Friday, January 31, 2014

BAB Classic: Three Cows Shot Me Down! Avengers #97

NOTE:  This post was originally published on 28 November 2011.
And join us tomorrow for all-new, all-different material, in the pulse-pounding BAB tradition!

Avengers #97 (March 1972)
"Godhood's End!"
Roy Thomas-John Buscema/Tom Palmer (cover by Gil Kane/Bill Everett)

Doug: Here we are -- the conclusion to this wonderful 9-part epic. Last week one of our commenters stated that this was tailor-made for a graphic novel. You'll get no argument from this corner. And speaking of comments, Karen and I want to pause and thank everyone who has participated in the conversation -- you've left almost 100 comments on the previous eight installments. Certainly this has been a story worth discussing! So let's get to the endgame:

Doug: I have a couple of observations before we really get rolling, and both involve terminology. One, throughout this story it's been referred to internally as the Skrull vs. Kree War. When did that change to the Kree/Skrull War that we all know? Secondly, and in the same vein, when did the Intelligence Supreme become more commonly known as the Supreme Intelligence? Does anyone have any history to impart? Many thanks in advance if you do!

Karen: I think "Kree-Skrull" just flows better than "Skrull-Kree." As for the Supreme Intelligence vs. Intelligence Supreme, I'd swear I read an interview with Thomas where he said that he liked the way "Intelligence Supreme" sounded better than Stan's original term of "Supreme Intelligence." But obviously, later writers went back to the original.

Doug: So we left off issue #96 with Rick Jones being unceremoniously tossed back into the Negative Zone. I remarked that we'd begun this epic with a little tussle against Annihilus, so why not end it that same way? The Neg. Zone baddie immediately spies Rick and zeroes in on him. Roy and Big John give us a nice two-page spread that recaps how we got to this point. And since this is the first mention of John Buscema penciling the ending to what had become one of Neal Adams' masterpieces, why don't we ask for everyone's opinions on the art switch. Keep in mind that it was apparently Roy's decision to table Adams, due to what Roy has referred to as "deadline issues". Thoughts? Personally we're switching out da Vinci for Michelangelo. Styles are obviously different, but in the end they're both masters.

Karen: If we'd gotten Don Heck here, I'd be crying. I have no complaints! Both are tremendous artists. The only thing I can say is that Adams' panel layouts are more adventurous, perhaps more cinematic. But Buscema has his own gravitas.

Doug: Whoo-boy... as long as you bring up the Dashing One, I guess I'd ask our readers if the Kane/Everett cover to the final chapter is any more jarring than the shifts from Sal to Neal to John on the interiors?

Doug: As I said, Annihilus moves in quickly on Rick. Rick is fearful, as he's unarmed and basically floating in space. As Annihilus puts the clamps on Rick's throat, a blast of energy suddenly emanates from Rick's brain and drives the monster back, and away. We then cut to the Skrull throneworld where the emperor is gloating over Wanda and Pietro's failed attempts at freeing Captain Marvel from the negative energy with which he's surrounded himself and the omni-wave. Anelle, the Skrull princess, tries to get daddy to chill out on the off-worlders, but he's hearing none of it. Mar-Vell is suddenly roused from his trance, we'd assume at the same moment that Rick lashed out at Annihilus. Mar-Vell tells Wanda that in his attempt to contact Rick with the omni-wave he unwittingly tossed the young man into the Neg. Zone. Mar-Vell then, for the second time in this epic, destroys an omni-wave.

Karen: Already Mar-Vell is starting to feel somewhat martyr-ish. He's mostly been a tool and that doesn't really change through the course of the story.

Doug: We cut back to Rick, who is hurtling through space. Suddenly a portal appears right in front of him, and accepts him. Rick lands back in the prison that is the Supreme Intelligence's chambers. The S.I. tells Rick that he has again been orchestrating many events in the Kree/Skrull War and Rick's mindblast is just one such manipulation. But as they have this conversation, Ronan is spying on them. Aware that they are discovered, the S.I. orders Rick to reach back in his mind, to find heroes of yore who might serve as champions. Strangely enough, the S.I. seems to know of American comic books from the WWII era!

