Monday, February 11, 2013

Under Siege: Avengers 275

Avengers #275 (January 1987)
"Even a God Can Die!"
Writer:  Roger Stern
Pencils:  John Buscema
Inks:  Tom Palmer

Karen: Howdy folks, we're back with part two of our review of "Under Siege." Last time around, I made a remark about how many muscle-headed dopes Zemo had under his command, and that if he had Sandman and Crusher Creel (aka the Absorbing Man), he'd have a full house. Well, guess who shows up in this issue? Mr. Creel! Yup, I completely forgot he was a part of this story. We begin though, with a one page recap of last issue in the form of a news broadcast, which explains that Avengers Mansion has been taken over by villains, with several of the team members having been captured, and Hercules having been beaten so badly that he is in critical condition at Newhope Memorial Hospital. Inside the mansion, Baron Zemo and Mr. Hyde watch the news and gloat in front of Captain America. Back at the hospital, the medical staff rush around trying to help Hercules. The Wasp waits outside in the hall and is surprised by the appearance of Ant-Man -but it turns out to be Scott Lang, not her former husband, Hank Pym. Lang offers his help to a Wasp who clearly feels terrible about everything that has happened.

Doug:  I think this was my first exposure to the Scott Lang version of Ant-Man.  Isn't that a classic costume?  I just love it.  The helmet is cool, and today's cover makes a bold statement.  Not quite as bold as when Hank donned the duds on Avengers #161, but I get a little giddy nonetheless.  Jan had to be a mess at this point, didn't she?  When Hercules was taken to the trauma unit, I wonder what was going through the minds of the assembled medical staff?  Even though they went through the protocol of filling out the medical information, they had to assume that Herc's physiology was out of their league.  One doctor does acknowledge the impermeability of Hercules' skin -- but could they possibly have been equipped to really save him?  I'll stand by my assessment of Hyde, made last week.  What a total nutjob! 

Karen: Back at the mansion, Zemo begins recording a message to be sent to the media, but Cap interrupts him, demanding that he free Jarvis and the Black Knight so that they can get medical attention. Cap says that this whole attack is really about Zemo wanting revenge on him anyway, so why not let the others go? All this does is infuriate Zemo more, and he smacks Jarvis around. He tells Cap he wants to cause him pain, as he's realized that the Avengers are Cap's surrogate family now. Cap tells Zemo that no matter what he does, the Wasp is still free and she'll never stop -she'll organize another team of Avengers and eventually bring him to justice. Zemo decides to make another move, and makes a call to Creel and his companion Titania, directing them to the hospital.  Meanwhile, Captain Marvel struggles, unsuccessfully at this point, to free herself from the darkforce dimension that Blackout has trapped her in.

Doug:  I understand that Zemo had all the cards, but doesn't the story at this point smack of the classical Silver Age baddie-motif of toying with one's enemies?  Really, with the exception of heroes strapped to a conveyor heading toward a huge buzzsaw, this scenario has all the hallmarks.  I felt really badly for Jarvis in this scene.  Who's a better human being, a more giving soul than he?  And Zemo let him have it -- tied up and all.  Cap's resolve is something, isn't it?  In the dictionary next to "hero".  I liked the rendering of the dark dimension that encased Captain Marvel -- it was reminiscent of Kirby's drawing's of space, the Negative Zone, etc.  I've always found the Absorbing Man to be a fun villain, yet one who you know is always going to last just an issue until he's tricked into absorbing the properties of toilet paper or whatnot.

Karen: Back at the hospital, the Wasp confides to Ant-Man that it's her fault that all of this has happened. Her security measures weren't good enough, she couldn't earn Hercules' respect -Jan is questioning herself as leader. Ant-Man tries to tell her that she's being too hard on herself but she won't hear it. A doctor comes out of the emergency room and informs them that Hercules has passed away.  It hits Jan hard. She asks to have a few moments alone with him. As she ponders what she could have done differently, the heart monitor suddenly beeps -Hercules isn't dead! She calls the doctors back and they discover he is still alive, but his heart is beating very slowly. As the medical staff attempts to revive him, the whole building shakes -they're under attack from the Absorbing Man and Titania! 

