Monday, July 1, 2013

Giant-Size July: Avengers Annual 7

Avengers Annual #7 (1977)
"The Final Threat"
Jim Starlin-Starlin/Josef Rubenstein

Doug:  You might have noticed that we originally had this scheduled for later in the month, and of course followed by the story's conclusion in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2.  After some discussion at one of our editorial meetings, we decided to move these up as a fitting conclusion to the month-long reviews of Thanos and all of his evil doings.  We hope you'll indulge another two weeks of cosmic mayhem, although we think those of you preferring your heroes more grounded will enjoy the inclusion of the Avengers, Spider-Man, and the Thing in Jim Starlin's conclusionary tale.  Among Bronze Age aficionados, this two-parter is one of the highlights of the era.  Maybe it's not qualified to be alongside Amazing Spider-Man #'s 121-122, but it certainly has it boosters, and justifiably so.

Karen: It's rather bizarre that these two books ever saw print in the first place, as Starlin had essentially left Marvel at this point. Only through a serendipitous meeting with then Marvel editor Archie Goodwin did the assignment to work on this annual, and then the Marvel Two-In-One Annual, come to be. For anyone out there who might want to fill in some gaps prior to reading this issue, you can go back to my review of Warlock #11, done as part of the "Doug and Karen's favorite's" series (why aren't we doing more of those?).

Doug:  I don't know... there's not a good reason.  I'll see what I can do.  First one off the top of my head -- be on the look-out for a review of Avengers #56.  How's that?

Doug:   We open on a decimated world, where Adam Warlock has come to investigate what has gone before.  He expects nothing but death, but is surprised to find Gamora, once-faithful servant of Thanos, the mad Titan who had been a god when he commanded the power of the cosmic cube.  Gamora tells Adam of Thanos' plan for stellar genocide, and Warlock's blood begins to boil.  Saying she will accompany him, Adam Warlock quite emphatically pledges to find and destroy Thanos.  Cut to Earth, where Earth's Mightiest Heroes are in the Mansion kibitzing.  It's a pretty powerful assemblage, with the Big Three, the Beast, and the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.  Iron Man stands at a window brooding, and Wanda encourages the Vision to check on him.  Inquiring, the synthezoid approaches.  Iron Man tells him that he felt drawn to the Mansion this night, and that he could not shake a feeling of impending danger.  Suddenly, a window opens (!) and in steps Captain Marvel and Moondragon.  Moondragon, in her usual haughty way, tells that she and Mar-Vell felt drawn also to the Mansion, and that her sense is that only a gathering of eagles can stave off the coming catastrophe.  She starts, aware of the destruction of a star some distance away, laid waste by Thanos' starship.  Suddenly a stranger (to some) arrives to the Mansion -- Adam Warlock.  In a great nod to the Silver Age, the God of Thunder calls Warlock by the name "Him"; Warlock assures Thor that he's come as an ally.

Karen: Let's get this out of the way: I like this pairing of Starlin and Rubinstein perhaps the best of all the art teams we've seen -the Starlin -Janson team is pretty close. The art here in these opening pages is just majestic. It screams 'epic.' I also enjoyed the little head shots running down the side of the splash page -that was a fun touch. Warlock's assimilation of Gamora's soul as she lay dying was touching for those of us who had followed his series. She had been the dupe of Thanos, a deadly warrior but unaware of her master's larger schemes. Although there had never been a romantic relationship between her and Warlock, they had at least come to respect one another and perhaps something might have developed, given time, but given the overall tragic arc of  his life that never happened. Warlock's acceptance of his role as Thanos' mortal enemy is almost an acceptance of defeat, or at least of his fate. But after the events of issue #11, he knows his time is limited. Might as well do the best he can with it. I thought it was funny that Wanda suggested Vision should speak to the brooding Iron Man, since they're so similar; boy, the Downey portrayal in the films really is a far cry from the comics version! The gathering of the "eagles" as Moondragon calls them is exciting and I got a laugh out of how Warlock's sudden entrance startles the skeptical Beast.

Doug:  Warlock recaps much of the Thanos narrative (as we've been telling you, contained in the incredible tpb The Avengers vs. Thanos -- get it!), including the stories we reviewed in June.  Thanos was emotionally devastated when Death rejected him after his defeat at the hands of Captain Marvel (see Captain Marvel #33), and began a universal search for that which might please her.  He determined that he would possess the six soul gems -- united they would return him to the power levels he possessed when he had mastered the cosmic cube.  He obtained five of the gems -- through theft, combat, guile, and appropriation.  The sixth and final gem was that of Adam Warlock, and in a previous adventure Thanos had been able to siphon power from the gem.  He had then crafted a synthetic gem of epic proportions into which he channeled the energy of the six gems.  Warlock then explained that Thanos had determined what his love offering to Death would be.  Thanos would destroy every star in the sky.

