Monday, June 18, 2012

Do You Believe in Magic, In a Young Girl's Heart? Avengers 187

Avengers #187 (September 1979)
"The Call of the Mountain Thing!"
Steven Grant & Mark Gruenwald (plot)/David Michelinie (writer)
John Byrne/Dan Green (pictures)

Doug: When we left Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Wanda had been taken over by an evil demon named Chthon and the Avengers had gone around the will of Agent Gyrich and headed off to the Balkans in a quinjet. And in the Marvel Universe, you know what a bunch of super-heroes in an airborne vehicle means...

Karen: I think the X-Men hold the record though. But before we go any further, I have to say that I've heard a lot of comments in the past about what a memorable cover this is, and I can't help but think that fuels the idea that this is a great story, which I think is debatable.

Doug:  It is a pretty nifty cover, though.  I think the color scheme of the background, emulating a little reddish-orange Kirby Krackle, makes it special.  I always wonder if artists turn the paper around to draw figures that are upside down.

Doug: As the Avengers approach Wundagore Mountain, after having received Pietro's call for help last issue, the quinjet begins to malfunction due to the magic forces at work. Wonder Man was asked to accompany the team in place of the Vision -- he had been ordered by Gyrich to remain behind. As the Beast loses the ability to effectively pilot the craft, Wonder Man slides into the lead seat. Cap orders all who can fly to prepare to evacuate. Beast protests, but Wonder Man straps his own belt onto McCoy, and jettisons him as well. The quinjet indeed crashes, but out of harm's way. Hank has no control over the flight belt, so faces a roller-coaster ride right into the side of the mountain. Once on the ground, however, Henry McCoy spies something odd that catches his attention -- more on that later. The rest of the team lands safely, only to come face-to-face with Modred. The Falcon attempts to stake his claim to "usefulness", but to no avail.

Karen: Falcon's been called up to the majors and he's trying to prove he should stick there. He gives a pretty impressive punch to Modred, but unfortunately it's shrugged off. I thought Wonder Man's bravery in taking the quinjet down seemed a bit uncharacteristic, as he had been portrayed as fearful of dying in the past, but perhaps he really did not think a crash would hurt him.

Doug: Wonder Man emerges from the wreckage and sees a bright light off in the not-so-distance. Recognizing it as a hex sphere he begins to head toward it when he's greeted not by Wanda Frank, but by the demon that has possessed her -- Chthon. Captured within an energy cocoon, he finds himself spirited away. Back to the battle against Modred, the mage makes short work of our heroes -- except for the winsome Wasp! Jan gets a clean shot in, and drops him. However, she's soon disposed of by the arrival of Chthon. Now all of the team is moved to the spot we saw in ish #185 where Modred had shown Wanda the altar. The Avengers, and Django Maximoff, are held inverted in stasis, in a circle, while Chthon begins to narrate his origin to Modred.

Karen: This story was my introduction to Modred (I'm sure this was true for many readers) and I was shaking my head at the time, wondering where this guy came from. I mean, he could take on the entire Avengers! I also liked Beast's discovery of the armored skeleton of one of the High Evolutionary's New Men on the snowy mountainside.

Doug:  I didn't know anything about Modred, either.  Where I bought comics a lot of the out-of-the-ordinary series like Creatures on the Loose, Monsters Unleashed, etc. were not sold -- I was tabula rasa here, so I appreciated all of these introductions and origins.

Doug: Chthon and his sister were the last of the gods who formed the Earth. She became known in legend as Mother Earth while he fled to Hell (inferred) after scribing the Darkhold -- the book that would be his gateway back to Earth. He then relates the history of the Darkhold, through the ancient world and on into the Middle Ages, when it fell into the hands of Morgan LeFey. She and other magicians had sought to bring Chthon back to Earth to do their bidding, but finding that they could not control him succeeded in imprisoning him within the mountain that would become known as Wundagore. Modred had actually attempted to use the Darkhold for good, but had become consumed by it. And on and on, through even more history, the tome encountered men who fell under its spell. Finally, shortly before the present a Russian named Gregor Russoff became cursed. In an attempt to raise money for his schemes, he sold Wundagore Mountain to two scientists. And here the High Evolutionary created his New Men -- warriors who eventually rose against one of Chthon's attempts at return.

Karen: This was both annoying and fascinating! It seemed to go on and on, yet I sat there nodding my head as I read it, thinking, "Oh yeah, the Darkhold is the book responsible for Werewolf by Night!" and so on. Typical convoluted Marvel lore.