Karen: This is Roy having fun. Everyone knows how much he loves the Golden Age heroes he grew up with, so he found a way to incorporate them into the story. I have to say, when I first read this (as a child) it left me confused. Now I can enjoy it, even if it does seem somewhat self-indulgent.

Doug: In a great splash page, we see Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch, the original Vision, the original Angel, the Fin, the Patriot, and the Blazing Skull leap into action against a Kree army. Buscema and Thomas give us some tutelage on the powers of these "new" heroes as they tear through the Kree. But just as suddenly the Golden Age warriors begin to fade out. Ronan sees this as his opportunity to slay Rick and the S.I. and orders the army into the chamber. Inside, the S.I. tells Rick that his mind had given him a brief respite in order to fully concentrate on what he must do next. As Rick cries out, his mind again unleashes an unexpected and horrible force that reaches across not only his immediate space, but all of space. Kree and Skrulls everywhere, battling all segments of the Avengers and their allies, suddenly fall as still as statues.

Karen: Wow! Who knew human beings had such potential? This made me think a bit of sci fi shows like The Outer Limits or especially the episode "Charlie X" from the original Star Trek series.

Doug: Cap, Iron Man, Thor, and the Vision, suddenly left with no one to fight, take the chance on redirecting to the Skrull galaxy. Blasting through hyperspace, only to emerge once again in the midst of the Skrull armada, the heroes get a free pass to the Skrull stronghold. Even the spaceships sit idly at the power that Rick had emanated. The Supreme Intelligence now wants to show Rick what has been transpired on Earth in their absence. We get a scene involving that pain-in-the-butt H. Warren Craddock -- in actuality the fourth Skrull from Fantastic Four #2! In a scene indicative of the political turmoil that was the early-1970's, once Craddock reverts back to his Skrull form, an enraged, anti-alien mob lynches him on the spot.

Karen: And there's that fourth Skrull you were asking about way back when, Doug! I thought the revelation that Craddock was not only a Skrull but had been manipulated by the Supreme Intelligence was pretty darn clever. The panel of the dead and bloodied Skrull imposter was quite powerful.

Doug: The S.I. then gives Rick, and us, the explanation for the entire War, and for the events of this issue. The Kree and Skrulls have warred as rivals, each having advanced up the evolutionary ladder. However, sensing that they will "improve" no further, they both turned their attention to their perceived real enemies -- the humans of planet Earth. And what of Rick's new powers? Manipulated by the S.I., Rick used abilities latent in all humans. As Ronan had put dampers on the S.I.'s abilities to affect the upper echelons of Kree and Skrull intelligences, the S.I. instead chose to enhance and influence the more "normal" players in this game. After the story is told, Rick succumbs to the stress of the day, and passes out.

Karen: I thought the idea that both races were at some sort of evolutionary dead -end was interesting, although I'm unsure what that really means (how do you stop evolving? bad gene pool?). This part of the story really sets things up for years to come. The inability to evolve would lead the Kree into the "Operation Galactic Storm" storyline many years later.

Doug: The Supreme Intelligence next uses his powers to open a portal and reassemble the Avengers, including Captain Marvel. All appear around the fallen Rick. The S.I. fills everyone in on what has transpired and then tells Mar-Vell that in order to save the boy, he must make the supreme sacrifice -- merge once again with Rick, hence giving Rick the lifeforce that will save his now-endangered life. Being a true hero, it really doesn't take Mar-Vell to long to reach the right decision -- and it's back to the Negative Zone he goes, as Rick rises once more. As a last act of the War, the S.I. sends the heroes back to Earth, where they encounter Nick Fury and the real H. Warren Craddock. Fury fills them in briefly, but it's an Avengers team that arrives home with heavy hearts in spite of their victory. They are missing one of their own, and wonder if he himself didn't make the ultimate sacrifice -- Clint Barton is not among them!

