Monday, July 6, 2015

The Deadly Touch of--Rogue!

OR: "Your Thoughts To My Thoughts..."

There are only a handful of Marvel annuals that hit it out of the park for me as far as having an excellent page-turner of a story from cover to cover, a topic which probably deserves a post of its own, one of these days. But for now, I'm happy to feature a look at one such annual--the 1981 Avengers Annual #10, which, aside from its well-deserved rep as a good story, is perhaps best remembered for the first appearance of Chris Claremont's mutant villainess, Rogue (co-created with artist Michael Golden). As you can see, though, its cover doesn't pull any punches as far as other dramatic elements waiting for you inside.

Nor does Claremont pull his punches, investing this story with a tight, well-paced structure that keeps in play a number of interesting, dynamic characters, and cramming it with his usual dialog- and narrative-heavy panels which are his hallmark. Claremont also seems to work exceptionally well here with Golden, best known (up to this point) by his work on Micronauts and whose appearances since have been across the comics spectrum but, regrettably, rarely overstaying his welcome on a single project. The combination of these two creative talents on future annuals would have helped to bring these "specials" back to the point of once again being worthy of the designation.

In addition to all that this story offers, there is also the mysterious reappearance of Carol Danvers--a/k/a Ms. Marvel, who hasn't been seen in Marvel stories since the late-1980 Avengers #200, when she left the team to join the son of Immortus, Marcus, in the dimension of Limbo as his lover. Yet we'll discover that, even M.I.A., Danvers is the driving force for much that takes place in this tale--beginning with page one, where Spider-Woman (the "dark angel," as Claremont will repeatedly refer to her) spots a figure plummeting from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in an apparent suicide. A figure who turns out to be none other than the missing Danvers.

Spider-Woman realizes that Danvers was already unconscious by the time she intercepted her, and concludes that this was a murder attempt. Consequently, she places her in the care of an ER on the coast, and contacts Lt. Sabrina Morrel of the S.F. homicide department. As this tale unfolds, it makes sense to proceed from the perspective of an investigation--particularly since, at the time of her departure with Marcus, Danvers had only just recently revealed her civilian identity to the Avengers, and Spider-Woman has no reason as yet to pick up the phone and call New York. For now, it's startling enough when Morrel's investigation turns up background information on a woman who seems to have a very high profile of her own.

More than a few readers of this story have perked up at the sight of "Maddy Pryor," a character Claremont would later create as a love interest for Scott Summers--but who, in this story, is only an unrelated character in a "walk-on" part. The only real connection between the two is her name, inspired by the lead vocalist of the English folk-rock band Steeleye Span. Nevertheless, Claremont took the opportunity years later to give a humorous nod to the earlier Avengers appearance of Maddy, as the "Goblin Queen" was taking shape:

Meanwhile, Spider-Woman has picked up the phone to call Charles Xavier, whose telepathic abilities will hopefully be able to help Danvers as well as provide a lead on her attacker(s).  In the interim, Morrel's investigation continues.

"Rogue," as depicted by Golden, appears to be somewhat older and more sophisticated than Claremont would eventually establish her to be. In later stories, the character would be developed as a ward of Mystique, the shape-shifting villainess, which would require Rogue to be nearer the age of a teenager when the two met. That relationship in this story is never mentioned or implied, nor is it clear how long the two have known each other. For all we know, Rogue is an operative that Mystique has found and employed while her field team, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, is incarcerated. Towards the end of the story, Mystique appears to treat Rogue no differently than the others (with the exception of Destiny), even to the point of being expendable.

With the groundwork laid, Claremont is ready to bring the Avengers into the mix and get this story moving. And things begin to happen swiftly, with the stunning overpowering of Captain America by Rogue--who, in addition to her power- and memory-siphoning ability, is now, for all intents and purposes, Ms. Marvel.

