Monday, January 3, 2011

Avengers: The Serpent Crown Affair, part 7

Avengers #149 (July 1976)
"The Gods and the Gang!"
Steve Englehart-George Perez/Sam Grainger

Doug: When we began this series, it was November in the year 2010. I remarked at the time that seven issues was a lot, but that it would be exciting. I would declare that it has been nothing but.

Doug: Slugfest? You want a little of that? Characterization?
You want some of that? Well, this one has it all. Just a great Bronze Age yarn and a fitting end (although we don't see the end of the Serpent Crown until issue #154, and that's after the Living Laser got 'hold of it in Avengers Annual #6!) to what was actually two epics in one. This one starts off with the main part of the team journeying back from the Earth of the Squadron Supreme while Thor and Moondragon land at Avengers Mansion after their voyage over 100 years and 2500 miles. Englehart reminds us that during much of that trip the thunder god and the wanna-be goddess had been arguing about whether or not Thor was qualified to be an Avenger -- that he was playing below his league. Thor had not taken kindly to her criticisms and chastisement.

Karen: I really liked that split page for the splash,
with the bulk of the team returning from the Squadron's reality, and Thor and Moony returning from the trip across time and space.
Doug: As Thor and Moondragon enter the mansion they are greeted by Jarvis, who informs them that the rest of the team went missing fro
m the Brand Corporation. Thor assures Jarvis that he will investigate, and of course Moondragon tags along to continue her rant. This whole scene was very well-written, as Moondragon was played up as just despicable and Thor's brashness and single-mindedness was at the fore.

Karen: It was fun seeing someone get under Thor's skin. I also liked the comment Moondragon makes about not being Mantis -as much as Mantis' speech-patterns and star turns might have annoyed me at times,
she was nothing compared to Moondragon, who just came across as a flat-out arrogant b*tch.
Doug: The Avengers arrive at Brand just ahead of Thor and Moondragon.
Trouble is, they arrive right in the middle of a platoon of Brand soldiers! Despite insurmountable odds, the good guys do surmount -- until the "big gun" arrives. Now, in spite of this month's super-baddie being splashed all over the cover of this mag, Englehart writes this scene as if we "don't know what hit them". Well, duh. But as the Avengers are carted off, what should crush through the wall but the hammer of Thor! Man, it was good to see Thor back with the team after several months away battling Kang (and ol' Baldy).

Karen: I loved Thor's dramatic entrance. There are a couple of nice little character bits here:
Patsy kicking a guard in the face and thinking, "Oh boy! That was just like Spider-Man!", and Wanda blasting the wall down on the Brand tank and noting to herself that in the 'old days' she would've been out of hex power by now. Girl power!
Doug: It's somewhat ironic that it's Moondragon who really socks it to Orka the Killer Whale, attacking blubber-butt right through his noggin. However, being a bear of very little brain, her attack only stings him for a moment. Then he dusts her. Furious, the thunder god now unleashes a ferocious attack, knocking Orka clean through a wall, and then some. Meanwhile, in typical bad-guy-clown fashion, Hugh Jones and Buzz Baxter have chained the Avengers to some electric gonna-shock-ya-to-tomorrow device. Won't these guys ever learn?

Karen: Am I the only one here that thinks Orka is about the dumbest looking villain we've seen in ages? Sure, he's really big, but he's got that big old Charlie Brown style noggin, and come on, he's covered in blubber! I did however like how Thor reacts to Moondragon's mental assault on Charlie - I mean Orka: he finds it ignoble!
"Permit me to battle him fairly" he shouts. Englehart understood Thor's personality perfectly.
Doug: As if pounding Orka through a wall wasn't enough, the next blow literally sends him through the roof! Then comes the thunder. And rain. And lightning. But this is a new and improved Orka, one enhanced by Brand science. He's not quitting, and rips off a concrete column and hurls it at Thor. Thor barely flinches, as he destroys the projectile and continues his supernatural attack. Cut back to the Avengers, where Baxter muses about his life with Patsy Walker. Little does he know that a) he's talking out loud, and b) she's loosed herself. Patsy attacks Buzz, they tussle, and rather than have his eyes cut out he agrees to free the rest of the team.

Karen: Perez did a great job drawing that thunder storm; it looks so menacing. It also conveys the fact that Thor's power does far exceed that of his comrades. The fight between Hellcat and her ex-husband was sort of startling at the time, as you really didn't see men hitting women back then.

Doug: Back outside, Thor has made short (relatively speaking) work of Orka, but in the heat of battle has said a thing or two that ends up proving Moondragon's point about him. Thor bespoke, "Not all of those my size be humans, Orka!
Thor is one of the immortals, from far-off, fabled Asgard -- and most unlike Prince Namor or any other!" He added, "The other Avengers are mortal, as thou sayest -- but I am far, far more!" Of course Moondragon calls him on it, and... but we'll have to wait until our review of issue #151 to discuss that.