Doug:  Having been out of comics during the entire Yellowjacket fiasco, my memories of Jan were of her designing sexy costumes to entice Hank, mega-shopping sprees, etc.  So I missed any organic transition of her personality from ditzy socialite to strong-willed leader.  I must say -- I like the change.  As a founding member, it only made sense that eventually some writer would tap into that history and make her a major player in the upper echelons of the roster of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  Roger Stern did a fantastic job of blending her soft side with her iron will in the hospital scene.  She really runs the gamut of emotions, all believable and well-played.  Creel's entrance, with the properties of the bullets he's been shot with, was colored well -- very cool panel.  Love the ball and chain as a weapon as well -- great visual.

Karen: At the mansion, Zemo and Hyde begin their psychological torture of Cap. They watch the assault on the hospital but Cap has faith in Wasp, despite the overwhelming odds against her. Zemo takes a picture of Cap and Bucky and shreds it before his face, while Hyde grabs Cap's original shield and crumples it. Cap remains calm but says, "I'll remember this, Zemo." Unable to get a reaction out of him, Zemo decides to up the ante and has Hyde begin beating Jarvis. It all occurs off-panel, but seeing the expressions on both Cap's and the Knight's faces lets one's imagination fill in the blanks -and it's not pretty. 

Doug:  Stern writes a real psychological angle into this story in this scene.  We expected all of the slam-bang stuff, but the tearing of the photo and crumpling of the shield really struck a cord with me.  This was a just a very personal assault, I suppose not unlike the Goblin's kidnapping of Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man #121 -- really hits where you live.  Again, the beating of Jarvis really sickened me, and the sound effect "KRAK" didn't help me any. 

Karen: Back at the hospital, the Wasp and Ant-Man manage to hold off Creel and Titania with a mix of strategy and pure luck. It really helps that these two villains have a combined IQ of about 80. They're able to force Creel into human form and knock him out, and Titania -well, Ant-Man shrinks her down to ant size, and Wasp zaps her! The fight, which they appeared to be hopelessly outmatched, turns out to be a confidence booster. That, and the news that the doctors believe Hercules is going to live, give Wasp the resolve she needs to go after the bad guys. "The Masters of Evil still have control of the mansion...they still have hostages. But I swear they have won their last round! Now it's our turn!"

Doug:  Absolutely loved the fight scene at the hospital.  It was a real underdog story, and if it was a film the audience would have been jumping and cheering.  Really thought it was smart and a great visual when Lang hit Titania with the shrinking gas.  However, I have a question about Jan's powers -- when was it that Hank retooled her growth powers to allow her to shrink to a height of only 4 feet and retain her flight wings?  I am pretty certain it was way after this story -- jeez, it wasn't into the storyline when she actually became bug-like, was it?  Any help from our readers would be welcomed by this dude with the declining memory banks!

Doug:  We're just getting rolling with this one -- Jan, Ant-Man, and Cap are all alive and well.  Have to find a way to spring Cap and the Knight -- think they will?


Doug said...

For those interested in what came next after the "Under Siege" storyline, our friend Comicsfan has a look-in on the "Assault on Olympus" storyline. Check it out:


Edo Bosnar said...

Already there, Doug, saw his first post a few days ago.
As to this issue, I just loved the underdog angle here: two "pint-sized" heroes taking down a pair of baddies who could give (and have given) Thor or the Hulk a run for their money. As you noted, it was cool how Wasp and Ant-man used their opponents' general lack of intelligence against them.
The other thing is that beat-down of poor Jarvis; in the last post both of you and some of the commenters mentioned how disturbing it was the see Hercules get pummeled. Personally, I found this much more troubling and shocking. However, it fits into the story that Stern was telling, i.e., it makes sense that Zemo's vile and sadistic Masters of Evil would brutalize such a vulnerable individual.

Inkstained Wretch said...

