Sunday, November 2, 2014

Behold... The Vision!

We're up to the next four issues in our look at the 2008 Avengers/Invaders 12-part series. In Part One, the Invaders are mysteriously brought forward in time, and the Avengers capture and contain them in isolation aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier until a way can be found to return them to their own time. But the situation is complicated, since the Avengers can't give the Invaders any details of their identities, for fear of corrupting the past timeline--and, thanks to an encounter with one of the Thunderbolts who has a German accent, the Invaders are inclined to think this is all some Nazi trick.

Naturally, the Invaders aren't content to be captives of those they believe are Nazis; in fact, they have some unsolicited help, in the form of the "New" Avengers who have slipped aboard and have come to break them out of captivity in order to return them to 1941.

Both teams of Avengers, then, are looking to help the Invaders return to the past, though neither team is inclined to trust the other due to the events of Civil War. As a result, all hell has broken out on the helicarrier flight deck, as all three teams struggle to prevail.

Yet, this fifth issue opens rather sedately, for there is another player in this drama--Paul Anselm, a soldier from 1941 who was caught in the Invaders' wake and transported with them into the future, where he has already met his older self and learned about the end of World War II as well as the fate of the comrades he fought with. And so we find him at a cemetery, paying his respects to his friends, and within sight of a conspicuous headstone:

Paul's sentiments are harmless enough, though we're beginning to see he feels a profound sense of guilt over not being on the field with his unit when they were fighting for their lives. Paul is about as helpless as anyone could be in his shoes under these circumstances--but whether this is simply a human interest angle to the plight of the Invaders or a portent of things to come remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, on the helicarrier, Bucky Barnes has been taken aside by another character who will add something unexpected to the mix--the new Captain America, who, along with his former identity as the "Winter Soldier," is Bucky Barnes. And, unknown to either team of Avengers, he makes a plea to his 1940s self that will hopefully prevent two tragedies they share:

The conversation is interrupted by the escalation of hostilities between the two Avengers teams, as well as the SHIELD Life Model Decoys who have been reprogrammed to fight alongside the human SHIELD agents. But the goal of the New Avengers is accomplished, for the most part: retrieving the Invaders, with the exception of the original Cap and the Sub-Mariner who are captured by SHIELD weaponry. And while Dr. Strange explains his progress on investigating the Invaders' time shift:

...Iron Man does his best to again try to convince Captain America of his sincere intentions to set things right for the Invaders.

Cap and Iron Man have had difficulty seeing eye to eye since the Invaders' arrival; but this latest attempt by Iron Man to get through to Cap makes some headway, perhaps helped by the guilt Iron Man continues to feel for Steve Rogers' death--guilt which can't help but find its way into the words Iron Man speaks to this man. Midway through this story as we now are, it makes sense for this breakthrough to finally be allowed to happen--just as it will make sense for the two Avengers teams to soon work together in common cause, since there are only so many scenes of them meeting in battle that will continue to hold up at this point.

Another subplot brewing (a fitting way to put it, given who's involved) is the continuing outrage the Human Torch feels toward the treatment of the SHIELD LMDs. With his association with the Invaders, it's easy to forget at times that the Torch has established himself as a hero and presence in his own right in the late 1930s/early 1940s--a rather deadly, single-minded one who wasn't hesitant to dispense justice by incineration, burning saboteurs and the like while having little if any of Johnny Storm's restraint concerning his power. And the plight of the LMDs has reminded him of an incident in Auschwitz, and how the Nazis treated those they considered lesser beings:

And so it comes as little surprise when the Torch slips away from the New Avengers, as well as from Toro and Bucky, in order to return to the helicarrier and mete out justice on his own:

What follows is a shocking (and eye-opening) demonstration of the Torch's power unleashed. But the battle isn't exciting reading for that reason alone--it's also the chance to see a character from the Golden Age facing down enormous odds and, as was the tone of such stories back then, having every confidence that he would prevail. When the Torch issues his demands, he means business.

We can see that Ms. Marvel also means business, though more in the sense of trying to keep a handle on things. She's in the uncomfortable position of trying to make sure the Invaders are not harmed, so that they can be returned to their time intact--but her back's against the wall here. When push comes to shove, she'll push back--in this case, by sending her biggest gun, the Sentry, to take out the Torch. It doesn't turn out to be nearly the slam-dunk she thought it would be.

