Saturday, May 24, 2008

Celestial Madonna - Avengers 133

Avengers 133 Steve Englehart
Avengers #133 (1974)
Avengers #133

Doug: I’m really unhappy with the use of Wanda by Englehart, dating back to when he was early in his tenure as series scribe. The whole witch-training deal with Agatha Harkness just creeps me out. Ol’ Agatha was always weird in the FF, but she is above and beyond the call to weird-duty here! I just think it’s a stretch to blend witchcraft or sorcery with probability-altering powers.

Karen: I always assumed that giving her true magical abilities was connected to the feminist movement, by empowering Wanda so she would no longer be seen as a weak member of the team. That didn’t bother me too much, as I’m always happy to see more powerful women characters. But she did come off as a bit of a bitch during this time.

Sharon: As I mentioned in an earlier segment, Wanda is not Marvel’s answer to Zatanna. Marvel already had characters who fit that bill, including Dr. Strange, the Enchantress and Agatha Harkness. Yet for some reason—perhaps the reason Karen puts forth--the powers that be felt compelled to jazz up Wanda’s powers and make her more magical and mystical. Big mistake in my opinion. She became just another semi-sorceress instead of a character with a unique power.

Karen: It’s unclear to me really why Englehart felt the need to have the Vision go on his journey alone. Surely the Avengers had more of a connection with him than Mantis!

Doug: Hawkeye’s line about grabbing the staff at the Playboy Club was priceless!

Sharon: The line was funny and in character, but did you catch Englehart’s caption (“The remainder of Hawkeye’s observation is lost—probably fortunately—for posterity—“)? Another example of Englehart’s picaresque approach to the narrative. This style made him stand out.

Doug: Immortus’ comment to himself on page 3, “Five lives have I known…” is causing me some math problems, in light of our discussion earlier as to whether or not Doom was a version of Kang and when that notion might have been dropped. Count: Kang, Rama-tut, Immortus, the Scarlet Centurion, and ??? Doom? I guess that’s who it would have to be.

Karen: I think it would have to be Doom, particularly when you consider that the cover for GS Avengers 2 originally featured Kang, Rama Tut, AND Doom. The whole situation is entirely convoluted.

Sharon: I agree…it’s most likely a reference to Doom.

Doug: You two don’t like Mantis – I can tolerate her, but I just hate Moondragon!

Karen: Honestly, I don’t really like either of them! Particularly when Moondragon convinced Thor to quit the team.

Sharon: I felt Moondragon was shoehorned into this story; all of a sudden she shows up. Perhaps the two of you were familiar with her before this issue (she appeared in other comics around that time from what I gather), but she was a total stranger to me.

Doug: I liked the reference to the Vision’s battle with the Sentinels from Avengers #102. It made it seem like the writers/editors had really put some thought into the resolution of the Vision’s origin, and had been very patient about revealing it.
The biography of the Original Human Torch has never been told better than by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross in Marvels #0. Buscema and Staton do a nice job of drawing the Torch in more of a Golden Age-style in the flashbacks. He was not drawn this way in the previous issues where Buscema/Staton handled the art chores.
The origin of Mantis began with a nice backstory that to the best of my knowledge had not been told. I enjoyed the foundational information about two of Marvel’s best-known alien races, the Kree and the Skrulls.

Karen: The history of the Kree and Skrulls is worth putting up with more Mantis! I thought this was one of the best things Englehart added to the Marvel universe. Knowing the backstory of these eternal enemies makes their conflicts seem much more interesting. I like that the alien-looking Skrull were the more advanced of the races, and indeed, even gave the Kree the means to become their enemies. He also ties in the Watcher’s blue area on the moon. Rather nicely done.

Doug: The three-way conflict between the Skrulls, Kree, and the Cotati was interesting and made sense. I didn’t feel like there were any holes in the story nor were there any parts that seemed silly. Overall well-done, and evocative of some of DC’s science fiction tales of the Silver Age.

Sharon: I guess I am the odd person out here; I kept asking myself why all this exposition about the Kree, the Cotati, Moondragon, etc.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Celestial Madonna: Giant-Size Avengers 3

Giant-Size Avengers 3 Mantis
Giant-Size Avengers 33 (1974)
Doug: I’d said in an earlier communiqué that I thought Dave Cockrum’s art was really strong in Giant-Size Avengers #2. I’d like to back off that just a bit after reading GS #3, and particularly concerning the splash page. Even as a first-time reader right before Christmas 1974, the way the Vision was depicted seemed a little odd. His legs look skinny and his face is oddly-shaped. But overall, the issue’s art is good, with dynamic poses and well-choreographed battles.

Karen: Doug, I agree, but I put the blame more on the inker, Joe Giella. When you compare this issue to GS Avengers 2, it’s like night and day. I can only see glimpses of Cockrum’s style here – the inks just render it very plain.

Sharon: This splash page always reminds me of Antony and Cleopatra —“I am dying, Egypt, dying!”

Doug: For all the hackles she’s raised, Mantis is trying hard to be liked at the beginning of this installment. I found it touching that she responded in the manner she did to Vizh’s call for Wanda. Her battle with Midnight was exciting, and for me not only showcased her martial arts skills but also her strength. And on page four, wasn’t that a butt cheek visible?? I know you girls just hate her skirt!!

Sharon: I don’t hate the skirt at all; my earlier point was that it just seemed kind of daring for 1973-4 and I was surprised the artists could get this kind of outfit past the Code. (But as I’d mentioned, the Code was kind of passé at this point.) I like her visuals- - the green and yellow are a great combo (like the Vision?), and the design of her costume showcases her strength, grace, and flexibility.

Karen: I wonder where Mantis would rank in the Marvel U as a martial artist? Over at DC, they have this sort of discussion all the time, and it’s pretty obvious now where everyone with fighting skills stands (they’ve really beefed up Black Canary for an example). But I hardly hear any fan talk about Marvel fighters. Hmmm, I sense potential side-bar material here!

Doug: The camaraderie felt by the Frankenstein monster toward the Vision was touching as well. Quite a dichotomy to the way Boris Karloff murdered that little girl in the original motion picture!

Karen: Aw, come on Doug, he didn’t mean to kill her! They just ran out of flowers. (Actually, I prefer the Young Frankenstein version.)

Doug: Yeah, it was very touching the way he waited for the last bubble to come up before he sauntered off… :P

Zemo’s evolution from mind-slave to uppity Seig Heil-er! was good, and added humor to the story. Interactions with Hawkeye in particular were fun, and again showed Clint’s allegiance to Cap.

The scene when Thor comes upon the dead Iron Man really showed the depths of their friendship, and of Thor’s loyalty to the mortals he’d chosen to surround himself with. His rage was real, and not just played up for melodrama. I’ve missed Thor in the Avengers these past many years. Of course, I’ve missed the Avengers, period, but that’s for another time I guess.

Karen: A good scene; I always like seeing the Thunder God get worked up. Maybe the best time was during the Busiek era, when he thought Captain America had been taken over by the Presence – that was a Thor to be reckoned with!