This comic is just an example of damn good writing. Stern does a great job of building up the odds against our heroes and having them at their most vulnerable ... and then having them come through in a surprise fashion.

I really never thought much about the Wasp as a character before this storyline. She was generally portrayed as a twit going all of the way back to the Lee/Kirby days and I never found her powers to be impressive either. Jim Shooter in particular didn't seem to think she was worthy of being taken seriously. In the Secret Wars she complains about breaking nails...

But this storyline really redeemed her. Cap's faith in her to save the team is a nice touch.

Doc Savage said...

One of the all-time best Avengers tales. Maybe the best, for my money Roger Stern was the best writer the Avengers ever had. Shame they forces him off the book because the editor decided Captain America should be in charge and wanted Stern to portray Monica Rambeau as incompetent despite years of character development to the contrary.

J.A. Morris said...

I missed part one last week(just read them both). This is easily my favorite post-Bronze Age Avengers saga. It's easy to forget that Zemo was hardly an A-list villain at this point, Stern did a great job making the reader despise the baron.

The last panel with the Wasp declaring "Now,it's our turn" is a real "F*ck yeah!" moment.

humanbelly said...

That last panel? Still gives me goosebumps- yessir! My only- ONLY- gripe is that, well-drawn as the panel is, Jan doesn't look like Jan to me. She honestly looks more like Wanda--- long, narrow eastern European features, high cheekbones, slightly exotic. Jan's always had a "perky" look-- button nose, a bit more elfin. But that aside, Buscema/Palmer absolutely capture a life-like moment of Jan's determination and resolve.

@ I.W.-- cripes, and then in Secret Wars Shooter had her sleep w/ Magneto (!!!). . . 'cause she just couldn't resist those "cold blue (or grey?) eyes-!" Such a great way to respect the female characters-- sheesh. . .

I loved this issue, too. Classic, tried & true adventure/drama story structure-- but friends, it works on ol' HB every time. "Now it's our turn" is one of those lines that you've heard umpteen times at the close of a cliffhanger episode of. . . just about anything-- but this particular time is the MOST I've ever surrendered to the sentiment behind it, y'know?


William Preston said...

I never cared for Palmer on Buscema. It looks . . . gloppy.

How's that for brilliant criticism?

Bruce said...

Like I said on the last thread, this is my all-time favorite Avengers storyline. The characterization is perfect - I really like Jan as the competent team leader, rather than the ditzy, man-crazy socialite.

The beating Jarvis takes is disturbing, but that's the point, I think. The Masters of Evil don't come across here as designated punching bags. They are portrayed as a legitimate threat, which makes the ending of this storyline all the more satisfying.

Avengers #275 is an A+ issue to ol' Bruce. And writers don't come much better than Roger Stern.

dbutler16 said...

I’ll second Doug’s approval of Jan’s change over the years. She’s actually become one of myfavorite Avengers.

Yeah, Creel and Titania aren’t exactly the faculty of Harvard, are they?

Even though I think it was very well done, and psychologically intense, I’ll admit the torture of Jarvis made me uncomfortable.

I loved Wasp & Anty defeating the two Gloiaths. I know that Hank did “power up” Jan, and I think it occurred before this issue, but I could be wrong. My memory isn’t the best.

Doc Savage said...

Didn't she get powered up in Marvel Team-Up?

mr. oyola said...

Yeah, I think Wasp has been a particularly inconsistently written character in a genre rife with inconsistencies.

I like her here, being written with an arc towards leadership (and w/o being dismissed by her fellow Avengers).

humanbelly: I recently re-read Secret Wars, she doesn't sleep with Magneto, they just make out a little (and I think that's just a ruse to escape).

Doug said...

