Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fire on the Mountain, Lightning in the Air: Avengers 186

Avengers #186 (August 1979)
"Nights of Wundagore!"
Steven Grant & Mark Gruenwald (plot)/David Michelinie (writer)
John Byrne/Dan Green (pictures)

Karen: I gotta say: I'm a sucker for floating heads on a cover, especially all lined up like that. Don't ask me why. We're back with the middle section of our three-part review of this late 70s story featuring the Avengers' brother and sister act, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Last time you'll recall, Wanda had been kidnapped and Pietro had run up the mysterious Wundagore Mountain to find her, only to come crashing into an invisible barrier. Here, he awakes to find himself in the care of a humanoid cow, Bova, who is serving him milk soup. No, really.
Doug: Milk soup... is that like mushroom soup, without the mushrooms? Hey, before we get too far into this, I want to throw out a "thank you" to my partner for her patience with me over the past couple of days. For those of you who don't know how this works, we always reserve Mondays for our tandem reviews -- the rest of the dates are first-come, first-served as individuals, with the occasional collaboration thrown in. So Mondays are a big deal for us. Well, my son's graduation party was Sunday, and all of the preparations, cleaning, etc. as well as the day itself got the best of my blogging. So I appreciate everyone's patience during one of my "real life" interludes.

Doug: I, too, love the floating heads covers. While certainly other mags had their fair share, this motif always cried out "Avengers" to me.

Karen: Not a problem pal! Bova explains to Pietro who she is, and her story ties in with the birth of his sister and he. Bova was "evolved" from a normal cow by the High Evolutionary. She was to serve as the nursemaid to the children of the New Men the Evolutionary was creating. One night, a pregnant woman, Magda, came to Wundagore seeking sanctuary. She explained that her husband had gained great powers and had begun to talk about ruling the world. Fearful, she fled him. Bova and Magda grew close, and the cow-woman delivered Magda's twins, a boy and a girl. You guessed it, they were Wanda and Pietro. As Wanda was born, there were bright lights in the sky, and the tiny babe also seemed to glow at the same moment. But the children were healthy and Magda was pleased. However she took left them behind, leaving a note that said she feared her husband would find the children if she stayed with them.

Doug: For a somewhat cross-refere
ncing of some of the events on Wundagore, you can check out our review of Spider-Woman #1. As to Magda and the twins, it was difficult to read the line about the husband becoming fearsome due to his acquisition of "great powers" with any sense of wonderment. I'm sure when I was a kid that went right by me. Now I think it's an ingenious little gem hidden in a throwaway line. And don't the artists (colorists included) do a remarkable job of making Magda look just like Wanda? Hmmm -- and who were we to assume Pietro looked like? Any thoughts on Bova's statement about Wanda's glowing like the sky lights? Is there a reference, a foreshadowing, that I'm not getting?

Karen: It's coming, but not til next issue. Not long after the twins were born, Robert and Madeline Frank -aka the Whizzer and Miss America - came to the village below th
e mountain and the High Evolutionary summoned tham. Madeline was pregnant and died giving birth to a hideous still-born child. The Evolutionary presented the twins to Robert Frank, representing them as his own children, but Frank was filled with grief over his wife's death and ran from the mountain. This really reflects poorly on the Whizzer, don't you think? Finally, the Evolutionary, certainly fed up by now, decided to play God and appeared before a Gypsy couple, telling them to take the children and raise them. The couple had lost their own son and daughter so they were more than willing. Bova wraps up her flashback by saying she stayed behind on Earth when the Evolutionary took to the stars.

Doug: Do we know what happened to Miss America after WWII? As this is a retcon, was there ever an explanation in the 1950's comics as to her fate? I agree -- Bob Frank doesn't come off as looking too good. Also, I'm going to have to check out the Nuklo stories, as the whole "still born" thing has me curious. What was the High Evolutionary's role in his growth? I'm sure I'm just forgetting something. And... what "personal reasons" would a cow have in wishing to stay on Earth? No grazing in space?