Doug: The NYPD’s communicator was just cutting-edge technology from Stark Electronics in 1974!!

The scene with Libra was interesting, given that I know how this will turn out in #133. The scene with Wanda barking at Jarvis was so out-of-character. Wanda was really written as a hard-to-like character by Englehart!

Sharon: Sure, but as we’ve noted before, she’s lacking guidance by Pietro and the Vision at this point—she’s on her own for the first time.

Karen: Libra –oh god, what a horrible outfit. The robe and hood was preferable to this skivvies and t-shirt monstrosity.

Sharon: I didn’t mind his pared down costume here; he looks athletic. Though since he’s sporting bare legs (at least, as colored in the tpb) his boots look too much like knee socks…

Doug: Just a note – the coloring in my tpb is really off for this issue, as Wonder Man’s goggles and the Torch’s costume are both orange instead of red. Pretty poor quality control.

Thor’s assault on Kang is furious and unyielding. Wonder Man’s retaliation is equally brutal; the half-splash of Thor and Wonder Man going toe-to-toe is good.

Hawkeye’s screen time in the control room just shows why he was a winner at life and the Swordsman had been a consummate loser. Possessing basically the same skills (or skill level), Hawkeye goes about his business with confidence and a take-charge manner. The Swordsman would have been filled with so much self-doubt.

Karen: Hawkeye has that ‘never give up’ spirit that I think endears him to so many of us. I like to think he got a lot of that from being around Cap. It’s fun to compare his more mature personality on display here with the abrasive a-hole that we saw in his early Avengers days.

Doug: The Torch’s revelation, coming a few years after Neal Adams had spilled the beans when Ant-Man journeyed inside the Vision, was still a surprised to many, I’m sure. What do you think? Do you like this version of the story, or Byrne’s revision?

Karen: When I originally read this, I had never heard of the idea that the Vision had been the Torch, although I was aware of the scene in Avengers 93. I still like this origin for Vizh – and you know I despise what Byrne did. The character never recovered from Byrne’s destruction of him. After that, he was never held in the same regard by the writers (and maybe the fans as well).

Sharon: I don’t think many readers at the time knew of Adams’ idea (that the Vision and original Human Torch were one and the same); Marvel tried to keep this idea under wraps. The only slip up occurred (as we’ve discussed previously (over at the Avengers Assembled forums) when future Marvel staff member Duffy Vohland (then an intern) submitted a “gag” letter that was published in Avengers #115. In the letter Vohland mentions the Neal Adams Gallery interview in which Neal told of his idea that the Vision was really the original Human Torch. This letter was not supposed to be published but it somehow slipped through. But this was the only mention in print (that I know of) of Adams’ Vision-Torch idea- -Marvel really wanted to keep this idea secret.

Now, I always wondered why this concept was pursued so wholeheartedly. I buy the Wonder Man connection, which led to many effective and poignant stories. The relationship to Simon (and by extension, to the Grim Reaper) should have been enough. But why also insist that a new creation (Vision) is really an older hero? This connection always seemed tacked on and forced to me. I understand it was said to be part of Immortus’ plan (retroactively), but why would Marvel editorial think this was a good idea in the first place? Wasn’t the Vision captivating enough on his own—did he really need to be associated to an older android hero?

Doug: It’s interesting that Wonder Man was plucked from the timestream before he’d reformed, which was just before his death. He is simply vicious in his attacks, especially on the wounded Vision. Question about the Vision’s face after this particular battle – it’s bruised and swollen and there is some fluid at the corner of his mouth. Why do you suppose this is? I have read that his body was basically a synthetic human form. But, I don’t recall ever seeing him eat or drink – after all, being solar-powered, what would be the point? So, if he didn’t eat or drink, I would assume that he never had to expel waste of any sort. (I know we got into some of the other points of his physiology in one of the Vision threads on the AA! boards…) Since bruises are caused by pooled blood, and welts by trauma to soft tissue and blood rushing to the area, why would his face look like this? I would guess that there was some fluid coursing through his body, but to me it would seem more like anti-freeze, lubricants, etc. Hmmm…

Karen: It’s always been my assumption that as a synthetic man, Vizh has organs, tissues and fluids that mimic a biological human. So while it is unusual for us to see him banged up this way, I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility. I did find it interesting that we are never shown the Vision’s badly injured arm – “suspended by a thread” – but again, that’s one of the differences between that era and today.

Sharon: Didn’t the Vision’s arm also become badly injured or destroyed in the first Vision-Scarlet Witch series? And only Inhuman science could restore his arm?

Karen: I don’t really get how Immortus was able to revert Zemo to protoplasm. Reverting him to a fetus, or a cluster of cells, OK, that makes sense because he would be regressing him down his own timeline. But protoplasm would suggest to me he is regressing him evolutionarily. Then again, maybe I am just thinking about this a little too much.

Doug: OK, I said above that Englehart (Thomas’ dialogue in this issue) was trying to make Mantis more sympathetic, and then she just cold-heartedly gives an “Oh, well!” to the Vision of all people after being asked about Iron Man. Go figure.

Karen: Yes, Mantis seemed very aloof at the end. The only thing I can think of was that she was purposely trying to not show emotion – although again, I don’t know why she was written that way.

Sharon: She’d never seemed that close to Iron Man, so I found this in character. I think the scene was meant to show that the Vision (who rebukes her here) and Mantis aren’t always in synch.

Doug: Did it seem to you like Immortus’ revelation that he was an alternative form of Kang was just tossed in at the end?

Karen: I was just waiting for Jarvis to announce that he, too, was Kang.
Seriously though, where the hell does Immortus fit in on the Kang Express? After Kang, I believe, but then why is he so wishy-washy all the time? It might almost be a case of Englehart being too clever for his won good.

Doug: And, hasn’t Nathaniel Richards been linked to Kang, if not another facet of him altogether?
The story ends well, and does a nice job of wrapping up this portion of the Celestial Madonna arc. Cockrum’s art on the last few pages is some of the best of the issue.
That Kang will not be around for the rest of the ride is unfortunate; but his return only nine months later led to another very good story (and another great Thor/Kang tussle!!).

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Celestial Madonna: Avengers 132

Avengers 132 Steve Englehart
Avengers #132 (1974)
Doug: It was interesting that the splash page for this issue wasn’t a story page – one might have thought that to be a more modern innovation…

Karen: I liked this symbolic page. Sal B’s artwork looked great, with a properly menacing Kang hanging over our Assemblers.

Sharon: Occasionally Silver Age Marvel splash pages were symbolic, such as Avengers Annual #1 (1967). But you’re right that Marvel didn’t do this frequently. Silver Age DC was the king of symbolic splashes (especially in the Superman family of books), though this probably started to decrease around 1968 or so.

Doug: So how do you feel about that? Do you feel like a splash page of that nature is a bonus feature, like a pin-up, or do you feel like you’ve been cheated out of a story page? In today’s comics, I feel like I’ve been cheated (but that goes beyond splash pages…).

