Friday, February 22, 2013

The Chaos Of Order


To have a full appreciation of Korvac--a somewhat minor character who became an embittered villain courtesy of the Brotherhood of the Badoon--it's helpful to realize how far he progressed from his status as a mere collaborator of that invading race. First, physically merged with a computer module as a form of punishment for, of all things, falling asleep at his console; then almost immediately conscripted as a pawn in one of the Grandmaster's games (against the Defenders); and then escaping to the 31st century and gathering his own forces to become a considerable threat. And one bordering on madness, at that.



But after coming into conflict with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Korvac escapes again through time and lands in a location that brings about a startling transformation and sets him on a path to becoming one of the Avengers' most deadly foes.



Korvac's purpose then turned sharply from his maddening lust for power to one of universal order--"correcting the chaos, healing the injustice that civilization had heaped upon a battered universe." Which sounds pretty good when you put it that way, doesn't it? But it resulted in the mother of all battles between Korvac and the Avengers, where the team barely escaped its total destruction.

The ending of that story, thanks to the conclusions drawn by Moondragon, called into question the Avengers' actions in battling a being who had only our best interests at heart (at least from Korvac's perspective). Those ponderings were left unanswered with Korvac's death, with Moondragon making sure that only she carried the full memory of what had taken place. But thanks to a follow-up story in the What If? title, we can explore the what-might-have-been scenario of Korvac's plans to at last bring closure to what's been known as the "Korvac saga."


A somewhat misleading title, since the Avengers are dead.



The pivotal moment in the Avengers' battle with Korvac comes when the last surviving members join in a final forceful strike on their foe. Korvac looks over to his mate, Carina, for reassurance and the resolve to go on, but instead sees in her eyes her doubts about what they're doing. And it brings the battle to an unexpected end, with Korvac surrendering his will to live.



In the What If? story, Carina reacts very differently, which brings this last stand of the Avengers to a fatal end:



For what it's worth, Korvac's victory brings himself and Carina even closer together--and free to now act openly, they prepare to put the final phase of their plans into motion. Yet from out of the shadows, there's still one last Avenger to be heard from.



Anybody sorry to see Moondragon meet her end at the hand of the universal benefactor she was convinced the Avengers had wronged? Moondragon may have been sympathetic to Korvac's wish to ease humanity's burden--but her problem has always been a "knowing what's best" attitude that gave her a false sense of entitlement. In that sense, she couldn't help but see a "kindred spirit" in Korvac, who may have the universe's best interests at heart but whose methods are as driven by misplaced presumption as her own.

With the death of such a high-profile force as the Avengers, Korvac must now act quickly to head off any notice that might have been taken of their deaths by beings of other dimensions who might seek to act against him. And since he's just killed Hercules and Thor, two particular beings angrily find their way to Earth quickly blocked.



But Korvac moves on, swiftly barring the Earth from all other dimensions. He even covers his bases and includes time travelers in his precautions.




From this point, Korvac moves to eliminate any opposition he might face from this dimension's various cosmic entities, while at the same time adding their power to his own. And since he's successfully operated in the past by remaining in one location while accomplishing his goals, he intends to repeat that strategy by having surrogates carry out his strikes. As to the ideal strike force, what better surrogates than a group of Earth's mightiest heroes--beings he's already conquered?



His soldiers in the field now "assembled" (heh heh, I couldn't resist), Korvac creates a unique early warning system:



But this dimension's Watcher, barely escaping the attack of the recreated Avengers, decides to put together his own forces to meet Korvac's threat.



And so the "first wave" of the opposition is joined in common cause, setting the stage for the series of conflicts to come. Given the scope of this story, and how much material writer Mark Gruenwald is attempting to cram into just one issue, any sort of introspection we might hope to find in Korvac and Carina must take a back seat to a steady stream of action. In a way, that's regrettable, since both of these characters are now seeking to impose their will on this universe and we as yet know little about them beyond their motivations and how much they care for each other. Yet the constant action is not unwelcome--Gruenwald presents events in reasonable progression, and he draws on a considerable storehouse of Marvel canon that's very satisfying to see against this threat.