Karen: So the origin of the twins is a convoluted one. While tying together past references to their childhood, Michelinie has also sown the seeds of the idea that Magneto was their father, without actually stating such. But he was not the originator of that idea. Both Byrne and Steven Grant had come to the idea separately. Anyone who is interested in the backstory should take a look at this post from Comic Book Legends Revealed from May 2010. It'll explain it all.
Doug: The Magneto non-reveal is really all here, isn't it? In an era when comics would soon become way too confusing, this is a nice, slow evolution. I'm still not sure it makes sense overall, but it does create that legacy feeling among Marvel's characters -- so even as the relationship to Golden Age heroes the Whizzer and Miss America falls away, a new older/younger generation tale dawns. Here's my next question -- has the Jewish heritage of Wanda and/or Pietro ever been mentioned or played a role in a storyline? Oh, and one other question -- would the offspring of a mutant still be considered a mutant? It would seem to me that any mutation would be passed on simply as re-ordered DNA. There would have been no mutation in Wanda or Pietro.

Karen: The other sibling in our stor
y, Wanda, is being held on top of Wundagore by that mystical loon, Moodred. It seems his magical powers are greater than hers. However, Wanda still has her mutant hex power, and it frees her. She and Modred begin throwing spells around, but she quickly realizes that he's stronger than her. She feigns defeat, only to give the wizard a good sock to the jaw, sending him plunging to his doom. Wanda frets that she's never killed before, but she couldn't let Modred unleash the occult force in the mountain; it could kill millions. Unfortunately for her, Modred comes back and blasts her from behind.

Doug: There are some really nice panels during this battle, and the coloring is a big-time enhancer. I like the original bondage scene, with Wanda suspended by magic while Modred floats above the Darkhold. As they really get to blasting each other, there's a really cool panel somewhat akin to depictions of Havok. Lastly, I thought there was some real force behind the blow Wanda landed on Modred's kisser!

Karen: Well, hey, she was trained by Captain America! As Quicksilver prepa
res to go back up the mountain, despite Bova's pleas not to, Wanda's face appears in the stormy skies above. She tells Quicksilver to flee and sends a blast of energy at he and Bova. Bova convinces him that he can't face whatever's waiting on the mountain alone. He finally concedes and runs towards the village. On the way, he finds Django Maximoff, his foster father, wandering in the forest. Suddenly the trees themselves attack them. Pietro grabs Django and races for the village, as the sky erupts in a hail of rocks, and the earth splits open before him. Pietro outruns it all and makes his way to the post office (the only place with a phone) and places a call to Avengers mansion.
Doug: I am just full of question today! In the panel where Pietro is snared by the mystical tree branches and vibrates his body in order to create enough friction to set the limbs ablaze -- have we ever seen Quicksilver use this Flash-like power before?

Karen: I seem to recall him using his speed in a variety of ways back in the Kooky Quartet days, but not so much later on. The Vision is on monitor duty and gets Pietro's call. As friendly as ever, Pietro calls him 'robot' and tells the android that Wanda has been possessed. The rest of the Avengers are having dinner as the Vision pha
ses through the wall and tells them what's happened. Cap begins to issue orders to get to the quinjet when who should appear but the government watchdog, Henry Gyrich. Gyrich says there's no way the team is going to Bulgaria, as it's not a matter of national security and they don't need another international incident. Cap is fed up and disappears for a moment. As the Beast berates Gyrich, Jarvis appears with a telephone, a call for Gyrich. The crew-cut bureaucrat begins to yell at the person on the line until he discovers it's the President! Cap certainly has some clout. The President says the Avengers need to head out for a 'goodwill tour' of Bulgaria immediately. Gyrich is humiliated, but has another trick up his sleeve. He says the Vision will have to stay behind to continue monitor duty. Enraged, the android Avenger grabs Gyrich and hauls him off his feet, but a cooler headed Cap intervenes, telling him they don't want to lose all their privileges, and that they will bring Wanda back safe. The Vision accedes, although he is clearly furious.
Doug: Ah, yes -- back to the regular Pietro we all know and loathe! You may recall that last week I said he was actually somewhat likable; yeah, not any more. How silly is it (and we've discussed this before) that Ms. Marvel and the Falcon are eating with their masks on? There has been some nice characterization for the Vision in this series of issues. His condition always made great fodder for the writers, though.
Karen: He looks as furious here as he did back in Avengers 95, when he nearly killed a Skrull commander in his rage over Wanda's abduction. Gyrich is lucky Cap held him back -we all know what happened to that Skrull! Back in the shadow of Mount Wundagore, Quicksilver and Django hope that the Avengers will arrive in time. But their hopes are shattered when the door to the office flies open and an explosive force blasts them unconscious. On the last page, a possessed Wanda stands over their bodies, proclaiming that there is no more Wanda, only Chthon.