I thought it was significant that these two issues were plotted by Steve Englehart, but scripted by Roy Thomas. Some of the little annoyances of Englehart’s that have raised our ire both in the previous four issues of this epic, as well as in the Captain America yarn “Secret Empire” seem to be lacking here. It makes me wonder if some of the in-house references (Crom! and the appearance of Nomad for no apparent reason) were Englehart’s or editorial. Curious…

Karen: It’s really easy to tell that this is Roy’s dialogue. It has all the typical ‘Royisms’ that we’ve seen for years!

Sharon: Roy gives Mantis some uncharacteristic “dialogue” when she thinks: “Again this talk of me of the Celestial Madonna…a phrase I can scarcely comprehend.” Ummm, Roy, those lines scarcely sound like her! What happened to her penchant for referring to herself as “this one?”

Doug: Did anyone else find it odd that Thor chose to transform himself to Dr. Don Blake, rather than creating the time/space vortex with Mjolnir and attempting to teleport out of the labyrinth? In addition, given that Blake is a medical doctor, he probably would not also possess a “PhD”.

Karen: Well, I guess he felt he had exhausted all his godly weapons! But the Ph.D part was odd.

Sharon: The Ph.D reference stuck out like a sore thumb.

Doug: I have found Thor to be somewhat depowered throughout this story, or at the worst just not thinking. For example, although he has always been written as brash, in issue #130 he ran headlong into a ray assault from the Titanium Man. It would seem to me that given Mjolnir’s ability to absorb and/or repel energy, a different strategy might have been employed. He also remarks at the strength of the Frankenstein monster, and of Wonder Man. It’s always been my understanding that if the Hulk is not the strongest hero in the Marvel Universe, then it’s Thor. But, as has often been said about writing Superman – you have to do something to bring him down in order to make him interesting. Perhaps this is what Moondragon meant when she tried to talk Thor into leaving the team in the #140s.

Karen: It’s funny, but I have the opposite reaction. This is an era of Avengers where I feel like Thor’s power is duly respected. His encounter with the Frankenstein Monster shows him easily tossing the creature away. He acknowledges the creature’s strength, but I took it that he meant in comparison to a mortal man, not himself. Later on, the team fights Orka, and they are all defeated, until Thor shows up and beats him single-handedly. Moondragon’s urging him to leave the team because he was ‘slumming’ was not appreciated by this young reader however!

Doug: Points well taken. Issue #149’s battle which you reference is a memorable one, as is the previous story’s Kang battle. I just thought at times through this story that Thor was perhaps portrayed more along the lines of Hercules – physical first, brains last.

The scene where the Vision in engaged by Kang, Wonder Man, the Torch, the Ghost, and Zemo was well done. I always like when Vizh shows the breadth of his prowess, as he certainly does here. Characterization is also on display, as the Vision shows his calculating logic in choosing to put off the battle until odds are more in his favor. Although he talked a little trash to Kang, he realized that he and his teammates, being separated, were fodder for Kang’s minions singularly.

Karen: This was still back in the day when the Vision was considered one of the most powerful Avengers, and maybe the most dynamic and interesting member of the team. I love seeing him at the height of his power.

Doug: RE: Mantis’ antennae. No explanation, other than to liken them to the funny curls on the front of Pietro’s coif.

Karen: That must have taken a ton of hairspray!

Sharon: Yeah, I’d asked about her antennae earlier. Maybe Hank Pym had visited Vietnam at some point? ;)

Doug: RE: Wonder Man. Given that he would make a return only about 18 months later, that persists with some minor interruptions to the present, do you suppose he was used here as sort of a try-out? I couldn’t find anything in the letters pages in subsequent issues that suggested a very positive fan response. Englehart did address his use of the Human Torch, as it raised a potential conflict with Roy Thomas’ Invaders series. But no mention anywhere of Wonder Man.

Karen: I’ve always wondered about how and why Wonder Man was brought back. I know that a few people have said it was primarily to mess with the Vision’s head, but as you said, WM has stuck around and become a mainstay. His depiction here is definitely not favorable!

Sharon: Wonder Man became a recurring factor in the Vision’s story starting with #102. After #102 Simon was trotted out again and again as a complication. It was a smart move to finally resurrect him for good circa #152. (And actually the notion of the Grim Reaper as the Vision's "brother" was introduced even earlier, in #79.)

Doug: Of course, you’re right, Sharon. I had forgotten the #102 story. Memorable cover, no less!!

Midnight’s costume is too similar to the Black Panther’s and might be considered the opposite to the original Ghost Rider’s.

Karen: You know Doug, as a kid, this confused me – was this character the Black Panther? I didn’t collect Master of Kung Fu so I had no idea who this was.
As an aside, the reference to Shang Chi as a ‘half-breed’ reminds me that these were very different times!

Doug: Not unlike my uncomfortable feelings toward the Asian caricature-drawings in #130.

Sharon: When I flipped through this story the other day (prior to reading it) I thought “Hmmm, why is T’Challa fighting Mantis?” He even has that little cape T’Challa sported in FF #52!

Doug: I would like to know just how large the labyrinth was, as it sure seemed like it was easy to bump into people. And the gang of Kang sure found Iron Man and Hawkeye easily!

Zemo must have been armed to the teeth. In #132, Hawkeye explodes one of Zemo’s paste guns with an arrow. In GS #3, Hawk wrecks a palm device and then Zemo pulls another pistol!

I felt the last two battles, between Iron Man and the Torch and the Vision and the Ghost were extremely well done! Iron Man’s helplessness was so obvious, and the reader could really empathize with the growing heat as the metal turned red. In the second and final tussle of the book we saw the Vision helpless as rarely before. The words and pictures really heightened the tension. While I didn’t truly believe that either hero was dead, their situations definitely didn’t look too positive!

Karen: The scene where the Torch is holding Iron Man and getting hotter and hotter is so vivid – when I re-read this issue I remembered how shocked I was as a kid and I honestly feared that IM might die! He also seemed so brave to me, to take on that whole group of baddies, telling Hawkeye to save himself and find the other Avengers. To be honest, I’m kind of surprised that Roy would have Clint agree to do it – it doesn’t seem in character to me.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Celestial Madonna: Avengers 130-131

Avengers 130 Cover
Avengers #130 (1974)
Doug: These two issues seem to be grouped together, due in large part to the setting, the introduction of Immortus to the tale, as well as the burgeoning origin of Mantis.

Karen: Yes, the two issues really felt like one long story.
Doug: These were issues I had as a child. My memories of #130 center on the Slasher and his amazing costume, and the short battle between Thor and Iron Man. As I was very young and early into my comics reading, I found it very odd that two heroes would fight each other! Obviously, my Marvel knowledge was only just beginning!

Sharon: #130’s main battle is not particularly memorable to me—in fact, the whole issue seems like a fill-in issue…but there are some interesting little touches, such as the Thor-Iron Man fight.

