Monday, May 23, 2016

Confound It--The Attack Of The Demi-Gods!

As hard an act to follow as the epic Kree-Skrull War admittedly was in The Avengers, there was still the book's 100th issue waiting in the wings, which perhaps felt like an anti-climax to what had come before. A three-part "mini-epic" that brought the assemblers into conflict with Ares, the Grecian god of war, in a scheme to invade Asgard, the story is likely better known for eventually gathering together the entire roster of the Avengers (including the Hulk)--something that hadn't been attempted to any degree since the 1967 Avengers Annual.

As to what else this story offers overall--well, you have to do some digging, as well as overlook a few things that writer Roy Thomas includes in order to have the story progress from Point A to Point B to Point C, some of which were covered in the PPC review of the aforementioned issue #100. The penultimate issue, which we take a look at today, will serve to bring us up to speed on the events of the story's beginning, as well as set the stage for the Avengers' invasion of Olympus which follows--and we pick things up after the Avengers have recovered one of their own, and turn their attention to the mysterious arrival of another team member, who recites a prophecy of doom that pronounces not only the fall of Asgard, but Earth, as well.

After their return to Earth from the Kree-Skrull War, the Avengers turned their attention to ascertaining the status of Goliath, who has not been seen or heard from since he was sent to stop a Skrull ship that had been dispatched to Earth with orders to destroy it. The presumption is that Goliath succeeded in his mission, since Earth was never attacked--but he is feared dead, since all living Avengers who participated in the conflict were summoned into the presence of the Kree Supreme Intelligence in the closing moments of the war, and Goliath was not present in the gathering. However, Thomas pays a great deal of attention to Clint Barton in this story, and he starts with a flashback of how the powerless Goliath survived the encounter with armed Skrulls--returning to an identity that has stood the test of time and would continue to do so.

Fortunately, Barton's luck continues to hold, as he crash-lands on Earth and finds himself in Europe--where falling in with a traveling carnival group allows him to reaffirm his identity as Hawkeye, as he begins to slowly make his way back home.

It's a splendid "welcome back" gesture to Hawkeye on Thomas's part, where even Thomas--who pivoted Barton to the Goliath role in the first place--seems appreciative of Hawkeye's return.

Barton shortly discovers that he's closer to the Avengers than he realizes--or one of them, at least--when a storm traps his wagon in a flooded ravine, and another of the carnival's performers comes to his rescue. One who turns out to be well-named, indeed.

Barton's new friend Rudolfo explains that Hercules was found by the group in some Grecian ruins with no memory of his past, and taken in just as Barton was. Later, after a collect call to the States, the pair fly back to New York, where Hawkeye comes to Thor's rescue during the Avengers' initial altercation with Ares and subsequently brings Hercules' memory problem to their attention.

Judging by the issue's splash page seen above, the last people you would want to get help from with a case of amnesia would be the Avengers, nor would it be the only time they would resort to using that shock machine of theirs to try to jog someone's lost memories. Unsuccessful, they return to questioning Hercules the old-fashioned (not to mention humane) way; but the interlude allows the story to touch base with the personal lives of other members of the team who tend to blend into the background while Thor and Iron Man are in residence, while also allowing Hawkeye to reacclimate to his Avengers status. In one scene, the two amount to one and the same, with Hawkeye making a brazen play for the Scarlet Witch.

It's one of the few times where Hawkeye's cocky attitude is inexcusable--as this time it crosses the line to arrogant presumption, given that (a) he and Wanda have never been on the same page romantically and (b) that it's quite a leap to suggest romance and the prospect of marriage in the same breath. Either way, the effect of Hawkeye's little announcement on the Vision is obvious--and Wanda shortly discovers that her brother is feeling similarly ill at ease, though in his case it's the Vision who's the cause of his discomfort.

Hawkeye would go on to pursue the matter with Wanda, to his disappointment; for now, the rest of the Avengers suddenly find themselves under attack from two Olympian demi-gods sent to retrieve Hercules. What follows is a one-sided battle where the Avengers must fall out of necessity, since, given the collective power of their current members, there is no reason for them not to give a better showing of themselves or make better use of their respective powers and abilities. Thomas, however, must see to their defeat, in order to set up the story's climax in the next issue--and to get us there, he makes a laughing stock of the so-called mighty Avengers.

Again, the focus returns to Hawkeye, arguably the heart of this team's spirit after Captain America and who rallies the remaining members to an attack posture. (Including Rick Jones, who... who.... well, as usual, Rick seems to be serving no purpose in an Avengers story, yet can still count on a seat at the membership roundtable. Color me shocked.) As for the others? Quicksilver is dealt with all too easily, a super-speedster who can't seem to find the speed to dodge. Iron Man's technological might is downplayed and dispensed with as if this character had never fought a pitched battle in his life. The equally battle-savvy Captain America is simply overwhelmed. And Thor--Thor, mind you--finds his movements are "slow... sluggish," when he's fought more lengthy battles against more powerful gods with stamina that would make a track star envious.