Karen: As much as I have enjoyed the Kree-Skrull War over the years, I've always felt the conclusion was the weakest part. We get a deus ex machina in the form of omnipotent Rick, fixing everything. It was just a little too neat for me. The Supreme Intelligence is the wizard behind the curtain, controlling it all, which I don't mind, but after all the strife and bloodshed, to have the war simply stopped was unsatisfying. I also would have liked to get a scene of the Vision reacting to seeing Wanda, but that would come later, along with our questions about the missing Hawkeye. I still consider this one of my favorite comic stories of all time, but I have to admit that it could have used a stronger ending. The ideas from this story though have had a huge impact on the Marvel Universe; the concept that human beings have the potential to be gods has shaped many a story. The Kree and Skrull, and their conflicts, continue to motivate new writers. Roy, Neal, John, and the rest did some world-building here and also gave us an exciting story. And -it was done in one title! No need to cross over into a dozen other books. Imagine that.

Karen: On another message board, a friend who is a big Neal Adams fan and has been reading our Kree-Skrull War posts brought up our Avengers 95 post. He believes that the cover to Avengers 95 was drawn by Adams and not John Buscema as we had stated. He cites Adams' own web page as evidence. On the other hand, the Comic Book Database lists Buscema as the artist. It still looks more like Buscema than Adams to me, but I will admit that Palmer's inks do make it more difficult to ascertain who the artist is. Anybody else want to chime in here about that particular cover?

Doug: By the way, the Grand Comics Database also credits the team of Buscema/Palmer with the cover. If you click on the previous link, you'll see a note below the cover credits that addresses this artist controversy. Apparently the folks at the GCD believe that it is Buscema and not Adams, despite prior credits leaning toward a collaborative effort.

Doug: I'd add one comment that Karen's friend made as additional food for thought:

"Look at Cap's biceps. Classic Adams. Look at Thor's leg: again, classic Adams."

Doug: Now if you think it's silly to be getting into select anatomical parts like biceps or quadriceps, it's really not. Years ago, I owned a page of original art from a Captain America & the Falcon from the early 1970's. At the bottom of the page was a signature by the one and only John Romita. Later, I decided to sell it on eBay. I was negligent in my listing and did no further research. I was almost-immediately informed that the artists were Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten. Now, certainly I can tell a Romita from a Sal Buscema, but this page was a puzzler in that it had a lot of facial close-ups and one in particular of the Contessa could have been straight out of Romita's romance comics -- so I went with it (I did immediately amend the listing, by the way, and the page did sell). However, feeling a mystery was afoot, I scanned the page and sent it on to Roy Thomas for his opinion. Roy did reply, and confirmed that it was indeed Sal's and John Verpoorten's work. However, he did say that an arm here and a leg there (I'm paraphrasing) could have been "corrected" by Romita -- but he couldn't be sure. So my point is that Neal Adams could stake a claim to the cover below -- it's no secret that he often put his stamp on pencils, inks... shoot, even coloring. So, examining the exhibit below, what sayest thou, the faithful reader?


Edo Bosnar said...

Not gonna get into that which-artist-drew-what conundrum...
As to the book itself, I generally agree with Karen's view about the ending being a tad unsatisfying (I also didn't like the disappearance of Clint as sort of a dangling plot thread at the end - it's especially annoying when you're reading the entire saga in the TPB without the later issues to refer to).
Everything else in your review was spot-on as well. It just leaves me to highlight some tidbits that I found interesting, like the implication toward the end of the story that, had circumstances allowed, there could have been something between Captain Marvel and the Skrull princess. What a trip that would have been if Roy or some other writer had decided to run with that idea...
Also, looking at Kane's cover, I have to say that at first - and pretty much every subsequent - glance, it looks like Namor is naked. And in a code-approved book to boot!

david_b said...

I would agree that this finale suffers significantly from the 'rush job' stories I've heard for years, with Adams departing and deadlines looming. Wonderful to see Big John back at the helm, but the terrible pacing shows.

One of the reasons why I liked this review is because it helps to better understand this ending. It seemed to throw a lot at the reader, and Thomas's inclusion of the Golden Age heroes was nothing more than a distraction on top of the quasi-satisfying finale.

