Monday, December 6, 2010

Avengers: The Serpent Crown Affair, part 3

Avengers #143 (January 1976)
"Right Between the Eons!"

Steve Englehart-George Perez/Sam Grainger

Doug: What's up with that cover? Do you think Gil Kane didn't get the memo on what was going on inside? The copy is correct, but Gil got his sub-teams mixed up.
But at any rate, this is another fun issue -- shoot, in this series it seems like every issue is funner than the last!

Karen: You're absolutely right about the cover -
you see a lot of covers that may exaggerate something from the story inside but this just mixes it all up!
Doug: As long as we're on the art here to begin, I guess we should comment on the addition of Sam Grainger to the pictures staff in this ish. I'd remarked earlier that Vinnie Colletta was pretty hit-and-miss in the first two issues. While his Thor was familiar and the Beast look
ed pretty good, overall his light line wasn't serving the young Perez very well. Here, though, Grainger brings a heavier line, but I have to say -- at times the art seems to give off an air of Rich Buckler under the influence of Joe Sinnott. Now, that's not a totally bad thing, as there were many fine Fantastic Fours produced by those two around this time. But Grainger seems to do more outlining and less texturing like Vinnie did. I'd said that Grainger had been solid over Cockrum in our X-Men reviews, and I know I liked him back in the late '60's over Sal Buscema in the Avengers. What do you think, partner?

Karen: I thought Grainger's work was a huge step up from Colletta's.
It's far more polished and suits Perez much better, in my opinion.
Doug: Kid Colt interrogates "Ace" the bad guy, Old West-style! However, the Thunder God rebukes the Kid, having said in an earlier issue that he detests firearms.
Hawkeye actually chastises Thor for objecting, saying that before he and Moondragon arrived, Hawk and the Kids had things under control. With the information they'd gathered, four horsemen ride off to combat the Conqueror.

Karen: Thor demands that they "work with honor!" In that sense, he is very much like Captain America.
I know I've said it before, but Thor's personality has always been less viking raider and more Arthurian knight -he's got a very strict code of behavior, and never fails to let the Avengers know when they are not living up to it! Heck, this is the guy who let Sub-Mariner escape in issue 3 because he respected him!
Doug: OK, I have to get to an issue I raised a long time ago back on the Two Girls... blog.
I asked, during our review of Avengers 21-24, just what color Kang's skin is? I had read the story we're presently discussing before I ever saw reprints of the Kang story with the Kooky Quartet. In this issue, Kang's skin is clearly blue, and Hawkeye refers to it as such. However, if you link to the reviews I'm referencing, you'll see an art sample that Karen included where Kang's skin is as Caucasian-looking as my own. So what's up?

Karen: It's confusing, but I still think he's Caucasian.
I think the colorists just got a bit sloppy at times.
Doug: Once inside the citadel, Perez and Englehart really outdo themselves in a 2-splash,
text-laden, character-driven tour de force. Perez does some nice panel lay-outs and Englehart really gets at the heart of what drives Kang.

Karen: I hate to say it, but by this point I was ready to never see Kang again!
I thought Englehart handled him well, but he was like the thing that wouldn't leave! Still, this last hurrah (at that time) was pretty exciting. His hatred of the Avengers is as strong as Ultron's.
Doug: Englehart gives us a look at the other storyline running through this epic.
Back at the Brand Corporation, a subsidiary of Roxxon Oil, we learn of the plan Captain America had conceived in the previous issue. Captured and imprisoned in a construct of Dr. Spectrum, none of our heroes could figure out a way to break out. That is, until Cap surmised that although the Vision could not pass through the cage, but he could go through Cap's shield if Cap put it in the energy field. Of course it works, and the team is able to break out. But what's really putting me off about this scene is the way the Beast is treated. The Vision questions whether or not he has a brain, and Cap further insults him by questioning why the Beast is being considered for membership. Now I know Hank McCoy was being written as obnoxious, having developed a defense mechanism for his furry transformation. But c'mon -- didn't these heroes respect him from his X-Men days?

Karen: Actually those were two of my favorite parts! Two of the most humorless guys on the team, the Vision and Cap, are messing around with the new recruit. I loved Cap's line: "You're really considering this guy for membership, huh?"
I thought it was good-natured ribbing and refreshing.
Doug: See, I didn't take it that way then, and I guess on my multiple re-reads of this story I'm still taken aback by Cap's coldness. I think Englehart, from Cap's re-introduction to the team in #141, had him as the tough-as-nails, no-nonsense drill sergeant -- I'll agree with your "humorless" comment, but to be honest I thought Steve Rogers was coming off a bit too pompous here. Maybe I'm just missing the tongue-in-cheek... I really hope I am, because that's not how I "hear" Cap speaking to anyone in this era.

