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...

16 comments:

Eric Goebelbecker said...

This is going to be a great 8 weeks! One of my all time favorite Avengers and heck, Marvel tales. (pun intended)

Hadn't realized it introduced George Perez to the Avengers. Nice bit of trivia.

david_b said...

To be honest.., I've been picking these up off eBay here and there, just to fill holes. Back in the day, I had just left the Avengers at ish 129, then happened to pick up 151, 152 for a dozen or so issues (missing Tuska's brief tenure as well.

Mr. Perez was a BIG change from the Bob Brown, John Buscema (and Sal..) drawings I was used to, so it took me a while to like his style. It still seems a bit 'light-weight' with Vinnie's inks, but it got a lot better as time went on.

J.A. Morris said...

That cover confused me for years!

I didn't read this story until around 1980 or '81,a friend gave me his dogeared back issues. The cover refers to the Squadron as "the Squadron Sinister". When I read these issues there was no internet,no OHOTMU,nothing like that,so I didn't know that "heroic" versions of the Squadron Sinister appeared in 85-86. When I knew the Squadron's back story,this storyline made more sense.
Even if you've read the back issues,I highly recommend this reprint book:
http://www.amazon.com/Avengers-Serpent-Crown-Steve-Englehart/dp/0785117008/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1290456578&sr=8-4

It's great to read 'Serpent Crown Affair' on glossy high quality pages.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for looking at this. This was my first Avengers arc and still one of my favorites.

Darpy

Karen said...

Folks, we're having a great time reading this series! Thanks for your feedback.

Karen

Fred W. Hill said...

I just had to go back and dig those issues out of the box to re-read, for the first time in a couple of decades or so. These were fun, and, dang, it was wonderful to have some genuinely good art in the Avengers again after some lackluster issues by Tuska. While Perez didn't immediately rise up to the heights set by Neil Adams or John Buscema at his best, he wasn't too far behind those stellar talents and he definitely added some artistic flash that had been missing from the Assemblers for too long.
The drag of this period, from 135-151, was all the reprints & fill-ins. Nevertheless, this ish was a great opening to Englehart's last major storyarc during his run on the Avengers.

Karen said...

Fred, I remember well all those darn fill-in issues! Especially the two-parter right in the middle of this storyline. It drove me crazy. There's some interesting comments on this in the latest Back Issue (45). They have an interview with Englehart on his JLA work, and discuss how he left Marvel. He's always said that when Gerry Conway became editor in chief, he took Avengers away from him. But in this issue they have a sidebar where Conway refutes this. He says that Avengers was always late, and he told Englehart if he couldn't get a plot to Perez by a specific date, Conway would plot the next issue. According to Conway, Englehart essentially said if you do that I quit, and Conway didn't think he should back down, so Englehart did leave.

I'm sure the truth is in the middle somewhere, but knowing how often the book seemed to be delayed or have reprints, Conway's story does sound plausible.

Karen

david_b said...

Karen..:

As for your Englehart poll, I voted, but someone forgot to add THE SWORDSMAN.. He was my hands-down favorite at the time and was very upset that they killed him off. I always enjoyed him and Mantis as a team, and the whole Vision/Wanda romantic subplot.

Anonymous said...

Just recently read this story in the Essentials reprints. It came across as a jumble that went nowhere. Never was the crown explained, or how it's supposed to work, and then they drop it in the ocean to get rid of it? Terrible story.

Fred W. Hill said...

Hi, Karen, I read about some of that background feuding between Englehart & Conway in The Comics Journal way back when (years after the events; Steve vented in an interview, then he & Gerry waged war in the letters pages). Two big egos clashing and I agree that the truth was somewhere in the middle. And those reprints were popping up all over the place in that era; at least Steve Gerber had some fun with it when the dreaded deadline doom got the better of him in Howard the Duck. That Assassin fill in Avengers, on the other hand, was pretty lame. Maybe I just wasn't too keen on Tony Isabella's two-parter because it had too many "surprise" cliches -- oh, the dead heroes aren't really dead; egads, the big, bad masculine villain is really a woman! -- not to mention, I was eager to get back to Englehart & Perez' story.
Admittedly, reading The Comics Journal shattered a lot of illusions about the old Marvel Bullpen. Filled with discord just like any other group of people, and the characters they were depicting in their comics.
I'll have to check out some of those issues of Back Issue soon.

Anonymous said...

"Admittedly, reading The Comics Journal shattered a lot of illusions about the old Marvel Bullpen. "

You can say that again - my first issue of The Comics Journal was the one with the big interview with Roy Thomas after he left Marvel in 1980 - what an eye-opener that was into the House Of Idea's inner machinations.


cheers
B Smith

Edo Bosnar said...

Aw, man. Usually when you do these multi-part story arc reviews I like to read along in the TPB if I have it - this is one I don't, yet (I ordered through an LCS here in Zagreb and it's only arriving sometime in early December). It's also a story that originally ran before I started regularly reading the Avengers - I think I had only about 2-3 issues from this story. One thing I do remember is how much, as a kid, I enjoyed the art by Perez, even though at the time I was hardly paying attention to all those names in the credits at the beginning of each issue...

Karen said...

I used to get the Comics Journal back in the late 70s and early 80s. I do recall that it made me aware that comics was a business, with all the good and bad that goes with that.

David - I goofed! I meant to add Swordsman to the poll and just spaced out. I really enjoyed his character arc under Englehart. Always the "beautiful loser".

Karen

Steven R. Stahl said...

Thanks for undertaking a detailed review of the "Serpent Crown" storyline in AVENGERS. I've long considered the storyline one of Englehart's best works and have cited it as a model of how to plot a story and develop characters. I'm tempted to say that it is one of the best two or three stories he's ever written, but from a literary standpoint, looking at characters and trying to determine how fully one's potential was realized in a given story, and how much potential he or she had, would be difficult.

I can say that the storyline is, for me, the most entertaining one Englehart has written. I looked fotward to each issue as eagerly as I ever did with any comic book. The treatment of Kang is the best one the villain has ever had, as well. Immortus was much better in that material than he has ever been since, with writers unable to decide whether he's a villain or not.

One thing the storyline did was showcase Englehart's skill in writing heroines. If there's a comics writer who's done a better job with them, I'm not aware of his work.

There are other reasons to praise the storyline, but I'll save them for future installments.

SRS

Steven R. Stahl said...

Englehart's stories contain a lot of memorable scenes -- bits of narration, bits of dialogue, insight into a character's heart and mind. Such scenes are routine in prose stories, but they're hardly anywhere to be seen in today's narrationless comics. The absence of character insights is a major reason why today's stories are so often cartoonish, compared to stories from decades ago.

Special moments from AVENGERS #141

Patsy Walker, to Jarvis: "Oh, that's good! I mean--that's bad for the Pyms, but good for me! Oh, I don't know what I mean! Goodbye! And it's 'Miss,' not 'Miz'!"

Moondragon, to Thor: "You are so--so--egalitarian!!"

Narration: Wanda, too, starts to whisper. . . but then stops, and thinks instead. . . of her shortened honeymoon. . . and the Vision's swift return of them to the Avenger's life. Aglow with love as she is. . . she still finds she doesn't really like it!

SRS

Inkstained Wretch said...

I always found it amusing that in the Marvel world, the Justice League/Squadron Supreme was always either in need of the Avengers' help or on the wrong side of the fight. They just couldn't seem to do anything right. Funny how that worked out ...

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