Doug: My impression of #130, as I read it for perhaps the fourth or fifth time, is really dominated by the racist caricatures of the Vietnamese men in the tale. I’ve used two versions of the book for this research – the DVD-ROM and the Celestial Madonna trade paperback. In the scans used for the digital version, the coloring of the Vietnamese hearkens back to the propaganda that comics publishers put out during WWII – yellow skin tones, and of course the exaggerated eyes and mouths. I would assume that the trade paperback had been “re-mastered”; however, in the scene where the Slasher robs the jeweler, the Vietnamese are colored a putrid green color; in the scene where the man runs from the Titanic Three, his skin is the peach tone used normally for coloring Caucasians. Oh well – on to the tale itself…

Steve Englehart makes an assumption of the assembled Avengers in regard to the passing of the Swordsman – that “they miss him more than they can say.” I’m not sure that would be entirely true, and even if it were, would they miss him because they missed him, or because a comrade had fallen in battle? Unless I am mistaken, the Swordsman was the first active member of the roster to fall in battle, so this was certainly uncharted territory for the team (I am not counting Wonder Man due in large part to his brief tenure with the team – anyone feel differently?). I would guess, too, that given Hawkeye’s presence at the funeral, his mind might have been swimming with all sorts of emotions. So I didn’t care for Englehart’s attempt to force me to feel the emotions that he thought those assembled should be feeling.

Karen: I thought about that too. As you say, Hawkeye might have reason to feel badly, and Mantis of course, but the other three (Thor, Iron Man, and the Vision) barely knew the guy. Rather than a deep feeling of loss, I expect they would be feeling a sense of unease or heightened awareness of the dangerous nature of their lives.

Sharon: I agree. I’m not so sure why the Avengers would feel so badly about the Swordsman, other than out of compassion. And why does Englehart have Hawkeye think that he (Hawkeye) always gave the Swordsman a hard time? It was the other way around; the Swordsman was the one who’d always belittled Clint previously. And there’s that annoying use of “Sword” again!

Doug: I was also struck by Iron Man’s in-your-face demeanor at the meeting shown in the flashback scene. He just seemed so impulsive, which I guess is how he’s portrayed today – maybe it wasn’t so out-of-his-ordinary. But, picturing Tony Stark behind the faceplate just made me think that at times in the boardroom he had to be more diplomatic. I was feeling this again later in the aforementioned scene where he goes toe-to-toe with Thor. And in regard to that short skirmish, I guess there’s no doubt where Thor ranks in the Avengers power department. He dispensed Iron Man as not much more than an after thought. I guess I’d always thought of Iron Man as 1A in the category of “Strongest Avengers”… but when you factor in the Vision, Hercules, Namor, and Wonder Man, IM might be in the middle of that list, hmmm?

Karen: I know I mentioned this before, but I really liked the fact that Englehart made it obvious that Thor was way beyond the rest in power. This was one of the few periods where I felt like the thunder god was given his due. And Iron Man was much more of a hot-head back then, wasn’t he? Of course, he had every right to feel that way about the North Vietnamese, since they were responsible for his heart injury. Of course nowadays that’s all been retconned away, as it would date things too far back in Marvel time. I understand why they feel the need to do this, but still, I miss some of those now-anachronistic touches.

Doug: The Slasher, while visually stunning to my 8-year old mind, seems quite silly to me now. I guess his “power” is not unlike DD’s old foe the Gladiator, but the Gladiator a) looked cooler, and b) had a personality. The Slasher is just a punk, and that suit is just so impractical were it “real”.

Karen: Did you notice that when he first appears, in one caption he seems to be referred to as “Buzzsaw”? I thought this was an odd gaffe.

Doug: Big question – how in the world did the Avengers land a quinjet in North Vietnamese airspace?? When they faced the Titanic Three, it was clearly stated that the Americans had no authority in the North. I’m thinking there would have been Red jet fighters in the air to attempt an intercept.

Thor’s homily at Mantis’ request was somewhat touching and served to show a spiritual side to the Thunder God that, even though he’s often invoking the name of Odin, is not usually dealt with.

Karen: It was a touching scene. I like when the writers deal with the fact that to Thor, his human comrades will live but a short time, so in a sense all of his friendships are quite transient. Busiek really dealt with this nicely later on.

Sharon: Well, I guess having an immortal deliver a eulogy on life being temporary is a comment on what happens to Mantis later on. Overall, a touching scene.

Doug: Interesting that the Radioactive Man says he and his allies are not criminals in North Vietnam, and that no other political entity could touch them. Englehart politicizes what America felt at the time, with Saigon to fall in the very near future. The Slasher’s use of the term “Commies” near the end of the story is certainly temporal, too. The Vision’s soliloquy at the conclusion of the issue is good: “But isn’t that always the way, Thor? Whenever a war is fought, it is never the people who must fight it – who have any reason to bring it about.” This issue, only a few months after Englehart’s very political Secret Empire saga that ran in Captain America, paints the author as somewhat of a spokesperson for the Left of the day.

Karen: After reading Secret Empire, and now this, one might be left with the (false) impression that the Marvel of the 70s was highly politicized. But I think this is more about Steve Englehart expressing his opinions than any actual trend.

Sharon: Yes, Englehart didn’t hesitate to insert his beliefs into his stories. What the Vision says echoes what many Americans felt about the US taking part in the Vietnam War. Englehart used these sentiments (with the wording slightly changed) again in a few of his Cap stories.

Doug: Mantis’ musing as to her true origins, and her true self, was interesting. That she felt she falls short of being a Madonna due to her chasing after the Vision was a strange confession (particularly in light of what comes later!).

Sharon: I had a hard time believing that she felt unworthy because she –what, made a pass at someone? Was that so heinous?

Doug: Overall, issue #130 was a bridge between the initial volley launched by Kang and what is to come. It’s really rather a quiet story (the altercation with the Titanic Three aside), and continues to reveal some of the layers of Mantis’ origin. While Kang is only in the story in a flashback and as an explanation used to bring Hawkeye up to speed, his menacing presence hangs over the Avengers.

Sharon: As mentioned, despite its action, #130 seems like a fill-in issue to me; its chief purpose was to lay some groundwork for the Vision and Mantis to “discover” themselves.

Doug: Issue #131 had a faster pace, right from the splash page. To continue a point I’d made earlier, the artwork in this issue was certainly toned-down racially – maybe not noticeable to all, but it just struck me. Anyway, I really enjoyed the Kang/Rama-tut/Immortus interactions. And, at this point we haven’t learned that Immortus is actually part of this whole Kang mix. The thing I love/hate about the way most writers handle Immortus is that you never really know where he stands – what he’s up to. That’s good – he’s a character who keeps me on my toes!

Karen: That was particularly evident in Avengers Forever.

Doug: The art by the Sal Buscema/Joe Staton (Staton give us more of Sal as the series goes on) team was again very strong. I especially liked Sal’s introduction of each member of the Legion of the Unliving. Englehart excelled in his choices – as Kang himself stated, what a varied lot of characters! He alluded to Immortus’ former use of fictional characters – here we have an awesome tour of Marvel history.

