Monday, March 23, 2020

Legacy Of Loss!

At the end of the 1972 Kree-Skrull War, it's possible you may have found yourself thinking that you hadn't really seen much of a "war" by the time of the conflict's inexplicable cease-fire (a feeling perhaps shared by the Avengers, as well--along with the Kree and the Skrulls, for that matter). In that case, you may have been more satisfied by Operation: Galactic Storm, a multi-part story published twenty years later--substituting the Shi'ar Empire for the Skrulls and this time putting the Avengers in the thick of things, while having plenty of room to run its course as part of a 19-issue crossover spanning seven separate titles. This time, we would see in the eyes of Earth's mightiest heroes a more realistic involvement in and portrayal of intergalactic war, as opposed to the handful of Avengers who set out in '72 declaring they were "coming for" the Kree and the Skrulls--a contingent which arguably just wouldn't have been able to cut it in the face of such numbers and armed might. In addition, we would discover in the Kree-Shi'ar war that the Kree Supreme Intelligence wouldn't be given a pass in this new struggle in terms of his enigmatic manipulations of individuals and events; indeed, this conglomeration of Kree minds would demonstrate that the stagnant state of Kree evolution was still foremost on its mind (er, minds).

Yet while it's true that the Avengers suffer no casualties during Operation: Galactic Storm--despite the scope of the war and the stakes involved, as well as having their disagreements and facing difficult choices--the story nevertheless remains engaging, instead letting the horrors of war become evident by the near-genocide of the Kree due to the machinations of the Intelligence. But over a year and a half later, in a two-part What If tale, writer Len Kaminski evidently wasn't content with letting the Avengers off the hook so easily--and in a startling turnaround with serious consequences for all involved, his version of events sees the Kree prevail, with its military arm seizing the reins of power and demonstrating the Kree empire's utter ruthlessness in achieving supremacy.

While for the Avengers, the lesson is driven home on a more personal level, particularly for the one Avenger whom Ael-Dan decides must learn it above all others. The means by which Ael-Dan imparts that lesson might be considered rash, but the example he looks to make for others who might wish to challenge the Kree is priceless in terms of not only inspiring his people but in demonstrating how far the Kree will go to enforce their collective will. Simply put, with the Kree Empire's galactic opposition crushed, the Earth's value in a strategic sense is no longer of import--but Ael-Dan's other point is well-taken in that Earth's interference in its affairs must be brought to an end once and for all, in a definitive way that goes beyond mere conquest. And for Captain America, the sight he is about to witness would make the losses he has seen in war pale by comparison.

Game, set and match to the Kree.

But for the Avengers, the war, and its toll, would go on.

One might wonder: What's left for the Avengers to struggle against? Vengeance against the Kree, to be sure, but to what end--and how? If the Kree haven't now proven their superiority and overwhelming might to terran fighters who at this point are little more than fugitives, when will the team begin to accept the reality of their situation? One can only wonder what thoughts of despair or resignation might be going through the mind of Captain America, in whatever dungeon he awaits his execution; but for Iron Man and Goliath, still at large and so far having avoided capture, he is seen as the one man who might find a way forward, even under such circumstances.

It makes sense for Kaminski to have Iron Man, the last "free" senior Avenger, keep a cool head and step up even in the face of such tragedy to pull the team back together, by reminding Goliath of their responsibility to safeguard others who will sooner or later be in the sights of the Kree. It's a decision Clint Barton might well have made himself, were Iron Man dead or missing and he was the one Avenger left to choose a course of action for his team. (At least I like to think so.)

But liberating Cap will come at a price--one we'll find will be paid frequently from this point on.

As long as realism is our apparent theme here, it's odd to see Iron Man engage in nothing more than a Mexican standoff with Ronan, when he's demonstrated other resources in battle which avoid leaving him vulnerable as a stationary target; in fact, how convenient that Ronan has ordered his men to stand down, which nicely accommodates such a decision on Iron Man's part. It would be preferable (and equally dramatic) to see Iron Man give a full demonstration of just why he's earned the reputation he has as a formidable opponent--but what occurs delivers a powerful scene nonetheless, with Ronan's destruction offering at least some measure of retribution.

We would learn the meaning behind Cap's mysterious encounter with one of the Kree a few days later at a concentration camp established on one of the Kree moons, where the remaining members of Cap's envoy to the Kree have been removed for imprisonment and study, a process which has proven to be both wretched and torturous. With Cap's apparent public execution, there has been no hope to be found for the Avengers imprisoned and left to their fate--but unknown to their jailers, the site will soon become the launching point of a resistance movement that even now prepares to act.

Granted, we're seeing quite a complement of armed Kree warriors stationed at what amounts to a camp of destitute prisoners; if this is the norm for concentration camps, you can imagine what odds await any forces Cap is in the process of scraping together.  There's no doubt the Kree are an enemy to be reckoned with--and that will again prove to be the case, when it becomes clear that sacrifices must be made in order for others to escape with their lives.

The craft's reception in space is no cake walk for the Avengers and their group to evade, but the surprising arrival of Quasar with a group of Shi'ar dreadnoughts gives them the opening they need--and later, they rendezvous with the remnants of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, along with another group that Cap and the others are only too happy to greet.

We've seen any number of such rallying cries on the part of the Avengers over the years when faced with formidable challenges, some of which seemed to be no-win situations--but obviously the Avengers are still here, which means that those challenges were met and surmounted. But despite the confidence displayed here, the body count will grow--casualties which will include many of those you see here raising their fists in defiance.


What If #55

Script: Len Kaminski
Pencils: Craig Brasfield
Inks: Frank Turner
Letterer: Janice Chiang


Big Murr said...

These sort of "What Ifs" with their grim and gritty "realism" are a real pain in the goiter. The flaws you point out for the depiction of Iron Man's last stand applies to every character in the piece. Every hero forgets all the skill, wit, power, and experience we've seen them display thru hundreds of death-defying challenges. Now they're just dumb grunts good only for adding to some body count contest among Marvel writers.

Still, I have to take a breath and remember it is a 1990's comic. Even in their regular titles, the superheroes aren't acting normal or in character.

Jon H said...

Lol, Is that the Imperial Guard or the Legion of Super Heroes?