Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Day Of Reckoning!

Or: "When The Going Gets Tough..."

It's been a long road for biochemist Henry Pym--and a winding one, in terms of his status as a super-hero. Beginning that career as the diminutive Ant-Man, one of the founding members of the Avengers, Pym has had a number of variations on that identity since, all having to do with size-changing. Now, however, his life as a hero stands in ruins, the final stages of that campaign laid in place in the first part of a story that left this once-hero with no friends, no allies, and nowhere to turn but the Masters of Evil.

Pym has been masterfully manipulated by the villain Egghead, a fellow scientist who used his knowledge to pursue a life of crime, and who seemed to make it his purpose in life to humiliate and conquer Henry Pym. It's become quite personal for Egghead, though motivated out of pettiness and spite more than any sense of vengeance. But petty villains can nevertheless turn out to be successful villains, and Egghead has come far in his schemes, operating with the advantage of being presumed dead and thus with no one looking for him or suspecting him as a mastermind--and, as difficult as it is to apply the word to this annoying pest, Egghead is admittedly that. He's re-formed a group of villains whose name precedes them; he produced a plan that manipulated the Avengers as easily as he did Pym; and he's not only conscripted a scientist of Pym's caliber, but he's stripped the man of his dignity and reduced him to being a lab assistant contributing his talents to Egghead's projects. Credit, I'm sorry to say, where credit is due.

And so we find Pym hard at work in his now-colleague's lab, a/k/a Egghead's "hideout" located in a Long Island suburban home, under the watchful eyes of the Masters of Evil. Though only one of the scientists present seems pleased with his work:

Moonstone--psychiatrist Dr. Karla Sofen--raises a valid point we've already alluded to with Egghead, in that he seems eager to twist the knife with Pym, subtly reveling in the victory he's achieved over this man of science whom he's brought (dragged?) down to his level. But, as much as we'd like to, it's difficult to sympathize with Pym--a victim of Egghead's plotting, but also a victim of his own decisions and actions which led him to this point. The title page heralds this story as "the last battle of a fallen Avenger," and in a way it will turn out to be just that.

But, what of the Avengers? Like Pym, they're also at a low point, as their member-in-training, Captain Marvel, discovers when she checks in after hearing disturbing news reports:

It's safe to say that, for both the Avengers and Henry Pym, there's nowhere to go but up. But the question remains: Will Pym choose to head in that direction, or just the opposite?

For now, let's focus on the Avengers, as they struggle to pull their house together and rebound from their inability to prevent what is now purported to be Pym's orchestration of his own extrication from police custody. While the active Avengers are still trying to determine the whereabouts of the missing Iron Man, Scott Lang arrives with the cerebral device Tony Stark had been working on which would have determined if Pym were under the mental influence of another--but Lang also confirms the news of Stark's disappearance, which only adds to the Avengers' troubles and makes them even more uncertain as to their course of action. It's a dour state of affairs which the Avengers' rookie member-in-training, Captain Marvel, attempts to spur the founding members into turning around:

Though once more, we'll see the air of formality which writer Roger Stern insists on having Thor maintain with his fellow Avengers:

And worse, where a non-inducted Avenger is concerned, a formality accompanied by harsh words and physical force. In fairness, Stern isn't the only writer to have Thor behave somewhat less congenially with the Avengers than he does with others (mortal or otherwise) in his own title; but, while it's interesting to read Stern's approach and watch a "god" amongst mortals, apart from them in station yet fighting the good fight with the team he helped to found, I have to believe that Thor would let down his guard more with any Avenger(s) who might guest-star in his own book. Going back and forth between the two titles, at times it's almost like reading about two different people.

Using Stark's device to examine the Shocker is perhaps a shot in the dark, but Captain Marvel has succeeded in getting these seasoned team members off their collective behind and given them a valid lead to pursue. That leaves the plight of the She-Hulk to address--a situation Hawkeye has decided to attempt to remedy. She-Hulk's human persona, Jennifer Walters, is agitated due to several failed attempts to change back to her more powerful form, and fearful that she may never be able to:

But Hawkeye has the impression that she hasn't been trying hard enough--and where Captain Marvel used blunt words combined with tact toward the other Avengers, Hawkeye, in taking his own unique approach to address the problem, decides that tact is overrated:

Now that the team is whole once more, it's time to follow up on that lead with the Shocker, which pays off. But, more than that, Stern has the Avengers working with law enforcement and within "the system," which is a treat to see and something you'd think we'd see more of in their line of work:

At this point you can almost feel a tangible shift in the pace of this story picking up. And with the Avengers closing in on Egghead (courtesy of a no doubt very cooperative Shocker), we turn back to the focal point of this story which has been building for more than a year: Henry Pym, who has a battle to fight. Whether it's with the Masters of Evil or with himself remains to be seen:

As the scene plays out, we again get a sense of how personally Egghead takes his triumph over Pym--as if the more he brings down Pym, the more it boosts his own self-image. Yet, even now, it appears he won't be satisfied until he can break Pym completely. Too bad he's not going to get the chance.

Pym has made his move--and, with Egghead cowering at the destructive chaos in his lab, it remains for the Masters of Evil to retaliate against Pym and end his power play. But as we'll see, Pym has used his time well, and crafted a plan which will deal once and for all with his captors:

Meanwhile, the Avengers have arrived outside Egghead's house and are making plans to act:

On its face, the Avengers' caution makes good sense, given that they probably believe Pym is in no shape to defend himself if things get out of hand. But, have a better look at the scene outside of Egghead's house:

Do the Avengers honestly think that they're sneaking up on Egghead and his crew?

And here's another odd scene, when the Beetle is forcibly ejected from the lab and makes a deadly plunge toward those outside:

On the one hand, it throws an excellent spotlight on Thor's might and confidence and makes for an exciting scene. But, what reason would She-Hulk have to scatter with everyone else?

In any event, the confusion resulting in the Beetle's impact allows Hawkeye to break ranks and head toward the scene, where he's greeted with the same surprise the rest of us are:

And finally, we're granted closure on these events which have dogged Pym for so long. The same closure which Pym now gives himself, and within earshot of another man who needed to hear his words and whose own fall has been a long time coming:

It's a very satisfying end to this affair for the reader--and certainly for Pym, who's taken his first steps toward redemption. In so doing, he's also proven his worth as an Avenger, to the one person who truly needed to be made aware of it--himself.

As for Egghead, his road ends with a final act of infamy:

In the final part of this story, there are understandably some loose ends to tie up.  We'll see not only how the Avengers deal with Hawkeye's act of manslaughter, but also a fitting epilogue to Pym's trials--as well as where his path forward leads from here.  It's an important final chapter, which will allow both Henry Pym and the Avengers to at last move on.  (And thankfully, that includes us!)

The Avengers #229

Script: Roger Stern
Pencils: Al Milgrom
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Jim Novak


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I always loved that scene where Thor stands there nonchalantly holding out his hammer and takes out the Beetle by just standing there. He doesn't even bother saying anything. Hilarious!
Great post!

Anonymous said...

...Why do I look at Egghead and think of Karl Rove?

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