Monday, December 6, 2021

Earth's Mightiest Heroes vs. Earth's Mightiest Heroes!


Towards the end of his distinguished four-year run on The Avengers, writer Steve Englehart put together a plot which spanned seven issues and somehow manages to include and involve a virtual grab bag of story elements.  To name a few:  the Roxxon Oil conglomerate... Kang the Conqueror... a new super-heroine... a parallel Earth last seen in the book in 1971... two new prospective Avengers... the Serpent Crown... the heroic gunslingers of the old West... the return of Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, and Immortus... and a former Sub-Mariner foe that takes out the Avengers with a single swing of his mammoth fist. (There's a free comic book for anyone who correctly guesses who it is! Not really!)

Oh yes, there's also the Squadron Sinister... CORRECTION, there's the Squadron Supreme, despite two of this story's covers trying like hell to convince us otherwise!

(The same bait-and-switch was resorted to for the cover of Avengers #85.)

Even the heroes themselves have to put their collective foot down and spell it out for us!

What is the big deal, Mr. Cover Captioner? Did you run the numbers and somehow conclude that "Sinister" would sell tons more comics than "Supreme"? Aren't the Avengers supposed to be selling this book?

There are more cover shenanigans at work here, but try this one on for size: A giant coyote-monster sicced on Cap's team by Roxxon, even though in the story our monster is really turned loose on Thor's team by Kang in the year 1873.

Slapping the word "Kang" on the cover in order to render it, in some twisted sense, symbolic. Smoothly played, Mr. Cover Captioner.

We know from a previous post how this story got rolling. The Beast is attacked in broad daylight by goons from the Brand Corporation (a Roxxon subsidiary) out to kill him, when Captain America shows up (while investigating Roxxon). When the two send their attackers packing, they return to Avengers Mansion to gather teammates to confront whatever is going on at Brand, while Thor and Moondragon investigate Kang's scheming in the past with the aid of Immortus.

The latter story, as well, has been covered previously in the PPC, and so we pick things up at Brand just after Roxxon President Hugh Jones has unleashed on the Avengers the Squadron Sinister Supreme (in their second story appearance, taking place nearly three years after their introduction). Sharing the danger with the Avengers is Patsy Walker, who has accompanied the Beast--their association going back to when Hank McCoy worked at Brand, but Patsy herself going back much further as a former devil-may-care teen romance character who had her own bimonthly comic series from 1945-65.  Patsy's ex-husband, Buzz Baxter, happens to be Jones's partner in crime--but more pertinent to the story, it's Patsy who inadvertently makes it possible for the Squadron to capture the Avengers.

Cap's plan is a pretty good one, using his shield as well as the Vision's abilities to free the team from Dr. Spectrum's prism-created prison. But Brand security enables Jones to soon locate them as they make their way through the facility--and after evading a few guided missiles sent their way, three of the team come upon a storage area where it would seem fortune favors Patsy's gung-ho spirit for adventure.

Patsy is right about one thing: With the Squadron on Jones's payroll, the Avengers can't afford to turn down help (at least now that Patsy can reasonably defend herself)--and when the Avengers regroup, it looks like Patsy will have her baptism of fire as the Hellcat when the Squadron arrives for Round Two!

It would be three months (!) before readers would see this story's continuation, as a two-part inventory story written by Tony Isabella (with Scott Edelman) is inserted at this point in order to deal with a deadline crunch. Fortunately, the next installment hits the ground running, as, thanks to Jones, the Avengers find themselves facing the Squadron on that team's own Earth. Even so, this time it's the Squadron which learns a little something about teamwork from the Avengers.

Yet when army troops arrive, it becomes clear that this Earth has been effectively shaped and subjugated by those in positions of power and influence, held in sway by the dominance of the Serpent Crown--its latest wearer certainly being the most prominent official to have donned this ancient object.

How completely odd that no one--not the army officers, not the Squadron, anyone--seems to question why the President regards this bizarre, serpent-shaped stone "crown" as essential headwear, while others who have worn it have apparently also escaped scrutiny. How does a public figure--how does a government official--explain wearing something like that, to say nothing of treating it as indispensable? Rockefeller wasn't on the campaign trail wearing this thing, was he?

Meanwhile, the Squadron sets out to search for the Avengers, even as the Scarlet Witch finds that mere physical contact with the Crown can affect her will--setting up a series of skirmishes between smaller groups of Avengers and Squad members, some of whom we have yet to meet.

