Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Warehouse To The Stars!

In Part 1 of a three-part story featuring the Avengers vs. Zodiac, we found the assemblers cornering Zodiac while foiling a plan to kill all of Manhattan's citizens born under the sign of Gemini.  It also looked like Mantis was about to take the fall for the crime cartel. And from the roof of the World Trade Center, we're talking about quite a fall:

For Part 2, John Buscema has stepped in as guest artist, with regular artist Bob Brown presumably being occupied with his other work on Daredevil. Don Heck, who's logged many, many hours as regular penciller on this title, is instead inking Parts 1 and 2, and the result of his work with both Brown and Buscema shows just how much of his influence comes through in his finishing--particularly over Buscema's layouts, whom I don't believe Heck has ever inked before now. (Though please correct me if otherwise.) Neither Brown nor Heck rank in my top 10, as far as pencillers go--but their work on this story has been respectable, and to be fair they've definitely had their hands full with not only a full team of Avengers but a team of twelve villains as well.

Part 2 of this story will see the dust settle a little, as the Avengers get their bearings and track down their elusive foes--with two additional Avengers returning to the fold, as well, though one of them only briefly. We'll also get some insight on the circumstances of the Swordsman's return from the man himself, as well as how he came to meet his partner and lover, Mantis. As for Zodiac, we'll learn how Cornelius Van Lunt is something of a "silent partner" with them, though his involvement with the cartel goes deeper than they realize; and we'll see Taurus butt heads with another member who's challenged his leadership. (No, seriously, butt heads.)

But haven't we forgotten about something?

Yikes! We'd better get back to business!

As I pointed out last time, there are several Avengers in close enough proximity to the Zodiac weapon to take it out before Taurus could fire on Mantis. Any one of them could have done it--with the exception of perhaps the Vision, whose eye beams fire only heat and lack the quick destructive power that this kind of strike would require. It just so happens that writer Steve Englehart chooses the Scarlet Witch to deliver it--perhaps because so far in the team's encounters with their foes, Zodiac (specifically Virgo) has made short work of her and she hasn't had that much to do otherwise. So while the Vision distracts Taurus, Wanda gradually moves behind the Vision, presumably to conceal that she's about to hex the star weapon:

Why she bothers isn't really clear. She has to make her double-hand gesture regardless--and jeez, she even loudly announces it:

With the weapon destroyed, the Avengers wade into Zodiac once again. This time, though, Taurus makes use of his hand weapon, which has already been proven effective against the team--and, as one of the Zodiac mentions to Iron Man, the Avengers are still outnumbered 3 to 1. It bears mentioning that, in the few times we've seen the full complement of Zodiac in battle, the Avengers still make headway, as long as the Zodiac key or the star-blazer stay off-panel. Perhaps that's because we never really see the powers of the individual members in play--for all their costuming, most of their members are confined to simple hand-to-hand combat. For brutes like Taurus and Aries, as well as for Gemini, that's understandable; and Libra's power and abilities depend on physical contact. But where are the powers of the other eight? They're just asking to be taken out by formidable Avengers like the Vision--as well as the newly-arrived Captain America, who wrote the book on hand-to-hand combat:

Yeah, Wanda gets clocked by Virgo again. She could certainly do with some tutoring from Mantis, since apparently Cap skipped a few of her lessons. And speaking of Mantis, she isn't quite out of danger yet:

Aries makes the right call, as the Avengers have to now devote their attention to saving Mantis and, later, the entire building, allowing Zodiac to retreat. The Vision instinctively hurls himself after Mantis--but come on, the Vision in flight is little more than a wraith--how can he catch a plummeting form that already has a head start on him?

Sorry, Mr. Englehart--the Vision can strain himself all he wants, but he's a vision, not a propeller. But how about this, instead: the Vision increases his mass and density sufficiently so that his increased weight allows him to fall fast enough to catch up to Mantis. That's plausible, yes? And the rest of the dramatic rescue can then take over:

And as the remaining Avengers abandon the fight in their rush to save the building, the two sides exchange parting words:

Uh, Cap? Who made you Spider-Man?

