Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bride And Doom!

There would come a point when Avengers writers would overplay the Ultron card and have the metal maniac reappearing and hatching plots even more often than new Avengers would join the ranks (and that's saying something). But in 1974, it had been five years to the month since Ultron-6 contorted and bit the dust before the fiend resurfaced to menace the Avengers anew. That earlier adventure marked the occasion when Ultron had recast himself from adamantium, the "strongest metal known" and resistant to even a direct strike from Thor's hammer; and he could also build up sufficient ionic force from his energy stores to initiate a fatal explosive reaction which could even endanger an entire city. But Ultron had also incorporated into himself the "molecular rearranger" (a name which, while not sophisticated in the scientific sense, is certainly self-explanatory), which was the only way to affect the shape of adamantium once it had cooled--and it was essentially Henry Pym hacking the device with the help of a biblical verse which led to the end of Ultron-6.

But as we know, Ultron is only out of circulation until he upgrades with a higher numerical designation--and in an Avengers/Fantastic Four crossover, Ultron-7 has arrived.

And, dear lord, he's now wearing a costume.

The Avengers story starts us off, with the assemblers waiting for a sumptuous dinner prepared by their butler, Jarvis. Unfortunately, their meal is fated to be devoured by Lockjaw, the Inhumans' oversized dog, when Gorgon arrives with unexpected tidings--news that comes as a complete shock to the Scarlet Witch, thanks to the faux pas of her estranged brother, Quicksilver.

It's common knowledge never to "shoot the messenger," but that's exactly what Iron Man is forced to do when Gorgon reacts with anger over Pietro's offensive snub of both his sister and his former teammates. Thanks to Mantis, tempers are cooled and the potential damage from more strikes of Gorgon's thunderous hooves avoided; but this visit comes at a time when there's a great deal of tension in the mansion due to an accusation from the Swordsman that the Vision and Mantis are involved with each other, and Wanda has her own parting shot to deliver in Mantis's direction before deciding to accompany Gorgon, regardless of Pietro's wishes.

As the Avengers arrive in the Inhumans' Great Refuge in the Himalayan mountains and share pleasantries with the rest of the Inhumans as well as the Fantastic Four (also guests of the upcoming nuptials), we see behind the scenes that the issue's villain is already making plans to strike. And while it's clear who opened the back door for him, as it were, it's also clear that the involvement of the mad Maximus ends here.

And speaking of Maximus, no visitor to the Great Refuge can avoid laying eyes on a colossal object that was created with his assistance, an object that is the ever-present symbol of the Inhumans' shame in regard to their worker-race, the Alpha Primitives. As Medusa explains:

Yet all is not well with the Alphas, as there are remnants of unrest with a few renegades who seek to re-stoke the fire of rebellion in their brothers. Again, behind the scenes, we see our mystery villain (taking the place of Maximus) working directly with the Alphas in apparent common cause; but the intruder's reasons for helping the renegades are his own, and the Alphas who believe him to be their ally are in for a rude awakening.

Above, the wedding festivities are in full swing; but an unprovoked attack on the Alphas by an Inhuman as well as an Avenger threatens to upset the truce that exists between the Inhumans and the Alphas. Stranger still is how both attackers collapse before being able to offer any explanation for their actions, which only serves to infuriate the Alphas further.

Further deliberation by Reed Richards, Thor, and Black Bolt on the matter fails to illuminate the how and the why of the actions of Medusa and Iron Man; there's also the Alpha's accusation hanging in the air that Black Bolt must find a way to address, since not to nip this in the bud would potentially endanger them all if it causes the deadly Omega to reanimate.

Elsewhere, there are other tense meetings of a different nature on this evening before the wedding. Johnny relaying best wishes to Crystal (though perhaps to allow himself to deal with the situation; the Swordsman confronting Mantis about the Vision, though her response is only indignation; and of course there are words to be had between Pietro and Wanda, though Pietro pulls the plug on that conversation before it ever truly starts.

Crystal might want to note the red flag that went up here, having just received a small indication of Pietro's priorities regarding fealty and obedience where family is concerned. But it doesn't look like she's going to have that kind of time, since in a moment she'll have bigger colossal worries.

If you're fretting over Crystal's fate, you needn't. When all is said and done, this scene will have meant little to nothing. Unlike Omega's first appearance, where he took Crystal hostage in order to force the cooperation of Quicksilver and the Human Torch in conquering the Inhumans, it will be the case here that Omega has no real use for Crystal other than the ripple effect her abduction will produce; in fact, we won't see her again for the duration of this conflict. It's possible the scene was a result of writer Steve Englehart throwing a red herring our way so as to have the reader believe that it's the reanimated Omega who's the threat here, and that once again it's the conflict with the Alphas at the root of it all. It would normally be a sensible conclusion to draw, had we not already been aware of another villain lurking off-panel in this story.

What Crystal's abduction does do is to raise the alarm as far as Omega having returned to life, and investigations are launched in two directions:

The lead involving Maximus proves to be a dead end, when the Inhumans and the FF discover that he's been attacked and left unconscious. That wouldn't necessarily clear him of wrongdoing, as Reed believes; regardless, the main action will be found in the catacombs where the Alphas make their home. It's bad enough that the renegade Alphas are already present and ready to inflame the situation further--but Pietro's short fuse hasn't lengthened any in his time apart from the Avengers, and his temper causes him to lash out at the Alphas. In putting a stop to his attack, however, Mantis collapses in the same odd manner that's been seen before.

The damage, though, has been done, and the Alphas are now rioting, with the Avengers caught in the middle. To make matters worse, Maximus incites the Alphas even further when he too shows signs of acting not of his own accord.

