Wednesday, October 9, 2013

One Great Team Deserves Another

In 1970, there's probably little argument that the lineup of Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer on The Avengers was the team to beat. Their run on the title during that year lasted just shy of a year--a mere ten issues--but their collaboration stands out for me as one that raised the bar for the Avengers. Buscema and Palmer would return a few years later for another great run of work on the book, which was mostly helmed by Roger Stern--but Thomas "got" the Avengers in ways Stan Lee failed to do, taking the basic foundation which Lee put in place and expanding on it considerably. Once Thomas found his legs on the book, the Avengers became much more than a group of costumed team of heroes who clocked in at Avengers Mansion--they became bankable characters of a sellable Marvel comic.

Perhaps what I really enjoyed most about the Thomas/Buscema/Palmer issues is that it was during this time when Thomas made the effort to establish a core Avengers team that didn't depend on the founding members to chart their course; rather, the "big three" would be dealt in on an as-needed basis (though admittedly that turned out to be fairly often), giving some much-needed panel time to Quicksilver, Hawkeye Goliath, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision. Our friends at another blog once wondered aloud if the Vision might have been the "face" of the Avengers; and if indeed he was, it would have started here, where he became more assertive and didn't feel the need to defer to the old guard.

In this particular story, "When Dies A Legend!", the Vision gets quite a bit of attention from Thomas, having recently ended a brief self-imposed exile from the Avengers, only to unofficially "head" a faction of the team that jets off to a separate mission to assist one man--Red Wolf--in his hunt for justice. Yet you can almost feel Thomas experiment with the concept of making the more overlooked Avengers into a team within a team. And how interesting it is when he begins the story by sending those Avengers off as if the torch had been passed from old to new, in one of the best splash pages the book has ever seen:

Curiously, Quicksilver remains behind with the more experienced Avengers, having given no clear reason to do so. Thomas may have felt that his super-speed would have tipped the scales with the Vision's team, given that they were mostly going up against gunmen which Pietro could have disarmed in a heartbeat. But Thomas could have taken care of that simply by having Pietro become injured (for instance, in their upcoming jet crash) and unable to go into action. Instead, he may have been trying to avoid the appearance of splintering the groups so completely, right off the bat--after all, the old guard still had a lot of collective mileage left in them, as well as unmistakable marquee value, and this book still needed time to see if its stories could do without them now and then.

Instead, let's focus on Cap's parting shot, which almost sounds like sour grapes if I didn't know better:

Cap originally stayed with the search for Zodiac because he was familiar with their modus operandi, even though he obviously sympathized with and leaned in the direction of Red Wolf's plight. Still, I hope he wasn't implying with those words--spoken while looking at the departing quinjet--that the group of Avengers heading off to the desert had decided wrongly, however just was the cause of the man they'd allied themselves with, Red Wolf. After all, this was the same Cap who earlier had made the point that conviction was more important than unity. Why would the Avengers be any less noble than they were an hour ago?

At any rate, let's jump ahead to the arrival of the Vision's group, which receives a violent reception from an aircraft sent from a financier the Avengers know from earlier business dealings, Cornelius Van Lunt:

The craft goes on to critically damage the jet, though not before the Vision boards it and attempts to disable it:

Unfortunately, the team's jet goes down in flames, and the Vision, in a fit of near-revenge, sees that the enemy craft suffers the same fate. Once that's done, the Vision searches for survivors. And when he finds one, it seems that Thomas is planting the very first seed of deeper feelings manifesting between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch:

Of course, it takes two to tango. And when Van Lunt's goons show up to threaten the life of Wanda unless the Vision surrenders, we find that Wanda "notices" the Vision for the first time:

The scene can be interpreted in other ways, naturally--and, without the benefit of hindsight, probably was at the time. The Vision could simply be showing a more human concern than he otherwise might have at finding that one of his comrades was alive after the crash; while Wanda, to whom the Vision was a virtual stranger and certainly an unknown quantity, is pleasantly surprised at finding more depth to the android than he's shown (at least to her) up to this point.

