Monday, February 28, 2011

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Laws of Physics!


Avengers #122 (April 1974)
"Trapped in Outer Space!"

Steve Englehart-Bob Brown/Mike Esposito


Doug: Conclusion time, kiddie-winkies! This one's the big wrap-up to our Avengers/Zodiac slugfest. But I'll caution you... if you don't have a king-sized helping of the suspension of disbelief before we begin
(above and beyond what it takes to get through your normal longjohn brouhaha), you'll never make it!

Karen: Before we jump into the review, how about that groovy John Romita cover? I remember that one just jumping out of the spinner rack at me!
The Avengers bursting through the pages of the book was terribly exciting to this 9 year old!

Doug: Well, haven't you raised a fun little bit of controversy? Consulting the two databases we usually use to make us sound smart around here, there's some disagreement. I, too, see the Jazzy one on that cover -- specifically in the faces of Iron Man and Thor, and perhaps the inks on Thor. But something is amiss with the other three figures. The Comic Book DB lists the credited artists (in no particular order or assignment) as Bob Brown, Mike Esposito, Gil Kane, John Romita, and Gaspar Saladino. The Grand Comics Database lists Kane as the penciller with inks by Romita and letters by Saladino. No mention there of Brown or Esposito. So, while the Jazzy One is definitely present, I suppose it would depend on the eye of the beholder just how much of Romita one sees.
I have no problem seeing Kane in the Vision and Scarlet Witch, and in the way the Panther's ears are drawn. Others? What do you see?

Doug: If you recall from our last review, the Avengers had attacked a rogue faction of Zodiac in a warehouse belonging to Cornelius van Lunt. Little did the mutineers know that the man from whom they sought an alliance and financing was in reality Taurus -- the leader against whom they would rebel. And the warehouse was in reality a spaceship (suspension of disbelief #1). So we join our heroes and villains caught in some major g-force as the "ship" approaches escape velocity. Trouble is, this is after all a warehouse, no one is strapped in, and who can really say if the whole deal is pressurized (suspension of disbelief #2)? Part of the wall recesses so that all inside can see that they've reached orbit. Iron Man discerns that it's not a window, but a force field. Thor, figuring his enchanted mallet can conquer it, launches that bad boy right at it, never considering that if Mjolnir dissipates the field, the vacuum of space will make short work of all on board (suspension of disbelief #3).
The hammer does pierce the field, but by the time it returns, the ship isn't in the same place -- so does the hammer return to Thor, or where Thor is? Because I know I've seen it return to Thor no matter where he is (suspension of disbelief #4). So now there's no Thor -- only Don Blake! All right, this was in the opening scene -- it's gotta get better than this!

Karen: No kidding - I could probably let one, maybe even two of those slip by, but four? I know Thor sometimes acted like a bonehead, but this is too much. As you say Doug, why would he want to penetrate the force field and expose his fellows to the vacuum of space? And this whole thing with how Mjolnir functioned was a constant continuity issue: in some books, it always returned to Thor, in others, it returned to the point from where it was thrown. In any case, the rocket-warehouse idea is just goofy.

Doug: So I'm not alone here? I wondered how you'd perceive all of this. I was afraid I was just being grumpy, but apparently my middle-aged eyes are distancing themselves from my Bronze Age brain. Or something like that...

Doug: So anyway, the two sides continue to batter each other, until the Vision calls out that they'd better cooperate, or they're going to run out of oxygen eventually.
Cut away back to Earth, where Taurus has the remaining members of Zodiac in his presence. He basically tells them about the mutiny and informs them that he is the boss, without question. Libra honks him off by informing him that he knew of the revolt, but chose not to tell. That sends Taurus into a rage, and he "excuses" everyone from his presence. This gives Libra the chance to walk and talk with Gemini. Libra suddenly attacks Gemini, they scuffle, and Libra puts him down hard. Binding the bad twin, Libra locates the good twin and frees him from his trance. Libra tells Damian Link to distract Taurus, while Libra steals the Zodiac Starship. Oh, yeah -- and Libra is blind (suspension of disbelief #5).

Karen: Aw c'mon Doug -it's worked for Daredevil for years! Besides, we know so little about these Zodiac guys -maybe Libra has a radar sense too!

