Monday, December 13, 2010

Avengers: The Serpent Crown Affair, part 4

Avengers #144 (February 1976)
Steve Englehart-George Perez/Mike Esposito

Doug: Did we say action-packed? Yeah, I think we did. Well, this one isn't exactly that, but I'll say that during my re-read I couldn't wait to turn each page. Steve Englehart really did a great job on this particular story, and it's no wonder that this title was my favorite as a kid. This is just good stuff! Three-dimensional characters, a desperate situation, some Marvel history... and how about that George Perez art? The arrival of veteran inker Mike Esposito is welcome; it's a shame that this will be his only credit in this seven-issue arc. I believe the next time we visit our Assemblers, Vinnie Colletta will be behind the India inks (or felt-tip pen, depending on his mood!).

Karen: I wouldn't say Esposito is an ideal inker for Perez,
but he's certainly preferable to Colletta.
Doug: With our tour of Tombstone, AZ (c. 1873) over, it's time to turn our full attention to the main team of Avengers. Last ish we saw them bust out of the Dr. Spectrum engineered prison, largely through the ingenuity of Captain America and the powers of the Vision.
Now free, our heroes seek a way out of the labyrinthine Brand Corporation.

Doug: As we get under way, Patsy Walker is again the focus. And as she takes center stage, it's actually the Vision who upstages her in this reader's mind! Englehart gives us a recap of the previous three issues, but it's told from Vizh's perspective, and is actually quite humorous! For a surly guy, he has a few zingers flying around in his computer brain! I really liked this scene.

Karen: It was a nice way of handling the recap. Vision certainly shows a sense of irony.

Doug: Then we get the all-out action we've come to love with this cast. As our Assemblers plot their next move, the wall opens up -- guided missiles!
Wanda is the first line of defense, dropping the platform on which the team stands as the first missile sails overhead. As another missile takes aim, Iron Man calls it as his. Landing on it like a horse, IM rips open a control panel and quickly disables the pre-programming function. Trouble is, he's thrown backwards off the bird and straight at his teammates! Landing with a tremendous impact, the team is scattered. The Beast manages to halt his own drop and snag Wanda shortly after; Cap grabs Patsy and pulls off a somewhat unbelievable maneuver that spares them from becoming paste.

Karen: These pages amply demonstrate Perez' ability to tell a story and maintain tempo. His artwork was still rough, but you could tell the guy had true talent.

Doug: In the excitement, the team is split in two, with Patsy, IM, and Cap making a break for a hallway.
Entering a warehouse/storage area, Cap is on the verge of re-upping for full-time membership when suddenly a surprise greets them -- the costume of Greer Nelson: the Cat! All three reminisce about the Cat's short-lived exploits, with Iron Man narrating what he knew of her. As he finishes, Cap coyly looks his way, holding the Cat's mask and wonders aloud if Patsy would...

Doug: Of course she says "YES!" But as we feel that tension build within her, we also get a view into her mind. Englehart does a fantastic job of recapping the life of Patsy Walker. As I'd said earlier, when I first read this story arc, I had no idea who Patsy Walker was. I came to this after the Silver Age, sure, but let's face it -- even if I was 10 years older, I don't think I'd have been buying Patsy Walker comics! So the "origin", if you will, was welcome, and quite well done. I especially liked the parts with the Beast's backstory as a furry guy, because I'd not seen any of the Amazing Adventures where he'd gone solo in recent years. By the way, the lettercol is positioned in the midst of this part of the book -- future pros Peter B. Gillis and Jo Duffy were heard from this month!

Karen: Did you find it odd that the Cat costume was sitting, laid out, on top of a crate? Maybe they explain this later, but it sure seems weird that everything else is in a box and this costume is sitting in plain sight. In any case, the little flashback of Patsy's life was certainly helpful, as I had no idea who she was! I know Englehart has said he read everything Marvel put out before he became a writer for them, and that he wanted to incorporate Patsy into the Marvel Universe. It still seems rather odd! But ultimately, it worked.

Doug: It was laid out almost as if the Avengers were supposed to find it; otherwise, it was a heckuva screw-up on some janitor's part! Of course Cap thinks better of his idea, reflecting on the deaths of Bucky and Roscoe (recently deceased in Cap's own book). However, you can bet that by this time Patsy wasn't taking "no" for an answer. Snatching the costume (and asking our two gents to turn their backs), she slips into the Cat costume, only to emerge as the Hellcat! And let me throw in another two cents on the art -- great splash page!

