Thursday, August 29, 2013

Trapped In Outer Space!

In Parts One and Two of the Avengers' battle with the Zodiac crime cartel, we've seen the odds between them shift back and forth as Taurus, Zodiac's current leader, seeks to extort money from New York by using his star-weapon to kill anyone in the city born under whatever astrological sign he decides to target for death. And the fact that Taurus has been unable to eliminate the threat of Earth's mightiest heroes has worked in the Avengers' favor, as Aries has gathered other cartel members and prepares to overthrow Taurus in a coup for leadership. But as we saw last time, Taurus has learned of the plan by meeting with Aries and his group in his hidden identity as Zodiac's financier, Cornelius Van Lunt. The meeting takes place in one of Van Lunt's warehouses--and everybody is surprised when the Avengers show up to attack.

What no one except Van Lunt/Taurus knows is that the warehouse is actually a fully functional rocket ship, which Van Lunt had planned to use against the rebel group to send them into space and thus end their threat. But when the Avengers show up unexpectedly, Van Lunt uses the opportunity to get rid of all his enemies in one stroke, and so triggers the "warehouse" to:

Bob Brown is back on art chores, this time with Mike Esposito finishing--and Steve Englehart also returns to conclude the tale. Zodiac is probably counting on him to get them out of this mess, because I have the feeling these astrological villains aren't crazy about spending the rest of their lives this close to the stars. And while the Avengers are currently in the same boat--er, warehouse--the issue's cover has us believing that their horoscope isn't hinging on a space trap, but on a final clash with Zodiac.

Van Lunt must dabble in a little more than finances, because it looks like he's a wiz in science, too. Not only did he come up with the star-blazer weapon that even gives Thor pause, but he's also designed and built an orbiting tomb for his enemies:

Aries shows he's thinking along the same lines we are--that it'll be a snap for Iron Man and Thor to get everyone back to Earth. But what encloses the warehouse is actually the same type of force field that Aries' predecessor used to imprison all of Manhattan during Zodiac's last play for power (another bit of trivia that Englehart nicely picks up on), a field which is impenetrable. Yet Thor rashly acts to prove otherwise:

I'm sure Thor is wishing Hollywood had written this story instead of Englehart right about now.  It also looks like the hammer's "true name" has slipped Thor's mind, unfortunately.

Mjolnir being lost to Thor is definitely a setback--though it could have been a lot worse, given that Thor didn't give a second thought to the effects of decompression on the warehouse's other occupants. Still, yet another writer has conveniently side-stepped the ability of Thor to create a vortex that can transport people and objects to whatever destination he chooses, force field or no--a fact that probably occurs to him as he watches his hammer drift away from the building's orbital path. But right now he's preoccupied with bigger worries, now that his hammer is beyond his physical reach:

Nor does it take Aries and his group long to smell blood in the water:

Finally, the Vision makes clear that a secret revealed is only valuable to the living:

In print, without the benefit of audio, it's a struggle sometimes to watch the Vision interact with others this way, since his voice is said to be utterly "cold" and without feeling. If memory serves, I don't believe he's able to emote with any sense of urgency or emphasis in this manner. (Didn't the Wasp once remark how monotone it is?) In other words, how can the Vision bring hostilities to a halt with the sound of his voice, however well-reasoned his words--assuming he can even "shout"? It would be regrettable if he were so limited, since the dialog he's given reads so well on the page and does wonders for his character.

Back on Earth, Van Lunt (again as Taurus) should be doing cartwheels, since he's now undisputed leader of Zodiac and on the cusp of seeing his plans reach fruition. But being left with less than half a cartel is definitely eating away at him, nor is Libra exactly making him feel any better:

Yet despite Libra's declaration that he doesn't take sides, his next actions are as unexpected as they are mysterious:

But what about the Avengers? It looks like the rest of Zodiac is taking the Vision's good advice and backing off, leaving the Avengers free to come up with a plan to get both groups back home:

In the process, Iron Man has retrieved Thor's hammer--but now caught in Earth's gravity, its weight pins him to the warehouse, leaving him unable to slow its descent as planned. But just as it seems like a fiery death will claim everyone, Libra's plan at last is revealed, if not his reasons:

When the ship returns to Earth, both groups are ready to nail Taurus to the wall--the Avengers for obvious reasons, and Aries and his group because they'd planned to betray him anyway and his little death trap gives them a good excuse to take him down. But this is Cornelius Van Lunt, and such a man can think fast on his feet:

And the Avengers are back where they started, facing the full might of Zodiac (minus Gemini and Libra). But it seems they're as eager as we are to see an end to the threat of Zodiac:

It appears the Avengers are well on their way to ending this fight. Yet the battle has an unexpected development, when the Vision experiences--fear??

Bringing another unexpected development to the fray--Mantis, who has bolted from her sickbed and helps the Vision, whom she sensed would need her:

And so Zodiac is defeated, and taken into custody. It's unclear to everyone why the Vision froze and failed to rescue Taurus--particularly unclear to the Vision, who wonders if his computer brain is beginning to malfunction. But one mystery, at least, is revealed, yet opens the door to another:

Man, the Avengers just can't shake loose Zodiac, can they? Even if it's only one member. But after that revelation, it's a fair bet Libra is going to suffer some violent shaking by Mantis. At any rate, it would seem that the Avengers have scored a big win here--crippling Zodiac and, by extension, the operations of twelve major crime bosses, as well as taking Cornelius Van Lunt out of circulation. We'd go on to see Zodiac taking shape again in the Marvel universe in one form or another, here and there--though for all intents and purposes, their dossier at SHIELD would be stamped "inactive" for some time to come.

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