Doug: Pretty scary stuff! It's a great splash page, too -- as we've said, John Byrne was really at his peak around this time.

Karen: This wouldn't be the first or the only tim
e Wanda would be possessed, but I think it did set things up for her to be possessed again and again. Why does Marvel seem to require that their powerful female characters become possessed so frequently? Her powers were redefined here, giving her a much closer tie to magic, which may not have been such a good thing eventually ("Avengers Disassembled", anyone?). Still, the art here is fabulous, with Dan Green doing a pretty good job of inking Byrne, who was in top form.
Doug: The possession angle, or the storylines where characters have to fight evil doppelgangers, does grow tired. I don't mind super-baddies whose powers somewhat mirror the hero's (Flash vs. Professor Zoom, for example, or Hulk vs. the Abomination), but the turning bad of good guys will certainly be abused in the coming decade that was the 1980's.


Chuck Wells said...

"Fire on the mountain, run boys, run."

With respect to Charlie Daniels, and you guys (of course), I couldn't resist.

dbutler16 said...

I’m with y’all. I love the floating heads. Bring them back!

My favorite part of this issue is when Gyrich doesn't want to let the Avengers go help Wanda & Pietro, and he goes over Gyrich's head to the President! Overall, though, I loved both the story and the art. It left me really wanting to read the next issue, and that is a mark of success.

Fred W. Hill said...

I liked this story and thought it was cool that it turned out that Magneto was the father of Wanda & Pietro and none of them realized it. Of course, by this point the whole origin story was becoming increasingly convoluted, trying to make sense of previous "origin" tales. By this point in Marvel history, the bit of having a powerful female hero go bad had not yet been used to excessiveness yet (not counting Phoenix, the only previous example I can think of was the Wasp from the short-lived Ant-Man series in the early '70s).

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen, Hi Doug,

I’m back, and, yes Doug, presenting my tardy slip (hall pass?). I was enjoying our glorious jubilee celebrations in my own special way (by avoiding the whole pantomime and going to Amsterdam for a week). Having said that, I did do my homework, by which I mean I went to see the Avengers again (IMAX, 3D). I highly recommend everyone to see it a second time in the cinema as I picked so many little touches I missed the first time: Natasha surreptitiously glancing at a screen with Clint’s picture, about 50% of Downey’s faster-than-sound quips (including what he says to Hawkeye as he lifts him onto the building...I knew he called him Legolas, but what he actually says is ‘better clench, Legolas’) and the part where Hulk batters Loki. Literally the audience were so screaming with laughter than I didn’t hear Hulk say ‘puny God’. Natasha actually has the Widow’s bite, though she doesn’t use it. Also I hadn’t registered the full significance of what is said to Thanos before he smiles (‘to challenge them is to court death’) >small shudder<. But there were several others as well.

Anyway, back to the past (or then-present-retconned-past as the case may be). Even after the Englehart run, this story is a high point for the Avengers. Beautiful flowing art from Byrne and nice inking from Dan Green (whose later Avengers inking on Colan was terrible, although that may be because Colan was phoning it in).

The Wanda/Modred battle looks great. Wanda inside her hex sphere...a bit Adamsy or is that just me? I love her sock to the jaw. It would have been obvious to have Modred best her with magic, and she then pull her hex power out of the bag, but less obvious was the roundhouse left and certainly not what a medieval geezer like Modred would have expected from a damsel. Byrne’s art on her is superb. She looks beautiful in her frail helplessness, fantastic in her strength, and as Chthon, well, generally I find depictions of muscle-bound women a real turn off, but she certainly put a spell on me, aged 13 that I’ve never forgotten.


p.s. Karen – it’s #96 where Vizh batters the Skrull. Believe it or not, that's the second time you’ve done that. You’ve definitely got #95 hard-wired for some reason. You lose nerd points for that (not sure whether that’s a good or bad thing....).

Edo Bosnar said...

You just reminded me that Mt. Wundagore is supposed to be located in Bulgaria - which brings me back to my rant from last week about the villagers speaking German...

