Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Discuss: The Swordsman


Anonymous said...

Not giving us much of run up today, Doug.

I liked the Swordsman. He always seemed the kind of complex character who differentiated Marvel from DC. He was a baddie, but really just selfish, not actually evil. He was inserted into the Avengers at a point where most of them were reformed baddies, so they kind of had to give him the benefit of the doubt. The fact that he then turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing kind of cast a pall over the whole team, particularly with Clint’s I-told-you so attitude.

He’s then revealed to have a back-story of idealism betrayed which syncs him in nicely with Hawkeye’s back story.

I liked Englehart’s reimagining, preceded by the toe-dipping cameo in Avengers#100. The fact that he was saved by the love of a good woman (or at least he thought so), came up against Hawkeye, at the time a Defender, in the Avengers Defenders war, was sidelined by Mantis' love for the Vision and had a deathbed (or post-deathbed Cotati-driven) reproachment which ended the Celestial Madonna arc.

I like the fact that he had a neat arc and sad death which suited the character well. I imagine they have since resurrected him 15 times, turned him into a zombie and revealed him to be a Skrull. Please don’t tell me.

One thing though: I liked his character and his interaction with others and their feelings about him and the way character then drove plot far more than I liked his powers, his costume or anything he actually did. I think that says a lot about Marvel characterisation back in the day.


Doug said...

It's ironic that we spent a bit of time yesterday discussing the Black Knight and the weakness of sword-wielding heroes in four color comics. Flat of the blade only, we said... I've had this post scheduled for weeks, so it will be interesting to see how this goes. Most notably, does the "flat of the blade" apply to bad guys?


Inkstained Wretch said...

Kind of a weak character all-around.

1- He had lame powers. I pointed out the other day the problem with a sword-wielding character in a comic book that isn't Conan-esque is that they cannot actually use a sword. They can't really cut or slash another character. So the Swordsman was a guy without powers and a gimmick that he couldn't really use.

2- He was introduced as a bad guy and then writers later tried to make him a hero a'la Hawkeye and the Black Widow but it never quite took. He went back and forth as a hero or villain according to whatever writer was using him at the time. But not in an interesting way like the Submariner. There was no consistency until Englehart made him a regular Avenger.

3- He was a real drag during the Englehart run. The supposedly swashbuckling hero turned in Mopey McMoperson, constantly second-guessing himself and agonizing over his relationship with Mantis.

I was frankly glad to see him get killed off. Rough judgment, I know, but there you go.

Doug said...

Public Service Announcement: Very fun cover posted at Super-Team Family today. Check it out --



Doc Savage said...

Inkstained beat me to it. Swordsman was weak all around. And given my antipathy for Mantis...

david_b said...

He was a HUGE early favorite of mine back in summer of '73.

Awesome cover (ish 114), very mature 'reinsertion' into the team via surprise entrance, with a suitable yet quick backstory, introducing yet another mysterious member (Mantis). I really liked Steve E's delivery of him back into the ranks.

I can't really talk much regarding his previous hero/villain stints, but you really feel a caring for him when his drunken backstory is revealed. Granted, it could have been made up just to wiggle his way back in, but who cares. It made for a memorable entrance, a new character and a powerful lineup, with a fresh side order of Clint-bashing. Steve even managed an ironic Cap mention, when the injured Swordy in ish 120 laments how he's called a hero when Cap's being labeled a villain. Nice touch, Steve E.

I like his striving for redemption, first with the older team members, then with Mantis. His 'tied-to-the-chair/beaten' was a true lowpoint, but I felt he was best portrayed in ish 125 against Thanos's thugs. I oft think of a nice tight later-day foursome the team would have been with just Vish, Wanda, Mantis and Pierre, with an occasional Panther or Ironman thrown in. Swordy indeed left us too early. Having missed the entire Cotati post-death phase initially, I wish they would have left him in the ground with some dignity, 'un-Hecked', shall we say.

Speaking of bad art, did anyone read that WCA ish 39 with his return..? I'm afraid I cannot stand another '80s Milgrom-drawn issue to even pick it up.

Still hopin' for a Marvel Legends figure for him someday. May have to just commission a custom.

Edo Bosnar said...

The only stories I've read featuring Swordsman are those from the Celestial Madonna saga and just before. I thought he worked well enough there, but I was not necessarily sad to see him go, either - his demise and departure from the title made perfect sense in the context of that story.
Doug: 1. yes, I saw that Super-team Family cover; the best part about it is that it's based on the cover of the excellent What If #3, which our own Comicsfan reviewed a few weeks ago; 2. do you deliberately try to jack your own comment threads by throwing in links to completely unrelated topics? (Not that I'm complaining or anything, just wondering...)

