Saturday, May 10, 2014

Trial, Error, and the Masters of Evil!


If I were to name one of the most memorable Avengers stories which involved Hank Pym, you might immediately think of the series of events which led first to Pym's abuse of his wife, Jan, followed by his expulsion from the team which he'd helped to form (heck, which he formally named). Those events were indeed low moments for this seasoned Avenger who began unravelling before our eyes, and it was difficult to imagine how things could get worse for him. But for me, the more memorable part of this story arc came afterward, as Pym continued to spiral down following Jan's divorce of him. Thanks to his old nemesis, the villain Egghead, Pym would find himself on trial for treason--and the time would come when even the Avengers would turn their backs on him.

And so we truly reach the end of Pym's road of disgrace with a three-part story which will bring closure to the Avengers' dealings with their former member, and will also see Pym come to terms with his past acts as well as the future he wants for himself. But we'll also see this legendary team of heroes, with members both old and new, pull it together in the face of both disappointment and adversity.

In this first part, we finally reach the point of Pym's court trial, taking place as a result of his arrest following an attempt to steal adamantium from a government base. Say what you will about Egghead--but he's proven to be a formidable criminal mind in general, and a masterful manipulator of Henry Pym in particular, the latter being made all the easier by Pym's fragile state of mind in the wake of his being drummed out of the Avengers. We readers are the only ones who are aware at this point that it was Egghead who was the one who had set up Pym to take a fall, threatening to kill a hostage if Pym didn't follow through with the theft attempt and then withdrawing any evidence of his involvement when Pym was captured by the Avengers. But even after crushing his enemy so thoroughly, Egghead isn't through with Pym yet--and his plans for him begin anew with Pym's public humiliation of being tried for treason.




Already, there are several interesting things to catch our eye with these initial images. We see that Pym has reached the point in this trial where he's taking the stand in his own behalf--and apparently the Avengers, either collectively or in smaller pairings, have been attending the proceedings. Yet it's unclear from the cover whether it's to demonstrate a show of support, or simply seeing through this last chapter in the career of one of their oldest members--putting on a "public face," as it were, given how very public an institution they are.

Also, artist Al Milgrom (by way of the local news archives) gives us a small montage of Pym's previous incarnations--among them, Yellowjacket, with that disruptor gun he once used in lieu of his gauntlet stingers, as well as Goliath, though in his earlier costume and not in his later red/blue outfit. It could be said that each of these points in the two identities represented a less evolved version of this hero--Yellowjacket, being distilled down to firing a gun, and Goliath, trapped at a 10-foot height for much of the time, as well as not yet having grown into the more assertive role he occupied on the team after changing to the newer costume. Milgrom seems to be giving us a less-celebrated hero than the one who had come to have more distinguished standing with the Avengers, either by design or coincidence.

Roger Stern, the writer who left quite a favorable mark during his run on The Avengers in terms of characterization, appropriately begins this story by bringing us up to speed with the individuals on the team, and by so doing giving us an idea of the general mood in Avengers Mansion while Pym's trial proceedings saturate the media. She-Hulk, the newest active member while also a member of the legal profession, naturally takes a professional interest in the trial:



(By the sound effect, you can assume that her reaction toward the television set was decidedly unprofessional.)

In the gym, the Avenger-in-training, Captain Marvel, is busy receiving that training from someone who puts his team's well-being as his priority, and who's an old hand at putting new Avengers through their paces:





Both She-Hulk and Marvel, thanks to Stern's attentiveness, are working out well in this new Avengers line-up--which, with the exception of the Hulk and Ant-Man, includes the original Avengers as well as Hawkeye.  So they offer new blood and new character to a membership which may otherwise have come across as repetitive. And aside from that, it's always fun for the new kids to chat about the old guard:



But it's certainly not all smiles among the original members during this time, especially when it comes to seeing one of their founding members on the verge of going to prison:



Perhaps it's just as well the conversation between these two is cut short. Stern, for all his intuitive feel for the Avengers, seems to prefer to keep Thor at a distance in terms of his formality. Here, Stern chalks it up to members respecting each other's privacy; but despite his origins, Thor should feel more at ease about having frank discussions with these people he has such a history with. He's repeatedly proven that he cares about the Avengers--but at times, he acts more comrade than friend, and there is a difference.

Case in point: Captain America, who goes to visit Tony Stark out of concern for his well-being, even after having harsh words with him on a prior matter. Stark is dealing with Pym's problems in typical fashion, for him--as an engineer, who forms a theory and becomes fixated on working on a solution:



We get a nice sense here of how well these two once interacted with each other before the events that later drove a wedge between them. Stark's thoughts on Moondragon, while a stretch, sound valid enough and may be worth pursuing if only to eliminate the possibility. But Cap has come to see Stark for personal reasons, not Avengers business:



Imagine Thor talking to Iron Man with such concern--or even taking the time out of his day to come and see him like this. It's difficult, isn't it? It would only occur to Don Blake (and has).

