Monday, November 9, 2015

Like Grandfather, Like Granddaughter

Writer Roger Stern's run on The Avengers is arguably remembered for two main reasons (three, if you're counting the presence of artists John Buscema and Tom Palmer, who turned in some exemplary work on the book): the ascension of Captain Marvel, and the wealth of characterization which he took the time to establish. Both are present to some degree in issue #259, which serves as a transition story that catches the Avengers "in-between" adventures but picks up on the threads of one which has been taking place outside of their jurisdiction.

It's one of my favorite Avengers issues, and without a single punch being thrown from or toward an Avenger--though that's not to say there isn't a great deal happening in this story. Stern has been laying a lot of groundwork with the plans of Nebula, the granddaughter of the one and only Thanos, and this issue mainly serves to involve the Avengers in heading off her threat. The team has only recently returned from the Savage Land and a battle with Terminus--only to encounter Firelord, at the conclusion of a life-or-death battle between the former herald of Galactus and Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel, misled by the Vision and sent on a fool's errand to assess the status of "Sanctuary II," the massive weapon-ship of Thanos, has encountered Nebula and been whisked to the Andromeda galaxy, with Nebula confiscating Sanctuary II and using it to expand her power base.

As the Avengers will learn, matters with Nebula are even more complicated, since she's involved herself in the power struggles of the remnants of Skrulls who remain after the destruction of their throneworld by Galactus. Nebula has already been denied the prize of a formidable base of a Skrull armada commanded by General Zedrao, thanks to the actions of Captain Marvel--and now she brings Thanos's starship to another Skrull world, where she deals harshly with its governor behind the scenes and moves on to conscript its forces.

Fortunately, Marvel has managed to send a distress call to the Avengers, who have finally put their house in order after the Vision's power play. But before the call to assemble rings out, Stern spends time giving us a few scenes that allow us to further come to know the Avengers' new core team, consisting of the Black Knight, Starfox, Hercules, Captain America, and the Wasp (which also includes Marvel)--a well-balanced lineup which has already made a favorable impression in terms of its teamwork against Terminus but which Stern will rejoin in its entirety in this issue to hopefully demonstrate its ability to come to a consensus in dealing with a high-stakes conflict that may or may not warrant their involvement.

First, there's the matter of Firelord to resolve, whom Hercules has taken custody of and who has agreed to assist in making restitution to the city following his rampage against Spider-Man by performing a series of tasks well-suited to his flame power. Normally, his ego would chafe at the thought of such menial work--but fortunately, his prior dealings with Hercules have allowed the son of Zeus to "manage" him to a certain degree and help to bring him in line with assisting with reparations, as well as other jobs which might in our terms boil down to "community service."

(Hercules' closing words, likely a wink of humor on Stern's part, are probably not lost on any Marvel reader, who no doubt would call them an understatement.)

While Captain America takes in stride not only the minutiae of the Avengers' restructuring in association with his own activities, but also his ever-present role as a national symbol--all of which take a back seat to the fact that there's an Avenger missing in action.

Once Cap checks in with the Wasp, the priority alarm brings everyone to the communications center, where Captain Marvel's garbled distress call finally arrives--short on details, but which still allows Starfox to get a fix on its point of origin. And thanks to a faster-than-light ship sent from Starfox's father on Titan, the Avengers (along with Firelord) soon emerge into another galaxy--where they're met by a fleet of Skrull saucers, and a happy reunion with their sixth member.

Marvel fills the Avengers in on her circumstances--how she fell in with Nebula, and how she came to help the Skrulls who were in danger of annihilation from the weaponry of Thanos's ship. But in order to give the team a full assessment, she escorts them to Zedrao, who as a Skrull shares his warriors' misgivings about forming an alliance with the Avengers but who is enough of a pragmatist to know that it's in their best interests.

Through Zedrao's briefing, the Avengers come to understand the chaos that ensued following the destruction of the throneworld and the death of Empress R'klll, events that unfortunately leave the Skrulls ripe for the rise of Nebula and her mercenary armies.

Marvel's intervention in Nebula's near-fatal attack on Zedrao's base allowed the Skrulls to deceive Nebula into thinking that her attack had succeeded, giving the Skrull armada a chance to escape and regroup. That brings the Avengers up to speed on where things stand--but Marvel is adamant about the Avengers joining the Skrulls to stop Nebula, and that's where things get interesting. It appears that not everyone is on board with Marvel--certainly not Firelord, whose home of Xandar was once viciously attacked by the Skrulls and whose temper forces his objections to be loudly voiced.