Karen: Immortus’ choices back in Avengers 10 were interesting in some sense, because we would see versions of the same ‘fictional’ characters later on – mainly Hercules and Merlin. But I would agree, those opponents were not nearly so full of emotional force as the ones Kang chose.

Doug: The inclusion of Nomad, while nostalgic I suppose, seemed merely a selling point for the Captain America series. As I’d complained earlier about the inclusion of Robert E. Howard references in Englehart’s scripts, this seemed in a similar vein. Now, whether it was actually the author’s doing, or mandated from editorial, I don’t know. But, looking at it with a marketing eye, it seems painfully obvious why the scene(s) is included. Did it really add anything near-approaching a plot device? I think not. I’m not sure that knowing that Cap was about to trounce the Serpent Squad would make me run out and buy his book – I’d have probably already been buying it. I guess I sound cynical – but by this time (late 1974) the Marvel Universe was firmly established – we know that characters meet and intermingle. But given that only a few months earlier (in the Secret Empire arc in Cap’s own book) Cap had sworn off the U.S. government, was on the outs with SHIELD, and was hitchhiking, I just found it silly that he all of a sudden pops up because he “was in the Pacific”. No way…

Karen: I have to admit, as a kid I really liked seeing Nomad show up, because that sense of a shared universe still seemed somewhat novel at the time. However, I can see where you’re coming from now, Doug, so many years alter. Still, it is kinda cool to see him there, although I always thought that Nomad outfit was just atrocious. For an artist, Steve Rogers wasn’t much of a costume designer!

Sharon: The Nomad interlude seemed intrusive and out of place. All of a sudden this smiling blond in a silly costume shows up, and he and the Avengers have a chat, and then he departs? Steve seems so simple here; he’s all aglow because his first case (as the Nomad) is a success- -does Steve really see things in such black and white terms? Apparently so; and when things turn out to be gray, that’s when Steve bails- -as we saw at the conclusion of Secret Empire.

Doug: Regarding the scene between Mantis and the Vision – am I supposed to now think that Mantis is completely remorseful for any prior obnoxious behavior? I don’t know – it just seems like Englehart wanted to do this big redemption story; while the Swordsman got his right at the beginning, Mantis’ would be drawn out. I would also add that he obviously had big plans for her – many have commented that Mantis was his “pet” character much the same way Bendis has used Spider-Woman recently. From the time she showed up (#114), it was apparent that she would have some serious face time in the book. A culmination of events (of sorts) was inevitable. Interesting, too, that as we get to this scene where Mantis apologizes to the Vision for her attempt at seduction that I am reminded of how “chummy” she and Wanda were right after Mantis’ introduction.

Karen: Mantis being Englehart’s pet was quite apparent; it bothered me back then and it bothers me still now. Rather than growing organically to be an important character in Avengers, it just felt like she was forced on the readership.

Sharon: While I felt Mantis’ apology to the Vision was excessive (again: is flirting a crime??), even stranger was the Vision’s reply that if he could feel flattered, then what heights would she reach? Huh? A clumsy connection at best. The only line I found realistic here was when Mantis says she was happy…as she was. The rest of the dialogue in this scene seemed contrived.

Doug: Hawkeye’s “cellphone” is certainly large, isn’t it??

Karen: Yeah, but it had a cool viewscreen!
I thought the very brief conversation between the Vision and Iron Man regarding Vizh’s confusion over his love life was awkward. It went nowhere, and I really don’t see IM being so uncomfortable talking about this subject. Was it simply a way for Englehart to have the Vision express his concerns?

Sharon: Iron Man’s discomfort was certainly out of character. Not sure why he would be so embarrassed.

Doug: I really like the separation of the team as the adventure shifts to Limbo. Not the old-formula of two heroes together, but each Avenger separate. This was a nice way to build suspense for the next issue.

I don’t have anything to really say about the reappearance of the Swordsman, other than to ask if there was any precedent that you can think of for this. It predates Obi-wan Kenobi’s merger with the Force – the first and only example of a ghost-like presence that pops into my head.

Karen: At the time, I assumed he was non-corporeal, I guess because of the green glow. But he was actually the Swordsman’s body re-animated by the Cotati, right? So he is a real, physical presence and not an immaterial spirit, like Obi-Wan? Or was Obi-Wan solid? It all confuses me…

Sharon: Effective scene and good visualization of Mantis’ guilt.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Celestial Madonna -Avengers 129, GS Avengers 2

Avengers 129 Steve Englehart
Avengers #129 (1974) 
Books discussed: Avengers 129, Giant-Size Avengers 2

Doug: The Celestial Madonna has always been one of my favorite Avengers tales, which is sort of funny since I didn’t come to the story completely until several years ago. Buying the issues off the newsstand as a kid, I owned #’s 130, 131, and Giant-Size #’s 3 and 4. That’s a pretty sketchy coverage to a 10-issue epic. But, the books I did have made a great impression on my young imagination.

Karen: I was pretty much in the same boat. I had a few issues here and there. I finally got all of them about ten years ago.

Sharon: I bought a few issues a couple of years ago; these were my introduction to Mantis. Then I came upon the tpb and read the whole thing.

Doug: First of all, the Avengers’ line-up was without peer – Thor, Iron Man, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Mantis, the Swordsman, and Hawkeye. Power, stealth, angst, and personalities galore. Even without Captain America (how in the world did he get on the cover of GS #2 when he was embroiled in the Nomad storyline in his own book??), the team had a dynamism that left the reader truly believing that this was the “varsity”. The JLA with Superman, J’onn, Red Tornado, Zatanna, Black Canary, and Green Arrow might not have been as impressive a bunch as this Avengers team.

Secondly, Kang is a super-baddie that matches up well with any incarnation of the Avenger. He has at his disposal the gadgets, strategies, and knowledge of all of time. In addition, he can disappear and be virtually unfound, only to strike again without warning. Next to Ultron, he’s my favorite villain.

Karen: Englehart writes Kang well. This seems to be the version that most likely influenced Kurt Busiek when he did his Kang saga in volume three of Avengers later on. Kang is an efficient, ruthless, relentless foe.
The whole Kang/Rama-Tut (and later, Immortus) connection was always quite intriguing. I know there has also been some talk that Dr. Doom was also Kang but it seems that that was dropped.

Sharon: The Scarlet Centurion is supposed to be part of this too, right…not this particular storyline, but part of the whole identity thing? Or was that dropped? I always found these multiple identities fascinating—confusing as hell, but fascinating and very imaginative.

Doug: Yes, I’d forgotten about the Scarlet Centurion identity. Do either of you know when or where it was discussed that Dr. Doom was an alternate version of Kang – I recall that, too.

Karen: I was trying to remember that too, Doug. It seems like it’s been changed now so that Doom was Kang’s ancestor, but I would’ve sworn at one time, he was considered to be Kang himself. And the original cover for GS Avengers #2 actually had Doom standing there, Rama Tut and Kang! If anyone has a copy of FOOM #8, you can see it for yourself.