Doug:  I got the same sense reading this as I did when I read the introduction to Thor Annual #5, and much later the History of the DC Universe.

Doug: To conclude (somewhat) the origin of the Scarlet Witch, Chthon tells that on the night he was defeated by the Knights of Wundagore, the twins were born. And as Wanda's birthright was her mutant powers, it was Chthon who also imbued her with latent magical powers. These would begin to manifest themselves under the tutelage of Agatha Harkness. As the demon tells Modred how he came to be Chthon's pawn, a Knight of Wundagore suddenly appears, distracting Chthon. Piercing the Darkhold with a lance, the hold on the Avengers is broken and they are free. Quicksilver strikes the face of his sister, attempting to punish the demon. But as Chthon shakes that off, the attention focuses on Django Maximoff, who still cradles the marionette of Wanda. He remarks that he had previously channeled her spirit into the doll. He finds that it is still there. Pietro deduces that the combination of the uranium-exposed wood on Wundagore, coupled with the magical essence of Chthon on the mountain, has indeed imbued the puppets with mystical powers. Seizing the doll, Pietro points it at the body of his sister in an attempt to exorcise the demon.

Karen: Henry McCoy to the rescue! Beast had donned the armor of the knight and used his flying steed to save the day. Loved that! Another thing I liked was how Byrne made the possessed Wanda appear more and more cadaverous facially as the story went on. She truly looked evil. At this point, with many years of perspective, I can say that I wish this connection between Wanda and 'elder forces' had never been made. It opened the door for many more opportunities for messing with the character, having her go nuts and go evil several times. Her learning magic was one thing; her being tainted by evil, so to speak, was another.

Doug:  Question:  Is this the same sort of flying device that Hawkeye would employ in later stories?  It seems that the Black Knight also rode a similar vehicle.

Doug: And here's where this story heads south for me. I'm just really not a fan of magic. I suppose from a writer's standpoint, it's pretty nifty because there are no rules and it's a built-in deus ex machina. And for my money this is what happens here. Quicksilver finds that there's not enough "will" in the doll to drive out the spirit. But Ms. Marvel steps forward and places her hand on Pietro's arm. Cap chimes in with a "we can do this thing" of his own. And then, in a narrative box I don't quite understand, David Michelinie writes: "And thus ensues a literal battle of wills, as six struggling heroes pool their concentration into a phalanx of sorcerous thought, hoping to restore a soul -- and in the process, save a world!" Whatever it is they do, it works -- Chthon's spirit is ejected from Wanda's body, her soul moves from the doll into her person as Chthon's essence is stored in the doll. Pietro races with the marionette to the top of Wundagore and hurls it into a chasm. Wanda, no worse for the wear, summons a mighty hex and blasts off the top third of the mount, it's debris falling onto the puppet, thus returning Chthon to his prison inside the mountain.

Karen: Yes, I didn't care for the whole doll thing either. The team joins wills -good vs. evil -and drives the demon out. Doesn't that sound more like Chris Claremont's stuff? In fact, the whole scene is very similar to the one in X-Men #108, where the team gives their energy to Phoenix so she can mend the universe. Also, why throw the doll in the chasm? Why not just destroy the thing?

Doug: As the story wraps, Bova offers to care for the eyes-are-open-but-no-one-is-home Modred, who looks an awful lot like Loki did right after the Avengers/Defenders War. The Avengers, their work done, walk off into the sunset. I suppose they didn't fly commercial out of Sofia, but how they got home is a mystery.

Karen: You're dead right about the Loki-Modred thing. I guess that's what happens when you form alliances with devils.

Doug: So, how was this as far as an origin story goes? Did we learn anything? To recap -- we know that Bob and Madeline Frank were not Wanda's and Pietro's real parents. We know that their real mother was a woman named Magda. We know that the Maximoffs were not their real parents, either, but had a role in raising the children. In spite of knowing who their mother was, we know only that she was scared of their father because he had begun to manifest real power -- scary real power. She'd fled, to hide the children from him (do you think George Lucas read this story?). And for all the loose ends to be tied up, we'd all have to wait four years, until the conclusion of the first Vision and the Scarlet Witch mini-series. How 'bout them apples?


Edo Bosnar said...

