Monday, June 4, 2012

Ain't No Mountain High Enough: Avengers 185

Avengers #185 (July 1979)
"The Yesterday Quest!"
Steven Grant & Mark Gruenwald (plot)/David Michelinie (writer)
John Byrne/Dan Green (pictures)

Doug: Before we begin, I just have to say that this comic book is a slice of "fallen angels" history. In the middle of the magazine, within five pages of each other, are ads featuring Pete Rose and O.J. Simpson. Talk about being your own worst enemy... OK, on to today's fare. How do you feel about origin stories that are told much later? We've discussed among us that Wolverine became quite a bit less interesting as more layers were stripped away from his backstory. I think in the case of Wanda and Pietro, there was a sense of coolness in the fact that these were (as Karen says) "legacy heroes" -- the offspring of Marvel's 1st generation of super-heroes. With the notion that their parents were Miss America and the Whizzer, Marvel had in these two young mutants something that DC Comics has made a hallmark of their universe. But what happens when all is not what it seems, or what we believed?

Karen: By the late 70s, DC had plenty of legacy characters -the Super-Squad, the Huntress, and so on. At this point, only Wanda and Pietro could trace their lineage back to the heroes of yesteryear. At least that's what we'd thought. But honestly, that Whizzer/Ms. America idea had only popped up five years prior to this issue, in Giant Size Avengers #1
. So even that origin was relatively new. Before that, we really didn't know much about the siblings, other than their Gypsy roots and association with Magneto and the Brotherhood.

Doug: Although we're going to review this three-issue arc, it would have been helpful to have seen the last few issues. This one opens right after the big battle against the Absorbing Man, with a wharf and warehouse destroyed. A local cop asks who is going to pay when the owner finds out, and since there's no Absorbing Man to hand over, Iron Man coyly wonders if a check from Tony Stark will suffice to keep the Avengers off the hook. Remember, this is in the period immediately after the arrival of one Henry Peter Gyrich and the incessant meddling of the United States government. The battle against the Absorbing Man was also one of the first with the new 7-hero line-up -- the line-up which had left Hawkeye on the outside while the Falcon got a spot based on Affirmative Action. As Iron Man talks to the police, Hawk stalks off, to emerge minutes later in his civvies, with a duffle bag over his shoulder. He tells the team that he's done (again) and exits. The rest of the heroes return to Avengers Mansion.

Karen: Hawkeye really did get a raw deal, but instead of handling it stoically, like a stereotypical hero, Hawk fumes about it. And that's exactly what I'd expect from him!
Doug: Once at the Mansion, there are a series of short vignettes that really show the characterization we grew to know and love during the Bronze Age. Stark puts a move on Ms. Marvel, who returns the sentiment (did anyone think it was a bit naughty back in the day when Carol told Tony he could "bump her" any time?). Jocasta hears the banter, but leaves, feeling out of place. She heads to the parlor, where the Vision sits brooding. Jocasta tries to strike up a conversation, but the Vision remarks that he's distracted by Wanda's absence -- her trip with her brother Pietro to their Balkan homeland is on his mind. But when Jocasta uses the word "worried", Vision calls himself a "machine", and questions whether he is capable of emotion. This is off-putting to Jocasta, who leaves him.

Karen: Ms. Marvel was a really different female Avenger; Wasp had always been a flighty, girly-girl and Wanda had been reserved. Ms. Marvel was more assertive and confident than either of them. Her flirtations with Stark seemed fitting. I was more taken aback by the Vision's behavior. By this time, it seemed like he had accepted his emotional side and gotten past the whole Wonder Man issue. His treatment of Jocasta seems out of character.

Doug: The story moves to Transia, a small nation nestled in the Balkans of Bulgaria. Wanda and Pietro have come here with Django Maximoff, the old man we'd seen in several of the previous issues often cradling a marionette of Wanda or Pietro. Pietro cannot sleep, and his mind wanders to his childhood -- at least to what he can recall of it. He sees himself and Wanda, playing in the presence of a mother and father, the father carving puppets from wood. They are Gypsies, transients as those people could be. Pietro recalls always being told to take care of his sister -- an order that was impressed upon him repeatedly. The camp was eventually burned, and the twins fled as villagers beat their father. But Pietro wonders, too, why Wanda's memories always settle on Wundagore Mountain, and of Bob and Madeline Frank entering a citadel to have their children -- twins. Madeline died in childbirth. Of course, as the twins became young adults, they fell in with Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants -- but could never find further clues as to their heritage.