I too preferred the 'Intelligence Supreme' since it sounds more Kirbysque.

Despite the meteoric pacing of the story and classic Buscema art, I would have liked the ending to have been a bit more cleaner, like showing both Clint and the Vish/Wanda meeting, but that was for yet another story.

Anonymous said...

It’s certainly an embarrassment of riches when you’re discussing a step DOWN to the art of John Buscema.

Ref. the ‘jarring’ switch to a Kane cover...well, if anyone found Kane’s covers jarring, they’d have sprained their entire head a lot earlier than this. I actually prefer Kane as a cover artist to almost anyone, even Adams.

Ref.the cover art on #95, I weighed in on this when you reviewed it. I think Maximus & IM look very Adams, but Thor is blatantly JB. Consider two other things: (1) that cover is blatantly not finished given the lack of any backgrounds and (2) Adams was a famous tinkerer (Supes/Spidey, anyone?) so I definitely detect his handiwork.

Ref. the GA heroes, I’m 100% with Karen. I really didn’t like it when I was a kid – it seemed totally non-canonical to me. They might as well have been Superman and Batman (to whom Annihilus is compared at the start). Jeez, Roy, sort it out. As a grown-up, it seems to cleverly re-echo what the SI is doing ...i.e. the whole thing is about the evolution of the human race, and Rick summons heroes from the evolution of super-heroism as Roy ushers in what is clearly a new (and newly evolved) age of comics. Nicely self-referential.

Ref. the plot, I never liked that ending. It is, as you say, deus ex machina. Although, in fact, the Supreme Intelligence almost IS a God from a machine, isn’t he? So maybe it’s another day at the office for him. This seems to have the problem that religious texts have...if the SI can do all this omniscient, omnipotent tweaking and fiddling, why doesn’t he just sort everything out? How CAN Ronan lock him in a broom cupboard? I always found it disappointing and unconvincing. I mean, just for example, how would it be if after everything we all went through, the Star Wars movies were basically about a tax dispute?

(Too soon?)


Dougie said...

As ever, thanks to the arcane shipping practices in 70s Scotland, I read this chapter first. Even as a kid, I knew Goliath would be back. Wonder if Roy ever really seriously thought of sacrificing Clint? (Oh, there's a What If! How would the Daredevil/Widow relationship pan out? And the Celestial Madonna saga?)

I bought the comic because of all the "new" heroes on the cover but none of them really grabbed me. Thankfully, The Patriot returned a few years later in a less- God-awful costume.

Fred W. Hill said...

Another problem just occurs to me with those particular Golden Age heroes supposedly popping out of Rick's subconscious -- this story came out in 1971 and Rick was portrayed as around 19 years old, maybe 21 at most, meaning he was born circa 1950. Which means he was born and would have begun reading comics long after the comics featuring the more obscure heroes were printed and it doesn't strike me as likely that any of them were featured in reprints that Atlas might have printed in the 1950s. Roy Thomas himself, born in 1940, wouldn't have even been 5 years old when the original stories were published, but I imagine his involvement in fandom exposed him to characters he might have been too young to have seen in any comics he picked up himself when they were first published. But of course, this was an opportunity for Roy to use those old lesser-known heroes, along with the Timely-era Big Three, and he ran with it, all story-logic be damned!
Otherwise, I agree with the general consensus that this ending to this monumental epic wasn't quite satisfying and although I love Big John Buscema's work, I was sorry that Adams wasn't able to do the conclusion (did he do some initial work on it that never saw print?). Further, I don't recall that it was satisfacrorily explained in the following story why the Intelligence Supreme didn't zap Clint into his presence, aside from fitting into Roy's plans for the follow-up.
Overall, tho', still a grand finale to one of the signature events of that nebulous era at the borders of the Silver & Bronze ages.

Doug said...

Richard --

My use of the term "jarring" comes about as such:

For my money, Gil Kane exists in a style-world all his own. He is exaggerated, not natural, and oft with an intensity heading toward rigor mortis. Yet he is dynamic, his cover- and panel lay-outs are superb (camera angles included), and can convey action and urgency as few aside from the King can. He is an acquired taste for me, but a body of work that I've come to enjoy -- for what it is.