Matt --

In Marvel Team-Up #59 (July 1977), which we reviewed, I made the following comment:

Doug: Hank, now apparently faster than a speeding bullet, plucks Spidey from the water. You'll notice right away that a major improvement in Hank's powers is that he doesn't have to shrink to fly. I thought this looked weird -- I had the same feeling years later when Jan's powers were augmented such that she only had to shrink to around four feet to sprout her wings and fly. Hank brings Spider-Man back to the Pyms' apartment, stating that it's as well-equipped as any hospital. Funny, though, that all they do is seat him in front of the fireplace with a blanket over his legs! I've thought for a long time that medical expenses are ridiculously high... Spidey comes to, and the Avengers question him about his misfortunes. Spider-Man recounts how the Torch (shown in all his red-suited glory in a flashback) and Iceman once battled a super-baddie named Equinox, a thermo-dynamic man. Equinox possessed the ability to shoot flames from his icy hands, or ice from his flaming body.

I thought you were onto something, but it was Hank who enhanced his own powers. However, in the next issue, Karen makes this comment:

Karen: Spidey takes on Equinox by himself, wishing the Wasp was there "to distract Noxie" but finds he's in trouble. Suddenly, a figure appears -is it the Wasp? The Thing? Aunt Petunia? No! It's Yellowjacket! That's right, he's not dead! Equinox is shocked, Spidey is shocked -but the Wasp, who has just flown into the room, is really shocked. Hank tells her to let Equinox have it with her stingers -and amazingly, they blast him across the room. While the thermodynamically challenged youth is still reeling, YJ slaps Dr. Sorenson's device on him and it stops his fire and ice powers -although he isn't quite human looking. Jan throws herself at Hank, who explains that when the truck blew up, he shrank to insect size and rode the shock waves. It rendered him unconscious but not dead. He also says that Jan's increased powers are due to a serum he gave her -her birthday present. Now the smaller she gets, the more powerful she gets. It took the adrenalin rush she felt when she thought Hank had died to activate it. YJ, Wasp, and Dr. Sorenson head off with Equinox in tow to see the police, leaving behind a poor wall-crawler who hopes he can clean up the Baxter Building before the FF come back.

So I don't think the aspect of her powers where she can fly at 4-feet tall happened in those MTUs. I'm still thinking it was later on, into the 300s of the Avengers.


humanbelly said...

Jan + Magneto: Wellllllll,no, it wasn't overtly depicted, of course, because this was a comic being particularly marketed to kids, but--- there's an implied lapse (IIRC) between the making-out panel and the Jan-brushing-her-hair panel. And "young woman brushing her hair" after a making-out scene is long, long established visual short-hand (or censor-wary code) for "they just engaged in love-making, and now she's freshening up". MUCH like Jim Kirk puttin' his boots in very similar circumstances. I know I've heard this discussed before, and it's clearly purposely ambiguous (to be on the safe side)-- but I was taken aback even the first time I read the issue. It seemed unquestionably clear to me.

Doug, I think you're right about Jan's flight powers changing, but-- does it ring a bell that it sort of happened over the course of time? That it wasn't an official power-up, but rather something she was doing more and more until someone pointed it out?


Humanbelly said...

Whoops, missed an important word up there:

"long-established CINEMATIC visual short-hand"--- sorry about that. . .!


dbutler16 said...

I've found it! It is in Avengers #264 where Jan can first shrink to a height of only 4 feet and retain her flight wings. Per the notes o this issue I put into Excel "Dane (the Black Knight) is exaning Jan in the lab and discovers that she can now keep her wings while as large as 4' 4", one foot below her full grown height. He also finds out that Hank had greatly augmented her strength some time ago, such that she can bend a 2" steel bar."

I'm not sure when her stings got more powerful, whether it was before or after this.

dbutler16 said...

Don't mind the typos in my last post. I am a lousy typist!

Doc Savage said...

Still some of the best MTU issues ever! I actually read those inMarvel Tales.

Doug said...

dbutler --

Thanks very much for doing that heavy lifting! I appreciate it.

So the episode I'm thinking of was very much later, when Jan got basically turned into a bug. Totally separate events, then.


dbutler16 said...

No problem, Doug. Sometimes being a nerd has its advantages.

Humanbelly said...

Hey yes, nice job, dbutler!
She kind of bends the bar in two hands in front of her, yes? With a bit of an "nghh" (or similar) of effort?

