Wednesday, February 5, 2020

This Madman... This Power!

One of the more interesting crossover stories which occurred in early 1972 worked out either according to plan, or with a good deal of reshuffling behind the scenes--it's hard to say. My own guess is that it may have been the latter, though I'll gladly defer to the more learned among you who are better able to connect the dots.

The stories, each handled by writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams, take place within these two titles:

...beginning in March, 1971, where Black Bolt of the Inhumans departs for San Francisco to investigate options for finding a place for his people among the human race. (Vague words taken from the beginning of the story--but rather than referring to an actual homestead of some sort, they're likely simply a metaphor for acceptance.) With his departure, we learn of the disposition of his mad brother, Maximus, presumably following his capture after an attempt to dethrone Black Bolt by instigating a war (the Jack Kirby story which launched the Amazing Adventures title)--yet the method of Maximus' incarceration raises concern with Karnak and Gorgon, who fear Black Bolt may have overstepped his bounds.

Granted, it's an odd shift in characterization for both men, since they've unquestioningly supported the will of Black Bolt in the past; there's also the fact that after all of Maximus' crimes, Black Bolt has never demonstrated undue harshness in how his brother was dealt with, much less thoughts of homicide.

Which makes their next decision all the more unexpected, and reckless.

To learn what this scene signifies, we must look in on Black Bolt, who arrives at his destination only to be drawn into a local conflict involving a boy named Joey, conscripted by his uncle into engaging in petty crime. But once Black Bolt handily deals with the situation, the power of Maximus strikes, effectively neutralizing whatever threat his brother might have posed to him; but while Maximus has cause to no longer fear the wrath of Black Bolt, he's still put the pieces in place to bring about the very war between human and Inhuman that had previously been averted.

And so while the power of Maximus has been unleashed in the past, this is the first instance that the royal family (including, possibly, Maximus himself) see it being harnessed--which now raises the threat of Maximus from that of being merely a dangerous, scheming madman. (Imagine such a man now having the power to affect the minds of others, an irony which Maximus himself will later note.) We can jokingly say that, due to their rash actions ("Surely, it cannot hurt to pry open this prison"--good grief, talk about telegraphing a scene), Gorgon and Karnak perhaps deserve what's coming to them--but can we say the same for the human race?

Despite being new to the use of his power, Maximus effectively deals with the members of the royal family present, until his backup arrives in the form of the more vulnerable minds of the populace. In the face of such a strategem, any resistance offered by Medusa and the others is rendered useless, and they have no choice but to flee the Great Refuge--if they can.

(That sky-sled couldn't have been too inadequate if it was able to span the entire Himalayan mountain range to reach the sea before plummeting.)

Meanwhile, another crisis might be on the verge of causing a city's death, depending on the utterance that the confused and amnesiac Black Bolt could emit within seconds--a scene which Joey's uncle is fated to see for himself, no matter the outcome. Fortunately, the mass death and destruction that Maximus had predicted does not occur--but the visible result is no less unimaginable for the three who witness it.

We learn in a separate post what the nefarious Roscoe does with information like this, a decision which will reach out to involve one of the Avengers.

Back at the coast, points to the Inhumans for springing on us one of the most implausible contingency plans this side of James Bond's mini-plane reveal in the opening scene of Octopussy. (Although if I had to choose the more believable event, I'm partial to Bond's!)

From here, things become a little tangled with the departure of Thomas and Adams from the book, leaving Gerry Conway and Mike Sekowsky to pick up the pieces of the plot which basically consists of Medusa's group (separated from Triton upon arrival at the California coast) attempting to locate Black Bolt. In a two-part story, Conway accomplishes just that, as mutant agents of Magneto appear and capture Black Bolt--leaving behind Joey, who is soon after abducted by the Trikon, a new player in this story.

Medusa's group is also attacked by the mutants, but manage instead to overpower their attackers and learn of Black Bolt's capture--leading to a failed rescue attempt, with Magneto thereafter using the three as hostages to secure Black Bolt's cooperation in helping to steal a government compound that would allow Magneto to complete a device (the "Universe Machine") which would augment the process of mutant creation. The plan fails, and Magneto is defeated--while the sight of Medusa has had the effect of allowing Black Bolt's full memory to resurface.

At that point, the storyline comes to an almost abrupt end (Part 2 amounting to only 15 pages, with the rest of the issue filled with a reprint of the story which premiered the Lee/Kirby Inhumans series from the pages of Mighty Thor)--which also turns out to be the unexpected end of the Inhumans' Amazing Adventures run, which Conway's prose does its best to put the best face possible on this ending-but-not-an-ending:

The final caption refers to the Beast from the X-Men being launched in a new series of stories by Conway and artist Tom Sutton. The issue's letters page, however, hints at another reason for a shift in course for the book:

" can pick up a copy of the latest issue of THE AVENGERS to see how, not long after this AMAZING episode, Black Bolt and his awesome cronies re-gained [sic] control of the mountain-lost Great Refuge. Still, if enough of you request it--and, frankly, if enough of you bought the last few issues [emphasis in original]--we hope to revive the series at a near-future time, perhaps even in its own magazine. We feel, however, that the time has come to begin a new series, with a totally different protagonist."

All of which lead to the Avengers issue, where a wounded Triton appears in the midst of the team's battle with the S.H.I.E.L.D.-issued Mandroids and implores the Avengers to assist in his efforts to locate Black Bolt.

