Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Prey of the Lion God!

There's a lot to enjoy in both Avengers #112 and its companion issue, #114. Both issues have in common a brand-new Marvel villain, the Lion God, who's intent on forcing the Black Panther to reveal the secrets of the Panther God. But in each issue we also have a prominent guest-star coming back into the Avengers fold--as well as the first appearance of none other than the enigmatic Mantis, who would have a two-year run in the title and become a popular character in her own right. It certainly seems that writer Steve Englehart has comfortably settled in and found his legs with the team, having already taken it through a carefully-planned plot by the Grim Reaper, the resignation of long-time Avenger and fan favorite Hawkeye, and a battle with Magneto who had developed a new ability in addition to his already formidable power.

At this point in time, Englehart has in play a team of Avengers that's fallen into place after both the Kree-Skrull War and a threat from Olympus drew the core members of Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America back to lend a hand--who then remained in active membership alongside the Scarlet Witch and the Vision, as well as the Panther, who's returned to the team while having doubts about whether his status as an active Avenger is in the best interests of his kingdom and his people. Englehart's tenure would be the first time since the original Avengers lineup that we've seen Thor, Cap, and Iron Man interact on a regular basis with their fellow Avengers for an extended length of time (as opposed to their appearances as a come-and-go "cavalry")--so these early issues offer an interesting look at the dynamic they would develop with those who have served in their place for so long. (With the exception, of course, being Cap, who would have no trouble integrating with both Wanda and the Panther, and has now worked closely with the Vision in the Grim Reaper affair. Though I'd imagine the Vision had a few surprises for all of them during the Kree-Skrull battles.)

But for this particular issue, we focus on a new Avenger who joins the ranks, one who's fought alongside them on occasion and who's been offered and accepted on-the-spot membership after the defeat of Magneto:

The timing of Natasha's instatement in the Avengers so soon after the sudden departure of Hawkeye (with whom she used to be romantically involved) is a little conspicuous--but since their reunion has taken place elsewhere (in the pages of Daredevil), we can get a clearer picture of how Natasha "fits" as a member of the Avengers without her being shadowed by Clint Barton in every other panel. But Natasha is also having another reunion of sorts--with her original artist, Don Heck, who pencilled her in those mid-1960s Tales of Suspense stories where she met both Iron Man and, later, Hawkeye.

Now that Natasha has been blown away by her accommodations, it's time to meet this issue's villain--who's already acting villainous with a reporter who's found he's gotten far too close to his story when he learns of the price to be paid for his discovery:

We'll be seeing Mr. Umbala again--but let's just say he won't be himself.

Back at Avengers Mansion, the Panther has been receiving communiqu├ęs from Wakanda that are putting additional pressure on him to return--and with the Black Widow's arrival, he's thinking that it might be prudent to depart and rejoin his kingdom. The Panther isn't thrilled with the idea, but it would seem to make sense as far as the team lineup is concerned. The abilities of both the Widow and the Panther are based on physical prowess and skill, with variations--even their costumes are similar in terms of color and form-fitting design. And with Cap on the team, that makes for three athletic Avengers, perhaps two too many.

But before the Panther can dwell further on the matter, our Mr. Umbala returns, with an angry protest group in tow:

It's curious that this group would know enough about or even be interested in T'Challa's ambivalence about his return to Wakanda, to the extent of violent confrontation of both the Panther and the Avengers; but with Umbala's involvement, we at least know that there's more than politics involved. Still, despite the obvious anger and violent behavior of the protesters, the Avengers are able to keep the protesters in check without seriously injuring them. But when the Panther attempts to get some answers from the group, Umbala steps forward and pulls quite a surprise:

Umbala begins to depart with the Panther, which naturally the stunned Avengers aren't permitting. And that's when he springs his second surprise of the day:

The Lion God uses the violent crowd to his advantage--keeping the Avengers busy while he vanishes with the Panther, effectively bringing an end to the encounter. It's clear that the Lion God (as Umbala) orchestrated the protests as a diversion, specifically picking T'Challa's continuing presence in America as their point of contention in order to lure T'Challa beyond the confines of the mansion.

