Tuesday, February 27, 2018

...If The Avengers Should Fail!

There was no shortage of Marvel inventory stories in the '70s and '80s, though I've always been curious as to how and why such stories turn out to be set aside in the first place. You could almost hear a collective groan from your fellow readers as you flipped open what you thought was the next issue of a story arc, only to find that a deadline problem had forced the substitution of a different story that had nothing to do with the previous issue. In many cases, it wasn't hard to see why the "placeholder" story never made it to the comics rack at the time it was worked on (though many of us could probably bring to mind some regular stories which would qualify for that dubious honor)--yet it seems unclear how you build a stock of "rainy day" stories in the first place. Presumably an inventory story is used because there wasn't time to complete the regular issue--but doesn't it take time to put together the stories that are shelved? And later, even if it's only the art that's ready to dust off and finally use, that still means snagging a writer and letterer (and perhaps a colorist and/or inker, depending on how much has been done) to complete the work.

It's an interesting process that no doubt has other factors involved, since we're talking about roughly twenty pages of work that would possibly never see the light of day. Perhaps the goal was to have something substantive to publish instead of offering yet another reprint of a classic tale--or worse, a reprint of a reprint. (The subject could probably even spawn a post of its own: "Does anyone actually have a favorite inventory story?" There are even a few such stories scattered in the PPC for the eagle-eyed among you.) Yet from a reader's perspective, it almost always seems as if you're getting a hand-me-down story, one which didn't make the grade for whatever reason but would do in a pinch.

The Avengers title must have had its own inventory shelf in the Marvel offices, as often as the book has had to shuffle in such tales. And given the turnover of membership in the group, it probably isn't possible to just pull any story off the shelf; for instance, if Hawkeye has stormed out and left the team, it would be absurd to see him present and accounted for in the substitute story and trading quips with everyone as if things were rosy. Somehow, it usually seems to work out in terms of which Avengers would need to be available when the need for an inventory story arises, so there's that.

In terms of the story featured here, things were just getting cranked up with both the Michael plot and the return of Ultron when the pause button is hit, and we suddenly shift to a core trio of Captain America, Iron Man, and the Black Panther, who come under attack from a threat that appears to have more than their deaths in mind.

His heart failing, our suicidal friend's "last wish" is one that has been shared by others who feel cheated by a premature death sentence and want to make sure that innocents share their fate (Count Nefaria, for one)--only why involve the Avengers? Once his identity is exposed, what Jason Beere reveals doesn't really explain that piece of the puzzle--but the Avengers are alarmed at what they do hear from this man.

Since Iron Man happens to be the one Avenger who has experience with keeping an injured heart from failing, Beere appears to have miscalculated in carrying out whatever plan he's put in motion. Or has he? As we'll discover, this story by Marv Wolfman takes a few liberties in connecting the dots, with Beere putting a lot of stock in how he believes the Avengers will proceed from this point.

For instance, treatment from a chest plate designed to keep a piece of shrapnel from reaching Tony Stark's heart is quite different than such a device being a cure-all for heart failure--otherwise, heart patients everywhere would be wearing them. But this is Beere's lucky day--as well as the Avengers', thanks to Iron Man who, while treating his patient, has done some digging that explains Beere's entire plan in barely two panels.

I wouldn't go so far as Iron Man in labeling Beere a megalomaniac--mentally unstable and angry, yes, but he's not obsessed with power or exhibiting any grand delusions of self-importance, other than in regard to his wealth. In addition, if you're a little confused as to how the heck Iron Man has deciphered all of these details, what we haven't been told yet is that he's learned the extent of Beere's plans by finding and reading Beere's diary and notes. As for the bombs--well, the best is yet to come, so hold that thought.

From here, the story splits into segments, with each Avenger jetting to a different part of the world to retrieve each bomb--not to defuse and deactivate them then and there, which you'd think would be the priority since Beere's heart could give out in the hours it takes to fly to such distant locales and back again. Naturally, there are obstacles at each destination--regardless, each bomb is found and successfully recovered, though the location of the fourth remains unknown. First, Captain America must battle his way through temple warriors (which seems a contradiction in terms)--hired by Beere, no less, which leads Cap to believe that he and the others have all been sent on a wild goose chase.

While the Black Panther must make his way past a polar bear to reach his bomb device (heaven only knows how Beere managed to arrange that):

Leaving Iron Man to locate his device in, of all places, Moscow. And to the story's credit, Iron Man asks himself the questions that have virtually haunted this operation.

And there are other issues that are addressed along the way, which only seem to raise more questions. Cap, on his mission, recalls that Beere became so despondent in part because his wife and children left him a year ago--and that blueprints found in Beere's safe specify that the bomb devices are to be fit together, presumably to avoid detonation; it also seems that there aren't any warheads in these three devices, and that the only real danger is in the fourth hidden bomb. (We have to assume that Iron Man only discovered that once he'd retrieved his own device--otherwise, why waste precious time with three duds?) What a hodgepodge of potential red herrings this story has developed into.

But everything becomes clear (for the Avengers, at least) when the three bombs are "assembled," and a recording from Beere seals the world's fate--or so Beere thinks.

So Beere's plan seems to hinge on the Avengers not being given the time to locate and possibly deactivate the hidden fourth bomb--that is to say, the only bomb, one apparently powerful enough to destroy the entire planet. But he's obviously reckoned without Iron Man's "respirator," which has given Iron Man the opportunity to come up with a more permanent way to prevent Beere from carrying out his threat.

And so for archival purposes, Beere unofficially becomes the Eternity Man, a man with a death wish but who ironically will likely outlive everyone whose lives he sought to end with his own. (Well, assuming Stark's chestplate components are designed to operate in a sub-zero environment for several decades if not longer--to say nothing of any changes in the status of either Stark or his holdings. Obadiah Stane, for instance, may not have been concerned with keeping tabs on Stark's plant in Flushing.) It would seem more prudent to turn Beere over to either SHIELD or the Pentagon, both of which would probably opt to just send Beere into space and let his bomb detonate there, rather than leave him as any one man's responsibility. But both the Panther and Cap appear to be on board with Iron Man's decision; and as a stopgap story, this issue provides a nice twist that perhaps satisfied the Avengers reader for another thirty days.

(Who might just do a little detonating himself!)

The Avengers #169

Script: Marv Wolfman
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Dave Hunt
Letterer: John Costanza


Tiboldt said...

A favourite of mine. This comic is the reason that I know that sudoriferous means 'producing sweat,' though I have, even now, not had an opportunity to make use of this trivia.

I find it funny that whilst sitting around so bored that they're doing a crossword together, they're all in full costume, masks, helmets and all. Cap even has his shield strapped to his back. Maybe they're aware of how awful the mansion's defences are?

Last mind-boggler: why is there a candle so prominently in the first panel? Does Avengers' mansion have such regular power outages? Does Jarvis wander round when it gets dark lighting them to make the place feel more snug?

Comicsfan said...

All good points, Tiboldt!

Jared said...

I have always found it odd they had an issue featuring Black Panther to rush out during a time he was appearing. I do agree about how hard it would be to work in something resembling the current lineup. This is a good fill in story, though it is a shame it affects the flow of my all time favorite stretch of Avengers.

This is a better way to go than the previous Marvel method, which was to produce a few new pages to set up a flashback and finish the issue of reprinted material. See Avengers 150 where they even had the nerve to bill it as Stan Lee returning as a creator.

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