Monday, November 22, 2010
Avengers: The Serpent Crown Affair, part 1
Avengers #141 (November 1975)
"The Phantom Empire!"
Steve Englehart-George Perez/Vince Colletta
Doug: As if our tour of the All-New, All-Different X-Men wasn't enough to set your collective hearts to racing, we're now going to begin a 7-week (egad!) look at one of my favorite Avengers stories, the epic "Serpent Crown Affair"! And you know what -- I find myself turning to the Bronze Age for most of my Avengers joy: the Sentinels story early on, the Zodiac story around #120-122, the Celestial Madonna, and the 2-parter where YJ grows really big to whup up on the Whirlwind. Yeah -- good, good stuff!
Karen: Englehart's Avengers never had a dull moment. This is especially true from about 118 up.
Doug: This one sort of seems to hit the ground running. The bouncing Beast is on his way (home from the hospital?) when he's accosted by a gang of tech-thugs. Hank works them over easily at first, but then succumbs to a blast from some sort of ray gun. As the pile-on begins, help arrives in the form of the red-white-and-blue Avenger, Captain America! Long gone from the title, Cap makes a triumphant return in this issue after the "Secret Empire" and "Nomad" arcs in his own book. Between our two heroes, the Beast's attackers have no chance.
Karen: It was great to have Cap back in the Avengers! If there was anything missing during Englehart's run, it was Cap. But it made sense, considering what was going on in his own title.
Doug: Cap and the Beast compare notes, and decide that Roxxon Oil is at the center of the controversy. Making their way to the hospital to see the Avengers, who are visiting the healing Pyms, Cap takes over immediately. He asks Thor and the others to step outside, and tells them his suspicions about Roxxon, and a possible tie-in with the Brand Corporation. Asking for a team to join him, the team is interupted by a returning quinjet. Back in New York are Iron Man (hey, man -- this was the "nose era"!) and Moondragon, having failed in their effort to find the missing Hawkeye. After debriefing back at the Mansion, Moondragon requests that Thor accompany her into the timestream in search of Hawkeye. Then, in a statement that must make all of those unfortunate enough to have read "Civil War" scratch their heads, Tony Stark tells Cap "I'm with you all the way."
Karen: The scenes with Cap and the other Avengers at the hospital were nicely done. Thor's thoughts about Cap returning to them "at last!" show how valued the star-spangled hero was, and Cap's comment to the bed-ridden Yellowjacket -"Hank -ditch those roses, huh?" -was just perfect.
Karen: Of course, we did have Moondragon to put up with, She was supposed to be annoying and insufferable, and she did a good job of it! I really could not stand her. First we had to deal with Mantis and her self-absorption, and next we got Baldy! However, she did serve a role on the team, in forcing Thor to examine his reasons for being an Avenger. I think the conclusions she drove him to (that he was "slumming") were absolutely false, but it was an interesting sub-plot. Iron Man's friendship with Cap was still pretty solid at this point. There had been no Armor Wars, Galactic Storm, or Civil War yet to rip them apart.
Doug: Now in the midst of this, we have a brewing subplot with the arrival of Patsy Walker to the Avengers. Of course she had long before been the center of Marvel's teen universe, along with such titles as Millie the Model. I had not been a reader of the Beast's solo series in Amazing Adventures, which also guested Patsy, so when I first came to this story I was somewhat in the dark. It's pretty obvious that scribe Steve Englehart is going to do something here, as Patsy gets in on the action and leads to the defeat of the team later in this story.
Karen: I had no idea who Patsy Walker was or what the heck she was doing in Avengers! Her arrival did leave me shaking my head, but I trusted Englehart knew what he was doing. And he did!
Doug: And as long as we're discussing the writing, how about the art? This was the introduction of George Perez, and even in his first assignment it's pretty obvious that he would go on to superstardom. I will say that I didn't care for some of the backgrounds he employed (weird geometric shapes and such), and the light inking of Vince Colletta certainly did him no favors, with the exception of the Beast. Vinnie's feathering could always make hair look good. Later in this series Sam Grainger will arrive, and I think we'd all agree that in some of the X-Men books we've reviewed, he very ably inked Dave Cockrum.
Karen: Perez was a welcome sight, even if his initial work was relatively simplistic in both style and layout. It was fun to see him develop into such an incredible artist. As for Colletta, what can I say that hasn't been said? I did notice an abundance of blank backgrounds or very simple backgrounds in this issue.It'd be fun to see the original pencils and do a comparison.
Doug: As Thor and Moondragon prepare to leave, Moondragon summons Immortus -- he easily draws the heroes into the timestream. As they set off on their mission, they are confronted by Kang the Conqueror, still smarting from losing the Celestial Madonna back in G-S Avengers #4. Thor is able to defeat Kang, and the journey continues. It's conclusion lands our heroes in 1873 America -- in the Wild West!
Karen: I have to say, Kang's reappearance was not entirely welcome to me. As the Vision said, "Again? This is getting monotonous!"
Doug: Back in the present, the Avengers are about to lay seige to the Brand Corporation when they are confronted by the Squadron Supreme. These characters were last seen back in Avengers #85-86. Mirroring DC's Justice League of America, Hyperion (Superman), Doctor Spectrum (Green Lantern), Golden Archer (Green Arrow), Lady Lark (Black Canary), and the Whizzer (Flash) engage the Avengers and make short work of them. In the end, it's the meddling Patsy Walker that turns the tide, preventing Wanda from using her hex power at its fullest power. It's a nice cliffhanger ending, seeing a very powerful team carried away, while Thor and Moondragon appear to have troubles of their own in the distant past.
Karen: I loved what Englehart was doing with the Squadron. He could have taken the easy way out, and just used the Squadron Sinister, who were bad guys. But instead, he chose to use the Squadron Supreme, who were the heroes of their world. Heroes who had gone bad -"we sold out!" We'd find out just how much they sold out in the coming issues. Marvel didn't shy away from politics -at least not in Englehart's books.
Doug: Great lead-off issue for what will be a fun tale! Englehart was really clicking on the book by this time, and it's hard to believe that he was within a year of being done. One has to wonder what would have happened had he stayed on the book. Of course, a fella named Shooter came along, and he did OK...