Thursday, July 2, 2020

By The Vision Betrayed!

OR: "Mr. Smith Goes To Outer Space!"

Sandwiched between the new Goliath's conflict with the Swordsman and a looming threat from Kang the Conqueror was a three-part Avengers tale from 1969 which would bring two of Marvel's newest pencillers to the pages of the book--UK artist Barry Smith and Sal Buscema, each of whom would make their mark on The Avengers and would go on to establish distinguished careers for themselves. The story by Roy Thomas would also feature the first appearance of the impenetrable metal named adamantium, as well as the reappearance of a mad automaton that would be one's worst nightmare as far as being cast in such a metal--Ultron-6, who becomes so invincible from this point on that he decides to discard his numerical designation (at least this time around).

And as for proof of the potential threat of adamantium as a weapon, we need only step aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, where the most powerful Avengers have been requested to test its resistance.

Strange words coming from Henry Pym, who was one of the Vision's most vocal advocates when the android petitioned to join the Avengers; in addition to that offhand comment, we'd see in later scenes that he now feels the Vision was accepted into the team too quickly, even going so far as to worry about the threat he would pose should he turn against them. It's all presumably Thomas's way of setting the stage for what's to come, though it seems an odd leap for Pym not to give the Vision the benefit of the doubt. (You can be concerned about the behavior of someone without suspecting the worst of them.) Also seemingly intentional was Thor's throwaway remark here that the adamantium cylinder would never be anything but a cylinder--even when we're presented with a device which is capable of altering its shape and form, a statement which would otherwise prompt a concern of that device becoming an invaluable piece of equipment in the wrong hands.

On another note, Smith's first job on The Avengers (inked by Syd Shores) looks to be first-rate thus far, and there's more to come--but it's artist John Buscema's dramatic cover for this issue which lets us know that, where the Vision is concerned, the situation concerning his behavior, and perhaps his loyalty, is about to escalate.

(So one of the floors of Avengers Mansion stops short and looks out over--what, a pit? And deep enough to hold Goliath? What kind of parties did the Starks throw in this place before the Avengers moved in?)

As we've seen, and as the Wasp has noted, the Vision has remained aloof and offered no opinion on the adamantium testing taking place on the helicarrier.* You and I, as casual observers who unlike the Avengers don't have a Roy Thomas plot to advance, might have chalked it up to the Vision being preoccupied with something; likewise, we wouldn't normally leap to the conclusion that something insidious might be going on, instead. But since we are caught up in an ongoing plot, the Vision doesn't have the luxury of simply collecting his thoughts, but instead falls under attack by something, or someone, as yet unrevealed. As a result, his subsequent, sudden disappearance sparks alarm--and just look at how quickly that alarm turns to suspicion because of the purely circumstantial "evidence" brought to light by the timing of his departure.

*No, I don't know why the Vision wasn't tapped to use his own power to affect the adamantium cylinder. It's a foregone conclusion that his ability to penetrate it wasn't in question; but I'd certainly be curious to see what effect his disruption abilities would have on it. To the best of my knowledge, this issue marks the first use of that aspect of his power--and while it might be news to the Avengers, there's no reason I can think of for him to be reluctant to at least make the offer.

Once away from and out of earshot of the growing concerns of his teammates, we find the Vision paying a visit to the cemetery where Simon Williams, the dead Wonder Man, is interred--a curious and perhaps somewhat revealing choice on his part, as if groping for an anchor that will calm his runaway thoughts. The irony is that it's indeed clarity he receives--under the influence of someone, or something, else.

Meanwhile, back at Avengers Mansion, where Pym is having growing doubts about the Vision's trustworthiness, Iron Man takes some time to indulge in an automated battle simulation, only to find the exercise is seemingly rigged. Where the Vision is concerned, the timing couldn't be more damning--especially when the android's mysterious new course of action has him returning to the helicarrier well after his team has departed, in order to undertake a most illicit act that will almost surely condemn him in the eyes of the Avengers.