Yet there's also discussion among the Avengers, on the verge of inserting themselves into a conflict between two warring interstellar forces--and appear to be taking a "devil you know vs. the devil you don't" approach to determining their course of action.

As you've perhaps noticed in these scenes, Stern takes several opportunities in this story to have several members of the Avengers defer to the judgment of Captain Marvel, whom we know in hindsight is being groomed for Avengers leadership--yet those opportunities cast a conspicuous if inadvertent shadow on the Wasp, practically causing her to fade into the background on this mission.  I personally would have liked to see the Wasp contribute more to the discussion than simple assent; she's one of two founding members present here who is best in a position to weigh the history and involvement of the Avengers in various past conflicts and come to a decision that draws on that history and helps her team be comfortable in their role here. Captain Marvel has made cool, logical assessments of the situation that fall in line with Zedrao's perspective of Nebula's threat; but there was room as well as the need for Jan to make a responsible call for the team, only to be the last one to chime in, and at Cap's request. With the story's title, "Duty Over All!", Stern seems to speak for her--but is Jan so incapable of putting that into words on her own?

While this summit has been taking place, Nebula has received word that Zedrao's armada survived her strike on his base--and she begins marshaling her forces for an eventual attack from his forces. The first casualty, however, is Gorth, the Skrull governor that Nebula assassinates when he panics at the news and frantically urges Nebula to follow his directives in the deployment of Sanctuary II. The legacy of Thanos appears to be in good hands, indeed.

The Avengers attack! Nebula under siege! And a ringer no one expected!

The Avengers #259

Script: Roger Stern
Breakdowns: John Buscema
Finisher: Tom Palmer
Letterer: Jim Novak


Anonymous said...

Great post, C.F.
I enjoyed the banter and interplay between Hercules and Firelord. These guys have history, have been comrades-in-arms, and as far as Hercules is concerned, he (Herc) is perfectly justified in reading ANYBODY the riot act, be they gods or cosmic entities, because, hey, he's Hercules, dammit. So he doesn't hesitate to smack a former herald of Galactus upside the head and tell him to cut the crap. And because of their past history, and maybe because he just took a pounding off Spider-man of all people, the normally hot-headed Firelord (no pun intended) meekly takes it, and even listens quietly to advice from Hercules, who isn't somebody most people would take advice from, if they had a choice.
One of many enjoyable elements in this arc, although it did leave me wistfully wondering when they were finally gonna bring you-know-who back, and return to the heady days of classic space opera.

david_b said...

Mixed feeling about this tenure..., I had **just** gotten back into comic collecting since 1975. I loved the Stern/Buscema approach (mercifully I missed the dreaded issues since ish 200...).

I didn't like Marvel nor Starfox as team characters at all. Marvel was easy, I just wasn't over Mar-Vell being dead and gone.

As for Starfox..? Much like the later Doc Druid, I didn't see any scenario where he was worthy of being an Avenger. Now Herc..? He and Janet together was good, humorous dynamics, with both Dane and Cap serving as virtual straight men.

I enjoyed how Roger and John played out the entire Skrull story.., just outstanding characterizations and impeccable art.

Just gorgeous.

Comicsfan said...

M.P., I think Firelord's deference to Hercules all comes down to a matter of equals--i.e., the fact that Hercules is a god gives both of them equal standing with each other as far as Firelord is concerned, with neither of them regarded as inferior toward the other. It's also helped by, as you point out, the battles that Firelord has shared with both Hercules and Thor, giving "cred" to both of these Earth-gods in Firelord's eyes and allowing him to let down his guard, as he would otherwise keep such "inferiors" at a discrete distance.

david, I've had the opposite impression of C.M.--I thought she made a terrific Avenger (until, as you imply, Stern's run came to an end), and that her being in charge when the Avengers went to Olympus was a great example of her capabilities as a leader. I was very disappointed when she relinquished the title of "Captain Marvel," as I thought her assumption of the name was a fitting tribute to Mar-vell and a fine way for that name to continue. Starfox, on the other hand, was more of a novelty as an Avenger, with no real potential for growth and no ability to distinguish him other than a power to make people more agreeable. Just saying that makes it sound like a silly ability to bring to the Avengers' roundtable.