Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tomorrow Dies Today!

I don't recall ever hearing a critical word said of Avengers #167, and that's likely with good reason. There seems to be general consensus that the issue can do no wrong, an assessment that I happen to agree with. Published in early 1978, its story falls in the middle (give or take a couple of issues) of writer Jim Shooter's well-received run on the book, and not only begins a new extended arc that would involve a major incursion from a new Avengers foe, but would also deal in the deadly Ultron and end his threat once and for all. (Well, at least the Avengers will be convinced that's the case. As the saying goes, "That trick never works!") Top it off with the return of Hawkeye, and you've got the makings of a nice TPB for your bookshelf.

Also, as its cover makes clear, the issue pushes the appearance of some guest-stars that have been showing up in Marvel stories with some frequency lately--though it doesn't look like the Avengers have put out the welcome mat for them, does it??

With artist George Perez returning to the mag after a four-issue absence, the anticipation for this new set of stories is understandably high for the reader, and Shooter's pacing as always takes its time in making each story count. Starting off, however, he doesn't have the Avengers taking any time, responding to an alert from S.H.I.E.L.D. about a massive orbital construct that's suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

As is Shooter's style, there are many nuggets of characterization tucked into these scenes that, cumulatively, add a good deal of enjoyment to the reading experience. By this point I was still trying to make up my mind about the Beast, so very different from the Hank McCoy I'd become familiar with from the X-Men book--even different from the character he became after his chemically-induced change. As an Avenger, his sense of humor and wisecracks are all over the place--much like himself, living up to his new description as "the bouncing Beast"--as if that's the only way he can stand out in this group. Hello, have you seen this creature? Is anyone aware of how he can lose control? How would the Avengers deal with their own Wolverine? The Beast is the only character that Shooter seems to have trouble getting a handle on, and with this issue he appears to be making an effort to turn that around; it's just perhaps not the approach that might benefit him the most.

By contrast, these scenes make clear that the formula established for Captain America works as well as ever; even on the run, he manages to make a point of mentioning the importance of the early bird getting the worm, a regimen he's no doubt followed since his army days in the 1940s. Cap remains the model Avenger--though that's not to say I would want to see the other Avengers lose their own spark of discipline and become lost in his shadow. The Beast himself notes that, sogginess aside, he reaches the communications room before Cap or Wanda.

Shooter also writes well the irascible Nick Fury, who doesn't mince words and has his transmission's static to thank for bleeping out his rather colorful choice of words to the team. Fury also opens the door to an ongoing situation that's been occurring in the book--the team's eroding confidence in the leadership of Iron Man, who as Tony Stark is often absent tending to other matters when he could be needed at a moment's notice by the Avengers.

And speaking of ongoing situations, there's also the mystery of Thor to touch base on, with the Thunder God often appearing out of nowhere during moments of crisis, without explanation or any memory of how it happened. It would be awhile before we learn the reason behind the occurrences--but Shooter recognizes that the matter has reached the point where it needs to be addressed by the team. At the same time, we learn that Wonder Man continues to be uncomfortable in his new heroic role, having little confidence in himself to step up in matters of life and death.

The situation with Iron Man, meanwhile, continues to deteriorate, with Cap becoming incensed at behavior that could result in loss of life. And with every minute counting before the orbital construct collides with the SHIELD space station, Iron Man's tardiness grates on Cap to the point of making it an issue publicly.

Of course, there is the main plot which begs for our attention: What is this mammoth construct that's appeared? Where did it come from--and who or what is aboard?

We can see that Iron Man isn't going to catch a break from Cap, who obviously doesn't want to trust in Iron Man's judgment and asserts himself on this mission since time is of the essence. On that note, it bears mentioning that there would be no imminent danger of loss of life if Fury had simply thought to evacuate the SHIELD platform. No lives at risk, no danger, no urgency--and no real need for Cap to ride Iron Man. It's a curious omission on Shooter's part; it certainly would have taken Cap down a notch or two if Iron Man had mentioned that, en route to the mansion, he had worked it out with Fury to commence immediate evacuation of the platform, given the time factor. "How's that for leadership, you walking flag?"

As the team splits up to cover more ground more quickly, it's the Beast who unexpectedly runs into the station's occupants--and unfortunately, initial introductions are mishandled on both sides.

(Good lord, Cap is still at it!)