Throughout these scenes, Stern has used the television set to deal in the different characters taking an interest in Pym's trial; and once he's caught us up with the Avengers (including Hawkeye as well as the Vision and the Scarlet Witch, also planted in front of their respective sets), the story changes gears by use of a clever segue featuring the "man on the street" to once again make use of the TV set in order to continue this story to its next stage:



And so we come to a modest home in Long Island, and another team lineup--one now joined by its final member. And with a new grouping of none other than the Masters of Evil, we see that whatever plans Egghead has in store for Henry Pym have been kicked up a notch:



Chen Lu, of course, has a more dramatic appearance which qualifies him for membership in this group. And when Tiger Shark (arriving with the Shocker and the Beetle) makes the mistake of casting a slur on him, Lu makes it clear that he's a man not to be trifled with:




That "bold move" Egghead speaks of comes on Day Four of Pym's trial, as Pym is finally called to testify:



We have to be at least mildly curious as to whether or not Pym's testimony stands a chance of establishing reasonable doubt of his guilt, as well as how his attorney is going to approach this. Will he again try to describe how he was set up by Egghead, a man presumed dead? Even when, as the Avengers discovered, there's no evidence to support his story? If so, how will his attorney substantiate it? We don't know what Pym plans to say--and we never will, because the crucial moment has been well chosen by Egghead:




As we can see, the Masters of Evil arrive with the pretense of springing the man who will now be perceived either as their accomplice or who's otherwise joined them in some capacity. Moonstone is laying it on a bit thick with blaring out that they're his "rescue squad"--but in the chaos of their explosive entrance as well as the Shocker's actions, few if any will have the opportunity to raise suspicions.

But there are others in the courtroom who are trained to react in such crises, and the Wasp quickly shifts them into taking the initiative:




These scenes by Milgrom had me thinking of another battle that took place after an explosive entrance into legal proceedings, one that also had everyone busting outside to duke it out:




And just look at what She-Hulk not only brings to the table as an Avenger, but how Hawkeye instantly sets aside the incident where they got off on the wrong foot with each other, and welcomes her to the team in style:




One often overlooks the powers of the Radioactive Man, since he's usually put into such groupings based on his impressive appearance rather than anything he can actually do aside from threatening you with lethal exposure. But watch as, with just a few panels, he manages to kill the Avengers' momentum and turn the tide of this battle completely:




With their truck actually housing a swift aircraft, the Masters of Evil make a clean getaway--all but one of them, who's been conspicuously left behind in order to seal the deal as far as Pym's guilt:



As for Pym himself, he's none too pleased at again finding himself in the hands of his old and persistent enemy--one who has manipulated him almost like a puppet, and who now sees the moment to bring his vengeance against this man full circle: by welcoming him into the fold.




Since this will be a three-part story, that's quite an announcement to end Part One with--because that means that Part Two, instead of resolving all of this and giving us an idea of how things will finally end for Henry Pym, will instead escalate matters. But in many respects, this story will be resolved in the next issue, one way or another, as the "Next Issue" box on the letters page intimates:

NEXT ISSUE: The She-Hulk has been de-powered ... Henry Pym has been publicly discredited ... the Masters of Evil have accomplished their goal ... and the Avengers face what is perhaps their most demoralizing defeat. What more can follow but the "Final Curtain!"

This is the story we've been building toward for a year-and-a-half, and we honestly don't know what you will think of it. Some of you will love it. Some of you may loathe it. But, whatever your reaction, we think we can honestly and sincerely say that you won't want to miss it. We think that people are going to be talking about this issue for some time to come.

Because the outcome is probably not what you expect.


Would it help if I said that you're probably not going to loathe it?

Avengers #228

Script: Roger Stern
Pencils: Al Milgrom
Inks: Brett Breeding
Letterer: Jim Novak

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I feel bad for the Shocker. He's not cut out for this. Sitting there being interrogated while Thor is standing there glaring at him.
Stick to safe-cracking, pal.
He did give She-Hulk a run for her money. He's surprisingly tough sometimes. Still, he's no A-lister. I think he learned his lesson.

Comicsfan said...

Anon, given how *ahem* shocked the Shocker was at discovering how some of the details of Egghead's plan had been changed without his knowledge, it's safe to say that Egghead set him up to fail so that he'd fall into the Avengers' hands, thereby setting up Pym to be blamed for the attack.

Anonymous said...

Peerless, good job as always doesn't come close to summing up the job you've been doing lately. I don't think it would be remiss in saying "Another Peerless review"?

This was the issue I was talking about when you had your earlier post on comics in the court room. I really enjoyed the story though not a big fan of Milgrom's art. His costumed figures were fine, but I not feeling his out of costume faces especially She-Hulk/Jen Walters.

Side note: seeing the Avengers in non-hero activities, as well as heroes in general, doing things in costume makes we wonder what they smelled like? How big of a stank could Iron Man or Cap build up being in uniform day after day.

As a reader, knowing it was all an Eggheaded ruse makes Shocker's shock at being left behind fits the internal plot. The guy was probably set up from the get go.

I wonder who had Hawkeye?

I think I have the tendency to link things that were not necessarily linked to form story arcs that naturally grew instead of being deliberate. Cap's comment on Hawkeye's following of Jan's command to me not only shows his maturity but sets up his eventual leadership of the Great Lakes Avengers and the Thunderbolts. I know I'm seeing individual trees that are just part of the forest. Does that make sense?

The Prowler (followed this story when it was still on the spinner racks).

Comicsfan said...

Prowler, thanks for the nice words. I think perhaps Cap's comment was directed as more of a statement of Jan excelling in her role as leader, with Hawkeye's falling in line serving as an excellent example. (And Cap should know, given the considerable friction between he and Hawkeye when Cap first had the job!)

david_b said...

The Milgrom art was getting SLIGHTLY better, but his tenure still have awful covers and boring panel work inside. I never liked how he posed heroes ~ Just seemed rather 'high-school-doodlingish' to me. Couldn't WAIT for someone line Big John to come back. I never thought too much of She-Hulk as an Avenger. I thought she suited the FF much better under Byrne's hand.

All in all, like most I hated the entire Hank unraveling storyline, but it eased us into the tepid WCA storylines, which I put up with for at least their first dozen issues, then had to call it quits.

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