While as we can see, the helicarrier itself appears headed on a trajectory toward

At this point in time, the massive helicarrier is still the most vivid symbol of SHIELD's technological capabilities and resources. We know at some point the organization will have its own space station; for now, it looks like Mr. Smith has made the helicarrier the next best thing, with its stationing above the Earth in the void of space and even an agent posted in an airlock to prevent unauthorized entry. (It isn't clear why the Vision feels he needs to enter through an access point such as an airlock--to him, the entire hull is an access point.) Yet the real items which stand out here are the carrier's massive propellers which hold it aloft--entirely superfluous in an airless environment, but for some reason still operating as if the carrier were below cloud cover.  Given where Mr. Smith has the carrier situated, the fuel expended by the propellers would be put to better use by a good set of thrusters.

As you might expect, word of the Vision's blatant actions aboard the carrier has reached the Avengers--and while they aren't yet prepared to cast aspersions on him, particularly when they remain in the dark as to his motives, it's the Vision himself who confirms their fears.

It's rather (excuse the word) chilling to see the Vision using this aspect of his power to this degree, skillfully and imaginatively rendered by Smith. Yet while there's no doubt about the Vision's immediate intent, attacking the Avengers for no apparent reason except out of malice makes no sense. Of course, he's done so once before, when under the thrall of his creator--and it's not long before the Avengers are made to realize the true threat against them, and, thanks to the nature of its construction, its deadly scope.

Ultron is obviously out for blood, the fierceness of his attack dynamically presented by Smith (inked in this story's second part by George Klein) whose style here clearly leans heavily toward that of Jack Kirby. It's all the Avengers can do to withstand Ultron's explosive assaults, while having practically no hope of inflicting any meaningful damage against one now made of adamantium.

But there is one Avenger all but forgotten about--the one who made all of this possible, and who struggles to come to grips with his role here as well as determine why he has acted to betray those who trusted him.

As for the ones who suffer the consequences of that betrayal... if nothing else, the Avengers' resistance has bought them time, the one thing that Ultron isn't willing to spend on seeing to their deaths at this stage of his plan. And so he departs as violently as he arrived, leaving the Avengers struggling to regroup and come to terms with the Vision's actions--while the Vision himself resolves to do what he must to atone for his behavior.

But will Ultron's cryptic words be the death knell for the Avengers, as well as the entire city?

It's the Vision vs. Ultron, as the Avengers race to prevent a nuclear holocaust!


Rick said...

Surprisingly, I see very little touch-up of the faces by Romita which seemed pretty standard practice to me at the time. Perhaps one instance on the Vision. Considering how off-model Barry's stuff looked, I would have expected a lot more. Glad they didn't though, as I love Barry's early work.

Big Murr said...

This was a big issue for my early days. I was barely ankle-deep in the Marvel universe when I scored part 1 and 2 from the used book store (remember when you could score great comics that way?). Part 3 took a long,, painful, time to come my way.

It was so incredibly full of business, big and small. Adamantium! Thor's helmet did come off his head! What's this? Goliath was the guy's second superhero identity-- some sort of archer before now? Oooh...this is the earliest days of the Vision!

And so on.

As impressive as this first display of Vision's disruption tactic really is, I can only sigh heavily. It henceforth became the character's go-to move 87% of the time. So many times a diamond-hard fist weighing a tonne or so would have worked a lot better.

Comicsfan said...

Murray, a number of comics in my collection were copies originally snagged at a used bookstore, for a dime apiece! Needless to say I made many returns to the place--though at the time, I thought nothing of the fact that the owner stamped the store's name and address across each cover, either to deter shoplifters or as a way of advertising his store. Only later, when I'd caught the collecting bug, did I realize that those copies wouldn't make the grade as part of what I'd begun to amass--but what fun it was walking into that place and see what was "new" on the pile of used comics I had yet to read. :D

Anonymous said...

Early Barry Smith, he was still experimenting with his own style.
Personally, I dig his early stuff, even though he was channeling Kirby (and Steranko, I think).
It's bombastic and a bit raw and makes this a fun comic to read. This may be my favorite rendition of Ultron!