Karen: Yes, it's a really nice full-page shot of our new heroine. I find the costume itself rather boring, but the mask is cool, and Perez gives her a nice dramatic pose, so it works. I enjoyed the banter between Cap and Iron Man as they have their backs turned to Patsy. Both with this relationship, and the Iron Man-Thor relationship, Englehart is convincing in making us believe that these men have known each other a long time and are comfortable with each other.

Doug: Englehart does offer to tie up the Wild West loose end, with a quick visit to the departure of Thor, Moondragon, and Hawkeye. But when the Two-Gun Kid requests to tag along, Moondragon tells him that it's not possible -- no man may know his future. Hawkeye protests, says to the Kid that he will mentor him in the 20th Century, and then promptly announces his resignation from the Avengers upon their return.
Whoo-boy, that Hawkeye...

Karen: Hawkeye still hasn't quite transitioned over to being that solid responsible Avenger he finally will be! And bringing the Two-Gun Kid to the future -that's got to violate every law of time travel possible! What are they thinking?

Doug: To close this one out, as the remaining half of the Vision, Scarlet Witch, and the Beast hook up with Cap, IM, and Hellcat, the Squadron Supreme is suddenly teleported right into their personal space! As the teams engage, they are just as suddenly flashed away! A quick trip to the control room and we see security chief Buzz Baxter informing Brand honcho Hugh Jones that the cops want to know why missiles were flying out of the Brand Corporation. Jones, not wanting anyone to know what's transpired, raps a button on the panel, and it's off to the next ish -- the DC-swiped title "Crisis on Other-Earth!

Doug: I have to add a little post-script to this one. Several months ago Karen ran a series of posts about Marvel house ads. I just had to laugh when I saw one of them in this issue. I recalled it quite vividly from the time I originally read this story after publication. Problem (or not) was, I was not quite as worldly as a 9 1/2-year old as I am now. In Stan's hype box for what the critics are saying about his Origins of Marvel Comics series, check out the first quote -- it's from the notorious '70's skin magazine Gallery! I'm sort of glad that that went over my head way back when!


Edo Bosnar said...

I guess I'm still not very worldly; I never knew about Gallery magazine until you mentioned it here...
I still cannot get over how inexpensive those hefty "Origins" and other reprint volumes were back then; "Son of Origins" was actually the first one of those I had, got it for Christmas sometime in the late '70s.

Wanda said...

You guys really need to get with technology and provide readers with decent scans. Your comment about the inking job not being that great forced me to look at them. They look great, just wish I could see a larger and more vivid picture.

Karen said...

Wanda, if you click on the pictures you'll get a larger image. Since we try to put multiple images in each post, it's not feasible for all of them to be the same size as the cover image.

You also have to consider that most of our scans are from comics on newsprint paper, which doesn't look that great to begin with. We do try to clean the image as much as possible, but frankly, some of these posts can take several hours to put together, which is time neither Doug nor I have.

I suppose when we are able to quit our full time jobs and work on the blog 8 hours a day, we'll be able to improve it tremendously. Until that day, this is about as good as it's going to get!!


Doug said...

Thanks, Karen, for your defense of my scanning for this post.

Wanda, my source for artwork for this entire series of posts has been the DVD-ROM of the Avengers, manufactured by Gitcorp. The artwork I've posted is straight from the DVD. So the quality of the scans is all on those folks. I will admit that at times my scanner does scrunch the art, distorting it. I always attempt to elongate it in the composition of the post; sometimes those changes don't save.

I'm sorry I cannot afford better technology. While I think I live comfortably on a public school teacher's salary, I don't place much of an emphasis on having top-of-the-line equipment to use on this blog. However, I think with the Google Adsense that Karen and I have sitting on the sidebar, we could begin to apply the 83c we've accumulated toward improving things around here.

Thanks for visiting, and don't hesitate to leave some more feedback.



david_b said...

Jeez, I love all the graphics you guys DO manage to get up on the site.. Sure isn't helping my bank account with all these comics I'm buying off eBay..!

I love the examinations of these story arcs (and sub-arcs..) I've long since forgotten or never cared about initially.

Blessings, Karen and Doug..

david_b said...

I think the only complaint I'd have against 144's cover art, was making Cap, Ironman and Viz look so wimpy just to show off Hellcat.

Granted, I know the cover's intent was to introduce, but seriously..? You've got both a super-strength Cap and the 'second-to-Thor' Ironman and they both look pretty weak next to Hellcat, who doesn't look all that tough herself. Other than that gripe, I felt the banter between Tony and Steve Rogers was a very strong point here..

Steven R. Stahl said...

Thanks for the perceptive review. The highlight of the issue, I thought, was the sequence in which Patsy dons the costume, although there was excellent wordsmithing on other pages as well.

