Wednesday, February 26, 2020

"To Tame A Titan!"

It wasn't until the early 1970s when a few of Marvel's line of books began to call attention to a title's fiftieth issue with a well-placed cover caption--the implication being that the issue was something which bore notice for the character(s) involved, whether it was an affirmation, a turning point, or simply a well-written "special issue" to mark the occasion. Needless to say, it could also serve as a sales boost, a way to bring aboard new readers as well as any who might have previously passed on the title but might now be tempted to give it another look.

Heralding a book's 50th issue wasn't a practice that Marvel indulged in across the board; in the '60s, to my knowledge, it didn't appear to be a concept that was even conceived, much less considered, even for issues that might have deserved the accolade. Among them: Fantastic Four #50, the issue that concludes the saga of the Silver Surfer and sees Galactus driven off the Earth; and certainly Amazing Spider-Man #50, where Peter Parker, realizing that being Spider-Man has brought him nothing but unhappiness, and with Jameson's scathing denouncement of the wall-crawler ringing in his ears, hangs up his webs and literally trashes his costume, turning his back on his crime-fighting identity--until he saves the life of a man who reminds him of his Uncle Ben, and is reminded of the reason why he swore that day never to stand by and let another innocent come to harm.  Neither cover gave any indication that the issue had reached a pinnacle that we should be aware of.

From a more marketing perspective, X-Men's 50th issue surely was in need of and could have benefited from such a cover caption, though its story was nothing to write home about: Mesmero bathes Lorna Dane in the rays of a machine that will help her realize her mutant potential, while Magneto returns to reveal himself to be her father. (It's one of the rare Jim Steranko stories that fell flat for me.) In the '70s, there were other titles that didn't acknowledge their own 50th milestone: Doctor Strange #50, where Strange pursues his lady friend, Morgana Blessing, who is shanghaied into the past by Baron Mordo (Strange's pub encounter with Nick Fury being the amusing highlight of the issue)... and as for Invincible Iron Man, who's 50th issue had him battling Princess Python, I might have instead rescheduled issue #47 for that honor, where Iron Man takes stock of his existence to date and wonders if the harm he's done in his armored identity justifies his continuing in the role.

As for books which were singled out, and perhaps deservedly so:

  • Marvel Two-In-One #50: The Thing battles a version of himself from the earliest days of the FF, armed with a serum from Reed Richards which would have cured that time's Ben Grimm of the monstrous transformation he never wanted;
  • Sub-Mariner #50: Namor, bereft of memory, is drawn to his ancestral home in the Antarctic where he's forced to confront elements of his past (as well as a new cousin);
  • The Defenders #50: The climax of a three-part story involving Scorpio, the new Zodiac, Nick Fury, and Moon Knight; and
  • Captain Marvel #50: Mar-vell joins forces with the Avengers to take down a more deadly version of the Super-Adaptoid.

And then, still in a decade void of any such promotion, we had the fiftieth issue of another notable title--a book which by that time had indeed reached its own turning point, culminating in a struggle which threatened to destroy a super-team. Or what was left of it.

The Avengers #50 no doubt had all the makings of a hallmark issue, one which saw the team at its lowest ebb and nowhere to go but up: two of its members now with Magneto indefinitely, while a third, Hercules, had left for Olympus to investigate the disappearance of his missing pantheon, leaving Hawkeye, the Wasp, and Goliath as the only members on active duty. Unfortunately, in the sad state they're in and understandably tense as a result, they don't seem to be interested in taking on anyone but each other.

As we've learned, this "skeleton team" is further hampered by the loss of Henry Pym's powers as Goliath, leaving Hawkeye as the Avengers' only member capable of waging a fight if the need arose. (Unless you count the Wasp, which, let's face it, no reader at this point likely would. If you're in the mood to debate that, consider that in the coming battle depicted by the cover, she doesn't even bother to shrink in size, nor does she make any contribution whatsoever.)

"I don't know how we could help Hercules just now..." Aside from the fact that you're discounting your own (excuse the word) powers, Jan, you could at least offer some moral support aside from the pleasure of your company. But then, you don't really give a hang about the Avengers at all, do you?

Meanwhile, Hercules has discovered the threat which has effectively disposed of all the gods of Olympus--Typhon, one of the Titans of that realm who had a grudge against Zeus, and now acts to ensure that Hercules shares the Olympians' fate.

I don't know about you, but unless Hawkeye has an arrow in that quiver of his that can take out a Titan who wiped the floor with Hercules (in panels omitted from this post), I'm not counting on the Avengers (such as they are) to be much of a challenge to this bruiser when he arrives on Earth.

As for Hercules, his spirits are lifted when he locates his people in exile. And though he didn't fare well in battle against Typhon in Olympus, it seems that he's their only hope for escape from their shadowy prison.

Zeus acts not a moment too soon, as, back on Earth, Typhon begins his incursion on Earth by testing his might against a navy warship--in addition to a trio of mortals who lack the might to match their courage.

(No, I don't know how Goliath could be alarmed by Jan's expression when her face is turned away from him. Imagine how distressed she looks now that she realizes she's the only Avenger left to face Typhon.)

Fortunately, our future Chairwoman of the Avengers catches a break when Hercules, in the nick of time, arrives like the cavalry and once more takes on Typhon, in a battle well suited to the pencils and inks of John Buscema. Even the other Avengers regroup to join the fray--or at least one of them, frantically egged on by the other two who realize he's their only means of assisting their partner.

(A nice touch, adding Captain America's training to the mix to give Herc the edge he needs.)

Goliath's guess pans out, as Hercules indeed leaves the Avengers and brings his defeated charge to face the harsh justice of Zeus--and afterward choosing to reside in Olympus for the time being (with "time," of course, having little meaning to an immortal).

(Anyone remember our old friends Kratos and Bia, two demi-gods whose specialty seems to be fetch and carry?)

Regrettably, things haven't worked out very well for the Avengers, who are basically no better off than when they began this mission--which wouldn't do at all for a 50th issue celebration, had that been the case here. For what it's worth, however, the Wasp has done a turnaround and now appears invested in the group as both optimist and morale booster.

Thanks to an encounter with the Collector, combined with a small assist from Iron Man, Goliath does indeed regain his growth powers--while the later addition of the Panther to their ranks makes the Avengers a decent enough fighting force once more. Happily, their next fifty issues do the title proud, and then some.


Rick said...

John's work here is outstanding. I loved it when he inked his own work.

Tiboldt said...

No mention of Daredevil #50, where DD was a victim of the machinations of... Biggie Benson!

Comicsfan said...

Tiboldt, I confess I haven't read that issue of Daredevil, though I may have skimmed through it at some point (I seem to remember DD having a tough time with that android).

Rick, I'm partial to Buscema being inked by his brother Sal, Mike Esposito, Tom Palmer, and Jim Mooney. I'd normally put Joe Sinnott in that listing, but sometimes a strong inker like Sinnott can overshadow Buscema's work a bit too much for my taste.

Big Murr said...

"Biggie Benson" and "android"? Wha...?

I had to go digging a bit thru the web and my own collection to connect "Biggie Benson" to "Starr Saxon" to "Machinesmith" (finally, a name I knew!) and then to the Plastoid.

Until this morning, all I knew came from Daredevil Annual 2012, where DD and the Clan Destine tangled with a forgotten Plastoid awakened from a hidden Saxon cache.

Ah, the crossover connections that accumulate thru the years of Marvel stories...

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