Englehart then takes us through three interludes to provide some background to some of what we've seen as well as perhaps lead the way to some answers. Though in the first scene, where we're introduced to Mantis, we're likely to be left with questions, instead, since it's merely a teaser for a future appearance:

We learn little to nothing of Mantis from this scene, though it's clear her companion knows something of Hawkeye. As for the Panther, the Lion God gives him both information and an ultimatum:

As for the Avengers, they spend their time assessing the situation and planning their next step. Unfortunately, their best and most logical source for intel on the Lion God proves to be a dry well:

It's actually a little gratifying to hear Thor own up to the fact that the word "god" isn't necessarily distinctive, though you'd think otherwise given his own frequent and often bold use of the term as if he stood out from the pack. But as for not being able to give much aid, you'd think an Asgardian god with a hammer that can span and locate other dimensions of specific foes could track another god. But heck, what do I know.

As for Natasha, it's her first day as an Avenger, but it's nice to see her step right up and suggest a course of action, though it appears she's going to have a learning curve:

It's easy to see both sides here. On the one hand, the Lion God has precisely the captive he wanted, so it's doubtful at this point that he has any interest in the Avengers; on the other, it's a rare day when we've seen the Avengers just wait out a situation and let their foe(s) call the shots. In any event, the debate is settled by the Lion God himself, who breaches the mansion to make good on his ultimatum to the Panther:

(See what I mean about Thor and that "god" thing?)

The Lion God unleashes a two-pronged attack, bringing along a pack of (what else?) lions to presumably divide the forces of his foes so that he can pick them off more easily. Though it's becoming clear that he can floor the Avengers well enough on his own:

But a pack of lions in close quarters is nothing to sneeze at, though the quick-thinking Natasha has found a way to offset that advantage:

While Wanda has rushed to tend to the fallen Vision, but nevertheless makes a solid strike against their enemy:

Wanda's words here are a cause for concern, especially if you split her sentence in half: "That drained me / But I've done all I can!" Each of those statements is alarming when they're said by an Avenger who's only just joined a fight--and it's ground we've covered before when Wanda regained her lost powers but with some restrictions. With Wanda out of the fight after one strike, it's difficult to see her value in a battle with multiple combatants when she so quickly becomes a liability. She's lucky this time that there are other Avengers around to save her life:

But we're forgetting the Lion God, who after all has felled two very powerful Avengers and decides to make a clean sweep of it:

The situation looks bleak, especially for the Panther. Whatever "secrets" he knows of the Panther God don't seem to be enhancing his ability to deal with this foe--so it's unclear why the Lion God covets them, aside from his wish to annex the Panther God's worshippers. But with the return of Thor to the battle, the Lion God will be denied his prey--for the time being, at least.

The Lion God vanishes, with the Avengers mistakenly presuming him destroyed. We'll see that neither they nor the Panther are going to get off that easily--but when they encounter the Lion God again, it will be without their newest member, who has had a change of heart:

But the Panther has settled his own doubts, as well, and decided to remain with the Avengers. However, the team would see another departure with Heck, who merely filled in for four issues before new regular artist Bob Brown would step aboard. Interestingly, Heck would head over to Daredevil next, where he and Brown would repeat the same steps. For what it's worth, at least we know the Lion God is coming back.

The Avengers #112

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Don Heck
Inks: Frank Bolle
Letterer: John Costanza

1 comment:

Jon H said...

Asking Thor about gods reminds me a little bit of this bit from "Avenue Q":

Say, Kate, can I ask you a question?


Well, you know Trekkie Monster upstairs?

Uh huh

Well, he's Trekkie Monster, and you're Kate Monster


You're both Monsters


Are you two related?

What? Princeton! I'm surprised at you! I find that racist

Oh, well, I'm sorry, I was just asking

Well, it's a touchy subject
No, not all monsters are related
What are you trying say, huh?
That we all look the same to you?
Huh, huh, huh?