Wednesday, February 28, 2018

This Hero Forsaken!

Whether we're talking about Leonard Tippit, Jason Beere, Yandroth, or some other poor devil, the idea of a single individual being responsible for the destruction of the Earth has proven to be very marketable for Marvel--thanks in part to the appropriately sensational covers which accompany such stories. So it's no surprise that the Avengers story that detailed the sad fate of the Eternity Man was followed by another such tale, exactly one year later--this time featuring a budding "super-hero" named Jeff Colt, who with no small amount of immodesty has named himself the "Anything" Man.

Unfortunately, being the catalyst for the destruction of the world falls under that pronoun's meaning.

Jeff, who works in an animal shelter along with his girlfriend, Hilary, comes to our attention when Dr. Strange and his fellow Defender, Nighthawk, investigate the wreckage of the Omegatron, the doomsday device constructed by the scientist/sorcerer Yandroth to explode the world's nuclear stockpiles and thus bring about Earth's end. Strange discovers evidence of someone having come across the machine's mystically hidden remains--and the danger of such contact becomes all too evident.

With so much panel space in the story's opening pages devoted to Jeff's introduction, we can assume that he's become the "pawn" that the Omegatron will somehow use to gain the amount of power it needs to trigger the world's reactors. But Jeff is hardly the Hulk or the Sub-Mariner, who nearly triggered the Omegatron the first time around--how does a veterinarian who's suddenly developed an ace tennis game figure into this scenario?

We get our answer when Phil, Merle, and Tony, three hoods straight out of The Sopranos, decide to knock over Jeff's shelter for the money from its recent fundraising drive--and when Jeff walks in on them as they're rifling through drawers and cabinets, he's surprised in more ways than one.

They guys don't really seem like the type to spend their time breaking into and stealing from something as low-key as an animal shelter/clinic, to say nothing of opening fire and shooting an unarmed veterinarian in cold blood. Fortunately, it turns out that Jeff wasn't able to accommodate them, since the bullets from Tony's piece gun astonishingly left no wounds.

At any rate, the hoods make their getaway, albeit with not even a cent of stolen money for their trouble. But they won't get far--because after trying to gun down Jeff inside, you can guess that they're not going to have any scruples about running down Hilary outside. (What kind of operation are these guys running, anyway? Racking up a body count because of an aborted theft of shelter funds? Were all the banks closed that day?) But not if Jeff can help it.

When the scene concludes, we see two disturbing panels: that of Jeff's euphoria, which seems an indication of the effect this rush of power is having on him... and the energy gauge on the Omegatron, which has increased since we saw it last.

Two days later, Jeff's euphoria has only increased after his heroism is mentioned in the paper--and though he hasn't felt a trace of his mysterious power since he tangled with the armed men, he decides to show up at an event he believes is ripe for criminal activity--a race at the Dover marina. And since the four criminals in question are associates of the guys that Jeff earlier apprehended, Jeff's instincts turn out to be on the nose, since the proceeds of a marina race are probably right up this gang's alley.

And, you guessed it--they came armed to the teeth.

Fortunately, the intensity of the incident is enough to alert Strange's mystic orb--and soon enough, the other Defenders are paying Jeff a call at the site where he's forced the gunmen's boat ashore.

Mind you, the goal is to make sure Jeff refrains from using the power he's somehow gained from the Omegatron. Yet Strange has sent the Defenders in force--and worse, he's sent the Hulk, who's expecting a fight and isn't known for his diplomacy. Now just who do you think would be the worst Defender to overhear Jeff's brash comment about being the strongest one present?

Valkyrie's words here stick out like a sore thumb. All of the Defenders, Strange included, knew the importance of keeping the Hulk from battling Jeff--so why send him with the team? Why summon the Hulk at all, if it's of vital importance that he keeps his distance? The answer is likely rooted in sales, since the Hulk was at the time the moneymaker for this title--and in terms of the real world, even Strange doesn't have the kind of clout to keep this popular character out of the mag, much less out of the mission.

Jeff does his best to provoke the Hulk; but when Hellcat attempts to calm him, he jumps to the conclusion that the group is testing him for membership, and moves to attack, forcing the Defenders to respond. Jeff is obviously swept up in his own power, and the thrill of triumph (and likely his budding celebrity status, as well). He even gives himself a name, of a sort: "...I could beat anyone at anytime! I'm not just a Spider-Man or an Iron Man--I'm an Anything Man!" (Though dressed as he is, I was half expecting artist Herb Trimpe to emulate Thor and have Jeff using his tennis racket as a weapon. I swear that would have had me standing and applauding.) But as he battles, the Omegatron's power builds in proportion to the resistance he faces, a factor that these Defenders appear to have forgotten.

The last straw for the Hulk, however, is when another at the site of the battle reacts when the Valkyrie falls--and things quickly spiral out of control from there.

Nighthawk proceeds to lure Jeff to an island in the distance, and carry out a plan that not only involves Jeff lashing out, but hopefully reaching a point where he realizes just what kind of man he's become. Standing down, and with no one else to fight, his threat potential is reduced to zero, a state which we'll see mimics the Omegatron's deadly gauge--and at first it seems that he'll be fated to spend the rest of his life in isolation.

It's one of the few times I've seen Strange invoke Satannish in a spell, which if memory serves he's only been known to do in desperate situations; regardless, Jeff is himself once more, though he could probably benefit from some time in therapy, given his behavior during this experience. Oddly enough, no one thinks to follow up with the Omegatron, still obviously a threat even in its current state. Can you imagine if Phil, Merle and Tony had stumbled across it? No convenience store or pawn shop would be safe.

The Defenders #69

Script: Mary Jo Duffy
Pencils: Herb Trimpe
Inks: Al Milgrom
Letterer: John Costanza

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