Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Day Of The Avengers... Day Of Death!

The celebrations of Avengers Day have been few and far between on the printed page since its proclamation in the fall of 1967--but in 1998, writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez arguably make up for that in spades in the tenth issue of the rebooted Avengers series, where the team basks in the adulation of the citizens of New York in the wake of the heroes' return from their apparent sacrifice during the conflict with Onslaught. This time, we find Avengers Day culminating in a parade through the streets that might make the Macy's parade look tame by comparison.

By now, the uniqueness of the Avengers in terms of the media frenzy surrounding their public appearances and their lineup changes has been overshadowed by a running joke regarding their swelling ranks, where one often wondered if there was anyone by this point who hadn't become an Avenger. Yet the media reports* still offer a perspective that's quite different than the one we readers experience with our unlimited access behind closed doors--and at times like these, it's fascinating to observe the speculation and observations of those who only know the Avengers from the reports of their exploits and announcements.

*Props to the Stunt-Master for appearing to have finally found his calling! (If only briefly.)

By "the Avengers have counted among their number," we're left to assume that Busiek refers to not only the Avengers but all who have fallen within their orbit; otherwise, there are seventeen characters** pictured in the full-page assemblage above who had not been inducted as Avengers by this point in time, if ever--although "counted among their number" certainly implies membership. It's not important to settle the issue here and now--but later in this story a few of Busiek's inclusions will be somewhat distracting.

**At least by my own count--out of curiosity, what's your tally?

But there is an Avenger in the team's current lineup who isn't present in these festivities, someone who has been distracted in her own right by her encounter with sorceress Morgan Le Fay in the 6th century--or, more specifically, Morgan's power, which has inadvertently caused her own mutant abilities to show disturbing signs of evolution. She has also become concerned with her startling ability to summon the deceased Avenger, Wonder Man, back to the world of the living when the need arises (or even unconsciously). And so the Scarlet Witch seeks counsel with Agatha Harkness, a woman who has previously guided Wanda in the use of her power, and who now implies that Wanda has contacted her not a moment too soon.

Of course, Agatha is no stranger to surviving death, herself; but for now, she shares with Wanda a different perspective on the circumstances of her birth--and of her connection to "chaos-magick," our first mention of a mystic force that Stephen Strange would later declare as nonexistent.

With Agatha hinting at the danger to come, we'll have to turn our attention back to the Avengers, who pause in Central Park to accept a plaque from the Mayor honoring the names of all the Avengers now deceased. Little does anyone present dream how apropos such a dedication would turn out to be, in light of what happens next.

The Reaper, being among the unliving himself, has called up yet another incarnation of the Legion of the Unliving--and it seems we're to take from the Reaper's acerbic words the implication that those heroes he's enlisted are former Avengers themselves, though neither Hellcat nor Captain Marvel fall into that category. (Weren't Gilgamesh and the new Yellowjacket dazzling enough to appear in this lineup? How dazzling do you have to be if you're a corpse?)

Yet it appears the Reaper has chosen his pawns well, given how badly ...well, terribly the Avengers fare against their beyond-the-grave attackers.

Nor does Wanda have any better luck (and for a person whose power affects probabilities, that's saying something) upon her return to Avengers Mansion, where she discovers quite a different grouping of active Avengers than those she'd expected.

As for the Reaper, it appears irrational hatred is once again at the core of his reasons for striking out at the Avengers, even from death--though we discover that Wanda herself may have made that possible. But she also may be the one person who can rectify this situation, given what she's recently learned about her power.

At first, it isn't clear whether Wanda has succeeded or failed when the Legion inexplicably leaves the mansion, presumably to carry out more of the Reaper's instructions. But when the unliving members return, the matter is unquestionably settled when the Reaper finds that the Avengers have indeed assembled--all of them, including the two they counted as friends.

Yet Wanda has been urged by Agatha to remain behind and focus on a different task--that of severing the Reaper's sustainment of the Legion, and ending his threat. But as has often been the case, the second part of that plan will fall to Wonder Man, who must once again clash with his deranged brother and, this time, remind him of the true bond between them.

The truly odd element that Busiek inserts into this tale--even making it the linchpin, of a sort, to returning Wonder Man to the land of the living and thus ensuring the Reaper's defeat--is the (there's no other way to say it) manufacturing of instant feelings of love for Wanda toward Simon Williams, something that Busiek admittedly handles deftly over the span of the two issues in which the story takes place: first by spending considerable time in having Wanda (as well as his own narrative) admit how foolish the notion is, only to then at the climax toss those objections aside and have Wanda (to quote that same narrative) "allow herself to love him" (emphasis in original).

And if we're all spinning our heads at this development, you can imagine how the Vision regards it, in what serves as the story's closing panels.

Uh-oh. That's not a happy face.


The Avengers #s 10-11

Script: Kurt Busiek
Pencils: George Perez
Inks: Al Vey & Bob Wiacek
Letterers: Richard Starkings & Dave Gibbons

1 comment:

Big Murr said...

That stretch of Avengers was pretty close to golden, with this two-part story being a shiny jewel.

Back in the day, my sisters collected Millie the Model , so I had a heartier smile at Chili being a colour commentator than I did Stuntmaster (I still only know him by name and nothing else).

It also has one of my favourite scenes where the other Avengers have a moment of awe at a raging Thor.

(Speaking of Thor, though it took years to revisit "Avengers Day", I'm still waiting for all the Asgardians armour to shine like gold for a day to commemorate the great fight against the Destroyer)