With the Torch M.I.A., Dr. Strange and the rest of the New Avengers/Invaders group pursue Strange's investigation of Paul Anselm, as well as the involvement of the Cosmic Cube. And they discover that events may well be rooted in the widespread regret over the assassination of Captain America:

As with the meeting between James Barnes (as Cap) and his younger self, this series has many such moments of curiosity to draw on. Another of them is Toro's discovery of his own death:

The story perhaps makes more of this development than it needs to (even dedicating a cover to it), with Toro hurt by the fact that the Torch apparently wasn't present to prevent his death; yet, any number of things could have caused a person's death in the 20+ years since the end of the war, just as there could be any number of reasons why the Torch wasn't at his side at the time. The drama the moment is trying to convey, as well as subsequent scenes of Toro at his gravesite, just don't add up in the sense of Toro coming to the conclusion that he'd been abandoned.

Back on the helicarrier, the LMDs have also made their move to coincide with the Torch's actions, taking Tony Stark captive and setting up a command center. But Stark is beginning to realize that all isn't as it seems regarding the LMDs seeking out the Torch's help, and so he attempts to address the problem at the source: the Torch's continuing belief that the LMDs are alive:

Stark is on the right scent with regard to the LMDs having their own agenda. The Torch is led to where Namor and Cap are being kept--in a virtual reality hookup that has them fighting the war again, with no clue that the scenario they're existing in isn't real. The LMDs tell the Torch that there's no way to free them; instead, the Torch will have to do so by entering the reality and returning with them.

On the flight deck, Captain America returns with Spider-Woman, his dazzling entrance making short work of the opposition, as well as paving the way for the two Avengers teams to cooperate with each other:

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange has managed to locate the Cosmic Cube, and has discovered the sinister force that's been taking advantage of the regret that Strange feels was responsible for the Cube's actions:

If you're feeling D'Spayre's appearance is a little out of left field--another needless distraction that shifts our focus away from this story, just as with the situation with the LMDs--you're starting to get a sense of why I wasn't feeling too motivated to pick up the last four issues of the series. Starting to get a sense. There are more odd diversions to come.

First, however, Strange and his team have to deal with D'Spayre--a daunting presence, but one of Marvel's characters who's usually a formidable threat until, suddenly, he isn't. You probably know the routine with D'Spayre by now. First comes his victim's incapacitation, faced with their own failings:

Followed by either a rallying by the victim, or some factor that D'Spayre didn't anticipate:

But then, we're introduced to another distraction, one that had taken the form of D'Spayre against his will:

I see that some of you have hit the floor in a dead faint from the overload. I don't blame you--I'm feeling a little dizzy, myself. It's just as well you're out cold, because the Vision's involvement here feels a little manufactured, just for the sake of having the 1940s Vision appear in a story where we're already seeing 1940s heroes cope with mysterious, time-related circumstances. On the other hand, admittedly it's really cool seeing this version of the Vision, though I never pictured him as a nursemaid to the Cosmic Cube:

It's not the first time the story has pivoted our gaze in the direction of Paul Anselm for a few moments, so it's reasonable to assume that things are leading up to his involvement on a larger scale than what we're seeing. As for the Vision, it seems odd that he's made such an effort to be a custodian to the Cube, only to surrender it to Strange without a word of dissent. All well and good if something comes of it later--but at this point, the question the reader is probably asking is, "What does this character really have to do with this story?"

Let's head back to the helicarrier, where the Torch is proceeding with his "rescue" of Cap and Namor, only to wake up to the fact that their captors are now his captors, as well:

The Torch then inexplicably loses his flame power and begins to plummet, only to be saved by the quick-thinking Namor. And thanks to a gruesome scene occurring back in the actual room he's being held in, he begins to realize he's been had (er, in more ways than one):

Good grief--now the LMDs are feeding on him? (And when did/why would Phineas Horton give the Torch human blood?)

