Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Soap Among The Stars!

With things heating up in the power play made by Thanos of Titan to not only conquer Earth but also make use of the Cosmic Cube to further his ambitions, you wouldn't expect the Avengers to be sitting on the sidelines. But when all is said and done, they would not be facing Thanos directly (with the exception of Iron Man), as Thanos would take steps to remove them from the playing field altogether. Part of that plan involves a massive invasion fleet Thanos has assembled to attack Earth at the proper moment.

But before that moment arrives, the Avengers have a few items to clear off their plate after their return from Vietnam to investigate the origin of Mantis. One pleasant task involves the return of Captain America, after he'd dealt with a discrediting ad campaign that finally led to foiling a plan by the Secret Empire to take over the U.S. Unfortunately, his reunion with the Avengers would be a brief one, since the resolution of that case would leave him on the verge of abandoning his career as the symbol of his country.

To take Cap's mind off his troubles, Iron Man also gives Cap a recap (get it? "re-Cap," heh heh) of their battle with the Star-Stalker, where Mantis saved the day by deducing the creature's weakness:

In fairness to Cap, he never really had a problem with Mantis, despite Iron Man's recollection; it was only the Swordsman he still suspected of being on the wrong side of the law. (Though Cap probably kept an eye on Mantis out of her association with him.)

It's at that point that Lou-Ann, Rick Jones' girlfriend, arrives at the mansion on the verge of collapse, having escaped from the Controller and warning of Thanos--and the Avengers become swept up in the growing conflict between Thanos and Captain Marvel. Soon enough, Mar-vell, Moondragon, and Iron Man are kidnapped to face Thanos on Titan; but when Thanos uses the Cube to ascend to godhood, the Earth invasion fleet makes its move, and the Avengers must act.

And so the Avengers launch into space as the planet's only line of defense, against incredible odds that must be defeated if Earth is to survive.

In order to make this story work on a level of valiant heroism, writer Steve Englehart is expecting the reader to take a few things for granted. One would obviously be that two ships with Earth technology would have a chance against an entire heavily-armed alien fleet--when, by contrast, the group of Avengers who encountered a Skrull armada during the Kree-Skrull War decided the only chance they had to survive was to attack just one ship in order to deceive the others into retreating. Another odd development is the use here of the Zodiac star blaster--ripped to shreds by the Star-Stalker, but completely rebuilt and functional only forty-eight hours later.

There's also the questionable logic that the bigger an attack craft, the more hampered its ability to target smaller objects:

Or that speed and "mobility" aren't also found on alien ships:

Still, while a space-worthy quinjet is a long way from being the kind of armed attack fighter this story seems to suggest it is, it indeed makes sense for Thor to become a third force in this fight and make use of his power aggressively, which you would expect from the God of Thunder.

Where I think Englehart excels in this story, however, is by throwing a twist into it and using it to expose the romantic conflict he's been planning involving the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, the Swordsman, and Mantis--something I wouldn't have expected he'd have room to dote on in a "space battle" story but which he weaves into it quite skillfully. Beginning with the seed planted just four issues prior, when Mantis was injured following a battle with Zodiac:

We know that the Vision didn't mean anything by this exchange with the Swordsman, though it sufficed for Englehart to make the leap from simple observation to worrisome suspicion in just a couple of panels--thanks to the Vision's curt response, which isn't his habit when he begins a conversation. In the time since, it seems the Vision's words have simmered with the Swordsman--and at a critical point in the battle, the situation explodes.

And in an instant, this story, which centered on a life-or-death conflict in space, now pivots to these four Avengers, who must prioritize their mission in the shadow of this bombshell the Swordsman has just dropped. And the resulting scenes are both fascinating and engaging, as the two people most affected by the revelation struggle with the situation. There's Wanda, of course, who feels the need to assert herself in the Vision's eyes:

While the Swordsman clearly isn't interested in tabling the matter, until the resistance level is such that he has no choice.

As the battle rages, the Avengers begin to pick up clues to the craft's purpose, hidden away in a dark field as it is. And when they've dealt with their foes, they stumble on the key to winning the day against the invaders.  Arguments aside, the scenes demonstrate how effective these four are as a strike force.

And with the craft's destruction, these outcasts of the galaxy no longer have the means to cooperate with each other--nor, apparently, do they have the desire to.

It's a reasonable (if swift) end to Englehart's story--though with Thanos now in a state where he would be easily able to monitor and affect this battle, you have to wonder how the Avengers have made such headway. The answer won't appear in this issue--but its closing panels provide a teaser in that respect, even as Englehart takes the opportunity to continue the rumblings from the Swordsman's outburst:

No, I have no idea why Thanos, who has ascended to the heavens and is one with everything in the universe, would feel like he has to take humanoid form and hide behind a wall in order to keep the Avengers unaware of his presence. He's also not being entirely accurate as far as his "master plan" and his goal of dooming the Earth, perhaps a result of the effort being made to coordinate two separate titles. As this story continues in this epic's conclusion in Captain Marvel #33, you may find that Thanos' circuitous plan for the Avengers would indeed have been impressive had he not been transformed by the Cosmic Cube.  As it is, it doesn't really add up to a lot in his current status as a being who could easily deal with the Avengers without the help of an invasion fleet or a master plan.