That being said, the thought in my mind was that with Sal we get pretty straightforward (and this is a great thing) super-heroics, with Adams it's bodies-in-motion dynamism that is very real-life, and with John it's all posturing amid the grandeur. Each artist has his own intricacies, but for me Kane stands apart because of the way he often depicts hands and faces.

So that's all -- all four men are certainly among the all-time greats, but in my mind Kane's stuff is not in the same style-category as I might place the other three.


Inkstained Wretch said...

I concur that the ending to this tale feels unsatisfying. There was so much build-up and yet the conclusion is talky and complicated with a lot of (literal, in this case) deus ex machina. I'll copt to being frankly confused and not completely understanding it.

Having said that, the out-of-nowhere appearance of the proto-Invaders is wild and fun. You can just tell that at some point Roy Thomas said, "To heck with it! I'm putting everything in this one!" and just went with it. It was probably because he was already looking to move on to another title and wanted get any remaining ideas out of his system first.

BTW - This was the second time he had featured the Invaders in the Avengers, the last time being during the Kang tale in #69-71. It is fascinating in retrospect to see him trying out ideas for what would eventually become its own series.

Fred W. Hill said...

Ah, a little research turned up some quotes from Roy Thomas on why #97 turned out the way it did, as Adams was waaaay late on the art and had an ending much different than what Roy came up with as drawn by John Buscema:

Roy Thomas has quite a bit to say about the deadline problems of issue #97:

“By now, alas, though I haven’t dwelt on it before, things had slowly reached the near-breaking point with regards to Marvel’s relentless deadlines. I don’t relish bringing it up, even now, but it’s impossible to understand one of the most salient and asked-about aspects concerning Avengers #93-97 — namely, why did John Buscema rather than Neal Adams draw the final issue of the Kree-Skrull War — without touching on this matter. Every thirty days, Marvel had to deliver something called The Avengers to the printer in Sparta, Illinois, or else pay a hefty fee — or at the very least ship the issue late, which still cost enough money to wipe out any potential profit on that month’s issue. Thus, with Neal over-committed by various clients, as he himself has often said, we were increasingly falling behind, issue by issue. Tom Palmer or I had to stay up all night on occasion to handle pages that had just come in that afternoon and needed to be finished and on their way to the next stage by the following morning. We respect and respected Neal — who was burning quite a bit of midnight oil himself at that time — but things were getting pretty hairy.

“Thus, I was getting ever-increasing pressure from production manager (and schedule master) John Verpooten to have someone else draw #97… the more so when the deadline for all 22 pages of pencils to have been delivered passed and I hadn’t yet received a single page to dialogue. Finally, I had to give way… so I hurriedly typed out a several-page version of the plot as I recalled it and Special-Delivery’d it to John Buscema, who penciled the entire issue in a few harried days.

“While Big John was working away, Neal brought in the first few pages of Avengers #97 — though whether in finished form or layouts, I no longer recall. At any rate — and I don’t remember if we’d discussed this earlier, since it wasn’t a notion I was wild about — Neal had opted to frame this final installment as a flashback, related centuries in the future by a guide in a Kree museum who’s giving a tour of artifacts of the long-ago war between the Kree and the Skrulls. (This shows that, despite any rumors of reports to the contrary, it was intended at the time by both Neal and myself that this storyline would end with #97, nor go on to #100 or even beyond.)

“Unfortunately, and with a heavy heart, at this point I had to tell Neal that, since John had already drawn much of the issue (for all I know, it might’ve already been in the mail to us), we couldn’t use Neal’s pages and would have to go with whatever Buscema turned in. If Neal had shown up with the entire issue penciled, I might have been able to use them, though the publisher would have gone ballistic at having to pay two artists for the same story… but I had editorial responsibilities and couldn’t take a chance at that point on when Neal might finish the job. I had to go with the probable (Buscema), not the possible (Neal)… however much I wished it might be otherwise. Neal, who’d probably been up all night drawing those pages, naturally didn’t take the news well… but if I had to do it all over again, nearly four decades later, I’d still have to do the same thing. With great responsibility, and all that jazz.”

