Wednesday, April 20, 2016

We'll Take Manhattan!

The action-packed Avengers #82 is mostly a fast-paced wrap-up issue, almost hurriedly tying up the loose ends of a number of prior stories. The paper trail breaks down like this:

  • The Zodiac crime cartel escapes capture by the Avengers;
  • Financier Cornelius Van Lunt makes a power play on Stark Industries as a ruse to hire the Avengers as his personal super-powered wrecking crew--while, unknown to everyone, his disgruntled aide, Wilkins, lays a deadly trap for the team in order to pin their murders on his despised employer (and fails);
  • The Avengers become involved with the man known as Red Wolf as he pursues his own vendetta against Van Lunt, but are forced to split their resources to help him, as some choose to remain in New York to track Zodiac;
  • The Black Panther and Daredevil team up against the gang known as the Thunderbolts in order to save one of the Panther's students and his brother; and finally,
  • The Avengers group that joins Red Wolf heads west to confront Van Lunt at his ranch.

From this issue's cover, it looks like the Avengers still in New York have been keeping busy--but we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit. First, a quick recap of where things stand: (a) the Avengers team that joined Red Wolf is just about to arrive back in New York; (b) the Panther and Daredevil have concluded their case; and (c) it's as yet undisclosed regarding any progress the Avengers in Manhattan have made in their hunt for Zodiac.

But we can at least give you an idea of what Zodiac has been up to:

Good grief! The Zodiac member known as Aries launches a pre-dawn invasion of Manhattan with a well-equipped, disciplined army! All of that intelligence equipment at Avengers Mansion, and the help of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Captain America and his team can't get a lead on the activities of a super-powered crime cartel? It's never a good sign when your enemies invade your city right under your masked noses!

For an issue that culminates with Zodiac launching an all-out siege of arguably the heart of New York City, oddly enough we don't see anything of Zodiac per se--only its current leader, Aries, who holds the powerful Zodiac key and who has assembled a virtual army (all in those wonderful trademark John Buscema furtive, hunched poses) to take the population of the entire island hostage. Aries--excuse me, Zodiac has planned this attack well--striking before dawn, using a special gas to take out police resistance, severing access to the island, seizing the mayor, and enclosing the entire island within a force field that paralyzes anyone attempting to parachute in. And the hostage count includes some notable figures whose capture can only further demoralize resistance.

To put Aries' Zodiac's demands into perspective, we should keep in mind that Zodiac is an international crime cartel, and not necessarily an organization that seeks world dominion or political control in the conventional sense; so while it seems anti-climactic in a comic book to see Aries go on live television and demand a monetary ransom given the stakes involved, it still technically fits with Zodiac's profile.

Let's also keep in mind that a billion dollars in late 1970 was a pretty hefty sum; even so, you have to figure that Zodiac has a lot of overhead to account for, as far as equipment, weaponry, troop pay, aircraft, gas supply, etc. (though a lot of the cost outlay is offset by use of the Zodiac key, in terms of the destruction of infrastructure and the force field).

On another note, don't you sometimes just want to throttle writer Roy Thomas, who uses the Scarlet Witch so sparingly in Avengers stories? "My fists... even the Vision's powers... can't get thru, so what's left to try?" "Perhaps nothing... save prayer!" Or, how about letting your fellow Avenger, the Scarlet Witch, weigh in before you throw in the towel? You remember her, right? The one standing right next to you? The one who also has super-powers? The one who can--oh I'll just throw this out there--disrupt force fields?

Meanwhile, the Panther and Daredevil have joined forces again while the city is under siege, and make tracks for where the Panther believes the Avengers are being held captive. Freeing the Avengers is the best course of action to take, in order to most effectively strike back against Aries and his forces; unfortunately, Aries is a step ahead of them.

Once DD and the Panther have departed, Aries decides he must make good on his threat to execute the Avengers, to show that he means business and that his demands and threats are to be taken seriously. Consequently, he rounds up a large herd of civilians and packs them into Madison Square Garden to witness the event, in order to send a clear message that resistance of any kind will not be tolerated. But resistance is exactly what the Panther and Daredevil have in mind, in a plan which hinges on Daredevil getting close enough to the Avengers to strike.

Aries is no fool--even with the Zodiac key at his disposal along with his army, he realizes that the Avengers will likely prevail. (Though given how busy the Avengers are at mopping up the enemy troops, I'm surprised Aries doesn't at least try to use the key's might to tip the odds. The thing has proven to be a force to be reckoned with.) And still no full complement of Zodiac in this final confrontation; yet it's clear enough that the Avengers have their hands full as it is.

Aries manages to make a break for it during the melee, though not without his escape being noticed--but as his freedom becomes less likely, he becomes desperate enough to ensure that he takes all of his hostages down with him.

With the force field down, the army troops swiftly move in--and, as Iron Man noted, the writing is on the wall for the Zodiac forces, who are rounded up in short order. (So much for being well-disciplined--they fold like a tent.) After things are wrapped up, the Avengers compare notes, and discover just how deep Van Lunt's ties with Zodiac were, in addition to the discovery of the cartel's connection to the Thunderbolts.

We know that Zodiac would strike at the Avengers another day, and with a new leader, whose identity is both surprising yet right in front of us--and this time, the entire Zodiac cartel would be in the fight, with the Zodiac key replaced by a deadly new weapon. Unlike this encounter, it gives the Avengers a chance to close out their loose ends regarding the cartel and take Zodiac off the grid once and for all. Unfortunately, their foes have the same intentions concerning them.

Avengers #82

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Tom Palmer
Letterer: Sam Rosen


Britt Reid said...

One aspect you didn't mention is that Thomas and Buscema showed why other super-powered NYC residents didn't join in the fight.
Spidey was home in the bungalow he shared with Aunt May in Queens and the FF were at Agatha Harkness' upstate home.
They were all outside the force field.
Most of the time people just forget to account for all the other costumed characters who tend to hang out and/or do battle in Manhattan!

Comicsfan said...

There's never a superhero around when another superhero needs one, Britt. Except in team-up mags, that is--and then they practically trip over one another! Fortunately, the Avengers had DD and the Panther going for them, eh?

Rip Jagger said...

Love this period of the Avengers, I was all in at the time. The Zodiac were always a fave of mine, appearing not infrequently in the Avengers and elsewhere. I got the vague sense we would learn all about all the members eventually, but we never did. When Englehart replaced them with androids the concept lost steam.

Rip Off

Comicsfan said...

Rip, if I'm not mistaken, you may be referring to the David Kraft story from The Defenders, where Scorpio created new Zodiac members in his genetics lab--while Englehart's story featured the real deal. (Though they ended up just as beaten!) Certainly one of the most off-beat Defenders stories out there.