Karen: I liked this sequence. It was a fairly long recap of the sibling's history, but it was done well. My only surprise was the lack of notations regarding which books these scenes had occurred in. I thought that was still common at Marvel in 1979.

Doug: I never tired of the editorial footnotes -- even if they referenced only an issue or two past. That was an element that made every issue back in the Bronze Age a jumping on point. As Pietro retired, Wanda was in the next room sleeping. A narrative box alludes to her "will-induced slumber" -- is that an example of her probability-altering powers? I don't know if anything like that was addressed before or after. Suddenly her room is illuminated by the presence of another: Modred the Mystic. Modred paints himself as an ally, displaying a clairvoyance toward Wanda's presence in the mountains. He convinces her that he can help, and she allows him to spirit her away to Wundagore Mountain. But once there, they are attacked by defensive mechanisms, devices installed by the High Evolutionary. Modred allows Wanda to defeat the blasters, perhaps in an attempt to size her up. The come upon an altar, with a book laid open hovering above it. Modred remarks that the tome belongs to him who he serves, but the altar is for Wanda. Then he takes her out with some nasty beams of his own!

Karen: I just recently got Marvel Chillers #1, which features the first appearance of Modred. But when I first read this issue, I had no idea who he was! It didn't really matter, I suppose. His role is clear enough. I think we see a more confident Wanda here -a product of the years that Steve Englehart wrote her. Prior to his handling of her, Wanda would never have gone off without consulting Pietro!

Doug: I agree -- and I agree that I like the relatively safe ambiguity of their relationship here, unlike the heinous perpetration in Ultimates 3 with the "no implication required" incestuousness. So Pietro awakes the next morning, and discovers that Wanda is not in her room. Asking around the inn, he cannot find anyone who knows her whereabouts. A quick patrol of the village reveals nothing. Suddenly a young girl tells him that she was awakened in the night by a blinding light atop Wundagore -- and off speeds Quicksilver. Racing up the mount, he's repelled by a forcefield. The recoil sends him down, hard. He blacks out from the strain and comes to in a cottage. His wounds are tended to by a stranger, who suddenly reveals herself to be a... talking cow!

Karen: I always felt Byrne did a great job depicting super-speed. Pietro's search for Wanda, and his consequent frantic run straight up the mountain were really exciting. His depiction of Bova, the cow, was also well done. This character could have been cartoony or ridiculous, but he managed to make her look very realistic.

Doug: John Byrne's art is really solid in this story. This was certainly during the period when Byrne's figures had some mass to them; and Byrne has always been a master of facial expressions. Dan Green does a good job on the inks, but as we all know Terry Austin is the gold standard for Byrne inkers. I read this from the comic book, and it seems a bit muddy here and there -- I'll write that off to the printing process and paper quality of 33 years ago. I also want to give a shout-out to Pietro Maximoff -- he's actually likeable in this story! Scribe David Michelinie makes him seem a bit more introspective and less spontaneously combustible. That rounding-out allowed me to empathize with the speedster rather than simply loathe his presence, which had been standard operating procedure over the previous several years' appearances.

Karen: I agree, Pietro's characterization here seems much more in line with how he was during the Kooky Quartet years. You know, it might be interesting to trace his path over the years and figure out exactly when he really turned into a jerk. It seems like it began with Roy Thomas but later writers ran with it, probably a bit too far.
Doug: So you're saying he got "Hank Pym-ed"?


david_b said...

To me this was one of the last great Avengers storylines of the Bronze Age, before the Avengers post-200 'dark abyss', shall we say..

My collecting was still marginally sparce back in the day, but this was the first time I had really seen Bova, other than the panel in GS Avengers #1 with the Nuklo story, which I'm told was her first appearance. I didn't quite understand the 'talking-cow-as-nursemaid' idea, especially her introduction being a single panel reference. But I'm glad she was explained more this time out at Wundagore.