The Avengers #125

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Dave Cockrum
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski


david_b said...


Ok, now on to my 2nd cup of coffee.

Stellar art, superb story, nice weave of Cap's plight into this story, GREAT interplay in the Vish-Swordy-This One-Wanda saga, again as previously mentioned, this foursome SOOOO could have been a great Avengers line-up for another dozen issues.

Oh well.

It had action, Thanos, emotion, simply not a wasted panel ~ A very nice 'done-in-one' story, yet a great 'next chapter' for so many different storylines.


Comicsfan said...

That second cup's on me, david--with all that bubbling enthusiasm, it's the least I can do!

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that possibly the reason why Thanos took such a "circuitous" route toward dealing with his enemies, instead of using the Cosmic Cube to merely zap them out of existence, is because there may be limits on what the Cube WILL do.
The Cube was later revealed to be a nascent living entity, and a pacifistic one when it matured. Even in it's early form it might balk or rebel when commanded to take lives or commit wholesale cosmic destruction. Maybe it would get mad.
Perhaps Thanos sensed this. Maybe even the Red Skull, who wielded the Cube twice, sensed it, and he had a lot less on the ball than Thanos.
While Thanos did, er, "zap" the Controller and the Blood Brothers with it, those happy-go-lucky guys all showed up alive later, lovable as ever, so I take it they were merely transported. Possibly to New Jersey, as a punishment for their failure.
When the Red Skull had the Cube, he didn't actually DO very much with it, other than mess with Captain America's head and strut around like a goon.
They later attribute this to the Skull being kind of a moron, and while I won't argue with that characterization, I think he was scared to use the Cube to it's full potential. It's like the Ultimate Nullifier; it might turn around and destroy HIM.
Maybe Thanos pushed the Cube as far as he dared, which is why he chose to confront Captain Marvel on a physical level at the end.
I guess you just gotta read the small print when you take the Cosmic Cube out of the box. And whatever you do, don't put it in the microwave!

Comicsfan said...

m.p., I think the constraints of the Cube you speak of were due more to writers needing to be able to provide a decent story than any conscious limits the Cube might have been placing on its use. Mar-vell, in the end, was attacked by Thanos in his god-form (and was taken to just seconds from death's door, I might add) before he pulled victory from defeat; and with the Cube's seeming destruction (rats, I'm getting ahead of myself here, but it can't be helped), the Controller, the Avengers, and any other effects from Thanos' use of the Cube appeared to be reversed. (The Blood Brothers had been dealt with by conventional means, as Thanos didn't possess the Cube at the time.)

There's a later story that puts forth the opinion that Thanos failed to capitalize on whatever power he gained because of an innate wish to be defeated--something I'm equally skeptical of, since no one goes to such lengths to obtain ultimate power only to sabotage themselves when they have it (at least in a nonfictional world). It's admittedly difficult for a story to realistically deal with an antagonist who possesses power on the level of the Cosmic Cube or, say, the Beyonder. Stan Lee probably handled it best in the Skull's case, by having his own ego constrict the use of the Cube's power. In Thanos' case, Starlin seems to be taking the approach of having him handling his power as a mortal, even when he's in the form of a god.

Anonymous said...

Well, in my defense, Thanos did zap the Blood Brothers in Marvel Feature #12!
One possible explanation might be, for Thanos' reticence, is, even if you had the power to reorder the universe, how you even know where to start? Even if you had an extensive knowledge of astrophysics, which Thanos surely did, you might hesitate before you blew up the moon, say, or created matter or destroyed it, which is cosmically illegal, according to the laws of physics. How would that affect everything else? It's kind of like the Monkey's Paw, or the butterfly in China flapping it's wings, or that Ray Bradbury story when some guy goes back in time into the dinosaur era and accidently steps on a would be hard to anticipate the consequences. It's easier to take something apart than to put it back together again, and if I for one, if I blew up the moon with the Cosmic Cube, would have no idea how to put the moon back exactly where it was, having flunked high school algebra, and gotten a D in college physics.
But you're right, only in WHAT IF or ELSEWORLD type stories can writers blow up the universe and get away with it.
Except for that sneaky Englehart...
Enjoyed the discussion! Thanks, C.F.! Looking forward to that last Captain Marvel entry...unless of course, we might see Nitro?
Starlin wanted to go out with a bang...

david_b said...

Great dialog, gents.., far more insight than I ever gleened, but again, we now have the 'looking back' insight unforeseen when I first read this issue.

Agreed on the Cube awesome intensity and what ego limitations bring to it. As for M.P's suggestion on Thanos's roundabout way, I can only surmise that Thanos was playfully manipulating, for the sake of stroking his... ego. Like 'I can zap them..., but think how victorious I'd be if I considered them actual adversaries, as puny as they are...'

'Like playing with an ant on a hot sidewalk in summer ~ Just what can I do with them, and how patient can I be..?' kind of stuff. Dunno.

It's his warped ego at any measure.

Comicsfan said...

david, that's an excellent way of looking at it!

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