Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Final Fate Of The Andromeda!

When we left the hapless crew of the Andromeda, a space vessel dedicated to hunting and destroying the energy being known as Klaatu, it frankly looked like its hunting days were over. Mortally wounded by the laser-line "harpoon" of its Captain, Cybor, as well as that of its resident harpoonist, Xeron, the Star-Slayer, Klaatu was last seen helplessly caught in our sun's gravity--along with Cybor himself, whose stalk-boat was struck by the dying behemoth, flinging the captain onto his prey's back to share Klaatu's death plunge into the star. That fate would have also been shared by the occupants of the second stalk-boat, had Xeron not severed his own line from Klaatu--but they seemed equally doomed, trapped in orbit around the sun, their moments numbered by the short time remaining to their boat's air-shield.

As for the Andromeda, she was left aimlessly drifting through space, perhaps without a soul left aboard.

That is, until fourteen years later (our time), when she and all hands were virtually resurrected by writer Bill Mantlo. And where the Andromeda sails, can Klaatu be far from its sights?

To understand the how and the why of what goes on here, we first must join the other behemoth who was present in the original story--the incredible Hulk, who at this point in time had been exiled by Dr. Strange to the "Crossroads," an interdimensional nexus where the Hulk, now a creature of pure rage with no trace whatsoever of Bruce Banner's influence, could choose from an infinite number of worlds to resettle on and hopefully find the peace that he craved. At his side is a sympathetic, alien being, the Puffball Collective, which has been attempting to communicate with its sole companion in an effort to enlist the Hulk's power in escaping the Crossroads; but with the startling appearance of the mammoth being which at one time had seemed on a course toward certain destruction, their salvation may be close at hand.

The Hulk, of course, retains no memory of his previous encounter with Klaatu (which might hold true even if he were "himself")--while to Klaatu, the Hulk was considered to be too insignificant to even take notice of, much less battle. But with the Hulk now acting on an instinctive level, he feels compelled to attack this being, as he did before, with similar results--yet now, as before, Klaatu has more pressing things on its mind, thanks to what a place such as the Crossroads offers him in terms of consumable sources of energy.

The status of the Andromeda, an impressive sight no matter where she sails, appears to be status quo, with both its crew and its mission intact--but with one important exception, as Xeron points out in his explanation of how they all survived what seemed a dismal end to their quest.

(We should probably keep Xeron's info about the sun under our hats--our planet's future generations will probably have enough to worry about without knowing that our star's life has been cut short by one million years.)

As we can see, Mantlo has altered some elements of Roy Thomas's original story considerably, perhaps in an effort to explain why Xeron and the crew are so dedicated to Cybor's obsession to hunt down and bring an end to Klaatu. Previously, there were no tangible benefits to the crew for risking their lives on what was essentially Cybor's open-ended vendetta against Klaatu--while Xeron, the so-called Star-Slayer, appeared to be a recruit who demonstrated unswerving loyalty toward Cybor but still held concerns that his captain's low regard for their lives and tendency to throw caution to the wind in his pursuit of Klaatu would spell the death of them all. In this new story, however, everyone is committed to the hunt, and with good reason: the energy that will be drained from Klaatu is to be apportioned among them as if it carried great value, with Xeron in particular having more than sufficient motivation to share in Cybor's mission.

The changes arguably bring the story of the Andromeda down a notch. Thanks to Mantlo, there is little sympathy to be had any longer for those following Cybor's banner. Aside from Cybor, whose single-mindedness and intimidating, commanding presence had been enough to spearhead this hunt and run a taut ship, all aboard are now reduced to greedy followers whose captain is looked to in order to bring them to their prey and ensure their booty. Even Klaatu, a creature who indiscriminately steals energy from entire worlds without a thought to the consequences, may deserve more of our sympathies, though hold that thought for now.

For the Puffball Collective, the Andromeda's arrival and its mission are a godsend, since they offer the possibility of its freedom from the Crossroads. The Hulk, however, reacts in anger at being conscripted for oar duty aboard ship, leaving both Xeron and Cybor no choice but to take him by force; but the Collective points out that when the Hulk awakens he could disrupt their mission unless calmed, an argument that wins the Collective passage as long as it fulfills its promise to ensure the Hulk's cooperation. And so the time comes for the Andromeda to set sail once more, with Cybor pinpointing the most probable trail to lead them to their quarry--but for the Collective, the possibility of it attempting to "hitchhike" its way through one of the dimensional portals has unfortunately been taken into account.

And though the Hulk almost immediately erupts into a rage, the object of their quest is now tantalizingly in their sights--with artist Sal Buscema making the most of the moment.

Yet as the Hulk's other opponents could have told this crew, you ignore the Hulk at your peril. In this case, however, there are concerns aside from the personal danger--as both Xeron and Cybor discover to their mutual shock and frustration, when the satisfaction of finally bringing an end to their long mission is abruptly ripped away by a single strike to the ship's deck, all due to their misjudgment of their ability to control the brute they were insistent to bring aboard.

Even so, apparently the Hulk's strength at the oars is the deciding factor for keeping him aboard--and so his captors have no choice but to return to the Crossroads and devise a way to allow the Collective to pass through whatever portal they choose when they resume the hunt for Klaatu. The method they settle on entails considerable risk to the Andromeda--but what is risk to such men, whose goal is all-consuming?

And while painful to the Collective, the gambit succeeds--though whether the Collective can consider itself truly free of its fate at the Crossroads is perhaps a matter of perspective.

And so this time, there is no distraction to hinder the efforts of Xeron, who lives up to his reputation among the crew and carries out his assigned task with a combination of skill and fierce determination while also keeping in mind the capabilities of the creature he seeks to bring to ground. Curiously, Mantlo has also done away with the concept of the harpoonist and crew using stalk-boats to close in on and target Klaatu, which had the advantage of leaving their mother ship safely out of harm's way. The decision to instead put the Andromeda itself at risk, especially considering its vulnerability in light of the measures taken to shield the Collective, is a rash one even for Cybor, who is now integrated more than ever with his vessel; but as we'll see, in order to facilitate the climax that Mantlo plans, stalk-boats were something of an impediment.

The crash of the Andromeda to the surface of this world where it has made its last stand is horrendous, resulting in the loss of all hands--including Xeron, impaled by his own harpoon, and Cybor, who writhes in electronic agony as his ship's systems and circuits fail. Only the Collective survives, saved at the last moment by the Hulk--and there is also Klaatu, who yet lives but whose energy continues to drain from the laser-lines of Xeron's weapon. For Cybor, the creature's agony is a reminder that, crippled or not, his task is not yet finished--but for the Hulk, it signifies something else entirely.

With Klaatu restored and at large once more, the fate of the Andromeda and its Captain and crew is, as before, a lesson in the futility of dedicating your life and the lives of others to a quest for personal vengeance. There will be no clever retrieval this time of those who met their end on this world, no reaffirmation of or rededication to their quest, their bodies as dead and obscured as their legacy. Perhaps it also says something that not even Klaatu will give a passing thought to those who met their deaths in part to extend such empty lives.

Incredible Hulk #s 306-307

Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Gerry Talaoc
Letterer: Jim Novak

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