Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The All-Out Attack of The Masters of Evil!

In 1987, the Masters of Evil seemed well on their way to becoming the evil equivalent of what the mighty Avengers eventually grew to be. In other words:

"If you're a villain, you may as well be one of the Masters of Evil."

At this point in time, the Masters have reformed under the leadership of Helmut Zemo, the son of the original hooded Nazi war criminal--though he first began his path to vengeance against Captain America as the Phoenix. At present, their roster numbers fifteen villains (not pictured is Whirlwind, sent to attack Cap separately); but unlike the Avengers, whose ranks swelled to surpass those of the X-Men (and that's saying something), Zemo wants his team on the large side for a specific and tactically sound reason.

But the other noteworthy thing about these Masters of Evil is that they're in for the long haul, and they're not stopping with wiping out the Avengers:

And so with an incremental, detailed plan, Zemo and the villains who have signed on to his agenda have made considerable strides toward achieving victory against a team that literally didn't see them coming. The list of fallen Avengers includes:

  • The Black Knight, ambushed in Avengers Mansion following its siege by the Masters;
  • Captain Marvel, also ignorant of the mansion's fall, trapped and exiled to another universe by the "darkforce" of the mentally damaged and often catatonic Blackout;
  • Hercules, inebriated and drugged by a woman in the employ of Zemo who treated him to a midnight cruise, attacked and beaten near to death by the Masters' most powerful bruisers;
  • Captain America, defeated by the Fixer's enhancements of the mansion's defenses; and last but by no means least,
  • Jarvis, mauled by Mr. Hyde in front of Cap and the Knight in order to break the former's spirit.

A separate attack by Titania and the Absorbing Man on the Wasp fails, as she picks up an ally in Scott Lang, the Ant-Man; but in the meantime, Blackout erects a darkforce barrier around the mansion which prevents any entry by the authorities, including the military.

Yet the Wasp rallies--and the battle against the Masters of Evil, and for the lives of those they've dealt with, begins in earnest, heralded by a bold cover which hints that this may well be the Avengers' finest hour... or their darkest.

Gee, they rarely include the Wasp in these "sales" shots, even as the team's leader. Why is that?

While it's heartening to see Thor being called in to bolster the Avengers' ranks in their time of need, the Thunder God is operating at a severe disadvantage, having been made vulnerable to injury and even disability thanks to a curse he suffers from the death goddess, Hela. Here, he has yet to cast a special suit of armor that will protect his bones against physical attack; though getting a look at the Masters' lineup, he may want to expedite that a.s.a.p.

With the Avengers under a well-coordinated attack and things looking their bleakest, it's gratifying how writer Roger Stern handles the Wasp, who is essentially the only person left on active duty to turn this situation around as well as save those hostages that the Masters have taken. When Hercules flatlined in the hospital and was pronounced dead, she was clearly at a loss as to how to proceed, or even to go on--at one point asking Ant-Man to contact the Fantastic Four and hand over the responsibility for defeating the Masters to them. The victory over the Absorbing Man and Titania, however, has emboldened her and let her get a grip on herself, and she gets right to work--and as we see in the case of poor Jarvis and the others who remain captive, time is of the essence.

The Knight is unaware of an energy field set up around his sword (as well as Cap's shield) by the Fixer to aid in the analysis of each. But things may be looking up on other fronts. Unknown to the Wasp, Captain Marvel has escaped her prison of darkness with the unwitting assistance of the Shroud; while at the Plaza Hotel, a former acquaintance of the Avengers postpones his business to offer his assistance.

And slowly but surely, and true to Cap's expectations, the Wasp finds that she has the operatives she needs to begin planning a mission of both rescue and counterattack--particularly with the appearance of one of the team's founding members.*

*In case you were wondering why the West Coast Avengers aren't pitching in with this crisis, the Fixer has used a voice simulator to send them on a false mission to Indonesia.

But in the interim, the Masters have been busy--ransacking the mansion (and not being gentle about it) and plundering the Avengers' data core, to say nothing of a treasure trove of valuable equipment. And there is also Hyde's assault on Jarvis, which has played out before the eyes of two men powerless to stop it.

All of which comes to an abrupt end when Ant-Man shuts down the building's power--which not only provides the Wasp and her team with a distraction that allows them to tunnel into the mansion, but also gives the Knight his chance to regain his sword, and freedom. No, I don't know how summoning his sword to his side helps the Knight, bound as he is--does he have a talent for telekinesis we're all unaware of? Regardless, the raging Hyde is a powerhouse who doesn't need to see his foes to lash out--though that rage helps his former victims locate him easily enough.

Before Hyde can make good on his threat, however, the arrival of Captain Marvel brings light back to the chamber--and reinforcements.

But with the news he receives after sending the new Yellowjacket to covertly investigate the status of their prisoners, Zemo makes preparations to depart with dispatch--while, outside, Dr. Druid examines the darkforce surrounding the mansion and makes mental contact with Blackout, ordering him to bring the barrier down.

