Avengers #97 (March 1972)
Roy Thomas-John Buscema/Tom Palmer (cover by Gil Kane/Bill Everett)
Doug: Here we are -- the conclusion to this wonderful 9-part epic. Last week one of our commenters stated that this was tailor-made for a graphic novel. You'll get no argument from this corner. And speaking of comments, Karen and I want to pause and thank everyone who has participated in the conversation -- you've left almost 100 comments on the previous eight installments. Certainly this has been a story worth discussing! So let's get to the endgame:
Doug: I have a couple of observations before we really get rolling, and both involve terminology. One, throughout this story it's been referred to internally as the Skrull vs. Kree War. When did that change to the Kree/Skrull War that we all know? Secondly, and in the same vein, when did the Intelligence Supreme become more commonly known as the Supreme Intelligence? Does anyone have any history to impart? Many thanks in advance if you do!
Karen: I think "Kree-Skrull" just flows better than "Skrull-Kree." As for the Supreme Intelligence vs. Intelligence Supreme, I'd swear I read an interview with Thomas where he said that he liked the way "Intelligence Supreme" sounded better than Stan's original term of "Supreme Intelligence." But obviously, later writers went back to the original.
Doug: So we left off issue #96 with Rick Jones being unceremoniously tossed back into the Negative Zone. I remarked that we'd begun this epic with a little tussle against Annihilus, so why not end it that same way? The Neg. Zone baddie immediately spies Rick and zeroes in on him. Roy and Big John give us a nice two-page spread that recaps how we got to this point. And since this is the first mention of John Buscema penciling the ending to what had become one of Neal Adams' masterpieces, why don't we ask for everyone's opinions on the art switch. Keep in mind that it was apparently Roy's decision to table Adams, due to what Roy has referred to as "deadline issues". Thoughts? Personally we're switching out da Vinci for Michelangelo. Styles are obviously different, but in the end they're both masters.
Karen: If we'd gotten Don Heck here, I'd be crying. I have no complaints! Both are tremendous artists. The only thing I can say is that Adams' panel layouts are more adventurous, perhaps more cinematic. But Buscema has his own gravitas.
Doug: Whoo-boy... as long as you bring up the Dashing One, I guess I'd ask our readers if the Kane/Everett cover to the final chapter is any more jarring than the shifts from Sal to Neal to John on the interiors?
Doug: As I said, Annihilus moves in quickly on Rick. Rick is fearful, as he's unarmed and basically floating in space. As Annihilus puts the clamps on Rick's throat, a blast of energy suddenly emanates from Rick's brain and drives the monster back, and away. We then cut to the Skrull throneworld where the emperor is gloating over Wanda and Pietro's failed attempts at freeing Captain Marvel from the negative energy with which he's surrounded himself and the omni-wave. Anelle, the Skrull princess, tries to get daddy to chill out on the off-worlders, but he's hearing none of it. Mar-Vell is suddenly roused from his trance, we'd assume at the same moment that Rick lashed out at Annihilus. Mar-Vell tells Wanda that in his attempt to contact Rick with the omni-wave he unwittingly tossed the young man into the Neg. Zone. Mar-Vell then, for the second time in this epic, destroys an omni-wave.
Karen: Already Mar-Vell is starting to feel somewhat martyr-ish. He's mostly been a tool and that doesn't really change through the course of the story.
Doug: We cut back to Rick, who is hurtling through space. Suddenly a portal appears right in front of him, and accepts him. Rick lands back in the prison that is the Supreme Intelligence's chambers. The S.I. tells Rick that he has again been orchestrating many events in the Kree/Skrull War and Rick's mindblast is just one such manipulation. But as they have this conversation, Ronan is spying on them. Aware that they are discovered, the S.I. orders Rick to reach back in his mind, to find heroes of yore who might serve as champions. Strangely enough, the S.I. seems to know of American comic books from the WWII era!
Karen: This is Roy having fun. Everyone knows how much he loves the Golden Age heroes he grew up with, so he found a way to incorporate them into the story. I have to say, when I first read this (as a child) it left me confused. Now I can enjoy it, even if it does seem somewhat self-indulgent.
Doug: In a great splash page, we see Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch, the original Vision, the original Angel, the Fin, the Patriot, and the Blazing Skull leap into action against a Kree army. Buscema and Thomas give us some tutelage on the powers of these "new" heroes as they tear through the Kree. But just as suddenly the Golden Age warriors begin to fade out. Ronan sees this as his opportunity to slay Rick and the S.I. and orders the army into the chamber. Inside, the S.I. tells Rick that his mind had given him a brief respite in order to fully concentrate on what he must do next. As Rick cries out, his mind again unleashes an unexpected and horrible force that reaches across not only his immediate space, but all of space. Kree and Skrulls everywhere, battling all segments of the Avengers and their allies, suddenly fall as still as statues.
Karen: Wow! Who knew human beings had such potential? This made me think a bit of sci fi shows like The Outer Limits or especially the episode "Charlie X" from the original Star Trek series.
Doug: Cap, Iron Man, Thor, and the Vision, suddenly left with no one to fight, take the chance on redirecting to the Skrull galaxy. Blasting through hyperspace, only to emerge once again in the midst of the Skrull armada, the heroes get a free pass to the Skrull stronghold. Even the spaceships sit idly at the power that Rick had emanated. The Supreme Intelligence now wants to show Rick what has been transpired on Earth in their absence. We get a scene involving that pain-in-the-butt H. Warren Craddock -- in actuality the fourth Skrull from Fantastic Four #2! In a scene indicative of the political turmoil that was the early-1970's, once Craddock reverts back to his Skrull form, an enraged, anti-alien mob lynches him on the spot.