Doug: But of course. How silly of me.

Doug: Back on the orbiting warehouse, Wanda creates a hex sphere in the force field and Iron Man shoots through it. Um, haven't we seen instances in IM's own mag where he dons special armor for space? I mean, I'd think the pressure of space might have a bit of impact on the ol' Stark heart? And is the suit pressure-sealed (suspension of disbelief #6)? Shellhead locates Mjolnir, because the warehouse has returned to the spot where Thor had launched it -- so is the warehouse orbiting 100x faster than the moon? And how about finding a needle in a haystack (suspensions of disbelief #'s 6 & 7)??



Karen: Doug, you have to stop doing all that thinking! It's only getting in the way!

Doug: I know! That's what I meant earlier. I just feel like I'm complaining WAY too much -- I really liked this story as a kid, but man -- the warts are plentiful now, aren't they?

Karen: But yes, I have my questions too.
Like how exactly does Thor's hammer wind up on top of Iron Man's wrist? Seriously, think about how you handle a hammer. When you've set one down, has it ever wound up on top of your hand? No, it's always underneath. This seemed to be extra-drama for no real reason. I have to say though, that the page featuring Shellhead and the warehouse burning in re-entry was pretty exciting. Although I am skeptical about his armor's ability to survive such a thing.

Doug: The warehouse begins to fall, and is about to burn up on re-entry when it's suddenly halted by Libra, who is in space in the Star-Cruiser. He is going to take them down safely in an even larger force field.
But, back at Avengers Mansion the Swordsman is keeping vigil over the still healing Mantis. She suddenly bursts from her bed, shouting about the Vision being in trouble and sprints past her suitor.

Karen: Poor Swordsman! Losing his lady to an android...let's crank that inferiority complex up to 11!

Doug: Cut back to Taurus, who figures out that the Gemini in his presence is not the one he thinks he is. As he's about to mete out some justice, the Star-Cruiser returns and the Avengers and the rogue houses emerge. Taurus challenges them, and they revert to his cause. You guessed it -- another free-for-all ensues! In the midst of battle, Taurus is flipped into a swimming pool, and begs the Vision to save him. But, as had happened in Avengers #118, the Vision freezes up, paralyzed with fear! Suddenly it's Mantis who enters the scene (suspension of disbelief #8) and saves van Lunt from drowning.
Thor gives the Vision a pretty good chewing-out, and then Libra drops the bombshell of the issue -- the only reason he risked it all to save the warehouse-in-orbit was because he thought Mantis was on board... Mantis, his daughter!

Karen: I know I'm beating a dead horse, but again, I just can't see these guys posing a real challenge to this team of Avengers. Maybe to the Kooky Quartet, but these guys? No, uh uh, not gonna happen.

Doug: OK, admittedly I've been pretty hard on my boy Steve Englehart. I'm generally an Englehart apologist -- the guy's got a Midas touch with most things he's done. But this one... this one is just crazy! Yeah, it's got a ton of action, yeah, it's got a ton of colorful characters, yeah, it's got some pretty good characterization for Thor and the Swordsman... But this ending chapter was just over-the-top. Seriously, when Karen and I agreed that this would be an arc we'd like to look at, I was skeptical about the art teams. When I loaded up the top part of the posts (we usually do that first whenever we lock a post into the queue) and saw Bob Brown and Don Heck would have the bulk of the picture chores over the three issues I figured to take a negative bent toward that aspect of the story. But as I've said earlier, Brown was really solid in the two issues he penciled and Don Heck's inks weren't a total distraction. There are just too many silly goings-on in this one to give it my undivided stamp of approval for the writer's chair! It was fun -- if you didn't think about it too much. Obviously I did...

Karen: Well pal, don't kick yourself, we both thought this would be a good arc to review, but man! It just had a lot of problems. Too many unbelievable things -and we're talking about a comic book! But it's fun in a really goofy way. It reminds me of the last "Die Hard" film -it was so over the top, so ridiculous, that on one level I hated it. Yet if you put your brain in neutral, it was kind of fun. Same here. Not Englehart's best work by any means, but the guy has hit so many homers you gotta give him this one.