Both Englehart and artist George Perez have given generous attention to Wanda and the Vision--particularly in this scene, as the latter takes on three Squadron members on his own. Does the Vision look worried? Granted, Wanda being in the Squadron's clutches serves as strong motivation for him, but have a look at how well he handles himself here--even as Wanda wages her own battle.

Technically speaking, no one told Lady Lark anything about staying out of the fight--only that, being in no shape to fight or even stand following the Vision's attack, she should "take a ten-count," as her boyfriend put it. But considering she was soon taken out more definitively, it's a moot point--leaving her fellow Squadron members to have their own opportunities to deal with the Avengers.

The conclusion to this seven-issue saga!

(A title that may end up not making a lick of sense to anyone but Mr. Englehart.)


Big Murr said...

Ah, the "origin" of Hellcat brings back memories. I made a frownie face of disbelief when I first ever read this comic and I remade that face just now. Other characters with full focus and desire and a modicum of training to be a superhero still flounder with "rookie mistakes" (Heck, X-Men take dozens of issues of training to become vaguely competent). Patsy puts on a pair of tights and holds her own against the equivalent of Superman??

Also, then and now, I enjoy when a writer lets the Vision use all the amazing power at his disposal. 94% of the time, all he gets is his "fist in the chest" disruption and that is it.

I also recall thinking this George Perez artist was the real deal with these issues. Now, I can only smile nostalgically at seeing the fledgling hints of the genius art he would later produce.

Comicsfan said...

Well, Murray, as Patsy herself notes, the suit's designer must receive a major share of the credit for how well she performs going into action--though at some point, she'll have to give some thought to what happens when the suit is damaged or destroyed in the middle of a crisis situation. Does she fold like a cheap tent, or does she press on? And I couldn't agree with you more about the Vision--he's not called "The Disruptor," for Pete's sake!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, with the whole "Sinister" "and Supreme" deal, there was a bit of a bait-and-switch here. But I doubt anybody grumbled very long about being hoodwinked yet again by Marvel covers, because this arc was so dang entertaining.
I mean, what's not to like. This was as close as you were gonna get, pal, to seeing the Avengers and the JLA fight each other.
In the 70's, I mean.
That classic cover where the two teams are squaring off was one of the covers along with other Marvel materiel that decorated the old Mead school supplies, y'know, trapper-keepers, notebooks, etc. I had a spiral notebook with the cover from ASM #135 on it.
Unfortunately, I used that spiral notebook as a...well, as a spiral notebook.
Don't ask me what a "trapper-keeper" is. I'm not gonna try to explain that. It doesn't matter. But every time I saw a kid in school with one of 'em, I would accost that poor child and demand (or beg) to look at it, because I was nuts about anything Marvel. I didn't know who half these characters even were, but it was pretty damn important that I find out.
And how can any Marvel nerd worth his or her salt not love that scene where the Vision takes out Superm--I mean, ah, Hyperion.
He needed to be taken down a peg or two!


Anonymous said...

It was such a shame. Hellcat is a GREAT name for a character. And Hellcat's red hair is just what the Cat's black and yellow costume needs to elevate it from so-so to great. Based on the name and look alone, I love the character and would follow her in a series. Those slight changes improve the appeal of the "Cat" immensely.

But the character of Patsy Walker best remains in her original Archie-like setting, she should never have been brought over to the mainstream Marvel universe. Far better to have given her an entirely different name since truly that connection does NOTHING at all except tickle Englehart's obsession with tying every Marvel property to each other. And her becoming a superhero has neither an interesting origin for her powers, or an interesting motivation to become a hero. The character is flat and uninteresting. Even that could have become overcome until she finds herself in the Defenders and saddled as being the girlfriend of Damien Hellstrom which does neither character any good. It killed all my initial enthusiasm.


Comicsfan said...

M.P., I suppose one could argue that Hyperion's might gives him good reason to be swell-headed and confident (if at times unbearably so); but in this story's conclusion, while Hyperion doesn't exactly receive a comeuppance, you may still be gratified by the way he and steps up and, with his team, denounces the extent of corruption on his world.

Chris, you make a good distinction between the character of Patsy Walker and the lost potential of the new Hellcat, though I might point out that her being so "green" in taking on this role helped to mitigate (at least to some degree) the shallowness that otherwise detracts from the improvements over the original Cat. Also, as I've mentioned, it doesn't help the situation that it's really Patsy's super-suit that's doing the legwork here (as Patsy regrettably never fails to remind the reader), which tends to make her "motivation" for suiting up stand out like a sore thumb.