Karen: I think I'm going to have to buy that book. Otherwise I'll keep mangling my comics. The recap is interesting to read, having just come off our reviews. Seeing Thanos' acquisition of the soul (not infinity, not yet) gems was intriguing. I like the fact that Warlock explains that he learned all of this from absorbing Gamora's soul, and hence, her memories. Thanos' obsession with the personification of death is nearly as sad as Drax's uncontrollable obsession with destroying Thanos. They can't help themselves (atlhough in Drax's case, he's been programmed to feel that way).

Doug:  A small craft lighted on Thanos command ship, Sanctuary II.  Emerging through an airlock came Pip the Troll, friend of Adam Warlock and acquaintance (reluctantly) of Thanos.  Thinking the vessel deserted, Pip spoke aloud.  Just as he was about to give his true feelings of the Titan, who should emerge from the shadows but Thanos himself? -- and in a less than playful mood.  Grabbing the troll, Thanos says they are no longer on friendly terms.  Back on Earth, Avengers Mansion gets a mayday call from StarCore.  Interstellar sensors have picked up an invasion force even larger than that of the Skrull armada of a few years prior.  The Avengers don't balk -- they know it's up to them.  Jim Starlin gives us a great look inside the heads of those who have been fighting this protracted war with Thanos -- Moondragon, Iron Man, Captain Marvel.  We also sense the thoughts of our other heroes -- Thor, the Vision, Cap, the Beast, and the Scarlet Witch.  Each ponders their mission, Thanos, and Adam Warlock and his role in this whole affair.  It's a very well done two pages.  And as long as we're tossing kudos, I have to say that this is some of Starlin's best art in this entire saga.  It's really just about perfect -- camera angles, depth of the characters, facial expressions, backgrounds, the whole enchilada.  I couldn't state how much of an influence Joe Rubenstein has on the doings, but the synergy between penciler and inker is par excellence.

Karen: This time it's me having to apologize for not reading ahead -- but hey, I think we can both praise the art on this book, it's that good! 

Doug:  You are certainly forgiven!  And yes, we could probably go on and on about the art.  I had a devil of  a time choosing images for our art samples.  I easily could have scanned the entire story!  However, readers beware -- I do make a comment in next week's post comparing the art in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 to today's showing.  We'll see what you think then.

Karen:  I thought that Pip's encounter with Thanos was terribly menacing - as a reader, you feel for the poor troll. I also enjoyed the sequences inside each hero's head -and the unique framing Starlin did around the panels of both Moondragon and Iron Man. He has a good take on all of their voices. Everyone sounds different, and if you just heard the words without the pictures, you'd have a good chance to figure out who was speaking based n the speech patterns.

Doug:  As the team rockets along, Cap moves to the front, ordering everyone on alert -- the fleet should be almost in view.  And what a view, as thousands of space vehicles suddenly appear, with Thanos' starship in the middle.  Cap immediately tells Thor and Iron Man to get after an interference mission so the rest of the team can reach the command vessel.  And run interference do they ever!  The God of Thunder is relentless in his attack, destroying ship after ship.  Iron Man moves just a bit slower, but no less impressively.  Even when Thor takes a counter-attack, he channels the energy back out as lightning; the scene is incredible!  The Avengers' craft is able to land on top of Thanos' ship, but finds no place to actually dock.  No trouble, as Cap asks Mar-Vell if he can breach the hull.  He does so with a photon blast, and the Avengers stream onto the mother ship.  It's a battle royale over the next four pages as the team is contested by all sorts of inter-galactic goonies.

Karen: That's one heck of a fleet. It seems impossibly large, and the captions tell us that the Avengers recognize that their chances of returning from this mission alive are pretty much zero. But being heroes, they strive on. They may still be able to take down Thanos' ship itself. I love seeing Cap taking command and giving orders -it just feels right. The panels with Thor doing his godly thing are awesome -pure power. Iron Man is no slouch either. I really love seeing this space action from our Avenging crew! The rest of our gang, dropping in on Thanos' main ship, really show why they are such an elite team. It's also fun seeing the many bizarre aliens that Starlin throws against them. I got a chuckle out of the scene where the gigantic alien with the see-thru  dome head yells at the Beast in English and he says, stunned, "Lord, this one can talk!"

Doug:  Starlin used a great roster for this story.  Hey, if you're going to go up against a foe with the power of a god, then you'd better have all of the heavy hitters on deck!