O recall the entire storyline and others Englehart has done with pleasure, but there are individual scenes which really stand out and are easy to recall, decades later. You can probably guess how frustrating it was to wait for #147 to come out, way back then.

The Kid's trip to the future doesn't make sense in the context of multiple timelines, but this was written using the old single-timeline system. The presumption is that however long the Kid stays in the present, he eventually goes back to his own time and events proceed unaltered.

I generally have little to say about the artwork, but even back then, I considered the energy in Perez's pencils a huge advance over the previous AVENGERS pencil artists, with the exception of Cockrum in G-S AVENGERS #2.

FWIW. the best depiction I've seen of Wanda and a good treatment of Vizh as well, were in AVENGERS #126.


Doug said...

David --

Thanks, dude -- we appreciate your input! And Steven's, and Edo's, and...

And I'm not just saying that because it's generally positive. Overall the climate around here is great -- people express their passions every now and then and that's wonderful that this is a forum where people feel comfortable. We just got rubbed the wrong way earlier today.

But I'm good now!



Fred W. Hill said...

LOL, Doug, I bought that same issue when it came out, when I was about 13, and I'm sure I read that ad, and by then I may have even seen some issues of Gallery which I snuck out from my dad's porno stash, but it never occurred to me that Marvel would quote a review from a porno mag in one of its 4-color ads! Then again, considering that one of ol' Stan's last prominent works was Strippergril, maybe it shouldn't be so surprising.
Oh, yeah, and I did nearly fall in lust with Perez' depiction of Patsy as Hellcat. Yep, pathetic comicbook geekdom! But, more seriously, this mag makes me wish we'd seen more of Englehart and Perez on the Avengers. They made a great team and I wonder if he planned to have Patsy ultimately decline to become an Avenger all along, or if that was Conway's decision.
BTW, I'm perfectly happy with the graphics, and especially with the option to enlarge them! You and Karen make this a fun site to engage in childhood reminiscing. Almost hard to believe it's been about 35 years since those issues came out, and 35 years before that seemed like ancient history back then.

Edo Bosnar said...

By the way, Karen & Doug, I find the site awesome in every way (including visually) and don't see the need for any changes that would cost you extra time and/or money...

Steven R. Stahl said...

Doug and Karen -- since you're so familiar with comics from the '70s, perhaps you could offer your perspective on decompressed comics.

Do you believe that there's any benefit to the reader from decompression? I haven't seen any. For there to be any benefits, the approach seems to demand that a reader study each panel as if the posing of characters, etc., contained deep meaning. That, to me, is crazy.


Karen said...

Steven - Doug and I have had numerous discussions on today's decompressed comics. I think I can safely say neither of us is a fan. Personally I find today's comics (for the most part) to be glacially paced. It can take months for anything to really happen in a book.

Many times I'll see a book where there are almost no words on a page. That's not terrible if the artist is an excellent storyteller and you can figure out what's going on, but most of the time that's not the case. Often I find myself confused at what's supposed to be happening, or what a character's emotional response is.

There's this effort to emulate film structure in comics now, which makes absolutely no sense. They're eliminated all of the tools that allow a writer to tell the reader things outside of the dialogue. Captions and thought balloons used to give insight into characters and plots; that's all gone now. Writers are simply writing dialog now.

I don't see decompression or this new style as an improvement in any way. I feel much has been lost by limiting the tools available to the writer.

Whew! Sorry to be so long-winded, but I do feel strongly about this.

Thanks to everyone for your kind remarks about the blog, by the way. It wouldn't be worth doing if we didn't get your comments -good and bad! - and get to share memories and ideas with you all.


Steven R. Stahl said...

Thanks for the perspective, Karen. Yours matches mine exactly. If the proponents of decompression can't describe its benefits for readers -- and I've challenged people to do that more than once -- it's reasonable to conclude that there aren't any.

That reasoning hasn't stopped Tom Brevoort from calling older comics "quaint" though:


Doug said...

Steven --

Sorry to have taken so long to get back to you -- basketball game out-of-town last night!

Karen summed up my thoughts as well (and in quite good detail -- excellent response, partner!).

I'd only add that from a practical/economic standpoint, I was having a very hard time parting with more money for less story. All of the creative issues -- you two summed those up. But from a consumer standpoint, think about it: I would now pay 20c per story page at a cover price of $3.99. Contrast that with even a cover price of $1.50 when the per story page cost was only 8c. If you happen to be a consumer who purchases upwards of 10 titles per month, the outlay of cash begins to approach an astronomical amount!