Doug said...

Edo --

Well, since I did that, it was deliberate.

I don't feel like we're in competition with any other bloggers. I see that you manage to frequent a number of Silver and Bronze age blogs; I do as well. The one thing I was most impressed with during "the vacation" was the spike in the number of daily comments from November and December. If you go back through some of our readers' discussion starters, you'll find that in the course of those daily conversations that for whatever reason people felt that it was OK to offer tangential comments -- and I really think the overall experience was better for that.

So I guess I'm just trying to "fit in" with the new and improved BAB.


J.A. Morris said...

I've always had a bit of sentimental attachment to the Swordsman. A friend of mine owned a copy of Avenges #19-20 (the first Swordsman story) and that was the first Silver Age Avenges back issue I ever read.

I thought Mantis' callous treatment of him was rude, made me dislike "That One" even more.

And I knew we couldn't get through a discussion of Swordsman in the Bronze Age without the name "Heck" showing up. Thanks to david_b for going there!
Objectively though, he was a more important character in death than in life.

david_b said...

Who's everyone's favorite Swordsman artist..? Early Heck on Avengers 19/20 was nice (also used for the Captain America cartoon adaptation.


I'll take Bob Brown or Big John (ish 125) personally. A keen eye will notice in the pages of Mar-Vell that Starlin strove to include him in every panel or cover while he was active in the team. You'd have a long view of a few members like Thor and IM, and he'd typically include Swordy.

Doug said...

I'll take Don Heck in the Silver Age.

But my favorite depiction of the Swordsman is on the cover of Avengers #79 with his ol' pal Power Man and a bunch of other goons.


Yep, Big John at his bombastic finest!


Garett said...

Hey Doug, I love that Super-Team Family cover! The guy who makes these is great at putting the visuals together, and writing exciting, intriguing blurbs that make you want to read the comic. Ooooh, I want this one!

david_b said...

No one's mentioned the nice sleekness of his costume, one of the nicer Bronze outfits overall, not too showy, but compliments the image nicely.

The purple and red has a subtle effect, but depending on who's coloring it, it's been shown as purple-accents-on-gray, then later red-accents-on-purple, etc..

Comicsfan said...

It's funny you mention that cover, Doug, because I was thinking how Englehart gave Swordy a new life by yanking him out of those loser villain teams and bringing him back on his own, albeit as part of the Avengers. He seemed to fade into the scenery with the Mandarin's and the Reaper's hired guns, practically nullifying his other appearances where he stood out as more of an arrogant rogue.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of his costume....was he ever seen out of it it ie with mask off? I don't recall ever actually seeing his face; I wonder if that might colour people's perception of him?

B Smith

david_b said...

B Smith..

Swordy's been out of his mask plenty of times.. Ish 20 I believe was the first, and a dozens of Clint-Pierre backstories later.

Fred W. Hill said...

Yesterday's discussion about the Black Knight got me thinking about the Swordsman, as both a villain & a hero. My first glimpse of him was as a shadowy figure in Avengers #112, a couple of issues before he made his big comeback in 114 and at least a few months before I read the MTA reprints of issues 19 & 20. Yet another villain in the team, but the Swordsman's criminal record, as indicated in ish 19, was far more serious than that of the Junior members of Cap's Kooky Quartet, and from his subsequent appearances between '66 and '73, he was much nastier than Clint, Pietro or Wanda had ever been during their brief careers as super-villains. Seems he was a mercenary who likely used his sword to kill at least a few times, perhaps in the various anti-colonial wars, such as in Algeria, and certainly Vietnam, as well as numerous petty crimes, but apparently never convicted nor a prime suspect for murder or terrorist activities (well, aside from his attacks on the Avengers). At least it doesn't seem viable to me that a team like the Avengers could allow someone with a record of very serious crimes to join their ranks and still retain any sort of security clearance.
All that aside, I found him a rather fascinating character -- a real rogue trying to make good for "his" woman, then falling apart as his woman shuns him. I missed G-S #2 when it was published, but his death wasn't all that surprising and it's obvious that Englehart planned for him to get killed off all along.
Like Baron Zemo I and Norman Osborne, among others, he's one of those characters that was killed off in such a way that he should remain dead.

Humanbelly said...