Doug:  The team accomplishes the mission of getting Moondragon to the ship's controls so that she can recalibrate everything and turn Thanos' weapons against the attacking star cruisers.  Mar-Vell wipes out a bunch of baddies, and then heads for a suspicious door where he thinks the end game might commence.  As he approaches, though, he knows that Thanos has played them for fools once again; this has been too easy.  Blowing through the door, Mar-Vell finds Adam Warlock on his knees in front of Pip the Troll.  In a scene very reminiscent of Taylor's reuniting with Landon, Warlock has discovered that Pip has been mind-wiped -- he is effectively a vegetable.  Warlock takes Pip's soul into his own soul gem, and then tells Mar-Vell that he knows where Thanos is hiding.  The two champions exit near the speed of thought, and head for the far side of the sun.  There, they find Thanos' real command ship, and see that it readies for the destruction of Sol, and its solar system.

Karen: I hadn't thought of that comparison to Planet of the Apes, but it works. You can truly feel Warlock's pain here, and more than that, the sense that he feels some responsibility for what has happened. Thanos' leaving Pip alive yet brain dead is far worse than killing him.Here again though, as Warlock remarks, we see Thanos planting seeds of his own destruction, for by absorbing Pip's soul, Warlock also learns of the location of the real command ship.

Doug:  Mar-Vell rockets himself into the blast cannon, dislodging the huge gem.  Thanos really pays him no heed, merely shrugging it off with a bit of surprise.  He'd expected Warlock, not Mar-Vell.  Careful what you wish for.  As Thanos turns he is struck by Warlock.  It's a short fight, as Thanos kills Adam Warlock with one punch and one energy blast.  Dead.  Thanos almost shows a sign of respect for Warlock as he muses to himself.  But then the Avengers enter, and it's Thor who takes the lead.  But the Odinson doesn't get the match he'd craved earlier, as Iron Man destroys the giant soul gem.  Thanos almost cries over it like a baby, and then blinks out.  In another room, Mar-Vell regains consciousness to see one Adam Warlock stand over another.  He who stands speaks with a voice that transcends time; he who lays speaks of human foibles -- time, love, pain.  The fallen remarks to the strong that he knows that his soul will now be taken; the Magus will never again appear.  The Avengers enter and ask what has transpired; Captain Marvel is speechless.

Karen: Readers of Warlock knew that the scene you've described was coming, someday, although I suppose we'd hoped it was a long way off, perhaps even something that might never come to be, since the title had been cancelled. But here it was. Warlock's death was not a heroic one but rather one of futility, like much of his life. That scene, and especially its dialog, have stuck with me ever since I first read it. "My life has been a failure. I welcome its end." That's heady stuff for a comic from that era. Captain Marvel's reaction was handled well. As an aside, it was very cool to see Starlin's two cosmic crusaders together for the only time.

Doug:  The last two pages are really done well.  We get the contemporary juxtaposed with the spiritual retirement of Adam Warlock.  The Avengers plot their next move, and Iron Man asks what they should do with Warlock's body.  Mar-Vell tells them nothing -- there is nothing to do, as Adam Warlock is now at peace.  And we see Warlock arise, to be greeted by Gamora and Pip.  Pip explains that they are in a place where there is no pain, where all are well.  They have come home, to the soul gem (Heaven?) and now reside with all of their fallen comrades, in the peace of a state of love.  But somewhere out in the tangible universe, Thanos lurks...


Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, I took your advice and just re-read the entire Warlock saga over the weekend, rather than just the two concluding annuals. I'm glad I did, too, because it was interesting to finally read Starlin's entire Thanos story in 'proper' order, i.e., first the story arc in Captain Marvel and then Warlock.

Anyway, as usual, great review. You both pretty much sum up my thoughts on the story.
These two annuals are just an outstanding conclusion to Starlin's saga. The parts emphasizing the end of Warlock's life are quite moving - I always choke up a bit over the scenes featuring Pip.
And I agree with Karen about the art here. However, I have to say, I just loved Starlin's art throughout the Warlock books, regardless of the inker (I thought Leialoha did a top-notch job in those last few issues of the solo series).

david_b said...

To begin, I happened on this annual many moons ago, long after I had stopped regularly collecting, but perhaps a decade or so ago. First off, LOVED the majestic cover, and totally hating that UPC symbol; yes, I know the later banners for the Superman movie, 'This Comic Could Be Worth', and the bike ads were all painfully horrific, but this minor rectangular interruption was still very, very irritating. Period.

