, with each new appearance, and each new fresh set of accusations, the Reaper himself gives us an idea of how he's dealing with this situation's new developments--or not dealing, as the case may be, as he always seems to be in some level of denial.

For the Reaper, one thing is certain: the Avengers are to blame for whatever pain he is suffering at the loss of his brother. When the Reaper first makes his appearance, that loss manifests simply in the form of his brother's death; though later, with the addition of the Vision as an unexpected variable, he shifts his rage to railing against the loss of his relationship with Simon, his "true" brother taken from him. When writer Roy Thomas first created the Reaper and unleashed him against the Avengers, the Vision's first appearance was only five issues away--so it's not clear whether the Vision and his connection to Wonder Man's brain patterns (revealed in the Vision's origin) played a part in Thomas's plotting of the Reaper, and how much Thomas planned to mine from the character. Clearly, though, the Reaper's twisted rationale for continuing this vendetta against the Avengers would yield not only some notable Avengers stories, but dramatic interplay between the Reaper, Wonder Man, and the Vision before the story was exhausted.

To understand the forces in play here, we have to take into account the circumstances of Wonder Man's death, seen through two sets of eyes--our own, in the form of the original story, as well as the same scene interpreted from the Reaper's perspective. Run side-by-side respectively, it becomes clear that the Reaper is interested only in assigning blame to those who stood by in helplessness (or, as the Reaper might term it, inaction), as opposed to blaming the actual source, Baron Zemo:

In a way, it would be easy to assume the Reaper's possible frame of mind here, with "Earth's mightiest heroes" (even before they were formally known as such) unable to protect Simon in battle, and seemingly standing by in callous indifference as he dies. The Reaper obviously doesn't know (or doesn't care) that Zemo's ionic procedure on Wonder Man was fatal to begin with, and used as a mean to ensure his loyalty. Zemo, at this point, is dead, while the Avengers are none the worse for wear. And so the Reaper adopts a "scorched Earth" policy to deal with those who walked away alive.

Fortunately for the Avengers, at the time a "skeleton crew" of a fighting force, the Black Panther's timely arrival as a new member (stepping in for Captain America) brought about the Reaper's defeat, falling on his own blade while grappling with T'Challa. Yet while the Panther raced to save the Avengers, who were near death from the energies of the Reaper's scythe, the Reaper managed to escape.

When the Reaper next appeared, he had lost none of the crazed rage he felt toward the Avengers, particularly since they'd escaped his vengeance. And this time, he assembled a little strike force to help take them down:

By now we've gotten used to seeing Power Man, the Swordsman, and the Living Laser, otherwise known as the "You-Can't-Hack-It-Alone Squad," dealt into various villain teams in one scheme or another. But I still liked the idea of the Reaper forming a Masters of Evil group of his own. He also included M'Baku, the Man-Ape, since the brute had a personal gripe with the Panther, the Avenger who foiled his plans the last time. And since it's doubtful these guys would have followed the Reaper just to help him satisfy his personal quest for revenge, the Reaper adds incentive by turning the operation into a winner-take-all capture game:

M'Baku's capture of the Panther made the Avengers call in their big guns, which they often did during Thomas's run on the book:

(Yet another Roy Thomas Spiro Agnew reference.  You may as well get used to them.)

The Lethal Legion was a one-shot threat, which is unfortunate because it's a damn fine team assemblage. I mean, just look at them gathered together--it's a virtual buffet of evil. These guys want to cut the chat and go after the Avengers--the Avengers, mind you. Would you want to be in their sights?

(Few do evil eye candy like artists John Buscema and Tom Palmer)

Indeed, when the hostilities begin, things quickly go sour for the Avengers:

So the Reaper finally has the Avengers at his mercy, in a trap that seems like it came straight from a Batman set:

When the Vision is tossed in, the Reaper then milks the moment by reading the dossiers Power Man has captured from Avengers Mansion. And it's then that he learns of the unique connection between his dead brother and the Vision:

To cut to the chase, we learn the Avengers went down so easily battling the Legion because they were playing along, in order to capture them all at once. (Though a trap filled with deadly gas isn't going to distinguish between a bona fide victim and someone who's playing possum--but I guess I'm picking nits here.) So after the Reaper smashes them free, the Avengers then proceed to clean house and round up the Legion in short order:

(Again, deadly gas isn't going to care whether or not you suspected a trap. I can't let this go, can I?)

But the battle has an unexpected epilogue, with the departure of the Vision, who again muses about sharing a dead man's brain patterns and thus questions his own reason for being:

As for the Reaper, the Panther again puts him down, but nothing has been resolved for him. The Avengers still live, unpunished--his brother's death, unavenged.  Though something--someone--else has been added to the equation.  When we explore this topic further, we'll see the Reaper turn to the Vision in order to make a deadly bargain--which will gain the Vision the humanity he seeks, at a price too high for him to pay.


Rusty said...

Ah, Mr. Comicsfan, that was a fascinating article my friend! I don't consider myself to be a slouch when it comes to Marvel's history, but I was unaware of the relationship between Grim Reaper, Wonder Man and The Vison, so I thoroughly enjoyed this history lesson.

I wonder if you could give us dates and/or issue numbers to the panels above? Most of the images at the bottom of your article look like they came from the same issue, but what about the 2 different views of Wonder Man dying at the top of the post?

Anyway, thanks for the enlightenment!

Comicsfan said...

Hiya, Rusty. The two panels of Wonder Man came from Avengers #s 9 and 52, the first being Wonder Man's introductory (and exit) issue. And the Lethal Legion story is told in Avengers #s 78-79.

dbutler16 said...

Excellent article. I love how the Grin Reaper calls his partners simpering fools. Some flaws but a very entertaining story with great art. I agree that the Lethal Legion should have made more appearances.

Comicsfan said...

Yes, throwing demeaning insults at your partners, as if they didn't matter one bit to you, doesn't seem like it would inspire loyalty, does it? :)