So while Thor braces the building (braces one of the towers of the World Trade Center--think about that for a moment), Iron Man patches the crack, and Mantis goes into a trance to recover from the trauma. By the way, you may have noticed how Englehart seems to favor the Vision in many of the scenes in this story. You'll get no complaint from me--I just think it's interesting seeing him taking the initiative in situations where I'd imagine Iron Man or Thor (or certainly Cap) would be at the forefront. Englehart keeps him quite busy, and gives him a nice amount of dialog.

Cap is on the run from the law because of a trumped up murder charge, so he can't stick around while the team pursues Zodiac. But the Avengers get the next best thing, when another old friend drops by:

And while Mantis recuperates--as well as the Swordsman, due to a prior injury*--the Swordsman elaborates on his relationship with Mantis, and how she helped him to turn his life around after he'd hit rock bottom as little more than a glorified enforcer for a Vietnamese crime lord:

(*No, I don't know why the Swordsman always insists on recuperating while wearing his head gear. Maybe it has healing properties. Very ripe healing properties, I'd imagine.)

But as the team departs, we get this strange exchange between the Swordsman and the Vision:

Englehart, as we know in hindsight, is setting up a rift between the Swordsman and Mantis, which will lead to Mantis making advances on the Vision--but frankly I see nothing in this conversation that would have the Swordsman believing that the Vision was throwing down the gauntlet in that respect. And what was the Vision trying to say? We know he wasn't inferring anything about having intentions toward Mantis--but it's out of character for him to make such a pointless observation, and so cryptically.

Meanwhile, as Zodiac pulls itself together, Aries' anger toward Taurus has finally boiled over, and he makes a direct challenge to his leadership. And considering the way these two settle the matter, I hope someone has some aspirin handy:

In the aftermath, Aries pulls together his own little Zodiac cell of four other members who are less than thrilled with Taurus. And their next step is to set up a meeting with Zodiac's financier, Cornelius Van Lunt:

Yet unknown to the rebels, Thor has tracked their movements from the sky and now summons his comrades for a showdown:

But Van Lunt has slipped away during the melee--and the Avengers, as well as the rebellious Zodiac members, will soon find that the surprise is on them:

Finally, Van Lunt springs the trap he had in mind ever since Aries contacted him, along with making a startling revelation:

But why seal the building? Well, when you've got money to burn, it only makes sense to go out and buy a warehouse, and then turn it into:

Gee, Stark, you think maybe this is how the Hulk felt when you gave him a one-way ticket to the stars? Sorry, I really shouldn't be indulging in well-deserved sarcasm, given how grim things look. Taurus has gotten rid of both the Avengers as well as his renegade houses--and now he and the rest of Zodiac are free to use their weaponry to resume terrorizing the people of Manhattan and anyone else in pursuit of profit and power. But there's one other member of Zodiac who's pursuing his own agenda--and it doesn't include the death of Avengers (or, rather, one of them).  We'll find out what that's all about in this story's conclusion.


Anonymous said...

This version of the Zodiac does not impress me. It doesn't take the Avengers to round up a bunch of nuts in animal costumes, hell, my local police department does that every other weekend.
I prefer the classic David Kraft/Keith Giffen Zodiac from Defenders #50. I'm not sure if they were robots, LMD's or what, but they had style. And personality.

david_b said...

Contrary opinion, this was one of my all-time fav stories..

Wacky logic ('Mantis feeling the pain of all..'? 'Vision essentially tearing down a building to save Mantis, yet he can carry Wanda and fly at the same time in other issues..'..?)

But it was AWESOME to see Cap show up with all the drama in his own book, and it was a super story to boot.

What a crazy ending as well..??

'A barn being shot up into orbit'..?