The Vision would later withdraw his "nay" vote and elect instead to accompany Thor and Iron Man to the Great Refuge. In San Francisco, however, where we'd expect to find Black Bolt in the company of his royal cousins (though you'd think they'd either be searching for Triton or already on their way back to the Refuge by now), we instead find him once again on his own, fighting to protect Joey from armed gunsels--yes, that Joey, whose mysterious abduction has been elbowed out of this plot altogether, in addition to Gorgon, Medusa, and Karnak who had reunited with their king.

Let's assume for the time being that Adams had turned in the art for this story without being privy to the events that took place in Amazing Adventures after he'd left the book following his work on the Lionel Dibbs/Thor story--an oversight, to be sure, but that would still leave Thomas with enough viable elements to weave into his Avengers story which was presumably plotted to tie in Maximus' alliance with the Kree, without having to necessarily account for the rest of the royal family to any degree or even the loose end involving Joey. It doesn't sufficiently address the haste with which the curtain was rung down on the Inhumans in Amazing Adventures, but perhaps the blame is to be laid on nothing more than a scheduling conflict which caught everyone off guard.

That leaves only reclaiming the Great Refuge, which the Avengers are well qualified to assist with--particularly when the mind-enslaved population is freed from Maximus' control and no longer a factor. Unfortunately, they find that the Kree have their own agenda when it comes to a certain Rick Jones.

With Thomas's 11th-hour mention of the rest of the royal family, he's effectively shored up most of this story's discrepancies--with a call-to-arms ending by the Avengers that serves to gloss over any remaining questions and essentially make this issue a prelude to the coming Kree-Skrull War.  In fact, the PPC can even pitch in by adapting a few out-of-sequence panels and speculating on what Medusa and the others were up to while left to their own devices in California, without their stick-in-the-mud king there to get in the way of a good time.

No doubt our cabbie will be applying his Royal Family fare on this occasion.


Big Murr said...

Memory Lane Moment:

As a kid, I was a Silver Age DC fan. My mother had volunteered to help out with a charity event, which involved packing away things and generally tidying up. Someone had left behind Fantastic Four #57. Knowing her son's nutty love of these funny books, she brought it home to me.

The issue's contents meant nothing to me. It started in the middle of an adventure and ended with a cliffhanger of sorts, but it was a buffet of introductions. The F.F., Sandman, the diabolical Dr. Doom, the too-trusting Silver Surfer, and they even shoehorned in the Inhumans.

A few years later, I "graduated" to Marvel with Thor #182 - primarily because of my growing delight in Norse Mythology but definitely because "there's that Dr. Doom guy from the F.F. comic!"

The point of this ramble is that I also bought Amazing Adventures #1 for the same reason: the Inhumans from that F.F. comic were the featured characters and guest-starred the F.F. And I was an avid collector for each issue. Jack Kirby art segued into Neal Adam art. Then Thor appeared. (the Buscema, then Colan pencils on the Black Widow companion story didn't detract from the purchase either) Sheer glory!

And then the whole thing drove off a cliff and into a lake of congealed duck fat. But, until then, Conway's snotty remark about not buying/supporting the title did not apply to me!

Comicsfan said...

How thoughtful of your mother to pick that up for you, Murray. I couldn't picture either of my parents giving a second thought to buying a comic book for me; of course I was in my mid-teens at the time, so I was giving them enough consternation asking for the car keys!

Sharper13x said...

Great post as usual.

I don’t know too much about the inhumans, but I have always wondered... why does Black Bolt wear a mask? I mean, he’s a King who lives on the Moon, right? Who is he disguising himself from?

Comicsfan said...

That is a little odd, isn't it, Sharper. And with the exception of Triton, Maximus, and Crystal, the same held for the rest of the royal family, though at least Medusa would dispense with her mask on occasion following her marriage to Black Bolt.

Big Murr said...

I can shed a little geek light on the Mask Question. Alan Davis did a, what I think, a very plausible retcon explanation of the Inhuman masks in Fantastic Four: The End (2007) It's an ancient Inhuman custom that is essentially a symbolic public apology for looking too human.

Sharper13x said...

@Big Murr, that is interesting, thanks. But it took 40 years to address? I guess it was more just a trope about comic-book characters needing to wear masks. Like Galactus. I mean, he's Galactus! Does he think he's protecting his private life from the paparazzi?

That's one thing I always liked about the FF. It makes so much sense that they would be massive celebrities. No masks was a good call from the start.

Comicsfan said...

Davis also seemed to be making the distinction that the tradition is only observed by some of the Inhumans who bear a resemblance to humans, which helps to explain the inconsistencies we see among the Inhuman population in this regard but only to a point. Crystal, who's never struck me as a fundamentalist, obviously has chosen to ignore tradition, and I'd imagine Luna would adopt her mother's example when she's old enough to make her own choice; but Maximus, who has always despised the human race and someone you'd think would want to distance himself from having any resemblance to them whatsoever, continues to refrain from donning a mask. So did Black Bolt's parents, for that matter--as well as the ancient Inhumans who encountered the Kree sentry for the first time. Medusa has gone back and forth, curiously enough, both in public and in private; but she of all people shouldn't be on the fence in this matter, given that she was present when Maximus fired his atmo gun designed to end all human life on Earth, only to point out the obvious when no humans perished as a result:

"See, Maximus!! They live! Do you understand at last?? Richards was right! We are not the natural enemies of the human race! We are not Inhuman! We are the same as they!! For years we have hidden here, in the Great Refuge, thinking the humans would destroy us because we are a different race! But we are human, too! It is only our powers that are different!"

That evidence should have struck at the very heart of those seeking to make some sort of statement about their human-like appearance and how they regret the resemblance. Yet it's a scene that Davis has apparently chosen to ignore, all for the sake of a hurried bit of reasoning that, through the Thing, he opted not to back up in more detail.