As for Bova's 'personal reasons' for staying behind, I think it at least partly involved taking care of young Jessica Drew (which I know because I was reading the Spider-woman series at the same time, and there was a flashback in one issue that featured Bova). And yes, I loved the slow reveal that Magneto is the mysterious, power-hungry father - which only became apparent to me when Magneto was shown erasing a photograph of Magda from his files in an issue of X-man not long after this. (Of course, this is one of those ret-cons that kind of becomes silly if you over-think it: to wit, why would Magneto have never noticed that Wanda was almost the spitting image of his beloved wife, or that Pietro bore a suspicious resemblance to himself?)
By the way, that image of Wanda possessed by Chthon in that last panel was the first time I realized that Wanda actually wore some kind of spandex body-suit under that one-piece swim-suit.

Karen said...

Richard, I don't know why I keep thinking that was Avengers 95. Serves me right for not doing my research. But I'm not worried about my nerd points; I've got a near-infinite amount anyway.

Edo, isn't Marvel geography fun? I also think that artists, from Kirby to Byrne, used the old Universal monster films and their generic Bavarian villages as their guide for anything remotely 'European'.

david_b said...

Not much to add, other than I think this ish is one of the all-time great Avengers issues, from cover to story.

Cover: Never has the floating 'non-reactive' heads been so effective (it nearly ties Avengers 117, and Defenders 10 to a slightly lesser degree). Love the cover composition and drama, sure you see a lot of beautiful women in peril, but this was still striking for 1979..

Story Art: Great art/inks, I'm not as big a fan of Byrne as I suspect some are here (always thought he drew eye's kinda big..), but he's definitely at a peak here. I still long for the more stylish panel work of Smith and Steranko, but nevertheless, very solid and clean renderings.

I agree with Edo, Fred, Richard and others here that this 'embellishment' of the origin story was still intriging by adding some layers, but nothing 'in-your-eye' goofy or hard to swallow. That would come much later, ..unfortunately.

I liked the Vision's outburst, much like the earlier Skrull whompin' mentioned (and his tears tenderly cried when he accepted membership), but I still found it hard to juxtapose a cool logical/somber machine (as he started) with these types of outbursts. Sure, you can explain it away with the Torch origin to a degree, but sometimes I found the dramatic license a bit far-fetched. It makes for great team dynamics, but alas, we ARE talkin' the Marvel Universe here, so I wouldn't have it ANY other way.

Inkstained Wretch said...

"This really reflects poorly on the Whizzer, don't you think?"

Yes, it does, Karen. But it is interesting too. I'm kind of fascinated by the return of the Whizzer as a contemporary hero in Bronze Age Marvel comics. He evolved into a really tragic character: A genuine hero of WWII turned widower who wanted to continue as a hero in the present day but proved too infirm to help. At the same time his son Nuklo was a dangerous monster. His major source of pride were his two Avengers children - and even that was pretty tenuous since he abandoned them as newborns. Then we find out they were not his relations at all!

All of this was fairly random, I'm sure. That is, the Whizzer was just a plot device for these stories. I'm sure no writer had a plan mapped out for him ahead of time. These things just happened ... just like in real life. He was a good man who was unlucky and made some poor decisions. It could have been any of us.

I thought it was incredibly poignant in the Vision & Scarlet Witch mini-series when he visits them and Wanda allows him to continue with the fiction that she is his daughter. She just couldn't bring herself to break the old man's heart by taking away one of the last things he had. Later in the same issue, the Whizzer dies off-panel. No blaze of glory for him. His story just quietly ends.

Compare that with DC's revived Golden Age heroes, who remained perfect and indomitable well into their 60s.

Sorry for the maudlin stuff. My grandfather, a man of the Whizzer's generation, passed recently, so mortality is on my mind.

Fred W. Hill said...

Reflecting on Inkstained's comment, the Marvel timestream has gotten strange. The Whizzer was introduced in the Marvel universe as an old man, the age he would have been if he had been active as a young man in the 1940s and thus in his 60s in the 1980s. My stepdad was a Sailor in WWII; he joined the Navy at age 17 in 1943 and is now 86, relatively young for a WWII vet. But now even veterans of the Vietnam War who were only 20 at the end of that conflict would be in their late 50s but in the main Marvel universe we'll never see heroes who were in actual comics from that era as naturally aged characters. Continued publication and popularity of most of the Silver Age heroes keeps them all perpetually young or at most middle-aged (and that only because they were already middle-aged when they were introduced to us). The Whizzer sped out 21 years too early and couldn't maintain the momentum in popularity to achieve the near immortality which even a relatively minor Silver Age character like Pietro has achieved.

B Smith said...

Have to say that when this issue came out, I took one look at the cover and wondered how much more, er, generously endowed John Byrne could make his super heroines.

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