Boy, bending a 2" iron bar is not an inconsiderable feat of might. This actually makes her physically stronger than several other well-established folks, doesn't it? She could certainly mop up the floor with ANY of the "non-super" crowd (Hawkeye, Daredevil, Kazar, Cyclops, Black Knight-- possibly even Cap and Black Panther-!). As I think of it, she should even be able to pretty much press them overhead with a single hand.

Hmm-- and yet it would appear to be enhanced strength w/out enhanced invulnerability. Otherwise (ohhhh, this is bad to even bring this up), when Hank smacked her in the face on that one awful occassion, it wouldn't have left such a huge, swollen black eye. In fact, in looking back at the relative power upgrades. . . shouldn't she have even been STRONGER than Hank at that point?

Golly, what if she had made a CHOICE not to deck him in that moment? So much stronger than him both physically and emotionally AND in terms of integrity.

OT OT OT-- sorry, scattered-thought day. . .


Doug said...

HB --

Wasn't the deplorable event of which you speak around 40 issues before the strength augmentation?

Also, Cap's Super Soldier serum does give him a boost in strength, doesn't it? Maybe not to the "bending a 2" iron bar" level, but I wouldn't say he's in the same strength category as DD. But then again, I am not looking at a Marvel Handbook, either (thank you Mark Gruenwald!).


Comicsfan said...

Yep, dbutler16 nailed it on the Wasp's modified shrinking abilities--this post gives a little more info on the how and why, if anyone's curious.

Stern's Siege tale and the follow-up Olympus story certainly capped a memorable run on The Avengers. This particular issue is its own eye candy, since it features "Ant-Man and the Wasp" in action on a level we never quite saw in those old Tales To Astonish stories--and taking out two of Marvel's heavy hitters, at that. (Of course, Jan wasn't quite the powerhouse in those earlier days.) Stern uses their abilities and teamwork wonderfully. :)

Doug, I'm looking forward to your (and Karen's) take on the Olympus story--there's a lot of ground I hopscotched over!

humanbelly said...

Oh my lord we're geeky. I can hear the grinding of many, many spousal eyeballs rolling in their long-suffering sockets even as we carry on this conversation. . .

So, Doug, my take would be that Jan's enhanced strength actually took place 'way back in the MTU two-parter you were talking about, and that Dane's and Jan's conversation after his "examination" of her powers served as a bit of a tweaking retcon of what those powers finally proved to be. I can't for the life of me think of any other point where we saw her powers boosted yet again between those two events. (Could be mistaken, of course. . .!) Hmm- so that means it was Stern very carefully trying to make this character a heavier hitter, and doing his homework so he could work it in fairly painlessly to the existing background. Hey, I'm fine with that-- no question.

Oh yeah, Cap's totally mightier than DD. Both he and T'Challa have a degree of superior "superness"-- but I think Jan, at this level, could probably out-lift either of them. I'm fine with that, too-- no question, again!

Good link, Comicsfan-- thanks much--


Anonymous said...

Happy Carnival everybody!

My impression of this issue is that Roger Stern was trying to cobble together a B-list of supervillains, and make them into a legitimate threat to the Avengers, as illustrated by the savage beatdown of Hercules and the torture of poor old Jarvis.

This incarnation of Mr.Hyde seems particularly bloodthirsty. Yes, I also believe Stern specifically wanted Ant-Man and the Wasp to battle the Masters of Evil to show how the least super-powered heroes could emerge victorious over more powerful foes. Amping up a superhero's powers is always touchy - if it's done right it can add a whole new dimension to a storyline, otherwise it's just a cheap gimmick.

- Mike 'Avengers Assemble! Masters of Evil Muster!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Doug said...

HB --

It's literature.

It just happens to have brightly colored pictures in it.



Karen said...

Stern managed to convince me that the Wasp, probably my least-liked Marvel heroine, was worthy of leading the Avengers. That was no easy feat. And he did it in a believable manner, allowing her to still retain the feminine personality she'd always had, but taking it and making it grow and mature. He's not my favorite Avengers writer, but he might be in the top 3, now that I think of it.

