Monday, April 15, 2013

Flight From The Status Quo

After the Hulk's encounter with the Harpy, MODOK must be one happy Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing. His scheme to remove the Hulk from any interference with his plans was carried to fruition perfectly. Taking control of a vulnerable Betty Ross, he mutated her into a creature more powerful than the Hulk and unleashed her on her brutish target, where she proceeded to brutally subdue and perhaps even kill him.

I must say that when I originally read this story, the direction that writer Steve Englehart was taking with these characters was fresh and most welcome. Englehart would have a fairly brief run on the book, but he'd already given readers some good stories featuring the Mimic, the Abomination, and the Gremlin, as well as the first appearances of John Armbruster, the Wendigo, and (unfortunately) Zzzax (hey, nobody's perfect.) This would be MODOK's third appearance since being featured in Tales of Suspense and Sub-Mariner, expanding on Gerry Conway's nice take on the character in the latter and further establishing him as a power in his own right. And now, with his departure from the book imminent, Englehart takes the staid character of Betty Ross and uses the past elements of her life to bring her to relevance in a book where she all too often blended into the background. On top of that, he makes her into a crazed super-villain. What's not to love about that?

So I was sorry to see Englehart exit these pages--because for one thing, that would mean the reset button might be hit on Betty Ross, which meant that we'd see the last of the Harpy. But I'm getting ahead of myself, because there's still a fair amount of drama left to explore with the Harpy after her victory over the Hulk. With the Hulk lying before her unconscious and her plans from this point uncertain, she presumably prepares to confirm the Hulk's death and, if not yet terminated, deliver one final bolt to seal the deal. But her father, "Thunderbolt" Ross, has learned of the battle and raced to the scene to confront the horror that has happened to his daughter. And it's a confrontation that takes down the Harpy's guard faster than any foe:

Her departure with the Hulk now makes the Harpy the military's problem. And as they gain on her, they have no way of knowing that this particular target has a history with their very nature, a history which she now detests and no longer tolerates. Second only to the Hulk, it makes them her natural enemies:

Yet before she can engage the remaining fighters further, she and her captive are suddenly abducted by, of all things, a tornado:

Except that this has been no natural phenomenon, but specially caused to bring her to a fantastic city in the clouds. A city with a single, horrendous resident:

The android Bi-Beast was created by a race of bird-people who passed to it their accumulated knowledge before their end. Spotting the Harpy, it abducted her since she resembled its creators and it longed for companionship. But neither the Harpy nor the now-recovered Hulk prove to be the model guests:

With the Harpy down, the Hulk soon proves unable to function due to the thin air, and he changes back to Bruce Banner. Banner identifies himself as a scientist, and he's conscripted by the Bi-Beast to repair their faulty machines that sustain the city. Unknown to the two-headed android, Banner makes use of the advanced equipment to construct a chamber to drain the gamma radiation from Betty's body and return her to normal. In the interim, MODOK arrives with an A.I.M. squadron and lays claim to the city, slaying the Bi-Beast when it moves to resist. But the Bi-Beast manages to reach a self-destruct lever which sets into motion the annihilation of the entire city.

While MODOK and his men make tracks to their aircraft, Banner makes an attempt to rescue Betty from the imminent devastation. Though the Harpy isn't in a grateful mood:

Now human again, and no longer having wings, Betty seems destined to die with Banner when the city destroys itself; and if not, there's a nice eight-mile plummet to the ground to make sure of it. Regardless, the story of the Harpy has come to an end.

Without spoiling things for you too much, the follow-up story in the next issue, plotted by Englehart and scripted by Chris Claremont, begins the process of restoring the status quo in the book, which didn't exactly thrill me. The irony is that the status quo may have been what the Harpy was trying so hard to fly us away from in the first place.

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