8 comments:

david_b said...

Doug, Karen: This has been a most spendid story arc review for, again, one of my most favorite Avengers stories.

Over-the-top? Yes.
WAY-too-many-unexplained-twists..? Yes.
A crazy, wacky, fun Avengers story to enjoy over and over.. Yes.

Thanks to both of you for pointing out the more obscure Thor shortcomings (I never followed him much, so I wasn't aware of the basic hammer techniques.., etc). You do have to agree that with all the charactersations and potential subplots just bubblin' up, that it's pure Englehart fun, through and through. Despite the flaws, I found more substance in the characters in these pages, than a dozen issues of most other writers.

This has been Bronze Age Babies at it's finest.. My humble thanks.

Steve Does Comics said...

Isn't there another flaw? Doesn't a hammerless Thor only turn into Don Blake when he's on Earth? Would he revert if he was in space?

david_b said...

Oops, forgot to add these comments on ish 122..:

Both the 'break-through' cover and the splashpage were outstanding..!! I know the 'break-through' covers were considered 'new and stylish' back in the day, but it still resonates with Thor's expression.

I love Thor's pained look in the forefront on the first page. Very effectively colored and rendered.

And, typical Englehart: The surpise ending with Vision, Mantis and Libra.. I suspect Thomas or anyone else would have simply ended this adventure more succinctly with smiles and grandous 'The End'.

J.A. Morris said...

I'm with Karen, how could Zodiac give this group of Avengers such a hard time?
First Zodiac story I read was a 'Marvel Super Action' reprint of Avengers #72. From then on, I was hooked, looked for any back issues that featured the characters, including the multi-part Defenders story featuring Jacob Fury & Robo-Zodiac.
I loved 120-122 as a kid, I read them a few years back and realized "Zodiac are just a bunch of humans without any powers in silly costumes!" Even then,I thought the warehouse spaceship was dopey.
It's still a sentimental favorite, as it's one of the first Avengers sagas I ever read and it's still fun.

Fred W. Hill said...

I'll have to echo David B's sentiments on this one, crazy, wacky but fun. In my case, I didn't actually read this conclusion until I was well into adulthood, and much of it did strike me as ridiculous, but, hey, I'd finally plugged that hole in my collection after I forget how many years! I suspect Englehart was riffing on some of the silliness Stan & Jack, etc., played on Thor and his hammer in the early years and which had mostly been dropped by the late '60s, by which time several months might go by without Don Blake popping up. Personally, I preferred it that way, as I really liked Thor's more epic tales involving the other Asgardians, while the more mundane slugfests against more mortal foes bored me. Of course, another motive for Steve was likely using this trick as a way to get Thor out of the story, sort of similar to the way Gerber often had Dr. Strange somehow put out of action in his Defenders epics. After all, Thor could've taken out the Zodiac cartel singlehandedly without breaking into a sweat, unless they got the drop on him with Taurus' starblaster. Otherwise, this whole story was a contrived way to allow Libra to be the hero and rescue the Avengers in order to set up the big reveal in that last panal.
And, yep, they were really doing a number on the poor Swordsman!
BTW, while the cover is a classic storming into action group shot, it seems to me to be a last minute rush job involving several artists with Romita putting the finishing touches on it. The next issue's cover, as I'm sure everyone remembers, was a one of the great Bronze Age gaffes, depicting a scene tht the complete opposite of what went on under the ccver! Well, hey, at least it had something to do with the actual story, other than just being a poster shot of the characters.

Karen said...

J.A., I also enjoyed the "Who is Scorpio?" story in Defenders. Perhaps we can review it one of these days.

Karen

Anonymous said...

Could Brown and Esposito's contribution to the cover be the "comic" that the Avengers are bursting through?

Is it a copy of an actual strip, or just some kind of generic thing put together just for this cover?


cheers
B Smith

[MGW]Spike said...

"haven't we seen instances in IM's own mag where he dons special armor for space?"

Specialty armors were introduced during the Michelinie/Layton/JRJr run at the end of the seventies.
Previously, Iron Man had no problems going into space with his main armor (i.e. The Kree-Skrull War).

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