Doc Savage said...

These are the comics I was buying fresh off the spinner rack, so for me this incarnation of the team will always be THE Avengers and Stern remains my favorite writer on the title ever.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with everything Karen said in her last comment, except I think after recently reading his last three major story arcs on the title ("Kang Time & Again," "Under Siege" and "Assault on Olympus"), Stern is my favorite Avengers writer.

Edo Bosnar said...

Oops, clicked "publish" too fast. That last anonymous comment is me.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I have this story arc in paperback. Jusko painting on the top of the page was the cover. It has to be one of the greatest Avengers stories I've read since Roy Thomas's work in the 70's. I loved it because at one point I really thoght they were going to cancel the book. So I didn't know the outcome to this story. It wasn't your predictable super hero saga where they come out all ok in the end. There wasn't a reset button on this one!

I stopped buying comics when the original issues were out. However that painting on the cover (which is at the top of this page) really impressed me. I bought the trade paperback to read the story right away.

I'm unsually confined to the 70's era; however this story compelled me to see how they got out of this problem.

The first thing I look for when I go to Amazon and or Books A Million,is how many Marvel Essencials may be on sale or any material from the 70's....I was taken aback how good the writing was on this saga was and why it doesn't get more recognition.

dbutler16 said...

Hey, comicsfan, nice blog! I never knew of it before.

I'd expect Cap & T'Challa to be stronger than DD, but in the DD movie, didn't they somehow explain that he had enhanced strength due to his superhuman sense of touch, or something? Granted, even if I'm remembering that right, it may only be so in the movie version.

I guess I'll buy HB's supposition that Jan actually had her strength augmented at the time her other enhancements happened, but it's very surprising, to say the least, that she had never noticed before that she was strong enough to bend a two inch steel bar, which, as HB points out, is no mean feat. In fact, a quick calculation on my part shows that it would take at least 2,200 lbs of force, just to even begin to yield that 2 inch bar of steel (assuming it's 15 inches long - a total guess on my part) and that's assuming it's a wimpy grade of steel, say 316 stainless. More likely it's something like 1020 cold rolled steel, in which case she'd need more than 2,700 lbs of force just to yield it, and probably quite a bit more than that to bend it like she did. Also, keep in mind, we're not even talking about bench pressing or overhead pressing, in which a person could apply far more force than when trying to bend a bar in one's bare hands. OK, geek-out over!

david_b said...

Sorry, late to game (had military duty last few days..).

Still a big Pym fan, this is my fav cover of the arc, great seeing Antman and Wasp together (regardless of who's wearing the helmet..). Totally, totally awesome.

Edo's comment above about Jarvis pretty much answers my point about Herc's earlier whumpin', so glad folks here agreed. It was only a single panel of Herc getting whumped, so it's not huge deal (and there was no bloodshed shown), but I just didn't feel it was necessary.

All in all, great story, awesome to see Janet at arguably her finest hour, and agreed on the last panel ~ While it shows a dark and determined Palmer Wasp, I agree it didn't look like any Janet we've seen in the past, which indeed serves the story progression and Janet's character development very well. She DID change in this arc, and she's better for it.

Karen said...

I almost forgot: regarding the art, my husband looked over my shoulder while I was working on the post and disparagingly said, "Is that Milgrom?" I nearly lost it! How could anyone mistake Buscema/Palmer for Milgrom?! A difficult discussion ensued.

We're still together though.

Doug said...

Perhaps that story would have been best forgotten.




humanbelly said...

And a bit tense.

Maybe a tiny defense for your poor husband? That the comparison would really be Milgrom/SINNOTT to Buscema/Palmer? And that last panel does, for some reason, make me think of Joltin' Joe.

So. . . maybe he, uh, just didn't know what he was comparing, exactly. . . or something. . .

(sheesh- don't think I'm helping a lot,here. . . )


Comicsfan said...

Thanks very much for the nice words, dbutler. :)

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