Monday, February 13, 2017

The Avengers vs. The U-Foes vs. The Avengers!

If you thought you'd seen the last of the uncanny U-Foes after their disastrous third meeting with the incredible Hulk, you probably had every reason for assuming that to be the case. When last we saw them, the U-Foes, a quartet of super-powered villains who sought to surpass the Fantastic Four in strength but were thwarted in that goal by Bruce Banner, were each sent against their will to a different alien world to meet a deadly fate, with apparently no hope for salvation. Yet the U-Foes had survived such death sentences before--and now, the U-Foes resurface over four years later (our time) to menace again. But the Marvel refs behind the scenes cry "three strikes, you're out" on the villains where the Hulk is concerned, pivoting them instead to challenge none other than the mighty Avengers--and it looks like the U-Foes are intending to make a clean sweep of both of the team's coastal branches.

Yet these battles take place six months apart, and for different reasons--with one of those battles being a conflict that the U-Foes were duped into starting. And so in these separate issues, we'll pursue the answers to two questions, among others: How did the U-Foes survive certain death--and what power will manipulate these deadly villains into advancing its own plans for the Avengers?

The catalyst for the U-Foes' first clash with the Avengers comes in the form of a young man named Charles, a Native American who's taken a workman's job at Ellis Island in an effort to keep a low profile in order to avoid pursuit by another of his tribe--Thomas Fireheart, whom we know from issues of Amazing Spider-Man as the creature called Puma. Charles is suspected of being a nascent mutant whose dangerous powers of opening spacial rifts has begun to manifest--and Puma has been sent to retrieve him to avoid endangering the populace and possibly the entire world, and hopefully returning him to be trained in the safe use of that power. Complicating matters is the fact that Charles either has no inkling of his power or is in denial, protesting instead that the tribe's elders are simply trying to prevent him from leaving.

When Puma arrives on the scene and Charles pleads with the Avengers to intervene, the Avengers are leery of allowing Puma, whose reputation is spotty at best, to take custody of the youth. And so Puma moves to cause an incident that endangers the island's tourists, forcing the Avengers to turn their efforts to protecting the crowds; but while Puma confronts Charles and prepares to take him, the tribe's worst fears come to light as Charles's power erupts, opening a rift in space. As it happens, he's also inadvertently paved the way for the return of the U-Foes!

As Captain America indicates, only a few months have passed in Marvel time since the U-Foes disappeared--though frankly, their reappearance at all is unexpected, given their dire fates after being ejected from the dimensional nexus known as the Crossroads and that their powers don't include dimensional transport (Vector's accidental mishap that landed them there in the first place notwithstanding). How did they survive their presumed end on separate worlds--and how did they manage to return to the Crossroads? Unfortunately, writer Danny Fingeroth dismissively sweeps those niggling details under the dimensional rug, all but assuring that the U-Foes would become a running joke should they be consigned to separate states of oblivion in future stories.

Regardless, the U-Foes have at last returned to Earth--and it seems their experience at the Crossroads was enough to make them violently resist any attempts to imprison them again. Which means that not only do they intend to battle the Avengers, but to also deal fatally with Charles, whose power could return them to their interdimensional hell--and so Puma, for the present, must help the Avengers in subduing them, a choice which was already tearing at his conscience but which he must now throw his weight behind.

The circumstances that Fingeroth has set in motion make for an engaging Avengers story, with Puma finding himself in the spotlight and the U-Foes practically relegated to the status of guest stars. Currently, the U-Foes must be dealt with before the story turns to the greater drama involving Charles (and, by extension, Puma); yet Fingeroth tying the U-Foes to Charles by making him a potential threat to them that requires his death helps to keep the story's focus on both Charles and Puma, while the U-Foes provide enough window dressing in the form of action to make this a decent battle issue that will satisfy Avengers readers. It's a well-rounded story in many respects.

But since the greater drama awaits, Fingeroth only allows the U-Foes so much leeway before they're dealt with summarily. Puma continues to work in tandem with Thor, who's practically a one-man wrecking crew whose power corrals the U-Foes in short order--leaving Captain America and Gilgamesh to wrap things up by taking care of Ironclad.

Once the U-Foes are vanquished, we come to some tense moments in the story's final scenes that have Puma and the Avengers strongly disagreeing on how best to handle Charles. Finally, in frustration, Charles takes himself out of the equation by opening another rift and fleeing. Afterward, both Puma and the Avengers blame each other for how the situation turned out, with Puma choosing to quickly depart due to the Avengers being on the verge of taking him into custody. It's a fine closing, in spite of the fact that neither Puma nor the Avengers succeeded in helping Charles, the focal point of the entire story. Mistakes were made on both sides, even though each side felt justified in acting as they did--justified, but not quite certain.