Doug: Third, how can you knock these two teams of do-badders: Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, Radioactive Man, and the ever-lovin’ Slasher… plus the Legion of the Unliving?? ‘Nuff Said!!

My re-read of these issues was only the second of my “career”. So, I came to them somewhat with a lens of freshness. First off, let me say that the art in these two books was just fantastic. I really like Sal Buscema in this era – I thought he was even more solid here than in the CA/F books we recently discussed.

Sharon: Sal does his usual, effective storytelling job.

Doug: Joe Staton is credited as the inker for #129; I’d previously known Staton from his DC work on the revived JSA in All-Star Comics in the late 1970’s. While possessing a somewhat unique style (these tales have recently been collected in two tpb’s if you’re interested), I didn’t get the impression that he was exerting any of his own influence on Sal B’s pencils. Enhancing, yes, but certainly not overpowering – his style is really only evident in some of the faces. Dave Cockrum pencils the GS issue with no inker credited. This pre-dates his All-New, All-Different X-Men and is just as solid as Buscema’s work. I think there has always been something distinctive about Cockrum’s faces – I can’t exactly pinpoint what it is. Sometimes I think it’s the eyes, sometimes the mouths. He has an inventory of facial expressions that are recognizable whether I’m reading Legion, Avengers, or X-Men. I will add that I thought his characters had a depth to them spatially – definitely filled out, well-rounded… I really enjoyed the close-up headshot of Jarvis when he was talking to Hawkeye early in the story. And how about that Hawkeye splash page?? One beef – I didn’t care for the bubble-headed Kang. I’ve seen him drawn with a much less-round helmet.

Karen: I just want to say that I love this Dave Cockrum art! Seeing this, I wish he had been able to be a regular Avengers artist. His style is smooth and dynamic.

Sharon: Er, don’t stone me, but I am not a Dave Cockrum fan. I don’t really know why but I have never loved his art. It’s good, but just not distinctive to me. I can never recognize his work. I don’t like his faces, I don’t like his take on Hawkeye’s mask, and so on. His art always seems rushed to me.

Doug: Dave Cockrum is as distinctive to me as John Byrne. As I said, his faces are very unique. I suppose if I only saw a headless figure, his art wouldn’t stand out as much.

Karen: I’m so glad Englehart brought Hawkeye back into the fold. Nearly as much as Cap, he’s the quintessential Avenger. I’ve always felt that of all the Avengers, Hawkeye may have been the character that experienced the most growth. From his beginnings as a hot-headed loudmouth, to eventually becoming a team leader, the readers got to see Clint Barton mature. This issue shows some of that, as Hawkeye realizes what a mess he’s stumbled into, sees the Swordsman on the brink of a breakdown, and tries to keep things on a steady path. I enjoy him as our point of view character.

Doug: Yes, Hawkeye even shows up with his usual chip-on-the-shoulder, but his sense of duty overrides any mischievousness he might have been waiting to unleash.

As good as the cover to #129 was, I thought the cover to GS #2 was that bad – not the art, just the design. What were they trying to do with the giant images of Kang and Rama-tut? It didn’t work two issues in a row. And as I said above, why is Cap with the team?

As far as dialogue, I thought Englehart was OK with the pop-culture references. The Kissinger line was OK, but I did find it odd that he mentioned Nixon in China in GS #2 (but maybe that’s only because we’ve just read “Secret Empire”). I didn’t care, in the GS issue for Hawkeye’s incessant address to the Swordsman as “Sword”. Just seemed weird, and the over-and-over was overbearing!

Sharon: It was awful! Made no sense; Hawkeye had never called him that before. Plus, Hawkeye always resented the Swordsman. I found the easy acceptance a little hard to swallow.

Doug: Another sore spot was the twice-over shameless plug for Marvel’s sword-and-sorcery mags, with references to Robert E. Howard, Crom!, and King Kull. Blatant self-promotion.

Karen: You have to wonder if Rascally Roy put those plugs in there!

The inclusion of Amen-Hotep, the vampire, was odd as well. Of course, this was at a time when Marvel was publishing all sorts of horror books. But this vampire looks a lot more like a demon than a traditional vampire.

Doug: I liked that both issues started with a bang – it was a great hook. As I have read many of the issues in the era where the Swordsman went straight, I really came to like him as a “loveable loser”. That the spotlight fell on him in this first issue was OK with me. I understand why a lot of folks don’t like Mantis – I’ve always liked her. Yeah, her speech patterns are annoying, but she could really kick some butt. When they fought the Macrobots, I was waiting for her to take one down like Karnak would have. Didn’t happen, but she was fearless nonetheless. Keep in mind that this was the kung fu era in comics, so she wasn’t out of place in that regard.

Karen: I thought this issue was well-paced, moving quickly from scene to scene while still giving us a great story. Re-reading it now, I could feel the excitement it generated in me as a kid, the first time I read it! These were really some of the golden years of the Avengers, as far as I’m concerned.

Doug: Agreed – younger readers coming to the Avengers in their current incarnation really have no idea about solid storytelling and well-paced artwork that involves the reader, peeling layer after layer away to expose character development.

Karen: It’s quite painful to see the poor Swordsman in his pity-party. He did get screwed over left and right, though. Jarvis summed it up well when he said, “Everything he tries to do goes wrong, somehow!”

This is appropriate of nothing, and sort of embarrassing, but as a kid, I always thought Mantis looked a bit like a hula dancer. I guess her skirt looked like a grass skirt somehow…even today I’m not sure what her costume is made of or supposed to look like.

Sharon: I was surprised at Mantis’ costume; her hips were often totally exposed. In some issues you can see the colorist colors her hips green (to give the appearance that she’s wearing something under the skirt, I suppose) but it’s a pretty daring costume. Well, by 1974 the Code was passé and essentially ineffective—it was still around but comics publishers just ignored it.

Doug: It’s funny you bring this up, as it had never really occurred to me as a kid. However, upon reading these comments, I immediately thought of Alex Ross’ portrayal of Wonder Woman in Kingdom Come – she is shown wearing a VERY split skirt, with her hips fully visible. In effect, the Amazon Princess is wearing a thong!

Karen: The split skirt is actually still a lot more modest than the “butt floss” some of the female characters wear today –and I’m looking at you, Ed Benes’ Wonder Woman!!

Doug: I have often been confused about the different personages of Kang. Englehart did a pretty good job of explaining the Kang/Rama-tut relationship, although I did read it three times just to be sure I had it. I’ll be honest – when I read Avengers Forever, I didn’t really get it. I have only read it as it was available on a monthly basis – I have the tpb and need to read it all in one sitting or at least over a couple of days.

Overall the story got off to a nice start. The Celestial Madonna mystery was not carried out too long, and reached a predictable conclusion (hey, did you really think Kang was going to get it on with Agatha???).

Karen: This still makes no sense to me: why would Kang take Agatha Harkness? Surely the elderly sorceress was far past her childbearing years.

Doug: Ah, but so were Sara and Abraham – this wouldn’t have been the only Bible allusion in comics had Englehart chosen that path to explore…

Karen: OK, possible…but icky!

