Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"...Wherein Lies My Duty"

You'll find no shortage of posts at the PPC featuring the Avengers' devoted butler, Jarvis, yet no profile of this gentleman's gentleman* would be complete without a look at the story that follows up on the injuries inflicted on him during the seizing of Avengers Mansion by the Masters of Evil--specifically, the brutal treatment he received at the hands of the sadistic and merciless Mr. Hyde. Held hostage inside the mansion along with Captain America and the Black Knight, Jarvis was beaten nearly to death by Hyde, who was acting under the orders of Baron Zemo in order to break Cap's spirit--though Hyde, having had his own operations foiled by Cap in the past, needed no urging to take out his anger on someone that Cap highly regarded.

(*The term is used by Jarvis himself, though it traditionally applies to a valet, rather than a butler.)

The Avengers eventually turned the tables on Zemo and his cohorts, fortunately in time to save Jarvis's life and rush him to medical care. And now, receiving the grim prognosis of his recovery from his doctor, he becomes the subject of a special issue of The Avengers by writer Bob Harras that forces him to make a decision on whether or not to return to work, as he faces the reality that his life is in danger so long as he sees to the needs of Earth's mightiest heroes.

Harras takes an interesting approach to this story; for instance, of the Avengers pictured on this issue's cover, all of whom appear to have Jarvis in their thoughts, only one of them appears at his bedside to pay his respects. Since Jarvis holds the Avengers in such high esteem, their absence during an issue which sees him in such low (if contemplative) spirits during his recovery is conspicuous. We can at least give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they've come to visit him off-panel, on more than one occasion--but Harris appears to waive some valuable story material, in favor of Jarvis spending the bulk of the story reliving some of his earliest memories with the team.

Nor does that single Avenger who visits arrive in the form of his status as an Avenger, but as an employer--though the fact that Jarvis is so delighted to see him speaks well of their relationship.

As we can see, Jarvis has underplayed the extent of his injuries in order to put his employer at ease, even though Stark's main concern in broaching the subject of retirement is Jarvis's future well-being. And with Jarvis's financial standing assured, thanks to Stark, Harras has cleared the path for the story to focus on only one question: Whether Jarvis wants to stay.

To put the matter into perspective, Jarvis thinks back to all the changes the Avengers have gone through--scenes which for the most part provide us with his thoughts during key moments of their history. The Avengers were not what Jarvis "signed on for" in Stark's employ, yet it's to his credit that he decided to remain in his position and not leave Stark in the lurch while his duties at Stark's townhouse changed significantly. And as the Avengers evolved, it doesn't escape his notice during his reminiscences that there were times when the Avengers themselves faced occasions when they had to make the difficult decision to leave.

It's not entirely clear at this point in the story what Harras's intentions are in terms of the decision that Jarvis will make. It's evident that the beating he received from Hyde preoccupies his thoughts, as it would anyone who was a victim of the man's brutality. But as he sifts through memories of his time with the team, particularly those times when certain Avengers felt compelled to depart, it almost seems as if he's looking for similar reasons to apply to himself--balanced by an equally persistent search for a reason to stay.

As the panel with Pietro above teases, Jarvis's recollections are forced to include the period when he betrayed the Avengers to a prior incarnation of the Masters of Evil, for reasons never fully explored by then-writer Roy Thomas beyond the need for Jarvis to sell out to the criminal group in order to acquire sufficient funds to finance expensive treatments for his ailing mother. Harras, however, will need to account for Jarvis's behavior beyond a simple lapse in judgment, if he wishes to establish the man with a higher sense of duty and obligation than what was displayed in Thomas's story. Fortunately, there's a way available to do that, with only a slight tweak to those events that again involves that story's villain-behind-the-curtain, Ultron-5.

With that hurdle cleared, other recollections follow which offer insight rather than any link to Jarvis's state of mind in terms of how he will move forward. For example, he recalls many hours spent in talks with both Captain America and the Vision. There's also a curious segment which reveals his rather deprecating opinion of Mantis during her stay at the mansion with the Swordsman, along with a disapproving opinion of Moondragon as well as the Wasp's flirtatious nature--both of which appear to be uncharacteristically unprofessional sentiments coming from one who makes it a point to keep his personal judgments of his charges in check. (Though perhaps Harras feels that Jarvis's musings fall outside the standards which he adheres to on the job.) All of which culminate in an acknowledgement of his desire to nevertheless serve all of the Avengers and their guests to the best of his ability.

But then the pendulum swings the other way once again, returning his focus to whether he can find the strength within himself that mirrors that of the Avengers in the difficulties and trials they've had to overcome over time. And it's through that analogy that Jarvis sees the way forward, in a moment of affirmation that has him standing as tall as any Avenger, in a manner unmistakably his own.

When you think about it, a butler tending to the Avengers is quite an interesting concept to have run with in the book, since Stark makes an excellent point: Avengers Mansion isn't the place for a normal man to be in residence, as ripe a target as it is for being attacked--and no foe is going to hesitate to use Jarvis as a means to gain either leverage or information. Coming up, we'll see just how Jarvis got his start in the comic, and the steps that were taken to give him a little more of the limelight.

The Avengers #280

Script: Bob Harras
Breakdowns: Bob Hall
Finisher: Kyle Baker
Letterer: Janice Chiang


david_b said...

This was probably one of my fav and most poignant issues of all...

First off, loved the sketchy approach to the art. Big John's art was always spectacular, but the change for this issue really resonated with Jarvis's flashback sequences.

Again, nice change of pace, and issues like these should have a guest artist to really make 'em stand out.

Comicsfan said...

You make a good point about the fresh perspective a different artist brings to these kinds of stories, david. Now that you mention it, I could think of several artists that I would have liked to have seen offer their interpretations of this particular Jarvis story.

Big Murr said...

Ha! This entry sent me thinking on "Great Moments with Jarvis", which then sent me specifically looking for "Thor" #356 where Hercules and Jarvis go shopping. And who wrote that delightful fill-in issue? Bob Harras! It would seem Mr. Harras has the esteemed Edwin Jarvis as his favourite "go-to" character!

Comicsfan said...

If you haven't found the link to that issue by now, Murray, I'm happy to provide it. (But I wouldn't let Thor get wind of it, if I were you.)