As for the U-Foes, they're secured for transportation to the Vault, a special prison for super-powered criminals. Elsewhere, nearly 1,000 miles away, the Avenger known as the Scarlet Witch resides in a prison of her own making, reduced to a catatonic state following a year's worth of setbacks and trauma in her personal life--including but not limited to the loss of her two children, as well as her husband, the Vision, being disassembled and subsequently having his memory and personality erased. With the other Avengers at a loss as to how to help her (oh, let's try placing her in the care of a qualified psychologist, for starters--don't the Avengers have a health plan?), it's unquestionably a terrible time for a crisis to arise--but, six months after clashing with the Avengers on the east coast, the U-Foes have headed west to take vengeance on the Avengers' west coast branch. The question is, what's the west coast team done to the U-Foes to warrant their vengeance?

With the deadly appearance of Vapor, It doesn't take long for the other U-Foes to strike on several fronts, with both Iron Man and the android Human Torch facing Ironclad and X-Ray, respectively. It seems a well-planned attack on their part--and while the Avengers respond with force, the element of surprise belongs to the U-Foes. And with Vapor's gaseous/combustion ability setting the Avengers' mansion ablaze, the Avengers are effectively thrown into disarray.

Several miles from the site, Ironclad is for all intents and purposes removed from the fight--though that assessment is completely different from the hasty conclusion that the fight has been knocked out of him. Quite the contrary.

Back at the Avengers' compound, the battle goes badly for the Torch, as he's overwhelmed by X-Ray's power before he can help his comrades. X-Ray has been under the impression that he's battling Johnny Storm, and that he's succeeded in killing him; only the fact that this Torch is an android saves him from his foe's lethal power.

Below, Dr. Pym manages to rouse Wanda by implying that the Vision is in danger--and as she awakens, she mistakenly sees the Vision as his former self and believes that things have returned to normal for both of them. Nevertheless, her power is back in the mix and added to the Avengers' efforts against the U-Foes, to Vapor's disadvantage.

Conspicuously absent from this battle is Vector, the U-Foes' leader, whom X-Ray has implied has met his death at the hands of the Avengers. It's a mystery that continues to hang in the air, until Vector surprises his comrades with his arrival--and perhaps an explanation, when the U-Foes begin to compare notes.

With the pieces of the puzzle falling into place for the group, it seems clear that, for reasons unknown, they've been manipulated into attacking the Avengers. Unlike the U-Foes, the reader can answer the how and the why, if they're aware of the particulars of the ongoing Acts Of Vengeance crossover event (a storyline which the cover's banner also implies is playing a part in this Avengers story); but even without this inside information, the U-Foes decide it's best to clip their puppet master's strings and withdraw from the battle.

As we've previously seen, only four of the Avengers decide to search for the U-Foes, while the rest of the team head east to confer with that coast's Avengers branch and determine who is gunning for them. As for the U-Foes, they would return in another Fingeroth story in an attempt to force Charles (now known as "Portal") to uses his rift powers to return them to one of the Crossroads' dimensions, in order to obtain certain crystals they discovered there in what seems a thrown-together plan to take over the eastern seaboard--but they're stopped once more, this time by an unusual teaming of Captain America, Daredevil, and the new hero called Darkhawk. It's a strange turnabout for Fingeroth, since the possibility of Charles returning the U-Foes to the Crossroads was the fear that motivated them to try to kill him here--but who am I to explain the strange logic that leads to story sequels.

The U-Foes return their attention to the Hulk--at the command of the Leader!
(When it comes to the Hulk, don't the U-Foes ever learn?)

Avengers #304; Avengers West Coast #53

Script: Danny Fingeroth; John Byrne
Pencils: Rich Buckler; John Byrne
Inks: Tom Palmer; Keith Williams
Letterer: Bill Oakley


johnlindwall said...

Awesome post as always! Thanks!

Dang, I just love John Byrne's art! So sweet!

I am a fan of the U-Foes also -- they just seem really neat to me and their color scheme is right on.


Comicsfan said...

John, the U-Foes continue to fascinate me in the sense that they have all the potential of being another Frightful Four, yet they tend to make overt power plays rather than scheme as the Wizard's group did in order to maneuver their foes into a vulnerable state. Vector has a ways to go before he's in the Wizard's league as a planner--hopefully he's learning as he goes, and perhaps we saw some real improvement in his potential in the AWC story.

Warren JB said...

Hurrah, the U-Foes! I'll join the fan-party: I've said it before, but I think there's a lot of potential in them, in both their own team dynamic and their powers. Even setting aside Vector and Ironclad, beings who can instantly project any form of radiation or create any form of gas should be terrifying threats in their own, individual right. But in practise, X-Ray's powers seem to 'sting' at best (as in the following Hulk post) and there always seems to be plenty of time to dissapate Vapor - even when she's already a cloud of cyanide gas enveloping her chosen victim...

But maybe that's as it should be. Thinking about the (semi-)realistic ramifications too much would probably lead to repeats of Warren Ellis' 'Ruins'.

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