Which brings us to someone whose humanity is seriously in question--Van Lunt, who may have found the muscle he needs to stave off any threats to himself, particularly from any other Avengers:

It doesn't take Van Lunt long to move against the Indians, as he has before, seeking to terroize them into vacating their lands. Yet, another Avenger has survived their crash. And, together with Red Wolf, Goliath becomes a serious obstacle to the plans of the gunmen:

Which makes Van Lunt's hacienda their next stop. Yet Goliath has no way of knowing that Van Lunt has his own super-powered protection:

(Look at that last panel by Buscema. Brilliant.)

Goliath has no way of knowing that the Vision bars his way to Van Lunt to ensure the safety of the Scarlet Witch. (Whose hex power, it seems, can be rendered inert by water. I'm being sarcastic, yes, but good grief, it's been awhile since she took that swim. Does she look like she's walking around with a concussion?) Yet, even though the Vision won't let him pass, what about the Vision's stance riles Goliath enough to do this??

Would he have flown off the handle that way at Cap? Thor? Iron Man? Of course not. And, jeez, he's not through yet:

Meanwhile, Van Lunt and his men have spotted Red Wolf and his tribesman along the dam that Van Lunt built to keep the river at bay, and fear they may be meaning to blow it up. And so, taking the Witch in tow (who by now could give Sue Storm tips in being a helpless hostage), they fly to the attack--or, rather, the slaughter:

In the ensuing chaos, Van Lunt and Red Wolf battle it out hand-to-hand. But when the dust settles, neither is to be found:

And it seems that the Avengers' mission to help Red Wolf find justice for his people has been successful, though tragically the man who inspired them to fight for him has been lost. Until a young man approaches--Will Talltrees, whom the Avengers recognize as their wolf-maned ally:

In the next issue, where the other Avengers have fought and thwarted the plans of Zodiac, the story's epilogue puts to rest the somewhat unreasonable fears voiced by Cap and the others that the Avengers may have been headed toward disbandment--quite a conclusion to jump to, since a team splitting its numbers when necessary to handle missions on different fronts is hardly unheard of, and that's really all this amounts to. But Thomas wraps up the whole "conflict" in a nice, big, explainable red bow, regardless:

After this issue, the Thomas/Buscema/Palmer team regrettably produces only two more issues before the men part creative company. Thomas would stay on to write the book before finally leaving with issue #104; Palmer returned to join penciller Neal Adams for the Kree-Skrull War; while Buscema would peek his head in the door in 1976 before returning to reunite with Palmer for an extended run almost a decade later.  But these issues with all three together remain some of my most entertaining Avengers reading.


Anonymous said...

Man, this is some fantastic art by John Buscema. Nobody could draw figures like he did. The guy just seemed to have some innate ability. Beautiful stuff.

B Smith said...

Hmm, from the way the Vision was splashing around in that water, one would guess they hadn't decided that he was the original Human Torch rebooted (remember the couple of times in Englehart-scripted issues where he suddenly froze up when faced with large bodies of the stuff?)

Comicsfan said...

That's a good observation, B. Thomas had no way of knowing what Englehart was going to do concerning the Vision's sudden phobia with water, of course; but if memory serves, the original Torch resorted to flying into a pool to douse his flame, which is where the incident with the Vision and Taurus took place. Perhaps a river, out in the wide open spaces, held no sense of apprehension or terror for him.

Doug said...

Thanks for the plug on my post that had a somewhat middling response (due in large part to the other half of my query!).

You know who I have never thought of as the "face" of the Avengers? Thor or Iron Man. At one time it could be argued that Cap, Goliath, Vision, and much later Hawkeye were. That takes care of most of the long-running males on the team. But I'd never say Thor or Iron Man comes immediately to mind when I think of the team.


Comicsfan said...

That's a good point, Doug. It's obvious that the Avengers are important to Thor (to a point) and that he takes pride in being on the team--but perhaps only in the sense that these are honorable comrades to fight beside, as well as valuing the friendship of a select few of them. Iron Man, on the other hand, takes more pride in the team's formation and its distinguished history, surely a feather in the cap of Tony Stark who has spent the bulk of his time as an engineer as well as expanding the financial foundation established by his father.

Thor and Iron Man, along with Cap, are certainly the most recognizable Avengers to the public, having fought amongst so many of the team's lineups--but I'd imagine to the public, only Cap embodies the team's spirit, while Iron Man and Thor come more to mind as stalwarts heading the team's ranks. Perhaps their leave of absence did them no favors in this regard--particularly Thor, whose casual departure without a word made it seem as if he simply grew bored with the Avengers.