Wednesday, December 13, 2017

...And One Shall Fall!

OR: "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sister Eucalypta?"

The build-up to the Avengers' reckoning with Ultron--who returned from apparent death in the land of the Inhumans to execute a plot to create a robot bride--couldn't help but convey anticipation, risk, and resolve, with back-to-back titles like "...Though Hell Should Bar The Way!" and "...Where Angels Fear To Tread" heading a two-part 1978 story that restored the runaway creation of Henry Pym to the upper tier of Avengers foes. Already, Ultron has reanimated the creation he would name Jocasta and summoned her back to his side--and now, writer Jim Shooter, who has led the Avengers down a long and winding path of spotty performance in the field and internal strife, puts the team's house in order and has them finally on the offensive, in a hunt that will test their resolve and resourcefulness to the limit.

Heck, it's already testing the patience of New Yorkers!

It's a mission that's welcome to Avengers readers, as fragmented and unfocused as the team has been in both their dealings with their foes and in their internal affairs. So it's understandable and, admittedly, invigorating to see Shooter devote a generous thirteen pages to the hunt itself, which truly assembles the Avengers and highlights their interactions with each other, as well as with the average man and woman on the street who always help to put their existence in perspective. Despite the urgency of the team's mission, the power of insistent bystanders to grab an Avenger's attention isn't to be underestimated.

When the Avengers get back to business, their search is interrupted by a new arrival and ally, whose assistance in this kind of life-or-death fight can only be welcomed.

Ms. Marvel at this point in time was interacting with the Avengers in her own struggling title, which was on the verge of shifting to bi-monthly publication--so her exposure in The Avengers was perhaps geared to give her mag a shot in the arm, in tandem with a second Avengers appearance there. (The title's downward spiral would continue, regardless.) Ms. Marvel's contribution to this story is kept to a minimum--this is the Avengers' show, after all, and its their reaffirmation as a team cooking on all cylinders which readers are keen on seeing, as Shooter appears to realize.

Meanwhile, it's finally occurred to these people that they needn't brush their way past inquiries or heavy pedestrian traffic when they have a directional signal tracking their quarry.

Transportation built out of spare parts is probably enough to raise an eyebrow--having Henry Pym endorse its use could be cause for alarm if he decided to do a little tinkering with it after dusting it off. Not many of us want to see our vehicles gain sentience and try to kill us. (Thanks, Google and you other self-driving developers!)

With time to kill--an unfortunate choice of words, given the mission--Shooter supplies Ms. Marvel with enough obligatory panels to fulfill his promotional goal, yet does so in ways that don't detract from the mission itself.

The scene has all the trappings of being a story device, designed to build anticipation for what's coming down the pipe for Wanda. But you've probably caught the contradiction in Ms. Marvel, a character who freely offered her help in such a dangerous operation: Why make the offer of battling alongside the Avengers if you're going to withhold vital information that warns of impending danger to one of them? And why would she be fearful of doing so? She doesn't "dare" to disclose what she knows/senses? Without giving away anything substantive, nothing that Ms. Marvel might reveal about Wanda's fate would endanger the Avengers' mission--so it boggles the mind why she's taking this odd stance. May her title go down in flames, if it's written as inexplicably.

Consequently, Ms. Marvel seems an odd choice to seek fighting advice from, though Wonder Man isn't privy to her thoughts. That said, as someone who's old-fashioned in his opinion on assertive women, it makes sense for him to approach her on why she so eagerly seeks battle, given his recent feelings of fear experienced in the field to date.

At last, however, the Avengers' hunt bears fruit, as they reach their apparent destination--the last place you would expect to find a monster like Ultron, an observation that doesn't escape his pursuers.

It's curious behavior on the Avengers' part that, even with so imposing an edifice as a convent which elicits a certain measure of decorum and protocol, they choose to proceed with a traditional approach to gaining entry, without first making use of their ant-sized members to reconnoiter the premises for any signs of activity from Ultron and/or his bride. (It's certain Ms. Marvel won't be volunteering any information.) Instead, their approach is cordial and open, without even stopping to think that their entry might trigger a response and thereby put the convent's occupants at risk. Consequently, to no one's surprise but the Avengers, Ultron gets the drop on them--and it almost feels like the Avengers deserve what they get, with Wonder Man possibly making the most superfluous statement of the year.

With the trap sprung, that only leaves the curtain to be drawn back and the villain revealed. And with Shooter supplementing the scene with dialog that virtually chews up the panels, it's a riveting confrontation indeed--particularly when the tables are turned, and Ultron's primary weapon which earlier sealed his victory against the Avengers fails him.

While the Avengers launch their attack, let's turn our attention to the Scarlet Witch, and the so-called "horror" of the special prison that Ultron devised for her--though not "horrible" so much as disorienting and potentially life-threatening.

You can't help but wonder why Ultron has taken the time and trouble to adapt and equip a room in this convent to imprison Wanda. She's the only Avenger whose power presents a clear and present danger to him--why wouldn't he have simply disposed of her when he had her at his mercy? We haven't wandered into an episode of Batman, have we?

Meanwhile, Ultron's might proves to be no mere boast, as he scatters the onrushing Avengers with ease (though how he turns back a hurled Mjolnir is anyone's guess, not that its impact would have made a difference). Yet in the exchange of fire, Wonder Man finally finds his courage--and his road to truly being an Avenger at last becomes a path he's ready to embrace.

