This post was originally published on 16 August 2010.
Avengers #171 (May 1978)
"...Where Angels Fear to Tread!"
Jim Shooter-George Perez/Pablo Marcos
Doug: The End, kids! Yep, after our Hank Pym lovefest this month, we put the wraps on today with part four of the Bride of Ultron arc. It's been a fun romp, with wonderful storytelling from the words and pictures points-of-view. However, might this last installment leave us feeling a bit flat? Let's see...
Doug: If you recall, when last we saw our heroes, Cap and Iron Man had arrived on the scene to stop the ganging up of Wonder Man, YJ and the Wasp, Wanda and the Vision, Thor, and the Beast on the person of Ultron's chosen wife -- the metal construct that we'll learn in this issue is to be called "Jocasta". As Jocasta seemed intent on moving out and away from Avenger's Mansion, it was Cap's and IM's opinion that she would lead the team to their ultimate goal -- a final showdown with Ultron! We pick up the trail mere moments after the conclusion of ish #170.
Doug: What did you think of the first several pages of this story? I'll say one thing for Shooter -- he wasn't afraid to be unconventional. I guess my expectations when I first read this, and again on the re-read, would be to see a short chase scene and then WHAM! All-out super-heroing! But instead, we get an odd street scene with the good guys interacting with New York's general public. In order, we see the Beast beseiged by several women who want a piece of him (literally; and this would be a plotline for some time to come), Wonder Man surprisingly finding the cojones to stand up to and criticize Captain America, Wanda receive an offer to model (because you know, buxom was "in"), and the crowd react to Wanda's "my love" comment to the Vision. Now all of this is good stuff, and we've said a hundred times before that this sort of writing is part of what set Marvel and DC apart in the Silver and Bronze Ages, but it was just surprisingly somewhat out-of-context!
Karen: It was an interesting choice for Shooter to open this story the way he did. That being said though, I can recall plenty of other times where Marvel heroes interacted with "normal folks". Although this did seem to extend quite a few pages. We even get the store clerk thinking about her co-worker getting fired and she getting promoted! Now that was a bit much. I did enjoy Thor's remark to the Beast: "Thy wenching is ill-timed!"Doug: And then we head back into the dept. store from whence had come the lady with the modeling offer. Seems a customer had been left in the dressing room when the Avengers had kicked up a commotion. And in one of the first gratuitous a$$ shots that I can recall (I'm sure there had been some fine Black Widow moments in the pages of Daredevil before this), we are reacquainted with Carol Danvers. Is it just me, or was there really no point to that camera angle used by Perez?
Karen: Oh, I think we know what that camera angle was about!
Doug: So, the Avengers are tracking Jocasta, who's been picked up by a nun. A nun! Yep, Sister Eucalypta of the Order of Qantas. I made that last part up. Koala bear reference, no? Anyway, while the good guys close in, we see Wonder Man suddenly lose his cojones as he questions Ms. Marvel (of course Carol was going to factor into the story with more than just her curvy cheeks) on how she just jumps into a fight. I thought Wondy's self-doubting pity-party, too, was an odd storyline, but they managed to milk it for the better part of two years and I guess it kept things from seeming status quo. Finally, the team arrives at their destination -- a convent!
Karen: Wonder Man's discomfort around Ms. Marvel was another nice touch. Shooter really seemed to enjoy writing Wonder Man -probably because he was not an established character, so he was free to do whatever he wanted with him. At the time I was annoyed that he got so much of the spotlight, but now I can look back and see that Shooter was giving us another angle on superheroing -that of a scared hero!
Karen: There was also the interaction between Jan and Ms. Marvel, with Jan welcoming another "girl" to the group, and Ms. Marvel saying she stopped being a girl some time back. It wasn't really a harsh comment but it did point out some differences in the characters -and let's not forget, Ms. Marvel was being touted back then as Marvel's 'liberated' female hero.Doug: In two of the better scenes in Avengerdom of this era, we see the Beast address Sister Eucalypta in Latin, and Thor and Wanda muse on an Asgardian's place in a Catholic center of teaching and worship. Great stuff! And then... Wanda vanishes! But wait -- is this the same thing that's happened to the Two-Gun Kid and Quicksilver, which we saw earlier? Hmmm...
Doug: Coming to the end of the line, the team enters a chamber to stand face-to-face with Ultron. I'll tell you -- there are more words on this one page than are in some entire 21-page comic books of today! And it worked! It was exposition that moved the story, and it was not unbelievable that all of that could have been said in that single setting. Lord, I miss comics! Ultron doesn't waste too much time here -- he's told everyone what his goals are (basically to kill everyone starting with the Pyms), so it's encephalo-beam time!
Karen: I thought Ultron had a nice speech here:" I am your son! Do you not yet know the mind of your sole offspring? My desires are the same as ever! I want your death...I want your wife...and then...I want the world!" Well, that's pretty exact!
Doug: Ah, but daddy-Hank didn't come unprepared. The Avengers are now wearing shields inside their masks and helmets to ward off that specific attack. One of the pay-offs in this issue is that Simon finally snaps out of his scaredy-cat mode and takes it to Ultron, hard. Another pay-off is seeing Wanda assert herself. Early in the story she even suggested to Iron Man to brief Ms. Marvel on the goings-on. I know that seems very minor, but reflecting back to the days when she and Jan had to be told when and how to use their powers, it was noticeable. In this story's climax, it's Wanda (not Thor or Iron Man) who wins the battle. She was aggressive, confident, and very powerful, and I was happy to see her in the limelight.
Karen: Shooter's depiction of Wanda really picked up from the work Englehart had done previously, making her into her own person. Unfortunately, his Wasp was just as annoying as ever! Roger Stern managed to make her more likeable, although some would argue that he completely changed her personality.
Doug: However, I must declare that the story ended somewhat abruptly for such a build-up. I think part of the problem with Ultron is that he's too powerful. He just can't be beaten unless he's undone. Now maybe hex power is not playing fairly, but I would have liked to have seen some more scrapping, maybe Wonder Man go Round Two with Ultron. It was a nice bit of foreshadowing to see Jocasta turn on her creator (much as the Vision had a decade earlier) and then disappear right away (along with Cap). We'd of course see her ally with the Avengers later.
Karen: Yes, Jocasta turning on Ultron was nice, and made sense, since her mind was based on Jan's. While Hank has had to deal with his creation of Ultron and all the woe that has brought, Ultron has had his share of failures too, as both his 'son' and 'wife' have turned against him. Of course, Kurt Busiek brilliantly tied all this together in Avengers volume 3 when he revealed that Ultron's brain patterns were based on Hank's! Like father, like son...
Karen: I do think that Ultron's adamantium body did tend to overshadow his emotional impact on the team. He was just too hard to beat, and it seemed like it always came down to Wanda and her hex powers. Like most really good villains, Ultron should be used sparingly -like every three or four years.
Doug: So, overall a true classic. I don't have any major complaints. I felt that the team grew during Shooter's run, and he introduced some good elements, specifically the watchdogging of Agent Gyrich. I do wish, though, as we said earlier that there had been a resolution to Hank's breakdown in #'s 161-162. That dangling plot thread seems unforgiveable.