Monday, April 1, 2019

The Great Pecos Train Robbery!

There have often been times when you couldn't read an Avengers story without tripping over the schemes of Kang the Conqueror, the time-traveling menace from the future who seems to have made it his life's calling to destroy the Avengers. Kang has become a virtual staple of the book in terms of jockeying for the position of all-time recurrent Avengers villain, thanks to writers like Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and certainly Roger Stern--but it was Steve Englehart who recycled Kang into any number of Avengers plots, which even had the Vision exclaiming, "Again? This is getting monotonous!" and drove Thor to the point of taking a enough-is-enough approach and swearing that "...this battle shall be the last 'tween him and us!"

Well, we'll see about that--but we still found that we could have some fun along the way, thanks to a story published at the tail end of 1975 that found the Avengers pursuing Kang to, of all places, the old west!

So saddle up, hombres--there's owlhoots a'plenty waitin' ahead.

This story got its momentum from the arrival of Captain America (along with artist George Perez, in his first Avengers gig!), who's on the trail of some Roxxon Oil men who were targeting the Beast; but in tapping the Avengers and preparing to investigate, there's a complication in the form of Hawkeye, who's feared trapped in the past after attempting to retrieve the Black Knight from the 12th century. And so Thor and Moondragon form a contingent to go to his assistance, contacting Immortus (another character fast becoming an Avengers mainstay) to guide them through time to his location.

And what a reception committee they receive upon arrival.

With weapons already loaded and aimed, it says something about these western legends that this stranger, beginning to swing a hammer at them, has all the time in the world to use it without one of these crack shots thinking of shooting to disarm him (or at least trying to)--while Thor, for his part, could have avoided provoking them by stomping his hammer on the ground to cause the lightning strike rather than appearing to be hostile. (Not that he was in any danger.)

Nevertheless, Thor makes his point--and since the men are apparently familiar with Hawkeye, both sides are willing to call a truce in favor of getting some answers.

Arriving at the town of Tombstone, Thor and Moondragon indeed find their comrade to be alive and well. But as he explains how he wound up in 1873, it seems the same foe who surprised him in the timestream is also the man who has seized the town and begun another of his infamous plots.

Meanwhile, although this issue has shoehorned Iron Man in with the other figures on its cover to help "rope in" readers who may otherwise have passed on an issue that featured a mere trio of Avengers, we instead find him back on Earth, in a short interim scene that shows he's among the contingent of Avengers who joined Cap's investigation of Roxxon. Yet we not only discover that they've become prisoners, but we also get a look at their captors--the Squadron Supreme!

You were this close to visiting Tombstone, Iron Man.  Tombstone.

Back in 1873, you'd think that Thor would be insistent on making a beeline for Kang, as steamed as he is at wanting to end the man's threat once and for all. Instead, curiously, he signs on to Hawkeye's plan to disrupt a shipment of uranium that he believes Kang will target--a necessary diversion for the story in order for Englehart and Perez to provide it with the flavor of the old west that will allow Kid Colt, the Two-Gun Kid and the others to shine. To that end, Kang's conspicuous absence in a story where he exists as the main threat appears to be intentional; after all, this man from the 41st century has no need to use horse-riding lackeys to hijack a shipment arriving by locomotive when he could easily do the deed himself.

Yet the buyers of this issue are given their due--and it all unfolds nicely, with Englehart and Perez perhaps having the most fun of all.

Curiosity led me to discover that binoculars were invented almost fifty years prior to this period in time. Both Hawkeye and the raiders' leader, Ace, are probably using binoculars that employed Keplerian optics, which had made improvements on both the image and magnification--but judging by what we see here, they might even be using prototypes of the prism-based design patented in 1854.

But we already have a clear view of the action, so we're not missing a bit of it!

As for Thor and Moondragon, they receive Hawkeye's signal that the operation has met with success, and they have their moment in all of this, however vague...

But what was their purpose aboard the train, exactly? Backup, in case the raiders weren't stopped before they got to the shipment? Or, rather, their powers safely tucked away, so as not to eclipse what was considered to be the main action taking place on horseback--i.e., "the western"? That said, Perez's scenes were so well laid out that I found myself not missing either of the characters--and both would surely be given more active roles when it came time to confront Kang.

One last thing...
Not even the hallowed letters page yielded any insight into the meaning of this confusing panel:

Maybe one of those occasional Englehart "it made perfect sense in my head" panels?
Who would like to take a crack at it?

The Avengers #142

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: George Perez
Inks: Vinnie Colletta
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski


Anonymous said...

I had completely forgotten about this issue until I read this post, C.F. I was laughing while I read it. Just the Rawhide Kid having Moondragon hitching a ride on his horse made this comic well worth revisiting! How is he gonna explain this back in Dodge City?
Many thanks, pardner. See ya on down the trail.


Comicsfan said...

Shure thing, M.P. And 'member not to pick up any wooden nickels on that trail, hear?

Big Murr said...

As you reveal, it doesn't stand up too well under scrutiny, but I loved the story in my innocent youth. I think it was the "last gasp" of Marvel crossovers. A decade earlier, comic fans went all a-buzz when Spider-Man appeared in a Fantastic Four comic. In 1975, Avengers meeting all the Marvel cowboy heroes gave me the same buzz feeling. Not only the modern superheroes meeting the gunslingers, but the idea that all the gunslingers all knew each other and certain events would have them team up.

The next issue, of course, is when the hammer hits the fan!

Comicsfan said...

You bring up an interesting point, Murray. There was an instance, years ago, when I was checking out some covers from The Two-Gun Kid and spotted one where Kid Colt and the Rawhide Kid were guest-starring, and I wondered why it was so rare that we'd see these heroes crossing paths--it seemed like such an obvious *ahem* draw for their titles to have them doing so. But then I remembered that, unlike our more contemporary comics heroes, these guys don't all live in the same city; nor do they have means of communication beyond the telegraph (or a fast horse) to compare notes when they need to. So to what extent do they know each others' business? With this story, it seems they've encountered each other fairly often, and I found myself being curious as to the circumstances.

Fred W. Hill said...

Reading this back in the day, the main thing for me was that this was fun comic to read with excellent art -- after a long stretch with Don Heck, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema and George Tuska, all pros but their art just seemed rather lacking to me, although I generally loved Englehart's stories. Perez, even as a newcomer, IMO brought a new level of excitement to the Avengers. And although I only ever read a few of Marvel's westerns, and of those only the Two-Gun Kid really stood out to me, I still loved this mix-up of Marvel's most down-to-earth, old west heroes and the Thunder God and a very haughty woman who was from Earth but raised on a distant moon circling Saturn and with pretensions to goddess-hood, along with the most down-to-earth Avenger to be the fill the gap between the cowboys and the gods. Interestingly, of the cowboys, Englehart really only gets into the head of the Two-Gun Kid, focusing on how awed he is by Thor & Moondragon and seems anxious to learn more about this future world they are from. Seems Englehart had plans to do more with Hawkeye and Matt Hawk as an odd-duo in the 1970s but was unable to follow through and no one else did anything with it, although this Matt would feature in a much later entertaining Daredevil tale, with yet another lawyer named Matt.