Shaking your head will do you no good--you're now trapped in the same confusion as the rest of us. Fortunately, Ms. Marvel keeps a much clearer head, and right now she's making plans to free Stark as well as Cap and Namor:

The Wasp succeeds in freeing Stark, who then takes a closer look at a fallen LMD and discovers who's behind their "uprising." Frankly, I'm hoping those of you who had fainted are still out, because the answer would have had you hitting the floor again like a safe:

YES, ULTRON is now a part of this already-convoluted story. But, to add insult to injury, he'll turn out to be an easily disposable part, mostly injected here for shock value. Well, I was shocked, alright.

In the meantime, while Ms. Marvel's sub-team to break into the room with Namor and Cap has been stalled by the formidable door blocking their way--blocking the Sentry's way? Really?--the current-day Captain America has slipped away and found another route that also takes the LMDs by surprise. Naturally, the person he frees first from the SHIELD VR hookup is Cap--but with his costume damaged by all the broken glass, the new Cap and his mentor are going to "hit it off" in the physical sense instead of congenially.

In other words, you didn't think you were getting out of this story without seeing Captain America fight Captain America, did you?

But the moment would be another curiosity scene, played only for visual effect. With the arrival of Ms. Marvel's team, the new Cap has a chance to end this fight before it really starts, and use the time freeing Namor to smooth things over with the original Cap:

From your mouth to our ears, Ares.

As for the Torch, still a captive of the LMDs who plan to continue "feeding" on him in order to evolve further, the analogy of what Ultron's plan could lead to gives the Torch the strength to break free and end Ultron's threat in a matter of moments:

There are a great deal of unanswered questions these scenes seek to skim by, such as why Ultron's "essence" is present here instead of the physical (and far more formidable) body of Ultron himself--as well as the reason behind Ultron's sudden preoccupation with "tasting" human life, given his absolute hatred of human life. We may as well shrug and chalk it up to another confounding distraction to this story.

The group is then rejoined by Strange and his team, who are ready to return the Invaders to their time. And as everyone gets caught up and apologies are made, it's clear with another curious glance in his direction that Paul Anselm's story in this series is still unresolved. And when all parties arrive at the older Anselm's home, the younger Anselm finally confirms that for us by assuring his older self that there is still one thing left to be taken care of:

Anselm's guilt finally asserting itself, his contact with the Cube begins a massive rippling effect in time that engulfs not only himself and the Invaders, but several members of both Avengers groups as well, ending this second "Act" of the story in a frantic series of actions and reactions that seem likely to take this story further off-track:

So, with another two-month gap until the final Act, it's here that I decided not to continue reading the series--even though it seemed that the Avengers and the Invaders were going to be involved more cohesively than the factions that they'd been split into in dealing with various other story elements. For all I knew at this point, they were going to be split even more so than previously, and dealing with other time-related curiosities that writer Jim Krueger and co-plotter Alex Ross seemed fascinated with introducing. In all fairness, some of those worked reasonably well, to a point. Had the Torch actually been present at Toro's gravesite with him, it might have made for a fine moment between them, given how much Toro regarded the Torch as a father figure. The meeting between Namor and his older self might have been more productive in terms of the common ground the two shared--the fate of Atlantis--rather than being reduced to a "lesson" the older Namor felt his younger self needed to learn by way of a fist. Yet little time seemed to be allocated to these and similar scenes, which resulted in little substantive meaning to them.

As for the next and last four issues, it's a fair bet that Anselm's involvement is going to be expanded, perhaps centering on the 1940s once more. If so, it's a chance for the Invaders to be more prominently featured, which might be a good way to bring back a level of interest in this story considering Krueger's excellent treatment of and feel for them in its early stages. I also admit to being curious as to how Anselm will be dealt with, and if the potential of the closure he needs with his unit will be realized. So it seems that, after a gap of five years, I'll finally complete my reading of this series and discover how everything turns out. On to Act Three, and the finish line.

Avengers/Invaders #s 5-8

Plot: Alex Ross and Jim Krueger
Script: Jim Krueger
Pencils and Inks: Steve Sadowski, Patrick Berkenkotter
Letterer: Todd Klein

1 comment:

Darci said...

Re: " (And when did/why would Phineas Horton give the Torch human blood?)"

Recall Roy Thomas's Invaders series, where Jacqueline Falsworth had a transfusion of the Torch's blood. Not only did it not kill her (so, at least, it was like a modern blood substitute), it turned her into Spitfire.
Hope this helps!

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