During the pleasantries, the Guardians of the Galaxy compare notes with the Avengers and disclose their mission to Earth's past: their search for their enemy, Korvac, who they've traced to this timeline and suspect that he'll attempt to kill the young Vance Astro and thus prevent the formation of the Guardians in the future. We would discover the Guardians are mistaken in that assumption--and while we wouldn't be able to connect the dots until later, this issue's closing segment would give us an indication of Korvac's activities in this time period, plans which would have nothing to do with Astro. And our first glimpse occurs at a Park Avenue fashion show featuring the designs of none other than Janet Van Dyne, whose party is crashed by the criminal designs of the infamous Porcupine.

Fortunately, the Pyms have some backup from a guest who's attending the show--Kyle Richmond, who pitches in as Nighthawk and offers his assistance in handling the Porcupine's thugs.

It's Nighthawk who unknowingly spots Korvac, who's seated among the guests and takes notice of one of the models--though certainly not resembling the Korvac we know from past stories. At this point in time, even we readers have no idea this is Korvac we're seeing--just another mystery unfolding thanks to Shooter, who's laying the groundwork for the epic to come.

Which closes out a tidy story with plenty enough happening but not tipping its hand just yet. Some of the loose ends you've seen here are resolved further down the line--and, as it turns out, elsewhere in the PPC. Thor's unexplained appearances, for instance, can be traced to the Collector, who begins abducting the Avengers in increments, a story which also features Hawkeye's return to the team--while Korvac's plan reaches its climax in a no-holds-barred battle that has the Avengers fighting for their lives. By the way, that TPB? You can snag it for your bookshelf either from Amazon or other outlets, or for your digital bookshelf directly from Marvel. The 376-page book includes more stories featuring the Guardians, such as Thor's earlier adventure with them from his 1977 annual where they take on our friend Korvac.

Wow--was the Porcupine really a match for Giant-Man??

Because you clamored for it:  The return of the Giant-Man Fan Club!
(That'll teach you to clamor!)

The Avengers #167

Script: Jim Shooter
Pencils: George Perez
Inks: Pablo Marcos
Letterer: Joe Rosen


Anonymous said...

I actually enjoyed the Beast as a cut-up. But then, when I was reading these comics I had no idea of his history as a serious X-man. I just thought he was some blue guy.
Maybe that chemical concoction he took (for no logical reason) made him first scary and then comical, or maybe he was just playing the class clown for psychological reasons, trying to find some humor in his situation. I do think the Avengers were in dire need of some comic relief; everybody in that group was so dang serious all the time. Kind of like Hellcat in the Defenders.
This was a really great comic. The Perez art is fantastic and there's so much going on, and I'm a big Guardians fan. I felt bad for the Porcupine, though. I guess the members of the Lethal Legion's best days were behind them.

George Chambers said...

Iron Man would have saved himself a lot of problems with Cap in this arc if he'd just told him his secret ID. Cap goes on to accuse IM of being a mercenary rather than a hero, due to IM's cover of being Stark's bodyguard - an accusation that is kind of absurd, considering how much history the two of them shared in the Avengers. Of course, the trouble would have been circumvented completely if IM had just called an election for leader back around issue 150 - since it was then that Thor appointed him to the job. Cap being in the Avengers and not being leader is like Michael Jordan playing baseball - it's squandering his true greatness.

Comicsfan said...

As I understand it, M.P., the Beast lost his loquacious nature as he began to make a life for himself while at the Brand Corp., a natural process which seemed to kick in even more when he transformed and believed there was no going back. It seemed the way to go for the new character, since his demonstrative vocabulary appeared to be in effect mostly to set him apart in the X-Men, and that team already had its clown in Iceman. It's just that the new character he became after the change recedes into the background for me, with his wisecracks instead being focused on in a battle.

Interestingly, George, Iron Man does try to disclose his secret i.d. to Cap when they finally talk about their difficulties, with Cap cutting him off before he does so. I agree that "mercenary" goes a bit too far, for the reason you mention; but I'm not sure Cap knowing Iron Man is Stark would excuse I.M.'s behavior in Cap's eyes, since Cap's main objection seemed to be that Iron Man was splitting his time and not focusing on the Avengers, a factor that would apply to Stark as well. On the other hand, it would have made it easier for Cap to understand the reasons behind it all, and perhaps Cap could have helped I.M. to work out a solution.