Doug: I absolutely loved the cat-fighting between Mantis and Wanda when they were in the test tubes, and knowing how the story progresses it was nice foreshadowing. The Swordsman’s death was done with dignity, and left a nice sort of “new direction” for the coming issues. But don’t get me going on the Cotati…

Karen: The squabbling over the Vision by Wanda and Mantis seemed particularly adult for the time (although pretty commonplace now). It’s even more interesting when you realize that this was Englehart’s original purpose in bringing Mantis into the team: she was going to be the tramp who came on to all the guys and got the team discombobulated! But I think he grew to love the character so much he really couldn’t go the whole way with that idea.

Sharon: Wanda and Mantis’ bickering had me scratching my head. Was Wanda, a veteran Avenger, really so insecure that she would engage in this at such a time? Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; Englehart on previous occasions had shown her to be emotional, needy and insecure about her relationship with the Vision (one of the points of this arc). I remember being stunned in an earlier issue (vs. Klaw) when she argued with Vision at an equally inopportune time…plus at that time she basically prevented Vision from helping T’Challa. Talk about selfish! And based on the letters of the time (the published ones, anyway), the hostility between Mantis and Wanda was a hit with fans. But I cringed at Englehart’s constant use of “my man”, just as I cringed at the use of “Sword” (as we mentioned earlier). It just sounded strange.

Doug: Do you suppose this was a natural evolution in Wanda’s personality due in large part to the absence of Pietro since he’d left to be rehabbed (seduced) by Crystal? She was somewhat like a browbeat wife whenever her brother was around. Maybe this was her way of asserting herself. While I agree the timing seemed off, this could have been a potential plotline Englehart never finished.

Karen: I do think that Englehart was trying to present a more ‘liberated’, stronger Wanda. But in reading her, she does come off as very needy and insecure.

Sharon: I also noticed that Englehart tends to rely on a lot of expository, authorial captions to tell his story, much more than Roy or Stan ever did. Just one example is when he explains to the readers that Hawkeye and Swordsman have had reason in the past to dislike the Vision, but that is “now forgotten” or some such thing. I guess this is simply how Englehart liked to tell his story, but I have always found it annoying and unnecessary. I’m not familiar enough with other Bronze Age scripters to know if this was the norm back then, or just something Englehart liked to do.

Karen: The Swordsman’s somewhat addled enthusiasm for being an Avenger – I loved his little “Avengers Assemble!” thought balloon on page 17 – shows how desperate the man was to feel important and most of all, not a failure. Being a member of the most powerful superhero team on the planet should help boost one’s ego, but it always seemed he never felt he deserved to be there – and maybe he didn’t! There have been a lot of Avengers over the years, and not all were as successful as others. In retrospect, do you consider him to be a legitimate Avenger?

Sharon: Yes. He tried to fit in, and was eager to redeem himself. Once he was part of the team (for real) he contributed as best he could.

Doug: I consider him an Avenger, and was very excited during the Gatherers storyline (which as I’ve said before I did not overall care for) when it looked like he would be back. I only regret that it wasn’t him, although his character was somewhat similar.

Karen: I also consider him a legitimate member of the team – I’ll always give him an A for effort! The poor guy tried so hard. Ultimately, he did succeed at being a hero.
The fight between the Thor-powered Macrobot and the rest of the Avengers was another example of how, during Englehart’s tenure, we got to see just how incredibly powerful Thor really was. Thor finally felt like the Superman of the Avengers. Of course, this ultimately led to him leaving the group, after Moondragon kept bugging him about it.
OK, I have to say I am absolutely stunned by Wanda’s summoning of that meteorite. I didn’t remember that at all! Isn’t that a Phoenix-level stunt? That alone puts her way into the top ranks of power. Of course, the problem is, they always made Wanda’s powers so inconsistent that the next thing you know, she’d have trouble getting away from somebody like the Toad…

Sharon: When I first started reading Marvel, I considered Wanda’s powers to be similar to Chemical King’s: she could speed up, slow down, or cause chemical reactions or processes, which would then lead to a myriad of effects. (A reader in the early days of the Kooky Quartet suggested this, in a letter column, and it made sense to me.) I disliked it when Wanda’s powers later on became more “mystical” and when she sometimes referred to her powers as “spells” (they weren’t!) Making a “chair walk like a man” (in an earlier issue, under Agatha’s tutelage) was ridiculous and a perversion of her power. But it was apparent by this time Marvel wanted to increase her powers. Changing the course of a meteor I could just about buy (reluctantly), because it fits into the Marvel thesis that her power “alters probability” (though not reality, as Bendis would have us believe).

Doug: I’m still wondering why, in Avengers #153 Wanda is shown flying – both ascending and descending. In addition, she is shown transmuting concrete to water to “cushion her fall”. Your Chemical King analogy is most appropriate here, and it is a mystery as to why there was the sudden interest in changing her powers. Do you suppose her powers as they were originally conceived were an amped-up version of the Black Cat’s bad luck powers?

Karen: Cockrum’s work on the two-page spread, showing time itself unraveling, was just breath-taking. The man knew how to tell a story! And of course, the little skull in Swordy’s eye pretty much let you know what was coming.

Sharon: I did like Cockrum’s work here, very much. The death skull in the Swordsman’s eye was very chilling and effective. The two-page spread was a great example of things comics can do that no other medium can.

Karen: Despite the fact that the Swordsman was indeed something of a loser, his death was very affecting. He tried so hard to live up to heroic standards, yet life seemed to be against him. His sacrifice for Mantis, despite her rejection of him, was moving. He may not have been a great Avenger, but in the end he was someone I think the average person could relate to. Englehart really did an outstanding job with this character, in taking a nobody and making the reader empathize with him so.

Sharon: I have no problem with the ending, and the Swordsman’s death; it was touching, tragic. But again, I had to force myself to believe this played out this way because in his appearances prior to hooking up with Mantis, he’d been portrayed as a self-confident, swaggering sort of fellow (and not as down to earth as, say, Hawkeye; the Swordsman always had an haughty arrogance about him). I mean, look at him in #19 and #20…he comes across as resourceful and confident and he looks like Tony Stark! He’s snobby and disdainful of Hawkeye in #65. Look, I know people can change, especially when they’ve hit rock bottom; but I felt the premise of him being such a loser was hard to swallow. I guess as a reader I could have done a better job ignoring his previous incarnations. Still, despite my misgivings about his characterization, the story and his death were effective.

Doug: The points you each raise only solidify why the Avengers have been the greatest team in comics – here we see the Swordsman redeem himself not only as a member of the team, but as a man as well. In his sacrificial act, he dies a hero and a devoted lover to Mantis. His circle becomes complete.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Secret Empire, part 4: Captain America 176

Captain America #176 (1974)

Book examined:
Captain America and the Falcon #176 (August 1974)

Doug: A nice recap of Steve Rogers beginnings as Captain America. However, didn't Dr. Reinstein (lame!) used to be called Dr. Erskine? When was it changed?

