Friday, October 30, 2009

Ain't Nothin' Like Halloween in Rutland, Vermont!

Avengers #119 (January 1974)
“Night of the Collector”
Steve Englehart-Bob Brown/Don Heck
Doug: Happy Halloween, kiddie-winkies! We here at the BAB blog hope you will get more treats than tricks this autumn!

Doug: Today we begin what may turn into an annual series -- a visit to Rutland, VT. I was surprised to learn, when I began to do a little preliminary research for this reading, that there have been many, many stories set in that little hamlet. Sure, I knew of Avengers 83 and 119, and of Batman 237, but I’d forgotten about Marvel Feature 2, the second appearance of the Defenders. There’s an editorial box in this mag that shows some of the Marvel stories featuring Rutland. For a complete rundown of Rutland’s comic book Halloween celebrations, please visit this link (incidentally searched under Rutland parade honcho “Tom Fagan”:

Doug: Avengers #119 was one of the earliest issues of the title that I owned. It was a strange jumping on point – sure, I had other stories in my small collection, but this was a full-force introduction to the team of this era. In some ways #119 served as an epilogue to the just-concluded Avengers-Defenders War; you could also see it as a bridge between that epic and the coming three-parter against the Zodiac. This story is bookended with the quandary of what to do with the now mentally-disabled Loki.

Doug: The team disembarks from a borrowed SHIELD jet and there’s action right away. For whatever reason, the team sets off the intruder defenses on the roof of Avengers Mansion. I felt this was good for me a as a kid, because I got up to speed on all of the characters’ powers. The only beef I have with the scene is that T’Challa was able to shut off the system with his “palm print” – through his glove?? Although I guess if you look closely at the attached image, it does look like his bare skin shows on his left hand. But that could be a coloring error, too...

Karen: I’d say the rooftop sequence was ridiculous, if I hadn’t set off my own home security alarm a number of times!

Doug: You didn’t like the whole event, or the way the Panther ended it? I suppose with so many team members present, and with stress running high, maybe Cap (for example) thought Iron Man had shut it off? I don’t know…

Doug: Wanda Maximoff in this issue: what rhymes with “Witch”? Wow – Englehart was really hard on her during his run. Her personality changed drastically, she began to dabble in witchcraft under the tutelage of Agatha Harkness, she proclaimed her love for and then married the Vision, and so on. She is not likeable at all in this story.
Karen: Wanda was deep into her “I hate humans” stage. I actually thought it made sense, given that as a mutant, she’d faced human bigotry before. The Vision was also nearly killed by some people after he and Wanda embraced on TV (back in issue 113). But yes, she became a very bitter, unpleasant person around this time, and Mantis’ interest in the Vision didn’t help things.

Doug: There is an odd exchange early in the story between the Panther and Mantis. It’s apparent that we (at this point) know next to nothing about Mantis, and she’d been with the team for only seven issues. What began as a potential origin story tailed off to nothing – was this scene merely to set up her clairvoyance of the coming trouble in Vermont?

Karen: I think at least in part, it was a set-up scene, but it also just points out the mystery surrounding her. I remember at the time she was a real cipher for some time – although I saw enough to know I didn’t like her!

Doug: I always thought, when I was a kid, that she was kind of mysteriously weird. I think I appreciated her more as an adult the first time I read the complete Celestial Madonna arc.

Doug: Once in Rutland, the Avengers are greeted by Tom Fagan. They are offered the chance to participate in the annual Halloween parade; only half of them agree. Wanda stalks off with the Vision, and the Swordsman and Mantis exit as well. So it is left to Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Black Panther to ride on a float – Thor reveals that their decision was based on an attempt to draw the super-baddie out into the open. But how about that line-up? If those eight characters don’t constitute one of the greatest rosters in the team’s history, I’d be hard-pressed to name another.

Karen: No kidding, that’s one heck of a team! Line-ups like this make me long for 1974 again – or at least an Avengers team that actually feels like the Avengers!

Doug: Shortly after leaving the float, the main four are attacked by Fagan – who obviously isn’t the real Tom. He attacks the team with wild animal skins, which he proclaims are the Coats of Hercules. Something ain’t right here, and Thor is the first one onto – the Collector!

Karen: I thought it was kind of funny that the Collector would masquerade as Fagan in the same Nighthawk costume he wore in issue 83! That’s such a terrible costume!

Doug: And isn’t the idea that someone could wear a costume and rubber face mask and deceive the Avengers a little out there? We did a Cap story some time ago where Cap did that – and it didn’t work then, either.

Doug: Avengers #28 was one of the first 2-3 Avengers stories I ever read, so seeing the Collector “again” was a thrill. My knowledge of the Avengers rogues gallery wasn’t too extensive at that point in my readership, so I was under the impression that the Collector must be Public Enemy #1.

Karen: I was never too excited by the Collector. As a kid, he just looked like an old man, and I thought, “Why can’t the Avengers beat an old man?”

Doug: I should comment on the art in this story – that’s what I do! You can certainly go wrong at times with Bob Brown and Don Heck. But, for whatever reason, they really work great here. The pencils and inks are really pretty solid, and that’s saying something, because Heck as the penciller of #111 (for example) was pretty horrible! I always liked Brown’s work on the Daredevil comics of this period, and some of his DC stuff was good as well. Heck, though – he was another story after, say, 1966 or so.

Karen: Heck’s work on the Avengers in the ‘70’s was pretty poor. His art had become quite sketchy. I thought Brown was serviceable, but not exciting. Although I love the stories Englehart was cranking out, I wish the book had had a better artist. One of the Buscemas, or maybe Rich Buckler, would have been nice. I loved Dave Cockrum’s work on Giant-Size Avengers – it’s too bad he didn’t handle the regular title. Of course, we’d get a young George Perez towards the end of Englehart’s run.

Doug: There is a brief interlude that shows Wanda further tripping out, and a heartfelt exchange between Mantis and that loveable loser, the Swordsman. These two pages conclude when the wandering Avengers stumble upon the real Tom Fagan, all tied up!

Doug: I really loved the resolution to this story. The creepy old house where the Collector has holed up is invaded by Fagan and a bunch of local teenagers (all in heroic costumes, for sure), and they drive the old boy nuts! Sure, he uses some trick to set off a bunch of bats, but that trouble is pretty easily solved. The Collector ends up vanishing. Does anyone know the next time he pays a visit? Seems to involve, if I recall, a fella named Korvac…

Karen: Bats? Really? The Collector used bats? It’s stuff like this that makes it hard to defend ‘old’ comics to today’s crowd! And they just leave Loki in Rutland? Oh come on. Talk about abrogation of responsibilities! “Yeah, Loki won’t get into any trouble here! OK, let’s get in the Quinjet, Jarvis has dinner ready!” Sheesh.

Karen: But despite that bizarre conclusion, it was a decent enough one issue story. Englehart still managed to get in a fair amount of character development.

Doug: I really liked this story. It’s a Bronze Age blast – action, characterization, heroic heroes and villains who we don’t have to take too seriously, and a touch of real-world in it to make us smile. Just a fun yarn!

1 comment:

old postage stamps said...

The Avengers definately improved as it matured.

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