Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Team Player

You've landed in the middle of Swordsman Week here at the PPC! But we have a problem: With the Swordsman at long last in the custody of law enforcement (following his capture by the Avengers after teaming up with the Black Widow and Power Man to take them out), and presumably now tucked away in a nice prison cell, we're stuck here cooling our heels unless the man is paroled--which doesn't seem likely, since his sentencing probably took into account a criminal record that's as long as Mr. Fantastic's arm.

In other words, we appear to have no Swordsman for the rest of Swordsman Week.


(a) He has a really good lawyer, though to whittle down the Swordsman's sentence might take more time than the Swordsman has money to retain his lawyer's services. In any case, when all was said and done, the Swordsman might be out in ten years, which is still too long. We'd have to move on to something like "Batroc Week."

(b) He's instead extradited to whatever country wants his head on a platter. In which case it would be a very long time before he'd turn up again--alive, that is.

(c) He's (presumably) broken out of prison by an A-list villain who needs both the Swordsman and Power Man as part of his Master Plan™ involving Captain America.

Given our choices, what do you say we go with Option (c)?

This would be the second in a string of stories featuring the Swordsman where it's been decided to team him with other recognizable villains, a fate which seems to be the case with characters who haven't yet been put out to pasture but whose solo appearances have tapered off. And while being a hired gun might make sense for the Swordsman--a fortune hunter who signs on for the short term and relishes a challenge--he seems ill-suited to the role of simply being pointed in the direction of a foe and told to attack. One of the strengths of the Swordsman's character, even as a disreputable character, is the virtual guiding principle he practically lives by: What's in it for him? Here, neither he nor Power Man knows the identity of their employer, or their plans--the two only know they're being paid a fortune to attack Captain America. To a careful man like the Swordsman, that should carry the strong smell of a set-up; yet he falls right in line with Power Man, and off they charge.

Cap arrives fighting mad, lured to this location by what seemed to be an authentic distress call from his deceased partner, Bucky--though Cap has usually followed through in such instances in the hope that Bucky has somehow survived. (Pavlov might have a few words for him, given all the times a taunting foe has dangled a Bucky-shaped carrot in front of Cap and he's responded so predictably.) Given his state, we'd expect him to regard the Swordsman and Power Man as nuisances, and writer Stan Lee doesn't disappoint in that regard.

The mastermind here is eventually revealed to be the Red Skull, with the Swordsman and Power Man being used as catspaws in his scheme against Cap. The Skull had no real use for these two beyond antagonizing Cap, transporting them off the isle once their purpose was served (and probably stiffing them on their fee). Being so toyed with would normally be something the Swordsman would be furious about--but he has only himself to blame (and Lee, his original writer) for letting things even reach that point. The Swordsman we know from his introduction would have demanded that their mysterious host show himself and then explain his plans before any agreement was reached; instead, he was satisfied with a few flattering words and the promise of facing Captain America.

The Swordsman would be paired again with Power Man (since they've had such *cough* success in their prior criminal endeavors) in the first Avengers Annual, where it seems the Mandarin is prepared to let bygones be bygones concerning his prior dealings with the Swordsman:

The Swordsman may bristle at the Living Laser's insult--but the bladesman has made his bed by this point, so he should probably get used to lying in it. Still, the Mandarin is playing for high stakes this time, in a series of worldwide strikes which should have the entire planet falling into his grasp. Whatever the state of the Swordsman's pride, he appears to have seen to it that he's fully informed as to the nature of the Mandarin's plans as well as his role in carrying them out--and, combined with the chances of success as well as the scope of it all, it's not surprising that he's on board with the job he and Power Man have been tasked with.

Unfortunately, the Avengers have also combined forces and headed off as sub-teams to avert these strikes. And while Goliath and Power Man hammer away at each other, the Wasp attempts to relieve the Swordsman of the triggering device for the deadly hovering sword.

With the control device again in hand, the Swordsman would appear to be back in control of the situation. But what follows makes it evident how the character has changed. Where the Swordsman of old might have compelled the Avengers' surrender, the character here virtually twirls his villain mustache in deciding to destroy the city out of retaliation, even though it would likely sacrifice the foothold they've gained for the Mandarin.

Fortunately, Iron Man was waiting in the wings to prevent the sword's descent (barely!) and neutralize its threat. Yet the act proves to be a near-fatal distraction to Goliath where the Swordsman is concerned.

Fortunately, the Avengers went on to foil the Mandarin--so it looks like it's back to prison for the Swordsman (and Power Man), and perhaps it's just as well. If his parting words are any indication, the Swordsman has now been turned into a villain who delights in end-of-the-world scenarios.  Is there anything of this once-strong character left to salvage?

Power Man is dumped for Batroc!

The Swordsman faces off with Captain America in a knock-down drag-out,
while a city's fate hangs in the balance!

The power-packed pencils of Jack Kirby!

MORE you could ask for??


The Prowler said...

Caramba! I had both of these as reprints. The Gil Kane sequence where Cap is fighting Swordsman and Power Man was the definitive sequence to me finally to be replaced years later by the run through the building after the Winter Soldier's attempt on Fury's life. The look on Steve's face when the Winter Soldier caught his shield and then threw it back......priceless.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Gil Kane is just incredible here. His wild, graceful, kinetic style makes the battle really come alive. There was as much action there as you might see with a dozen Avengers and foes battling, but Kane does it with just three guys. Kane sure knew what he was doing. Wow. Not sure I've seen this before.