Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Spirit Of The Avengers

Once the Hulk angrily departed the Avengers, it was a chain of events involving the team's attempts to settle their affairs with the man-monster (and, along the way, the Sub-Mariner) which led to the fortuitous discovery of the still-alive form of Captain America, who would eventually take his place in their ranks--events which are abridged in writer Joe Casey's eight-part series from 2005, Earth's Mightiest Heroes, which supplements the scenes we're already familiar with from that period of Avengers history with behind-the-scenes new material that adds perspective and a sense of realism to what has gone before.  Casey's EMH project isn't focused on simply recreating those pages of Avengers with contemporary artwork (by Scott Kolins); rather, it probes the team in other areas and provides more food for thought, as the Avengers deal with the day-to-day details which must be seen to as they establish the foundation of their alliance, as well as face the repercussions of their stumbles.

We've already seen examples of each in the first issue of the series, as the team's reputation and trust that they were trying to build with the public had been severely damaged by the departure and subsequent rampages of the Hulk, a charter member of their team that they strongly vouched for and launched a media offensive around that stressed that the brute was no longer a threat. When they come across Cap, floating within a block of ice in the ocean, it comes at a time when they were having doubts as to whether or not to continue, following unsuccessful attempts to deal with the Hulk which could only call into question their ability to work as an effective (and trustworthy) team of heroes.

In his look at the Avengers, Casey's stories tend to bypass much of the lore that we would normally expect to find in the team's beginnings, and perhaps that's the point. We're drawn into this story for altogether different reasons than to focus on the Avengers' classic battles; instead, we're discovering how and why the Avengers form, what they hope to accomplish, and how that mission is sustained. To do that, it isn't important or even necessary that those famous early battles are rehashed in their entirety; instead, Casey shifts our attention to points of interest which the original stories took for granted. For instance, there's Iron Man and his ongoing efforts to secure for the team priority status from the government, which he feels is crucial for the Avengers to operate effectively; yet that's going to require evidence that the Avengers are a stable organization and can be trusted in the role they're proposing to assume, which explains why Iron Man was so adamant about getting a handle on the Hulk situation and why everyone is so dejected when that situation imploded. Agent Murch, their liaison to the National Security Council, also becomes an important character in these issues, since it's his responsibility to determine whether or not the Avengers pass muster as a reliable and effective entity--and, depending on whether or not Captain America can acclimate to the present, Murch knows that Iron Man, as it stands right now, doesn't have a leg to stand on in that regard.

Then there's Thor, who of course radiates trust and heroism as well as a dedication to fight with this new group against injustice. Thor "fits in" practically anywhere as an ally--yet will he have the patience to wait around cooling his heels while mortals play their bureaucratic games? Thor turns out to be the only member of this team that Casey backs off from examining too closely; instead, we mainly see how Thor reacts to the actions of his fellow Avengers.  Also, Casey has taken an interest in showing how the others are a bit uncomfortable with Thor's assertions that he's indeed the Asgardian god he claims to be. Aside from that, Thor has yet to relate to the team members on a personal level, beyond the fact that he has an undeniable presence that's both impressive and inspiring. You would think that Thor, throwing in with this team of mortal heroes, would have more of an opinion to offer as to how they should proceed; but he often defers to them to handle not only their operation but also the mundane matters of solidifying the concept of "the Avengers" with the public, as well as the bureaucracy vis-à-vis the government, which all must seem very trivial to him.

Here and there, though, Casey will provide an unexpected scene or two that features Thor's input--nothing on the scale of what he might truly have to offer in terms of a contribution other than his good right arm, but important in the sense of not wishing to simply remain on the sidelines.

As for Captain America, it makes perfect sense for the Avengers to examine him following their return and while he's in recovery, as well as to verify his identity--after all, this is some discovery they've inadvertently made. There is no formal talk yet of proposing Avengers membership to Cap; in fact, it's really a subject which shouldn't even be on the table given his unfocused state and that his full memories presently elude him. But it's clearly on the collective mind of the group; and in light of Iron Man's obsession over the team obtaining priority status, the discovery of Cap's high security clearance makes Cap an even more desirable prospect for membership.

