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!
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