The advantages of absorbing the memories of your opponents are obvious; in this case, Rogue has absorbed those of two Avengers, including one of their founding members. If she's gunning for the team, as appears to be the case, her knowledge of strategy and tactics is now off the charts--an aspect of which is knowing how best to throw your opponents off-balance.

As with the first Captain Marvel epic involving writers such as Mike Friedrich and Jim Starlin, we're going to see in this story that Claremont--like many other comics writers, in all fairness--is faced with introducing a number of developments necessary to move this story along, yet by the same token would stifle that story if they were handled as they normally might be in the real world. For instance, it makes perfect sense for one Avenger--in this case, the Vision--to immediately go after Cap's attacker while Cap is tended to; but since we're shown later that Rogue has remained in the vicinity, and since Rogue hasn't to our knowledge absorbed the Invisible Girl's power, having the Vision's search come up empty seems unlikely. (And borderline preposterous, given that the Vision wouldn't be bothered by building structures or other impediments.) On the other hand, Rogue knows that the Vision would not be affected by her absorbing power--and perhaps she uses her power of flight to elude him, feeling she doesn't have enough of an edge to take him on.

Elsewhere, we learn that Rogue is not acting alone, as Mystique makes her appearance to take out another Avenger that Rogue would not be able to affect. Though as a shape-shifter, her initial appearance is that of someone more trusted.

Mystique indeed phrases the nature of this attack very well. With Rogue a complete unknown to the Avengers, and her ability allowing her to instantly incapacitate her foes with only a touch, contact which also transfers their power and memories to herself, the Avengers could indeed fall without a struggle so long as she targets them one-by-one. Fortunately, Spider-Woman arrives to follow up on the lead Morrel obtained from Danvers' mother, and forces Rogue out into the open even as another powerful Avenger is targeted.

At this stage of the conflict, we can probably consider Rogue to be invincible, now possessing the powers, memories, and tactics of Ms. Marvel, Cap, and Thor. Given that we've seen the detrimental effects of other memories encroaching on her own, you have to wonder how Rogue is staying alert and functional, particularly now that she possesses the thoughts and memories of a being who has lived for centuries--as well as the fact that it was her struggle with just Danvers' thoughts that eventually forced her to seek Xavier's help with her power.

At any rate, what's left of the Avengers now attacks as a group (though leaving out the Beast and the Scarlet Witch). For all the good it does them.

Again, Claremont leaves it for the reader to fill in the blanks of developments that don't quite make sense, this time as to why the Scarlet Witch--who attacks from a distance and might well have turned the tables on Rogue--isn't joining the team while they're under all-out attack. The Beast is likely administering aid to Cap--but is Wanda's priority here as a nurse? Regardless, the only thing that truly ends this fight is that Rogue realizes how risky it is to stay, now that there are members facing off against her who are immune to her power, and that her advantage of stealth is no longer a factor.

That leaves the question: Why attack the Avengers? The goal seems to be for Rogue to amass powerful abilities beyond those of just Ms. Marvel--and after conferring with the remaining Avengers, Spider-Woman has a fair idea why.

As we've seen, Spider-Woman also brings the Avengers up to date on Danvers, and, in the process, learns of the events where Danvers left Earth's dimension. All in the room can only assume that the situation with Marcus didn't work out--though it doesn't explain why Danvers decided to remain incommunicado upon her return to Earth.

Meanwhile, Spider-Woman's assumption as to Rogue's next move has proven correct, as Mystique makes an assault on the maximum security location of incarcerated super-criminals, Ryker's Island, in order to break out the imprisoned members of the Brotherhood--making good use of the still-immobile Iron Man to disrupt power to the facility and thereby allow the prisoners in question to free themselves.

"Iron Man" or not, it's a fair bet that anyone striking an object "with the force of a small nuclear bomb" is going to wind up with every bone in their body shattered. On the same subject, how at ease would you feel at being told the nuclear device next to you that was primed to explode was only a small nuclear device? Would you have any impression whatsoever that you would survive?