Anthony said...

The Hulkling from Young Avengers is actually the child of Captain Marvel and Princess Anelle.

Karen said...

Anthony said, "The Hulkling from Young Avengers is actually the child of Captain Marvel and Princess Anelle."

I enjoyed Young Avengers, but I never could figure out when Mar-Vell and Anelle would have had the time to get busy.

Edo Bosnar said...

Well shoot me down with three cows! After seeing Anthony's comment, I went and looked it up - and can't believe someone later made something (an entire hero at that!) out of what was obviously an off-hand reference by Roy. I'm with Karen: just when did Mar-Vell and Annele find time to conceive a child? Or have the Skrulls and/or Kree found some way to do so without physical contact?

Super-Duper ToyBox said...

another GREAT post- VERY interesting!

dbutler16 said...

As far as the artists, John Buscema is affine artist. I do prefer Neal Adams, but I have no problem with Buscema on thisi, either, though do prefer to keep the same artist throughout a given story arc. I, too, would have been crying if it were Don Heck!

With her more human looking appearance, I wonder if that Anelle the Skrull princess is the result of an affair with a human or…gasp… a Kree.

Even thought it’s a bit weird, I like how Rick pulled those comic book heroes out of his mind to save the day. It just goes to show how reading comics is good for you! I also liked the Supreme Intelligence pulling all the strings. After all, he is the Supreme Intelligence. Overall, however, I do agree with Karen that the ending was a bit weak, with a bit of a deus ex machinastyle cop-out. It wasn’t terrible, but it just seemed like, with such a huge, epic, great story, that the ending should match, and it doesn’t seem like it quite measured up.

Still, all in all, an all-time Avengers classic. One of my favorites for its breadth and scope and interesting ideas, not to mention the wonderful art. And yes, not needing to buy a bunch of other titles to follow the story is nice, too.

Doc Savage said...

I wish John Buscema had drawn the whole story, as I'm not impressed by Adams as a storyteller at all. Heck, I'd rather Don Heck drew it.

The omnipotent Rick Jones ending ruins it for me. It's unsatisfying that after all these issues it comes down to deus ex machina rather than the Avengers comin up with a solution. Which is why I haven't re-read this in forever and don't rate it that highly. A good ending is vitally important and Roy blew it on this epic.

Anonymous said...

I found the ending really wacky too. I prefer the ending in What If #20 where Rick Jones is killed and heroes and villians from Earth team up instead to defend earth.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed re-reading this story as well as the discussion of all the issues (both comics and comments)involved.

Fred, your point about Rick's age and the time that these heroes were "active", Rick does mention that he found "old comics" in a barrel at the orphanage. He read them and re-read them.

I thought during the final issue, Pietro and Wanda's holding action against a battalion of fighting mad Skrulls bordered on the competent? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

About the ending. I will say this about that.... we end the story where we began it. Back on Earth and Rick and Mar-vell sharing an existence. The Vision and Rick are the only two characters who were actively involved in the entire saga. I don't think things it was one of those endings where only the heroes remember it or the events were wiped from everyone's memory (by Moondragon), but still, back on Earth and Mar-vell stuck in the Negative Zone. I guess getting there is not only half the trip but no matter where you are, there you are.

I think one of the positives that came out of this was Rick's early EP. If you remember, it featured such offerings as "Skrola" (she look like a woman but walk like a man), "It Ain't Easy Being Green", his self-penned homage to his friend the Hulk.

The Prowler (holding his lighter against that cold dark night).

Fred W. Hill said...

Ah, ok, Prowler, I missed (or forgot!) that little tidbit about how Rick knew about Timely's more obscure heroes! Of course, now Rick's slapping himself for not having held on to those mags - he might've made a small fortune, And if he'd kept aging in normal time he'd now be in his early 60s, but he'll be eternally in his early 20s while Roy the Boy is now 73.

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