Karen: I had the same thought. Also, was Cap's comment about being Manhattan-born new also?
Sharon: Probably just a you're suggesting. ADDENDUM: Apparently this is explained away in Cap #255 (and has become canon)'s revealed that at some point Erskine(who was believed to have died in an accident) adopted Reinstein as his "code name."

Doug: On page three, after Rogers is approached about participating in the experiment, what's the deal with going to the top-secret facility with the army officer in full uniform??? No wonder the Nazi agent was present! Duh! Do you have a hard time reconciling that Cap was between the ages of 18-22 during the war? While I certainly know that would have been the ages of our GI's, I just picture Cap as being older...

Karen: I feel the same way about Superman, probably since I grew up with George Reeves in reruns.

Sharon: Yes, I always thought of him as 30ish (but if he took the serum when he was in the Army, a younger age makes sense). But it was a shock in one of these issues when he comments he looks like a 20 year old college student. Would Wanda (in the early Kooky Quartet days) really have been attracted to someone who looked like a 20 year old? How old was she supposed to be?

Doug: The 2-page spread is nice, but don't you think there's a lot of wasted space there? I understand the drama of the waterfall-motif, but it could have been done just as nicely (better) on one page. We don't see sideways pages until Byrne's FF #252, but that page lay-out would have worked here.

Sharon: I thought of Steranko when I saw this. Steranko did stuff like that (cascading figures against a white background, with protagonist in the foreground). Sal's work is probably better served when he uses a more conventional approach.

Doug: Thor is definitely in character with his rationale for Cap to stay Cap -- for the glory!
Iron Man's advice, strangely enough given his modern position, is all about the obligations of heroes. Cap's defeatism plays right into Sharon's complaints about solo-Cap -- woe is me! I wonder what IM would have said next, had Falc and Sharon and Peggy Carter not burst in.

Karen: Iron Man seems to be playing the "with great power comes great responsibility" card. I thought it fit the character then, and yes, oddly, it still does! After all, despite all the things Stark has done, he thinks he did them for the greater good! I was also taken by Cap's whiny comments, about being taken for granted and how quickly people turned on him. Why is he a hero? To bask in the glow of public admiration, or to help people?

Sharon: I like the various characters' viewpoints expressed about heroism, America, duty, etc.

Doug: The Falcon recap is good. Really a nice air about the stories related -- happy times.

Karen: Falc comes off as a much more responsible guy than Cap!

Sharon: A nice interlude. Reading this arc has really made me appreciate Sam more; he's a loyal friend to Steve and interacts well with other characters like T'Challa and Peggy.

Doug: Peggy Carter would be around 53-54 in this story. Do you think she's drawn to look a little older than that? Is this for the contrast with Sharon?

Karen: Every scene with Peggy makes me cringe. I think in 177 or 178 Cap finally tells her they can't be together - but he still doesn't reveal he's Steve Rogers! Just terrible.

Sharon: She does look older...I don't have these issues in color, was her hair color changed, to be darker, in the issues after her reappearance? This sub-plot is poorly handled...Peggy is deluded and is treated as a joke; and Steve and Sharon seem cruel. I always thought Cap had more depth to him...this "predicament" just makes him seem superficial. And I love how he basically abandons both Sharon and Peggy in the preceding issues.

Doug: Englehart hits the homerun of the series with the panel at the bottom of page 15: "So when people the world over look at me -- which America am I supposed to symbolize?" Good stuff -- definitely food for thought! I also think the conclusion, while certainly giving the creators a new direction for the book and its characters, serves to show just how bad America had become -- when its enduring symbol (next to the flag and the eagle) wants no further part of it, it's bad. Bravo to Englehart for testing these waters. While not a new concept, he did stretch it out over the next several months.

Karen: While Cap's disillusionment with the government is understandable, his reactions still come off a bit whiny to me. I'm not sure if he's more upset about the smear campaign, or his government selling out. But in general, his feelings of not knowing what America stands for, and by extension, what he stands for, are certainly to be expected.

Sharon: Agreed. How exciting it must have been for SE, to have such a forum- -and apparently a lot of creative freedom- -for his ideas/opinions about life, heroism, our country, etc. I will always remember what Denny O'Neil said (about his GL/GA series); he considered his work worthwhile if his stories could reach that "bright 12 year old" out there (and inspire that 12 year old to think about things).

Doug: Englehart really pats himself on the back in the Back Issue #20 interview -- specifically for #176 and its lack of action. He claims that had not been done before -- I find that hard to believe. And, if you consider the flashback sequences, there is certainly superhero action in the tale.

Sharon: Hmmm....I find it hard to believe, too. The first thing that came to mind was the famous FF #51, "This Man, This Monster." There's no battle in that fact, the FF don't use their powers at all, except for Johnny; he's in a coffee shop showing someone he can make his thumb "flame on" (like a cigarette lighter, I guess). This is the issue in which a mad scientist takes over Ben's body and he and Reed become trapped in the Negative Zone, and the mad scientist saves Reed. The mad scientist is certainly not physically fighting the FF. This story came out in, what, 1966? How could Englehart not have known of this celebrated story, which was heralded as being so different for a superhero action book?
Then there are issues (among others I'm sure) such as FF #68 and X-Men #60; neither contained traditional, action-filled "battles"...these issues were made up of a lot of small, non-fighting scenes.
And surely Englehart was familiar with Cap #112 (1969)? The story opens with Cap presumed dead; so Iron Man reminisces about Cap. (And as Doug said about #176, in #112 the flashbacks contain the action sequences.). There must be other such "action-less" stories, too; but this is what came to mind. So to me, Englehart's assertion comes off as somewhat egotistical.
(Slightly related: a great Legion story from the Silver Age centers on several Legionnaires preparing to die--they've been poisoned--only one of them, Karate Kid, is shown in action, he wants to go down fighting...the rest of them want to spend their final moments in a different fashion and are not battling villains. A wonderful, contemplative story, and one that did not depend on a typical hero-villain slugfest to capture the reader's attention).

Karen: I looked at some of the later letter columns and found a few interesting letters. Some folks questioned the events of ish 173, particularly the whole trip to Nashville. Apparently there were problems with that after the plot was developed. Originally it was supposed to be Dallas, and then was changed to Nashville, but it was after the art was done. Marvel at least acknowledged the confusion.One writer, Peter Cucich, questions Cap's reaction to being questioned by the public. "Why shouldn't the public question the motives of "heroes"? If the American people had their present crisis of confidence earlier, we might not have a fugitive in the White House!"Another comment reminded me that thirty years later, things haven't changed much. Another writer said, "The American people are content to sit back and listen to Pete Hamill OR William F. Buckley rather than think for themselves.”

Sharon: Boy, I wish I had been reading this back then. What a shock it would have been for a young reader, to see how Watergate infected even a stalwart like Captain America! I have a copy one issue (#175), but I think I'll buy some more of these back issues...I'd really like to see what the reader reaction was. (Or maybe I'll get the dvd-rom.)

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