Karen: And there's that fourth Skrull you were asking about way back when, Doug! I thought the revelation that Craddock was not only a Skrull but had been manipulated by the Supreme Intelligence was pretty darn clever. The panel of the dead and bloodied Skrull imposter was quite powerful.
Doug: The S.I. then gives Rick, and us, the explanation for the entire War, and for the events of this issue. The Kree and Skrulls have warred as rivals, each having advanced up the evolutionary ladder. However, sensing that they will "improve" no further, they both turned their attention to their perceived real enemies -- the humans of planet Earth. And what of Rick's new powers? Manipulated by the S.I., Rick used abilities latent in all humans. As Ronan had put dampers on the S.I.'s abilities to affect the upper echelons of Kree and Skrull intelligences, the S.I. instead chose to enhance and influence the more "normal" players in this game. After the story is told, Rick succumbs to the stress of the day, and passes out.
Karen: I thought the idea that both races were at some sort of evolutionary dead -end was interesting, although I'm unsure what that really means (how do you stop evolving? bad gene pool?). This part of the story really sets things up for years to come. The inability to evolve would lead the Kree into the "Operation Galactic Storm" storyline many years later.
Doug: The Supreme Intelligence next uses his powers to open a portal and reassemble the Avengers, including Captain Marvel. All appear around the fallen Rick. The S.I. fills everyone in on what has transpired and then tells Mar-Vell that in order to save the boy, he must make the supreme sacrifice -- merge once again with Rick, hence giving Rick the lifeforce that will save his now-endangered life. Being a true hero, it really doesn't take Mar-Vell to long to reach the right decision -- and it's back to the Negative Zone he goes, as Rick rises once more. As a last act of the War, the S.I. sends the heroes back to Earth, where they encounter Nick Fury and the real H. Warren Craddock. Fury fills them in briefly, but it's an Avengers team that arrives home with heavy hearts in spite of their victory. They are missing one of their own, and wonder if he himself didn't make the ultimate sacrifice -- Clint Barton is not among them!
Karen: As much as I have enjoyed the Kree-Skrull War over the years, I've always felt the conclusion was the weakest part. We get a deus ex machina in the form of omnipotent Rick, fixing everything. It was just a little too neat for me. The Supreme Intelligence is the wizard behind the curtain, controlling it all, which I don't mind, but after all the strife and bloodshed, to have the war simply stopped was unsatisfying. I also would have liked to get a scene of the Vision reacting to seeing Wanda, but that would come later, along with our questions about the missing Hawkeye. I still consider this one of my favorite comic stories of all time, but I have to admit that it could have used a stronger ending. The ideas from this story though have had a huge impact on the Marvel Universe; the concept that human beings have the potential to be gods has shaped many a story. The Kree and Skrull, and their conflicts, continue to motivate new writers. Roy, Neal, John, and the rest did some world-building here and also gave us an exciting story. And -it was done in one title! No need to cross over into a dozen other books. Imagine that.
Karen: On another message board, a friend who is a big Neal Adams fan and has been reading our Kree-Skrull War posts brought up our Avengers 95 post. He believes that the cover to Avengers 95 was drawn by Adams and not John Buscema as we had stated. He cites Adams' own web page as evidence. On the other hand, the Comic Book Database lists Buscema as the artist. It still looks more like Buscema than Adams to me, but I will admit that Palmer's inks do make it more difficult to ascertain who the artist is. Anybody else want to chime in here about that particular cover?
Doug: By the way, the Grand Comics Database also credits the team of Buscema/Palmer with the cover. If you click on the previous link, you'll see a note below the cover credits that addresses this artist controversy. Apparently the folks at the GCD believe that it is Buscema and not Adams, despite prior credits leaning toward a collaborative effort.
Doug: I'd add one comment that Karen's friend made as additional food for thought:
"Look at Cap's biceps. Classic Adams. Look at Thor's leg: again, classic Adams."
Doug: Now if you think it's silly to be getting into select anatomical parts like biceps or quadriceps, it's really not. Years ago, I owned a page of original art from a Captain America & the Falcon from the early 1970's. At the bottom of the page was a signature by the one and only John Romita. Later, I decided to sell it on eBay. I was negligent in my listing and did no further research. I was almost-immediately informed that the artists were Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten. Now, certainly I can tell a Romita from a Sal Buscema, but this page was a puzzler in that it had a lot of facial close-ups and one in particular of the Contessa could have been straight out of Romita's romance comics -- so I went with it (I did immediately amend the listing, by the way, and the page did sell). However, feeling a mystery was afoot, I scanned the page and sent it on to Roy Thomas for his opinion. Roy did reply, and confirmed that it was indeed Sal's and John Verpoorten's work. However, he did say that an arm here and a leg there (I'm paraphrasing) could have been "corrected" by Romita -- but he couldn't be sure. So my point is that Neal Adams could stake a claim to the cover below -- it's no secret that he often put his stamp on pencils, inks... shoot, even coloring. So, examining the exhibit below, what sayest thou, the faithful reader?