Back to the story ~ When I had picked this up, I was happy to see our A-team still looking good, and except for the Beast, still had all the cool members I had essentially grown up with in the early Bronze days. I always loved Starlin's art on MarVell, but he did a pretty awesome Avengers as well. Obviously the 'entire Thanos saga' wasn't apparent to me at that time, it was just another Thanos bout with the team, since Avengers 125. I liked the sense of coldness in the Avengers faces prior to MarVell's and Moonie's entrance (especially Wanda..). A very moody perhaps sullen evening. It was one of the last few times at that point where the story and art rose above the comic format, once again vividly shown in Starlin's art and panel composition, very much like the earlier MarVell chapters. It was a great revisit, since by that time, I believe MarVell's own mag was cancelled.. (?), not sure.

It was very cool to see Thor FINALLY match off against Thanos, but yes, I expected a much longer fight. I hadn't picked up the MTIO companion issue with Spidey and Thing until many years later, but I recall this was still a dandy 'done-in-one' type issue (as my understanding at that time.., unaware of the other chapters). Just a stellar piece of work for Starlin. 'Course I wasn't aware of Starlin's Bullpen status, but this was a magnificent piece of work.

Again, while no longer regularly collecting any comics at that time, to simply reach out and grab this comic reassured me that our heroes were still in exquisite hands.

Edo Bosnar said...

David, Capt. Marvel was still coming out in '77. It was finally cancelled in 1979, and then there were a few more CM stories in the revived Marvel Spotlight that same year.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, for me this is as good as comics get. The first few pages alone, with Warlock stumbling through the debris...and the pacing, knowing he and Thanos were eventually gonna have a showdown. I got the sense that Thanos was actually scared of Warlock and that Warlock was past being scared of anything...those two had a pretty complicated relationship, even before they both got revived years later.
One scene I'll always remember, is when Mar-vell and Warlock are flying through space and see Thanos in the process of blowing up the sun, and how differently they react to it. Maybe Starlin was saying something about how despair affects people differently.

Anonymous said...

Joe Rubinstein did a fantastic job here. Starlin's work never looked better, and I think Rubinstein deserves a lot of credit. M.P.

William said...

Now we're talking, this is the first part of one of my favorite comic book stories of all time. I am not a huge fan of the cosmic stuff, but this 2-parter is a definite exception, (especially part 2). When I was a kid I came across Marvel-Two-In-One Annual #2 at a 7-11, mom bought it for me, and it immediately became one of my favorite comics. I must have read it like 3 times in one week.

I didn't get a chance to read Avengers Annual #7 until many years later when it was reprinted in the Adam Warlock Saga deluxe edition reprint series. It's a really good read, but it didn't quite have the magic for me that M2in1 Ann. 2 did, so I don't have as much to say about it. But I'll be hard to shut up when you get around to the next chapter of this story.

Anonymous said...

Wow. The art is fantastic. I may need to find this.

Anonymous said...

I suppose now that Thanos is a big-shot movie star, he's gonna turn into a real jerk...

Anonymous said...

I love this story too, especially the MTIO Annual. I like how Starlin had Spidey as the one who freed Adam Warlock (thus saving the universe), even though none of the other characters seemed to acknowledge it; Starlin seems to like Spidey as a character...he gave him some good "character" moments in the Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel too.

Mike W.

david_b said...

Thanks much, Edo, I can always count on folks here to keep me honest..

I was way out of comic collecting by that juncture, but I knew that 'post-Starlin' MarVell stories were only a fragment of it's previous stellar greatness.

Karen said...

Edo, I too get kind of choked up over Adam finding both Gamora and Pip, and of course his death scene. His whole life was such a hard one. Even though his title was was short -lived (and I'm only referring to the Starlin books; I never read the earlier issues when they originally came out), I had really empathized with the poor guy and seeing the threads of his sorry life unravel was heart-breaking.

The non-Starlin Captain Marvel title was a mixed-bag. I did like some of the stuff that went on there. Drax's frustration and confusion over his life post-Thanos was interesting. The exploration of Mar-Vell and Rick's shared consciousness, and the eventual separation, was also interesting. But then there was stuff like El Gato (?) -I think - some of it was so terrible I can't even recall it correctly.

Fred W. Hill said...

I loved the two-part conclusion to the Warlock/Thanos saga but my fanboy self was disappointed that we never got the full story of the events between Warlock #11 and Avengers Annual #7 that it seemed Starlin originally intended to tell. At least the '70s-era Warlock got a far better finish to his tale than Omega the Unknown got -- can you imagine if anyone but Starlin had written or drawn this & MTIO Annual #2???
Along with all the cosmic drama, I loved the little touches of humor, including Pip's final encounter with Thanos. Even knowing it's going to come to a bad end, I found it hard not to chuckle a bit ("... a hell of a nice guy!!").
Counted along with the rest of Starlin's Warlock output in the '70s, this is a classic run.

david_b said...