Casey also takes some time to explore a conspicuous character in this early stage of the Avengers' career--the person who has ingratiated himself into their adventures simply by virtue of the fact that his emergency transmission to the Fantastic Four regarding the Hulk was intercepted and relayed to Ant-Man, Iron Man, and Thor, while his further involvement with the Hulk gave him informal access to the new team they subsequently formed. It's still an issue or two before Captain America would take him under his wing--but Rick Jones, a member of the "Teen Brigade" and a friend to Bruce Banner, was already becoming familiar with the amenities of what would become known as Avengers Mansion.

Rick would likely raise an outcry from the NSC if the Avengers' priority clearance had been in effect at the time, as easily as the teenager tended to breeze on and off the premises in order to raid Jarvis's pantry. But since that wasn't the case, and with no other Avengers staying in residence, Rick could pretty much come and go as he pleased. On this occasion, the impression he leaves Cap with is little more than a shrug at his carefree manner--but indirectly, the encounter leaves Jarvis with an opportunity in a relaxed setting to suggest a new direction to Cap. And the rest, as we well know, is history, as Cap goes on to embrace his new role as an Avenger.

Cap, in return, provides the Avengers with the drive and the spirit to rededicate themselves to their cause--to have faith in and forge ahead with their alliance, fitting and working together more smoothly as a team and finding their morale to be strengthened as a result. Cap has often been said to be the heart and soul of the Avengers, but I would clarify that by saying that he is more its spirit--which seems appropriate, given his role as the symbol of American ideals and resolve.

Casey, as he has at other times during both this EMH series and the second, shuffles his Avengers history a little too loosely in these scenes, specifically in regard to the four words Cap exclaims to Rick on the battlefield while engaging the Lava Men. Having settled into his new membership with the Avengers, Cap in his down time had taken it upon himself to train with Rick (and the rest of Rick's Brigade)--and when Thor arrives to alert Cap to the Lava Men threat, Cap excuses himself but insists Rick attend the team meeting and later accompany them in the field.

In Casey's version, Cap appears to be annoyed at Rick's continued insertion of himself into Avengers affairs, and specifically into situations where his vulnerability forces a team member to divide their attention in order to protect him from injury.  (Though in Cap's outburst in the EMH revision, perhaps Casey is speaking for all of us who have wanted to say the same words to Rick in regard to his association with the Avengers!)

The issue ends on a relatively quiet note, with Tony Stark using the Avengers' handling of the Lava Men incident and Captain America's very visible presence as part of the team to again broach the subject of the Avengers' security clearance status with Agent Murch. For his part, Murch is still cautious, perhaps remembering the loose cannon that the Hulk proved to be after his membership was fast-tracked through channels--and reminding Stark that Cap still doesn't have his head on straight, as it were. A fact that's likely apparent to everyone, especially the man in question.

Earth's Mightiest Heroes #2

Script: Joe Casey
Pencils and Inks: Scott Kolins
Letterer: Richard Starkings

1 comment:

Kitty Trundle said...

more than half of the inking lines look like they were done with a 2005 Acer laptop with Flash MX using a 2004 wacom tablet. :[

I realize Kolins was likely going for some Gil Kane feel here, but w/inking, anything 'wacom-ish or cintiq-like' sucks compared to actual brush rendering or hunt nibs linework, ala Sinnott or Adkins or Plmer or Rubenstein or Grainger. Or even Starlin inking his own Warlocks. It's the equivalent of a hipster-wank beard versus Abraham Lincoln's beard: designed to draw attention to itself for no reason other than wanting attention while (falsely) claiming to be minimal, in order to allow the perils/layout to receive attention.

The writing, and layout, and body-language, and coloring is fab and delicious, though.

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