Another mysterious collapse, and it won't end here. With no opportunity to restore order, the Inhumans, the FF, and the Avengers are kept off-balance by the violent hordes of Alphas surging into the city. To say nothing of the formidable presence of Omega who, by all indications, lives again as a result of the lies the Inhumans have perpetrated toward those they still appear to deem their inferiors.

With Omega halting his attack even as he's in a position to begin raining death on the enemies of the Alphas, all of the assembled heroes inexplicably freeze in place, victims of a mysterious paralysis which holds them helpless. It's Omega who holds the answers to all we've witnessed thus far in this story, though he now reveals himself to be one of the Avengers' most twisted and dangerous enemies.

With Ultron-7's rather glib closing words here to the Vision on mind control, Englehart appears to be foisting the misimpression that Ultron's ability to take control of all the heroes here in the plaza is the same technique he used to take prior control of the Vision as Ultron-6. On the contrary, his procedure on the Vision involved nothing more than a post-hypnotic command (as he also used with Jarvis during Ultron's deception as the Crimson Cowl, as well as with Hank Pym in the nascent robot's first moments of sentience as Ultron-1):

In the later story, Englehart provides Ultron with substantial upgrades in powers of the mind--not only the ability to take direct control of minds from a distance, but also to mentally paralyze others or cause them to collapse. Much later we would see Ultron also employ technology-based means of damaging the human mind (an "encephalo-beam," for instance, which puts the victim into a coma); but with the abilities he demonstrates in this story, he really has no need in subsequent tales to battle the Avengers or anyone else in the conventional sense.

With Ultron now stepping out from behind the curtain, we join writer Gerry Conway as we segue to the wrap-up of this two-part story in Fantastic Four.

You needn't worry too much about the implications of the title to Part 2. For one thing, Ultron's goal here is vengeance against the Avengers, pure and simple, not world conquest; and for another, he's going to be dealt with fairly quickly, leaving him no time to even think about going on to take over the world. Because not even Ultron can prevail against a wedding that's slotted to take up the bulk of the issue he appears in.

To start things off, Ultron decides to release the Inhumans, the Avengers, and the FF from their paralysis. (We still don't know how he has the power to paralyze them in the first place, but that's beating a dead horse.) That, in turn, spurs the Thing to take a shot at him, though Ultron blunts him with ease.

Conway's mention of Crystal amounts to a token reference, since this story creates no opportunity to reintroduce her or make her capture in any way pivotal to its resolution. But we can at least learn how Ultron came to survive his seeming destruction at the United Nations while battling the Avengers as Ultron-6.

Now that the preliminaries are over, and with Ultron bent on revenge, there's really no reason for him to delay any longer, and he moves to strike--and we learn the extent of the formidable mental abilities which neither he nor Omega ever possessed.

But there's a wild card in this fight--the comatose Franklin Richards, who's been virtually absent from this book for nine months but, thanks to Ultron's intrusion, receives one heck of a wake-up call.

In the aftermath of Ultron's fall, we're left to assume that the Alphas have realized they've been played and are willing to cease hostilities, since this story curiously doesn't follow up on them at all. In their place, however, Conway and artist Rich Buckler provide a fine moment for this family to reunite, and it's likely a moment that readers have been waiting to see, bringing closure to a story development that ripped apart both the FF and the marriage of Reed and Sue.

It's the perfect moment to preface the event that's been reserved for the second part of this issue. Though in all honesty, I'd like to see a show of hands of those who were convinced these two people were made for each other.

Some of the moments that Conway and Buckler present here have already been displayed in a separate post where such moments are in good company with others. But in addition, there's the brave face that Johnny puts on, both before and after the ceremony:

Which brings us to the end of this Avengers/Fantastic Four crossover featuring the Inhumans, an A-list villain, and a wedding between two long-standing Marvel characters. Ultron would next appear once again manipulating Henry Pym's memories in an effort to secure his assistance in creating a robotic mate; the FF would meet an arrogant bruiser who has designs on Thundra; and the Inhumans have been given an excuse to haul away Omega so that he's no longer a constant reminder of their virtual enslavement of the Alpha Primitives. As for Pietro and Crystal, they may not have made the perfect match--but given their turbulent dealings with each other, they should have given serious thought to a reality show.

The Avengers #127

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Joe Staton
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski

Fantastic Four #150

Script: Gerry Conway
Pencils: Rich Buckler
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: John Costanza


Anonymous said...

I wonder where Ultron got that giant Omega rubber mask from - perhaps there's a giant Omega rubber mask factory somewhere. And it fitted so perfectly over his completely differently-shaped robot head :) Nice to see Jack, I mean Rich Buckler... drawing the FF issue. I remember reading that story (UK reprint, January 1978) by candlelight due to a power failure, we got lots of them in those days...ah, the Seventies :)

david_b said...

It was a favorite 2-parter, LOVED the Sal art in issue 128 but this will ultimately become the last 'big story' for both titles for me, due to distribution problems and storyline/art changes.

I didn't like Rich Buckler as much on FF, and I missed the Avengers-Kang issues, so when I came back to the Avengers.., I wasn't too thrilled with the Don Heck art.

Comicsfan said...

Actually, Colin, you raise an interesting point with your observation: Why would Omega be wearing a mask of his own face? Because if it weren't a mask, that means that Ultron would be ripping away the face itself. Good grief, Colin--you've inadvertently uncovered quite a blunder! I wonder if it ever occurred to anyone?

david_b said...

Nooo, it's not a blunder at all, unless you're kidding around.

Ultron simply had a large rubber mask made. End of mystery.