That cover is one of my favorite Avengers covers ever, and the whole 'Nights of Wundagore' saga is one of my favorite Avengers stories.
Yes, there were long flashback sequences here, as in the preceding two issues, but I never thought they distracted from the story, simply because the aim of all three issues was to retell the family history of Wanda and Pietro (and, as we would soon find out, Magneto). So I think the flashbacks and references to earlier stories in other Marvel series made perfect sense, and were in fact essential, and I think they actually flowed quite well.
One little detail I really liked, by the way, is that last panel, in which Beast is walking off with the Darkhold still impaled on his lance.
And you're right in questioning how they got home. In this issue the quinjet is pretty battered, while in the first panel of the next issue they're shown flying into the Inhumans' hidden city with no explanation of how they managed to repair it so quickly.

Chuck Wells said...

This post didn't wipe the smile off my face no matter how hard I tried, so I just kicked back an enjoyed a lovin' spoonful of memories.

david_b said...

This arc came long after my initial MU comic collecting, I filled a lot of my Avengers holes when I got to college in the 80s around the Buscema/Stern tenure, and this really was a surprise high-point to read.. Great art, great characterzation.. still my heroes, not too many obnoxious changes as of yet (luckily hadn't gotten to the early post-200's yet...).

As mentioned last week, this fleshing out of Pietro and Wanda's childhood wasn't too bad. I never like the occult or wizardry type stuff (ok, I'm appreciating the Ditko Strange stories now, but that seems different), so this was still tasteful to my interests.

I like how the story-telling does have a nice flow, even with the flashbacks as clean as the Byrne art itself. The walk off to the sunset was a pleasing simple, yet satisfying touch. That's the mark of good story-telling. Short-lived as his tenure originally was, It was great seeing Sam Wilson in action, figuring out his role along side team members other than Cap.

I'd probably say this was the last time I liked a Wanda/Pietro story. I handled the Vision Dismantled storyline in WCA for a while, but found it a bit more depressing than interesting, The 'Pietro-as-villain' story in the later WCA Annual was just odd.

dbutler16 said...

I love Beast charging in a suit of armor. Magic stories often have a dues ex machina quality to them, but I thought this one was well thought out. Also, the Avengers used teamwork well here. More great Byrne art, too.

The Wanda & Pietro origin here reminds me a bit of Return of the Jedi, where the male & female twins had to be hidden from the evil and all powerful father

Fred W. Hill said...

This ish did have one of the most striking Avengers covers of the late '70s. If I recall correctly, the Darkholde would next turn up in Dr. Strange involving the elimination of Dracula and other vampires (for however long that lasted). This ish did have one of the most striking Avengers covers of the late '70s. I wonder how long Mordred remained a docile, mindless invalid. Seems anytime a powerful character is left in that or a similar condition eventually he or she gets "better" and rather vicious. Loki & Magneto are just two of the biggest baddies to take that trip. Or did Mordred regain his mind and come back as a good guy? Assuming he wasn't just left in funnybook limbo for the last 30+ years.

Anthony said...

Mordred did have a few appearances after this. I don't think it was ever as a good guy. The only ones I own are The Mighty Avengers 21-23. This was during Dark Reign and Pym ( Scientist Supreme ) led his own team of Avengers. They were gathered for him by the Scarlet Witch ( really Loki since the real Scarlet Witch was still missing. ) Chthon was in the body of Quicksilver and his soul was in the Darkhold. For Hulk fans issue 22 is the first meeting between the Hulk and Iron Man post World War Hulk though this Hulk is the brutish 70s version. As for Mordred this may be his last appearance.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I love the John Bryne and George Perez eras of the Avengers. The only way I have been able to see Perez's are through the Marvel Essencials line. That's the only affordable way to read them. Bryne did a terrific job with the characters and I wish that he was back on the Avengers today.

Now he's working at IDW on the Star Trek Titles. However I don't see him drawing any of the new J.J. Abrams Trek stories. It's shame he isn't because he still has the talent to create these books. When I first saw Bryne's art work in DC's 1984 editions of Star Trek "Who's Who", you have to wonder why he didn't have a chance to work on the iconic characters while DC owned the rights for Star Trek comics?

J.A. Morris said...

Another great write-up here. This is one of the best eras of the Avengers.

@Fantastic Four Fan 4ever,for Perez' work on the Avengers in color, you should check out the recently published book called 'The Private War Of Doctor Doom'. It features some very nice work by Perez (and the Buscema brothers). I blogged about the book yesterday:

Also, Marvel will publish another reprint book later this year called 'Bride Of Ultron' that includes work by Perez and Byrne:

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