Friday, February 20, 2015

Your Days Are Numbered, When Hunts--Scourge!

Given the amount of titles he would ultimately appear in, as well as the number of murders he would go on to commit, the Scourge of the Underworld received a rather understated introduction on the cover of Iron Man #194, his first appearance:

In writer Denny O'Neil's story, Scourge's business is over and done with very briefly, as it was in nearly all of his appearances--making an unexpected, under-the-radar kill that seems to have no apparent reason, followed by his signature declaration, "Justice Is Served!", after which we're returned to the main story. Over the span of ten months (our time), these inexplicable killings amassed a considerable body count, and two patterns became clear: One, that Scourge was targeting only super-villains; and Two, the targets were arguably low-interest villains that readers weren't really going to miss. (Ironically, Scourge was likely raising their profiles with these hits.)

O'Neil works Scourge into the Iron Man story using a meeting with Tony Stark's ruthless business competitor, Obadiah Stane, to start the ball rolling by having Stane (via a mysterious female colleague) hire the Enforcer to assassinate one of his operatives:

(If you're curious about this Termite character--well, I have to say I'm with Stane on this one.)

Yet the Enforcer's easy paycheck would never be drafted, because this assassin is himself being targeted, and by someone willing to do their deadly job pro bono:

So begins the rampage of Scourge--and it would reach its climax nearly a year later when a sentinel of liberty resolves to see that justice is indeed served.

Scourge's most famous hit would take place at the "Bar With No Name," a watering hole frequented by super-villains inbetween jobs. This night, Gary Gilbert, the former villain known as Firebrand but who now enjoys life as a business agent who books work for criminals in exchange for a commission, convenes a meeting to form a plan of action against the vigilante who's wiping out his clientele:

Everyone has a lot of ideas to put on the table, none of which are productive. But as the discussion continues, the bartender reaches behind the bar for something decidedly non-alcoholic--and before anyone realizes what's happening (no, not even "Mind-Wave"), Scourge strikes!

Thanks to a flat tire on his car that delayed his arrival, the villain known as Water Wizard escapes the massacre--and, in fear for his life, he decides to make contact with Captain America through the Avenger's "Stars and Stripes" hotline and arrange for a meeting. Cap has been getting bits and pieces of Scourge's activities, but has recently become more interested in the case thanks to a conversation with Blacklash, a villain he's recently helped to remand to police custody; and while Cap agrees to accompany the worried Water Wizard, he remains on guard in his presence and is still unsure of whether to trust him. But there's no denying the evidence he sees with his own eyes:

And so the hunt for Scourge is on. Meanwhile, Scourge is doing a little hunting of his own--for his next victim, thanks to his own "hotline" with an able assistant who does much of his legwork for him:

In the interim, Cap has been busy with a plan to draw Scourge out into the open, setting up a phony media announcement that reports of a survivor of the bar killings--the villain Mirage, who's being transferred by the police to a hunting lodge for safekeeping. Scourge is outraged at the news, and takes the bait--and when he moves to finish off Mirage, the trap is sprung!

But Cap has underestimated his foe, and Scourge is on the verge of ending the Avenger's life. It's only because of Scourge's twisted conscience that Cap survives:

And so we learn about how "Scourge" came about. And in a bit of symmetry with his first appearance in Iron Man, we also learn that the circumstances of Scourge's murder of the Enforcer were more shocking than we realized:

(Rats--he took out the Miracle Man, too?)

Cap has heard enough by now, and prepares to take Scourge into custody. But we're all in for one last surprise with this killer who's evaded retribution for so long--and it arrives with a familiar sound combination that, by all rights, should no longer be possible:

An exploding bullet to the chest, and you think there's a chance he'll live, Cap? Not unless you've got some vital organs and a surgical team waiting behind a tree for your cue to spring into action--and even then his chances are roughly at 9% or so. As it happens, though, we're not deprived of hearing Scourge's fitting final words:

There being more than one Scourge is a curve I didn't see coming in this killer's saga. From here, the character's story becomes ever more tangled. Just over four years later, Scourge became affiliated with the Red Skull; and still later, with the original Angel from World War II who apparently used several Scourge agents as vigilantes. And are you ready for the icing on this cake? Becoming involved in a conflict with the Thunderbolts, the Scourge of the story is revealed to be Jack Monroe, who had become Nomad once Cap abandoned that identity and who's now under the mental control of G-man Henry Peter Gyrich. And it just gets worse for this character. Wildly perverted beyond his original concept, Scourge is badly in need of his own scourge to target his many incarnations.


Anonymous said...

Er...I was gonna say I hated to see the Ringer get wasted, I thought he was kinda cool in an ironic sort of way, but never mind. M.P.

renfield75 said...

It's a shame the character became so convoluted over the years, but that initial story arc fascinated me as a kid. The hunt for a comic book serial killer? Yeah man! His appearances were random and always surprising, plus it had mystery and brought back (albeit briefly) a lot of great obscure bronze and silver age villains. Instead of messy retcons, I would love to see Marvel revamp this concept to clean up loose continuity. Clean house and make a great story in the process!

Comicsfan said...

I dunno, renfield--the new Scourge would probably be too busy trying to clean up the continuity of his predecessors before moving on to anyone else!