Doug: Back to the West, Kang unleashes a monster ("a mix of 41st Century science and... a coyote!") against Hawkeye, Two-Gun, and Moondragon. The fourth member of the party, however, is absent. As the monster takes out the Avengers, Kang gloats in his control room. But he looks for and cannot find the fourth person. As we watch Kang question himself, we see the stranger emerge behind him and begin stripping away a disguise.
When the gnarled walking stick is brought out, it's clear that the fourth Avenger was not Thor, but Dr. Donald Blake!

Karen: That's some wacky science they got in the 41st century.

Doug: What follows is one of the best knockdown dragouts involving Thor I've ever seen in the pages of the Avengers. Thor had declared earlier that this would be the last battle with Kang. The ferocity of his attack seems to bear this out. As Thor engages Kang, he does one of the coolest things -- he holsters his hammer. Mano a mano, baby!

Karen: It was never much of a fight, as Kang seemed on defense the whole time! But still, very exciting.
I saw Thor's decision to fight hand to hand as another example of his noble personality. Even so, he goes after Kang with a real fury.
Doug: Kang eventually does himself in by overtaxing his power systems in a futile effort to defeat Thor
(or was it self-preservation?). As the battle ends, Kang fades away into nothingness, his atoms allegedly scattered throughout time. Our story closes with an interesting soliloquy from Immortus. What did you make of all that?

Karen: That almost seemed too easy...but then, Kang seemed to have crossed over from megalomania to complete insanity. His self-destruction was very feasible.
Time travel is always confusing though. Since Rama Tut and Immortus would no longer come into being, does that mean the stories they appeared in didn't happen? Stuff like that makes me crazy. Well, next time we'll only have to deal with the present, and Squadron Supreme!


david_b said...

I'm pained to admit this, but I don't recall this cover at all..!?! I knew there were serious gaps in my mid-70s Avengers collection I need to fill (I stopped back in the day with ish 129..), but the panels you featured make it look like one COOL issue. Thanks so much for the review..!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, in the 80s I was always picking up old 60s-70s comics for a buck or three, usually just for the cover. I picked this one up just for the cover. One of my first back issues, along with #12, 25, 54, 69, 151, 181, and 200. Very nice. starfoxxx

Steven R. Stahl said...

Along with this being my favorite Avengers storyline ever, this was the best treatment of Kang that I've read, including AVENGERS FOREVER.

The main difference between this Kang story and the ones that followed is that Englehart wrote Kang as an epic villain meeting his doom, whereas in the others, he was a comic book villain with different schemes.

Taking the approach that, well, this guy's a corporate property -- there are always going to be sequels and I'll just do the best story (or stories) I can under the circumstances is probably as responsible for bad stories as any other aspect of superheroes.

Writing stories shouldn't be a job, with the writer rationalizing that, well, that's the best I can do. . . If a story featuring a particular character is clearly worse than the other stories about him, then the writer has failed to do his job and failed as an artist as well.

More to come.


Fred W. Hill said...

That cover wasn't one of Gil's better efforts, even aside from goofing up on the contents. And I never thought Kang had blue skin, figuring it was a unique form-fitting mask. I think the first Kang story I ever read was in Marvel Team-Up, but I also remember seeing ads featuring that Kirby cover for the "Once an Avenger ..." story and thinking that was such a great piece of work.
As for Kang's multiple appearances during Englehart's run, it was actually sort of fun, but, yeah, Kang was wearing out his welcome and it was high time for him to be obliterated, at for however long it was until his grand comeback, by which time I'd long since stopped reading most comics. Interestingly, tho', this was sort of a throwback to Marvel's early days when certain villains, primarily Dr. Doom, Magneto, Baron Zemo, the Mandarin and Red Skull, would return again and again to bedevil the FF, X-Men, Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America, often in back to back stories or with just a few issues between comebacks. At least, that was until Stan finally figured out that less can be more, and began to space their appearances out much further and made them much more interesting, longer stories. With Kang in these Bronze Age tales, these were 4 separate but nevertheless linked appearances between issues 28 and 43 finally coming to an end, but in an issue with another ongoing storyline. Somewhat similar to the semi-conclusion of the first Inhumans story in the FF occuring in the same issue that began the first Galactus story. And that Inhumans' story continued as an ongoing subplot running for another year.

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