As the darkforce begins to fade, the team of Avengers inside takes stock of their situation, their first priority being to see to Jarvis's care. Yet with the rest of the Masters now alerted, the path forward is fraught with danger--though where the Wrecking Crew are concerned, that goes both ways.

Outside, Druid makes his move and ascends to the mansion's roof, where Moonstone has discovered that her "project" has withdrawn the barrier which had isolated access to the building for them. She's more alarmed, however, to see that Captain Marvel has discovered her--and a chase ensues between two beings whose powers, while distantly similar, are far from equal.

With the Absorbing Man and Titania having their own troubles elsewhere, Zemo preparing to withdraw, and the removal of the Fixer, Tiger Shark, Hyde, Moonstone, and three quarters of the Wrecking Crew from the playing field, the momentum of this battle appears to be with the Avengers for the moment. Yet the situation remains precarious--and as Zemo finds, the control of Blackout could be the key to securing victory for the Masters of Evil.

Or victory for some of them. Zemo, reverting to type, is clearly interested in saving his own skin, paying no heed to those of his associates who remain in the mansion--but a win is a win, as they say in the villains' handbook.


The Avengers #276

Script: Roger Stern
Breakdowns: John Buscema
Finisher: Tom Palmer
Letterer: Jim Novak


Big Murr said...

For all the times the automated defences of Avengers Mansion ever inconvenience an enemy in the slightest, our heroes should just hire a commercial home-alarm monitoring service. Save a nice chunk of change and have the same effect in the end.

Did the story mention why the plain-jane Army was doing the honours and not SHIELD? The Marvel Universe has been so inconsistent over the years as to the normal human response to super villain shenanigans. Anything from uniformed cops to speciality police units to SHIELD. Never the same thing twice.

I know in both cases we are only waiting for the Avengers to save the day. We're not reading the amazing adventures of the Avengers Mansion or the crackerjack response of New York's Finest, but me it would only ramp up the tension. "Wow! The Master of Evil met the Mansion defences and plowed thru them like they weren't there! They're TOUGH." "Wow! Even SHIELD can't penetrate the blackout field. The Masters have stymied the best normal human response!"

ANYWAY, these quibbles aside, it was quite the story arc!

Comicsfan said...

Murray, I suppose I can understand why Marvel writers avoid making SHIELD the go-to resource for intervention in situations like this, since otherwise they would be contacted to pitch in on just about every emergency that takes place (e.g., when Doom gained the Silver Surfer's power and was wreaking havoc on a global scale, or when the Over-Mind began his conquest of Earth). SHIELD seems more of an agency dedicated to espionage and infiltration (and, when the time is right, raids); but I don't see why Jan couldn't have made SHIELD one of her phone calls (or maybe the NSC, considering the scale of this particular security breach), if only to request access to technology that could pierce the barrier around the mansion. How many favors does SHIELD owe the Avengers, after all?

Big Murr said...

(engage fine detail debate mode)

First, what you say about espionage and covert action is true. But, SHIELD (at this point in history) stands for "Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage and Law-Enforcement Division". I am directing my attention to the "law-enforcement" part of their mandate.

In the two examples you cite, I would counter that those incidents happened pretty furious and fast. SHIELD might have been scrambling a response that didn't arrive before it was all over. In this particular saga, though, if the army has time to trundle up tanks and form a siege cordon, then SHIELD would have time to send some agents with shiny exotic gizmos to lend support. As I said, though, they would be as ineffectual as any other non-Avenger force, but I reckon the reader would realize just what stakes were in play and just how cool the Avengers really are.

After my first post, I walked to the grocery store. My mind wandered around and I suddenly wondered about the poor Mansion. After the third time it was knocked apart, I can't help but wonder why the reconstruction used cheesy steel (or titanium) armour to reinforce the walls? At that point, the Avengers should have had a bake sale & raffle and paid for secondary-adamantium plate. (true adamantium is too rare and expensive). Secondary-adamantium is strong enough to resist anything up to Thor "going all out".

I can't help but giggle at the mental image of so many stories with so many villains who made a dramatic entrance by blowing a hole in the wall of the Mansion. Instead, there would be a dull *thud* and some muffled cussing.

tsj017 said...

Pure speculation on my part, but . . . around this time, Marvel was touting the Nick Fury vs. SHIELD miniseries, which took years to finally show up. Maybe there was a policy to leave SHIELD out of the action until that series came out.

Killdumpster said...

That was a supremely powerful incarnation of the Masters of Evil. I remember being bewildered as to how our heroes would overcome, but I knew they would.

Superhero comics are violent by nature, but "cape vs cape" is just fun.

Hyde pounding on Jarvis made me nauseous. Comics had the power to move emotions back then.

Hyde was a favorite villain of mine, as well as Cobra, since I grew up with early Dardevil. The few times I got comics when I was 5 my dad would buy Batman's & Daredevil's, I guess because they were more down-to-earth heroes he would read.

I always knew Hyde was evil, but to physically assault & torture a restrained, normal human, I felt ill.

Comicsfan said...

Killdumpster, I've always felt that Hyde and the Cobra were an unusual, and unlikely, combination, even as fellow villains. It'll be an interesting topic to explore in the PPC, one of these days.