I think it's either Avengers #64 or #65 that has a great, great opening sequence of a wildly-determined Swordy charging down a trash-strewn alley on his way to Avengers Mansion. He unwittingly clobbers a wino in the process, and said wino (who looks like he was drawn by Jack Davis) does a take to the "camera" and drops his bottle with a wry smile. Heh. Makes me chuckle even thinking about it. Gene Colan: GENIUS!

Swordy broke my heart. Just a guy who knowingly made the exact wrong life-choices for too many years-- but had enough self-awareness to have it weigh upon him. Man, I wish I could recall the issue-- but at some point in the Mantis arc, there's a point where no one's left but a newly-returned Hawkeye, someone else, and an injured, edge-of-nervous-breakdown, desperate to prove himself Swordsman. The particular panel I remember has this small group going into action, with their thought baloons indicating their states of mind. Hawkeye is resolved, but not liking the situation at all, while Swordsman's thought to himself is a simple, heartbreaking, "Avengers Assemble". This is awfully good writing. With a minimum of words and pictures, we understand clearly that this man is clutching at whatever straws he can to keep himself spiritually and emotionally moving-- that he's really done, but just doesn't quite know it yet.

I actually appreciate his whole story much, much more now, as an older fellow, than I did at the time. It's much easier to understand how the weight of his life and experiences could have wrecked him this way.


Rip Jagger said...

One of Marvel's greatest.

The Swordsman was a fascinating character from the get-go, but developed into a classic thanks to Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart.

Roy made the Swordsman crucial to the origin of Hawkeye, fusing him to Marvel's earliest days. Then Englehart uttlery transformed him, taking from villain to anti-hero and perennial loser.

By the time he croaked in the pages of the Avengers during the truly epic Celestial Madonna saga, he was a man who you could truly identify with. And as I get older, the notion of a man with regrets about life makes even more sense.

Englehart was a master of taking small-time characters and tricking them up to be showstoppers. The Swordsman might well be his masterpiece in this regard.

Rip Off

david_b said...

HB and Rip, my humble thanks.

In your two last posts, you've BOTH managed to sum up a character concept that was close to my heart all those pleasant years ago.., far better than anyone else has.

You've wonderfully summed up and defined a wisdom by both Thomas and Englehart far more mature and sympathetic than we oft lend credit to.

Job well done..!!

Again, my humble thanks.

Doug said...

I love the variety of comments today. Tell me this isn't like hanging out at a comic shop!


david_b said...

BETTER than a comic shop. Can still earn my gov't income while listening to everyone elses fine wisdom, keep my coffee intake high, sit in on my office couch.

Unfortunately end up dishin' out just as much $$ on eBay with all your great issues referenced here, as I would pullin' back issues out of the owner's Bronze Age collection in the backroom.

So, yeah, you're pretty spot on, sir.

MUCH BETTER than watching 'ComicBook Men' ~ Gaaaaaah, I hate that show.

Tom Spasic said...

Swordsman is a bit of an odd duck.
The first appearance seemed to be almost an attempt by Stan Lee and Don Heck to perhaps duplicate the success of Hawkeye, as good-guy-gone-bad-guy-gone-good-again. Bear in mind this is the team that created Hawkeye in the first case, and the many similarities in costume design and concept. One is a master of the bow, the other of the sword, and both get souped up weapons with a bunch of "tricks" so they aren't completely overpowered by any Super-Foe.
Then the early ambivalent roguish swashbuckler gets gradually lost in subsequent appearances, and he becomes a fairly bland villain with a gimmick type.
Even his links with Hawkeye are no longer mentioned till Roy Thomas expands on Lee/Heck's story, introducing Barney Barton in the same story.
But it's really not until Englehart that anything interesting is done with Swordy. Then we get a truly flawed hero, and yet a really endearing one. His story is probably the best thing in that whole era, (re-read at this distance). Though that type of "finds redemption at death" story is reasonably common (Roy Thomas has Barney Barton in the role in his Swordsman two-parter, making me wonder if Englehart deliberately echoed that theme?).
It's true that there are more iconic, better designed, more dynamic Avengers than Swordsman, but few if any have had such a truly tragic story arc.

To deal with the "flat of the blade" issue;
1. His sword was tricked out by the Mandarin no less to fire flames, electricity, ice, etc. etc.
2. Think less "flat of blade", and more "crowbar with better handle", and you can see how it might actually be quite handy in a scrap..

Fred W. Hill said...

Not to mention a sword looks quite a bit more dashing than a crowbar, Tom! The Swordsman may have been a loser as both a villain and a hero, but he still outclassed the Wrecker -- even with the power of a god, and despite nearly killing a depowered Thor, that guy was still a lout.

Related Posts with Thumbnails