Meanwhile, in a perhaps inappropriately timed but strangely intriguing change of pace, we cut to a more sedate and congenial scene taking place below the battle, as the Vision and the Avengers' butler, Jarvis, have the first of their "pantry talks" that have been followed up on in issues such as FOOM Magazine and Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Here, the subject is, unsurprisingly, Wanda; and what does come as a surprise is how much the Vision lowers his guard and speaks in frank tones to Jarvis, who, much like a bartender, knows when to be a listener.

Above, Kratos and Bia prepare to make off with their target, Hercules--while the Avengers who are still on their feet, though resolute, find their hands tied by Thomas as tightly as those of their fallen teammates. Hawkeye's quiver carries none of the custom, technologically-dazzling arrows he normally lets fly; instead, he fires shaft after shaft of standard-tipped arrows against foes in armor and helmets, not even aiming for their more vulnerable extremities. Wanda hopes to "confound" her enemies with her power--and Thomas, perhaps wanting to make clear she's not totally useless in a fight, throws us a bone and has Bia actually verbally confirm that he's been confounded. As a result, the story bludgeons us over the head with the relief that this particular tactic has worked. In terms of how this scene has been managed, I can't help but be as confounded as Bia, frankly.

Finally, the Vision arrives to tip the scale of this battle back to the Avengers--at least he likely could, if even his wraith-like hands hadn't been tied by the writer by, of all things, a domestic dispute with a romantic rival.

Game, set and match to the demi-gods, who make a clean getaway with Hercules and leave the Avengers to clean up in their wake. Hawkeye is quick to make sure the Vision is held accountable for his inaction (with Rick providing confirmation, in the only contribution he's made here today--hardly the one to chime in here about someone remaining on the sidelines). Hawkeye could be sounding off because of his own feelings for Wanda--or he could be acting in the best interests of the team, which seems more likely since he's as yet unaware of Wanda's feelings for the Vision.  It's difficult to pin it down, which makes the scene work and shape up as the kind of ending that shows the Avengers at their lowest ebb before they pull themselves together to tackle the crisis.

And then there's Wanda, whose reaction here seems mostly geared to throw the Vision a curve ball in terms of his feelings.

It honestly took several re-reads of this story for me to reach the point of finding things in it that justified its cover price--mostly because the Kree-Skrull War story had raised the bar of the Avengers to such a degree that I was expecting that bar to remain in place. "...They First Make Mad!" initially came up short for me in that respect, with its plot involving Ares on incredibly shaky ground and its art by Barry Smith difficult to adjust to after the likes of Neal Adams and John Buscema. Two Olympian errand boys walking over the Avengers like costumed doormats didn't help matters, either. Hawkeye was perhaps this story's only saving grace, in my opinion. Think how much more exciting it might have read if he'd remembered to grab his other quiver of arrows.

The Avengers #99

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Barry Smith
Inks: Tom Sutton
Letterer: Art Simek


B Smith said...

When this issue first appeared, I'd been reading Marvel comics for just over a year, and as a clueless youngster was still getting the hang of different artists. For the Avengers, John and Sal Buscema were meat-and-potatoes sorts who turned out the sort of vigorous work that first impressed me the most...Neal Adams struck a chord because (of all things) the Zipatone used by Tom Palmer, and this Barry Smith fellow had done work I'd seen in some early issues of Conan. I'd stopped reading Conan by then because I didn't like his art(my tastes really were unformed back then)!

To see him now in the Avengers was slightly disconcerting, and annoying because by then there were bits I liked, and bits I didn't. Looking back, it's interesting to see what effect different inkers had on his pencil work - Giacoia and Buscema in the Conan books made him look slicker and more "mainstream"...I've only just noticed that Tom Sutton did the honours here, and it gives Smith's pencils a look quite distinct from the barbarian book (though I'd swear there was a Romita touch on one of those Cap faces).

However, by then I also wondered just what Rick Jones had done to get such preferred treatment - in fact, I still don't know!

And looking at those panels you put up....Quicksilver reading L Ron Hubbard?!

Anonymous said...

Holy shmolies, Quicksilver IS reading L. Ron Hubbard! I didn't notice that! What gives?
Yeah, Thor really punked out in this comic. He shoulda made hamburger outta those two yahoos. They're merely demigods. And Hawkeye's miniskirt doesn't do anything for me either. What was he thinking?

Rick said...

Checked out "Fear" on Wiki. It's a horror novella from the 40's. Thankfully, Pietro was not being indoctrinated into Scientology.