Thanks to the precognitive Destiny's warning, the Brotherhood was ready and waiting for the jailbreak, and now suits up to join with Mystique and Rogue. But the Avengers have arrived for Round Two--and it is supposed to be their annual, isn't it?

At least the Avengers now know of the nature of Rogue's abilities, though, as Wanda cautions, she's now a formidable force to be reckoned with thanks to her stolen power. Yet the Brotherhood are no slackers in that department--and with Rogue fighting alongside them, the Avengers' chances seem slim, particularly when their remaining three strongest members are quickly taken out of the fight.

With Wanda injured by Avalanche's assault, that leaves Hawkeye to attempt to throw the Brotherhood off-balance--though not in time to prevent Avalanche from dealing with him, as well.

You've likely noticed that both Wonder Man and the Vision have been virtual nonparticipants in this story (along with Jocasta), quickly introduced into a scene only to be swiftly dispensed with by Claremont an opponent. The Vision should be able to drop the Blob like any other flesh-and-blood mortal, to say nothing of countering the Blob's density power with his own; while Wonder Man's invulnerability allows him to survive anything Pyro or the Blob dish out. It seems as if Claremont is repeatedly opening the door for Spider-Woman to pull the Avengers' fat of the fire--in this case, restoring Iron Man to the fight and evening the odds a bit. Though Mystique, in the guise of Nick Fury, almost gets the drop on her:

Again, we're not told why a story element which should have played out logically--here, Spider-Woman's assault on and capture of Mystique that by all rights should have been successful--is brushed aside by Claremont for reasons that don't exist. And with this conflict now heating up thanks to Iron Man's re-entrance, such instances are only going to stand out more. Fortunately, as he unloads on Rogue, at least the development concerning the limits of her power will be addressed, as the tide of battle finally begins to turn.

Seeing that the element of surprise has been lost, Mystique takes action to gather the remnants of her team and depart before it's too late (though for Claremont not to make greater use of an opponent who can take the form of anyone and thus sneak up on and eliminate members of the opposition is a genuine mystery). Mystique is piloting a top-secret aircraft to retrieve her crew, which Claremont sensibly has Iron Man recognize; but Claremont's casual evasions of logic continue, as Pyro, a mere mortal man who seems to have been harmed not at all by an exploding gas main, makes use of the burning fumes to create another flaming creature to attack the Avengers with.

Iron Man, intending to pursue Mystique, is forced to instead help Wanda against Pyro--even though, as he notes, her attack has transmuted Pyro's flame creature to a stone statue, lifeless and immobile. In other words, since Pyro controls flame and not stone, his creature is no longer a threat to the Scarlet Witch and requires no further action. Regardless, Claremont diverts Iron Man to this non-threat, since not to do so would presumably allow him to possibly uncover Mystique's connection with and infiltration of the Pentagon. Furthermore, with Mystique and Rogue on the run, only now are Wonder Man, the Vision, and Jocasta allowed to come out and play.

With the immediate threat of Rogue and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants dealt with, that leaves this action-packed annual to shift to a less action-based but what would prove to be equally tense encounter--the Avengers' reunion with the now-powerless Carol Danvers, a scene which essentially brings closure to David Michelinie's story in Avengers #200 which wrote finis to the career of Ms. Marvel following her title's cancellation over a year earlier. We'll examine both of these stories next.

Avengers Annual #10

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils and Colors: Michael Golden
Inks: Armando Gil
Letterer: Joe Rosen


Anonymous said...

As a Marvel fan, the annuals and Giant-Sized issues were the only things I missed out on because they weren't available to buy in the UK - I had no problems getting the Marvel Classics Comics featuring Tom Sawyer and Ivanhoe etc but no annuals :(

Comicsfan said...

Colin, I was about to suggest that you check out the TPBs for any annuals you're interested in--but it's a rare day I see annuals reprinted in that format. You can, however, find them included in those monster Omnibus hardcovers; you also might check out Marvel's digital line.