It's also nice to see evidence in this story that Captain America and Iron Man have settled their differences from past arguments and flare-ups, with Cap doing a 180 and now deferring to and openly supporting Iron Man's decisions and choices for the team. Like many other scenes in this issue, they supplement the whole and help to solidify the concept that the Avengers are most effective when presenting a united front.

Elsewhere, Ms. Marvel's search for Wanda is met with sniper fire, and a "Nun-isher" whose idea of dispensing absolution involves a deadly weapon trained on you and a warning coined from none other than Gandalf the Grey.

The absence of Ultron's bride has been somewhat conspicuous in this story, considering how integral a role she's played in its development. Earlier, however, we learned that it was Sister Eucalypta who had picked her up in the city and driven her to the convent, where she was directed to lie dormant until her energy was replenished. And while it's obvious that Ultron desires to see Jocasta's energy lavished on him, if you catch my drift, his new bride responds to him in a way that makes it clear that his "wedding night" is going to be anything but consummated.

As before, it's the Wasp's essence which remains in Jocasta that the Avengers can thank for foiling Ultron's plan to murder the former and twist the knife of humiliation in his "father," Pym. But for now, it will take more to bring Ultron to an end--and with Ms. Marvel having met with success in her task, the Avengers are prepared to do just that.

If wishes were horses, Hank.

It's a satisfactory conclusion that caps a hard-fought battle by the Avengers and leaves the door wide open for more promising stories. Shooter's time on the book as its writer, however, would be sparse before his departure from The Avengers in six months' time, scripting only two issues in the interim and interrupting the momentum he'd established, with the conclusion of the Korvac saga marking the end of his run.

The Avengers #171

Script: Jim Shooter
Pencils: George Perez
Inks: Pablo Marcos
Letterer: Denise Wohl


Tiboldt said...

A great issue but I'd like to bring up a number of points.

Artwork: Though this is the same Perez/Marcos combination as the last issue, some of the early panels seem to lack the Perez touch. Take the opening page shown above - the blond guy on the right definitely has Perez hair, but that slightly wonky-looking, overly-muscled Cap in the middle is missing anything recognisable as GP's work, in my opinion.

The shop workers: Do Mrs. Pike and Blanche ever reappear? There seems to be some back story here that I may be missing. Possibly a personal joke by Shooter?

The Convent: So Ultron bizarrely took over a convent, a place pretty ill-designed to be adapted to the high-tech equipment he was using, especially the Hall of Mirrors. Why? Is it allegorical somehow?

I suppose he could have pushed it further and had the Avengers squaring off against an army of robotic nuns but that would have been really weird and it's Shooter, not Gerber. The Norse God of Thunder punching out a Christian nun, robotic or otherwise, has 'meme' written all over it.

Comicsfan said...

Tiboldt, Mrs. Pike hurries off to a customer she left in the dressing room--Carol Danvers, who subsequently changes to Ms. Marvel and takes off to assist the Avengers. Blanche has designs on Mrs. Pike's job, and hopes the latter gets in trouble so that she can step up. Their little drama seemed an odd waste of panels and time by Perez and certainly Shooter, though I at least get the segue to Ms. Marvel's involvement.

Heh--"'s Shooter, not Gerber." Quite!

Warren JB said...

Hank in the middle of that scrum - pfff. That's the kind of 'fear and hatred' I could live with.

"Ms. Marvel at this point in time was interacting with the Avengers in her own struggling title... (The title's downward spiral would continue, regardless.)"

The more things change...

"Remember this--? Stark built it out of spare parts..."

Not to be outdone by the FF's flying bathtub, the Avengers got themselves a flying jacuzzi.

Does speaking latin to nuns really make them more conducive to a mob of folk who are really a little too old for trick-or-treat costumes?

"... and thereby converting my flesh-and-blood mother into a suitable mate..."

Uncomfortable. Ultron's really going whole-hog on the oedipal thing, isn't he?

"I also devised treatments to bio-chemically immunize us to your deadliest weapon!"

Uh, okay... You can take shots to protect yourself from laser-beams? Was there any explanation on how Ultron's encephalo-beam worked?

"We haven't wandered into an episode of Batman, have we?"

Join us next episode, same hex-time, same hex-channel!

Jocasta's statement to Ultron... can't quite wrap my head around it.

"Be thou silent, Yellowjacket!"

What can I say? I laughed.

Comicsfan said...

Warren, my understanding is that Ultron's encephalo-beam puts the victim into a coma, which leads to death within hours. Perez's drawing of it no doubt makes it look more severe to human flesh than it is (previously it looked as if it actually punctured the victim's head and exited from the rear)--probably a simple display of wavelight directed at the target would have been sufficient.

Iain said...

I reas this years ago before I got big into the Avengers or knew who Ultron was the scene where the Avengers burst into Ultron's chambers where he seems to be playing a piano then Yellowjacket threatens him and calls him names cause his weapons dont work anymore confused me as a kid, just who was the bad guy here Ultron minding his own business or this aggressive Yellowjacket and then all the Avengers go hell bound to KO the Ultron. I must have wondered what this poor robot had done to earn such abuse but then I hadnt read any previous Ultron/Avengers tales.

Comicsfan said...

You know, Iain, now that you mention it, the scene you reference now reminds me of the piano scene entrance from Johnny Guitar. Too bad Ultron is really only "playing" his control panel--I would have been bowled over if Mr. Perez had instead made it a piano!

Nat said...

tiboldt, I'm pretty sure it was in a church because they were getting married. I don't actually read comics, though... so I could be wrong.

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