Karen: I'd love to find out where Englehart was going with all this. Of course, it's the same sort of problem a writer has when Superman is on the JLA, or the Spectre is on the JSA, or Dr. Strange in the Defenders: these heroes are all so incredibly powerful individually, they make the rest of the team seem unneeded. Perhaps that's another reason they used to always split the JLA up into smaller teams to fight their enemies.

Doug: As the Assemblers are reassembled, they speak their own epilogue to what has been a long day (or century, as the case may be). Iron Man remarks how before this adventure began, they had set out to make a new line-up; and who would have suspected the changes they would undergo.
The next two issues are also fun, the intrusion of the dreaded deadline doom notwithstanding. But that's for another time. But suffice it to say, this is one of my favorite Avengers arcs -- the action sequences are outstanding, the characterization top-notch. And the privilege of watching the young George Perez grow up literally before our eyes was a real treat. These seven issues are fond, special memories of my childhood, and still a blast to return to.

Karen: I had a great time reviewing these issues as well, my friend. A solid story all the way around. In some ways, I actually prefer it to the Celestial Madonna saga.
These Avengers really felt like a team, something sadly lacking, IMO, from the title now. It's unfortunate that Englehart did not continue on the title; I wonder what he might have done with Hellcat, for instance. But regardless, this a great, fun story, and I enjoyed the opportunity to look at it again.


Edo Bosnar said...

Karen - the little 8-year old me thought that "Oh boy! That was just like Spider-Man!" comment was so hilarious that I ran off to show it to my mom (or was it my older sister?) - who failed to share my amusement. Oh, well.
I remember I so loved this action-packed issue as a kid, and I still love it after having re-read it last week. The Thor vs. Orca battle is truly epic. Anyway, you guys really did a great follow-up to your big "Project Pegasus" series. Are you taking suggestions for future multi-part reviews?

Anonymous said...

From what I remember, I was really getting into comics at this time. I had always liked DC, but really was getting into the Marvel line for the first time. Previously, it had been hard for me to keep up with all the long, continuing series that Marvel had, compared to DC's usual one-or-two-and-done storylines. But I had started making a little money of my own doing yardwork and could afford things myself now instead of having to ask my parents for money. This series was the first real "long-run" series by Marvel that I got into, even with a two-issue break in the middle. It definitely wasn't the last one, but it was one of my favorites and I've enjoyed your posts on it.


Steven R. Stahl said...

I didn't love AVENGERS #149 quite as much as #147, but I still loved it. Everything in the issue worked. I believe the rationale for Moonie taking out Kang's enhanced coyote, but not Orka, was that the coyote had no consciousness with which to resist a telepathic attack. Orka had just enough consciousness to undertake simple tasks, and distracting him would be difficult.

BTW, one rationale for Thor not constantly using his hammer as a teleporter could be that the transition from one space to another via the hammer could be disorienting or even dangerous to people with certain types of brain chemistries. People who lack a sense of direction might be less sensitive to Earth's magnetic field; people who are more sensitive could react badly to the teleportation, or to being in strange spaces generally.

Looking back decades, perhaps the most notable thing about the Serpent Crown storyline was how closely Kurt Busiek set about replicating its structure during his AVENGERS run. Kang reappeared with a new plan; Triathlon was a counterpart to Mantis; Silverclaw, the spunky young heroine, was a counterpart to Hellcat; the Triune was a counterpart to Roxxon; the Firebird-Thor interaction replicated Englehart's Moonie-Thor interaction.

Unfortunately, for me, at least, Busiek's ambitious storytelling didn't work nearly as well. There are basic differences between reading a story in which you truly don't know what's going to happen, because unexpected things can happen, and reading a story to see how a writer tweaks a formula. Being surprised by skillfully done twists and turns makes a story far more enjoyable than any amount of admiration of technique.

Don't ask me, though, what I thought of AVENGERS #150.


Karen said...

@ Edo: We'd love to hear suggestions for reviews, it's just a matter of whether Doug and I both have the books. So sure, if anybody has some story they'd like us to take a shot at, let us know.

@Darpy: Glad you have enjoyed revisiting this storyline. One of our goals with the posts is to help bring back that 'magic' feeling from when you first read a great comic.

@Steven: Oh boy, Avengers 150! The things going on behind the scenes with that issue -Englehart leaving (or being forced out, depending on the source), the mish-mash of writers, and yet another reprint...what a mess.

Anonymous said...

Grumpy Old Man time me, the Avengers were never as good again (I only lasted till about #210)...whatever faults Englehart may have had as a writer (I seem to recall some derision about the way some folk in the Captain America book talked), his work from then is still as readable today as it was then.

(Conway's scripts seemed to much of going-through-the-motions, and I never really warmed to Shooter's writing).

And I'm a bit puzzled about the lack of love for Moondragon - okay, she may have been a little overbearing in her dealing with Thor, but hey, she had a point!

B Smith

PS I'm more than happy with the books you're reviewing - they're bang in the middle of my main "read everything that I can" period back in the early to mid're both doing a great job!

Karen said...

B Smith, thanks for your remarks. We're glad you're enjoying the blog, and that we can create a little oasis of 70s comic goodness for all of you!


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