But saying that, I'm not sure even if I was getting "more bang for my buck" that I'd be happy with current prices.

But better stories (hey, time was a 20-page story was a 20-minute read) would make the higher prices more palatable.


Karen said...

Doug brings up an excellent point about cost. I still get new comics, but I have greatly pared back what I buy. Both the cost and the lack of content in the books has influenced my decisions. There are still some books or writers who I feel deliver enough quality to merit the cost -my best example would be the recent Agents of Atlas series by Jeff Parker. But most titles don't measure up for me.

Brevoort's contempt for the books that are the foundation of Marvel's current success is not surprising. While I'll concede that some writers in the 70s were overly wordy at times or that some storylines might seem melodramatic today, I think the books in general provided much more entertainment. As Doug said, when we do a review of a book from the 70s or early 80s, it may take me 20-30 minutes to read it. That's for a book I might have spent 25-60 cents on. Today I can read most new comics in around 5 minutes, and very little actually happens to advance the plot. That's not much value for my money.


Tom Brevoort said...

My contempt for the comics of the past? Surely, you do not know of whom you speak. Nobody has a greater love for the Marvel books of the past than I do, a fact that's been well-documented, well...just about everywhere.

Where I might differ from you is that I don't believe that the approaches that worked effectively and were cutting edge in 1975 (or 1965, or 1985) can work the same way today. The expectations of the audience have changed and grown over the years. And yes, most readers of the current generation, who didn't read those comics first-hand back in the day absolutely find them quaint. That's not a condemnation of those works, merely an acknowledgement that time and pop culture has moved on. It's no different from the way that, to readers of the '70s, reprints of Golden Age stories published 30 years before seemed quaint. It's not that they couldn't still be enjoyed by those readers, but the approach was clearly "old-fashioned" and, dare I say, "quaint" to most of those readers.

Lovely to see you again, Stephen. Keep tilting at those same windmills, fella!

Tom B

Steven R. Stahl said...

Lovely to see you again, Stephen. Keep tilting at those same windmills, fella!

Well, considering that you spelled my first name incorrectly in spite of having it on the screen in front of you, it's not surprising that the rest of your piece is shoddily reasoned as well.

Claiming that "most readers of the current generation" find comics from decades ago "quaint" does nothing to justify decompression as an advance in any sense. That's the issue. Ducking it as you did practically proclaims to the world that you don't know how to analyze a comics story's structure. Advancing the story's plot, foreshadowing a development, describing a character's thoughts and emotional state, adhering to continuity -- I can dissect any comic you've edited panel by panel, balloon by balloon to determine whether the story meets those and other editorial requirements. That's why the weaknesses of decompressed, narrationless stories are so apparent. Seeing what's missing from a story is more difficult than evaluating what one sees, but editors generally can do that. Why can't you?

If you're proud of publishing comics written by semi-literate men for a continually turning over group of new and short-term readers, then that's your failing. I'd be ashamed of such work.


Doug said...

All --

Karen and I truly love the passion that has been evident from time to time in the comments section of our various posts. Over the past 1 1/2 years this little project of ours has grown into a nice little community, almost becoming a message board/forum for topics in and around the Bronze Age. For that we are thankful to you, our faithful readers.

That being said, we would ask that any issues of a personal nature, and/or with a history that the rest of our community is not privy to, be kept offline or allowed to play out in some other manner.

Karen and I have discussed continuing the discussion of decompression/modern comics/etc. in an upcoming post -- stay tuned. But even when that hits the blog, we'd invite our commenters to openly discuss the merits or lack thereof of comic-making in today's marketplace -- while creators and/or editors might be called into question, let's try to stay objective in our discussions.

Again, thanks for everyone's participation -- it is gratifying to see creators stopping by a couple of times in the past week. Hopefully this thing only continues to grow!

Happy Holidays to all!

Doug (and Karen)

Darci said...

I agree with the comments about how odd it was to find the Hellcat costume draped across the top of a crate in that storeroom. I'd also like to point out that is NOT the Cat's. Check the flashback of Greer Nelson on the Chicago rooftop (or the original, worn by Shirlee Bryant in the Cat #1): the Cat uniforms had a blue "cat's claw" emblem on the chest. Also note the Cat's cowl was yellow, not blue (although it's a little hard to make out in the shadows of the flashback). I postulate that Roxxon, just like Iron Man, heard about the Cat second-hand and created the Hellcat costume as part of their effort to develop super-powered employees. For more evidence, see the Serpent Squad or, even later, the Manticore in Ghost Rider (1973 series) #27.
Keep up the good work!

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