I'm thinkin' a good column idea is to imagine your favorite story arc or monumental issue, but either written or drawn by another bracket contender, like what would this Thanos tale had turned out like if it was written/drawn by either Kirby or Byrne..

Just thinking out loud.

Anonymous said...

Holy cosmic saga Batman!

Wow this is truly one heck of a way to end the tortuous story of Adam Warlock. Great, great art by Starlin and Rubinstein; it's great to see the Avengers in space doing what they do best.

Moondragon's sensing of the deaths of millions of lives is eerily reminiscent of the scene in the original Star Wars movie where Obi-Wan Kenobi senses the destruction of Alderaan. Hmm, is it a stretch to speculate that this scene was influenced by that movie? Also, Warlock's 'death' by soulgem has a parallel to Obi-Wan's 'death' and subsequent uniting with the Force. Did Starlin plot this consciously or is it mere coincidence? Hmmmm .....

The death of Pip was also handled well, as was the panels where Moondragon and Iron Man realize the serious nature of their situation.

- Mike 'bring on Marvel Two-in-One #2!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Karen said...

Ah yes -it wouldn't really be a BAB review without 'Dr. Midnight', Mike in T&T, closing things out!

Mike, you're absolutely right, I thought Moondragon's sensing the millions of deaths was very reminiscent of Obi-Wan. I had made a mental note to mention this while reading the book and promptly forgot to say anything in the post! I'm sure it must have been an influence, whether consciously or sub-consciously.

I know a lot of folks have said that Michael Moorcock's Elric must have been an influence on Starlin, what with Elric's sword Stormbringer being so like the soul gem. But when I interviewed Starlin he honestly couldn't recall if he'd read the Moorcock books before he'd written Warlock or not. He knows about them now and has read them. But when I spoke to him in 2008 he wasn't positive which came first. I think a lot of times artists just sort of sub-consciously absorb stuff. They hear things friends say, they read articles or somehow become aware of things and it creeps into their art. And there's always the chance that they arrive at the same result as someone else because they share the same influences.

Edo Bosnar said...

Post-Starlin Captain Marvel: having just finished reading Essential CM #2 last week, I'd say Karen's assessment is pretty good. Englehart took over the writing after Starlin left, and the stories are solid for the most part, but nothing spectacular or epic. The art is mostly by Milgrom, ranging from surprisingly good (when inked by Klaus Jansen) to serviceable.
Otherwise, back in 1979, I started reading CM just before the series was cancelled, and then continued reading those last few stories in Marvel Spotlight. Again, nothing as spectacular as Starlin's material, but I thought it was pretty solid back then, and the art, by Pat Broderick, was actually really nice.

Redartz said...

Avengers Annual 7 is a perfect exams of what an AnnuAl should be. A very special story illustrated with magnificent artwork, with said story monumental enough to justify the extended length. Additionally, it is technically "done in one", with the companion Two-in-One Annual forming a completed whole. This is the way to do a crossover (as opposed to later annuals, stretched across the entire company line; an "event" less a tale than a sales gimmick ).

Starlin and Rubinstein meshed on a higher level here; this artwork stands among the finest the title has ever enjoyed.

Garett said...

Great art!

Chasing Amazing said...

Just a fantastic story all around, though like a few others, as much as I like the Avengers annual, the Two-in-One part two for me is where this story sings ... does anything beat a "what the heck?" Spider-Man throwing himself onto the case to free the Avengers? Probably one of the better Spidey moments of the late 70s.

Thoughts From The Loft said...

This is definitely Starlin at his peak and to me the ultimate epic in the canon of Marvel's Bronze Age story arcs (right alongside the Kree/Skrull war). I had initially read only the second part of this story in MTIO Annual#2 a year after its release upon a friend's recommendation. I was familiar with Starlin's Warlock run prior and was a huge fan of his artwork on the series (especially issue #10...simply outstanding issue) and was immediately blown away by both the story and art in MTIO. I eventually went and picked up Avengers Annual #7 and was equally floored! This was a great review of a great saga! However, I think to truly appreciate these stories one has to go back to Strange Tales #178 - 181 and conclude with the "Death Of Captain Marvel" graphic novel of 1982. The 1983 Baxter reprints of the Warlock saga is also a very good collection for reference as well. Thanks for the fantastic trip down memory lane!

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