As far as Korvac's goal of bringing about universal order, we don't see any development of that in terms of his specific plans, because this entire story has him too busy fending off threats from the great powers of the universe--though one could argue that these battles in themselves can be seen as efforts toward that end. Two of the entities in the Watcher's gathering are representations of Chaos and Order, beings who are directly affected by Korvac's actions. It could be argued that each entity Korvac seeks to subvert causes a considerable amount of chaos amidst the universe--and in fact, as each one falls to Korvac, Chaos becomes smaller while Order grows in size. So while we're deprived of the more subtle details of Korvac's ultimate plan, perhaps in a roundabout way he's accomplishing it.

Regardless, the heated battles that Korvac and the "Avengers" engage in with these entities are page-turners. Galactus, for instance, seems unstoppable by the best efforts of the Avengers--until Korvac recreates one of the core Avengers to retrieve and use a most unique weapon.




Which is a bonus Gruenwald throws in: revealing, for the first time, the secret of the Ultimate Nullifier's operation. What I also found interesting is how intact the loyalties and feelings of the other Avengers remain--even in their servile state, they still feel the loss of Cap.  But these are recreations, and Korvac has done his work well.  When they are told that Korvac cannot resurrect Cap, they stay true to their mission without giving a second thought to the circumstances of their comrade's death.

Once Korvac deals with the Gardener, who had accompanied Galactus, the formidable Stranger appears in the vicinity of Earth and puts into motion a startling form of attack: sending the Earth's moon hurtling toward the planet as a distraction for an attack on another front.  As distractions go, I don't think anybody could one-up this one:




By now, you're probably as impressed by artist Greg LaRocque's work on this issue as I am. There's so much going on, with so many players--and yet LaRocque manages to keep everything balanced and very entertaining. Watch how things really kick into high gear when the Living Tribunal, one of my favorite characters, decides that Korvac must face his justice. When you hear the Living Tribunal make a statement like that, all bets are off--because even if innocents get in the way, justice will be served.



But when the Tribunal sees that Korvac has managed to successfully shield the Earth, he lowers the gavel hard and makes the only decision he can.



Which is just as well, because I don't even want to think about how powerful Korvac would become if he got his energy tendrils into the Tribunal.

Yet there is one cosmic entity that has thus far remained out sight. And with the Tribunal effectively giving this universe up as lost, she finally makes her appearance in what is surely a grim omen for every living thing, and perhaps even for Korvac himself.



While the Watcher's assemblage of entities have battled to no success, Uatu has used the time to gather an intergalactic armada composed of millions of ships from every race in the universe, and accompany this overwhelming show of force to Earth to confront Korvac. And while Korvac is indeed formidable, he realizes the danger it presents to him. To meet the threat, he forsakes his universal dream and seemingly reverts to the Korvac of old, wiping out every living thing on Earth in a paroxysm of desperation and revenge.



And with the Ultimate Nullifier in hand, he makes for one hell of a standoff with the approaching fleet. The Watcher takes one last stab at peace, though I wouldn't think Korvac is likely to be in the most receptive of moods with the guy who assembled this fleet in the first place.



In the state of mind Korvac is in, you can probably guess how things turn out. But this set of panels will give you a good idea of what Korvac does next, a sequence which seems to be paying homage to the great Jim Starlin:



There's something of an epilogue to this alternate saga, also scripted (as well as penciled) by Gruenwald, dealing with a small plot development that occurred in this story. You won't find Korvac in it--c'mon, the Ultimate Nullifier doesn't kid around, folks. But you will find three heroes at loose ends, a residue of Eternity, and a whole lot of nothing.

What If #32

Script: Mark Gruenwald
Pencils: Mark Gruenwald and Greg LaRocque
Inks: (Just about everybody!)
Letterer: Rick Parker

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