I agree on the art, being some of the best of Byrne art, yet a bit muddled. I'll be waiting for those Avengers Masterworks to come out and see it all cleaned up some day.

Great review..!!

J.A. Morris said...

Another good write-up, I agree that this is one of the best retcons Marvel has ever done. Making them the children of Wizzer and Miss America never seemed like something that was really thought out.

@david_b, this hasn't been released as a Masterwork, but it's available in a very nice tpb, I reviewed it back in April:

Edo Bosnar said...

Glad you're reviewing these; I had only became a regular, month-to-month Avengers reader a few issues prior, and this stretch of issues, from about 181 to 202 (and generally excepting the rightfully reviled #200) is my personal favorite period of the Avengers - great stories and fantastic art, mainly by Byrne and Perez.
As for this issue, I loved it, even if it was mainly a set-up story. Still, there's the great characterization that you guys noted and the cool origin sequences. As a young fan still kind of unclear on much of the Marvel U's "history," I just ate this stuff right up and clamoured for more!
One pet peeve I have about this story is that they are apparently in some fictional Balkan country, yet everyone is speaking German - as evidenced by the natives using terms like "wunderbar", "Herr" and "fraulein." Even as a kid I found this odd (although mainly because of my own family roots): if they were in the Balkans, the natives would more than likely be speaking a Slavic language or Romanian (or even Greek or Albanian). Also, there's this one scene where Pietro is talking to a little girl who's dressed like she just walked off the set of a Heidi film. So this late 20th century Balkan country looks suspiciously like 19th century Switzerland...

Inkstained Wretch said...

I bought this story arc a year or so ago from a store that has since closed. Yeah, this was a good one: Solid writing, outstanding art by Byrne and a retcon that didn't seem wildly implausible. We were spoiled in those days and didn't even know it.

I did like the characters' original origin though - Having the Whizzer being their dad certainly explained Pietro's super-speed.

Side note: This post reminded me what a wasted character Jocasta was. She had great potential: A terrific look, interesting origin and the fact that she was female made for an interesting twist on the standard robot/android character (since they are almost always intended to look male). Alas nobody seemed interested in developing her and she was eventually dropped unceremoniously from the Avengers.

They finally got around to giving her a personality in Marvel Two-in-One only to kill her off.

She deserved better.

dbutler16 said...

I enjoyed this one a lot. I always found the relationship between Pietro and Wanda very intersting. Also, I was really interested in what would happen next after the ending of this issue. What is Bova doing there?
I also really loved the art. This is back when John Byrne could really draw!

William said...

David Michelinie and John Byrne did eleven issues of the Avengers together (181-191), and it's personally my favorite era of the team. Most of them are reprinted in a trade paperback titled "Nights of Wundagore", which covers the first 7 issues of their run. I wish it had all 11 issues, but it is still well worth picking up.

I remember reading this book as a kid. I have always been a Quicksilver fan since his very first appearance in X-Men #4 (which I first read as a reprint in Amazing Adventures), and this issue made me like him even more. This is John Byrne at the top of his game. I'll second what Karen said in the review, that Byrne depicts super speed like no one else. Pietro came off as very heroic. Charging headlong into danger to save his sister. Awesome stuff. They just don't make comics any better than this. They just don't.

dbutler16 said...

William, I also loved Michelenie's run and think it's underrated. However, I think both he and Byrne were only together on issues 181-187. Bill Mantlo wrote #188, then Steven Grant wrote a couple of issues, then Michelenie returned for issues 192-203, but Byrne's last issue was #191.

William said...

Ahhh, thanks dbutler. I didn't bother to check my facts. I knew Byrne was there until 191 so, I just assumed that Michelinie was too.

nude0007 said...

I think Byrne is a great artist, HOWEVER, he was continually spread too thin or took too long or something. Anyway, his work often looked very rushed or he did those one page Wendigo in a snowstorm panels as a fill in. I have no idea what he story was on that.
This era of the avengers was when I waited in anticipation for each issue and got truly excited by what I read. Those were the days.

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