Monday, December 27, 2010

Avengers: The Serpent Crown Affair, part 6

Avengers #148 (June 1976)
"20,000 Leagues Under Justice!"
Steve Englehart-George Perez/Sam Grainger

Doug: How awesome is that roll call up and down the sides of the splash page? This story hearkens back to the best days of the Silver and Bronze Age JLA/JSA team-ups, which is fitting since Englehart and Perez offer us their version (OK, partly Roy Thomas' version) of the Justice League of America. And to further pay homage to those fun tales, this yarn is told with both teams splitting up for combat purposes. Shall we see?

Karen: The roll call was absolutely awesome! About the only issues of Justice League that I had purchased to this point were the ones featuring the JLA-JSA crossovers, so I loved those little floating heads. I'm also happy to see inker Sam Grainger back on this issue.

Doug: This story really has nothing but DC hallmarks -- the take on the JLA satellite, the alternate Earths -- one like ours, the other with silly city names, the division of team members, and a morality play that concludes the action. We begin on the "Rocket Center" and are introduced to Aquaman, Hawkman, er... I meant Amphibian, Cap'n Hawk (what a dumb name), and Tom Thumb (who I guess is standing in for the Atom, although he really bears no resemblance in looks or powers). They are on monitor duty, eagerly awaiting the return of Hyperion,
Lady Lark, and the Golden Archer -- who surely beat up on the Avengers and will restore President Rockefeller's Serpent Crown. But alas, as we saw last ish, the Vision was having none of that bunk.

Karen: I love the little throwaway bits here, like calling the Squadron "the world's greatest super-heroes!" That was the banner above the JLA logo for many years. The Squadron has a satellite HQ too. It's a great parody, and if there's some snarkiness here, well, it's not surprising, given the long rivalry between the two companies.

Doug: So as we go on, Cap'n Hawk notes that the rest of the Avengers are split into two groups; the Vision and Scarlet Witch are nowhere to be found. Cap'n Hawk, Amphibian, and Tom Thumb decide to attack the Beast and Hellcat. It's not even close. In some nifty action sequences, along with typical Marvel banter, Hank and Patsy dispatch their adversaries. The prize scene is the square-off between the Beast and Tom -- funny stuff.
At the conclusion of this scene we get a 3-panel vignette with Thor and Moondragon, making their way across the United States (hey, is it just me, or can Thor use that Uru hammer to teleport? 'twould seem a lot easier than flying -- gotta be hard to talk with all that wind in one's face). Moondragon, who has been hinting at wanting to have a tete a tete with Thor, finally gets the opportunity to drop the bomb -- why, Thor, when you live among immortals, do you insist on spending time with beings far inferior? Thor's put off by that mess, however, and lets Baldy know it. To be continued.

Karen: The fight between the Squadron and our two newest soon-to-be Avengers was flat-out fun. The Squadron is bursting with over-confidence and it bites them in the you-know-what. I loved the exchange between Tom Thumb and Beast: "You probably don't see the advantage I have in being small-" "You're right, I don't" -and Beast bonks the tiny Thumb on the top of the head, knocking him out.

Karen: Thor had all sorts of tricks tied up in Mjolnir, and I'm pretty sure he could've opened a gateway to Avengers carry that awful Moondragon all the way there?
Hmmm....his response to her questioning was classic thunder god, though: "Silence, woman!"
Doug: Our next little brouhaha involved Dr. Spectrum and the Whizzer attacking Iron Man and Captain America. This battle was a bit more in doubt, as it started off advantage: Squadron. Oh, before I get to more of the details -- there was a great bit of camaraderie between Cap and Iron Man, as IM tells Cap, "I feel really good, actually -- Avengering with you again!
We make a good team!" The battle itself has all the best elements of Green Lantern and Flash, and of course IM's technology and Cap's savvy. As I said, it's a bit more two-sided, and fun. Perez continues to improve, and the pacing and camera angles are varied and fun.

Karen: Honestly, our Avengering duo are out-powered in this match-up, but again, the overconfidence on the part of Whizzer and Spectrum, and a nice helping of righteous indignation from Cap, helps turn the tide. The situation on the Squadron's world particularly gets to Cap, as he makes clear after defeating the Whizzer. Cap had just gone through the whole Secret Empire/Nomad period and had realized that he owed his allegiance to the ideals of his country, not to any one administration or president.
The idea of blindly working for the government was appalling to him. As he says, "You have your definition of a hero, and I have mine -and mine includes being a lot more aware!"

Karen: Like you, I enjoy seeing Cap and Shellhead working together. The two old guard guys leading the team through to victory despite all the odds being against them -what's not to like?

Doug: The good guys are finally reunited, with Wanda and the Vision joining them. Wanda explains how she'd been taken over by the influence of the Serpent Crown, and the Vision offers a plot idea.
We then get a quick look back at the hospital in Manhattan, where the Pyms have received the news that they are being released. But trouble festers immediately as Hank says he's not certain he wants to play hero anymore. Jan snaps that she's willing to go back to the Avengers, even if alone!

Karen: Jan sure came off pretty harsh, didn't she?

Doug: Cut to the White House, where the Squadron has gathered to apologize to the President for their ineptitude in getting the Crown back. Rockefeller then gives a very strange soliloquy about duping the Squadron, lying, obtaining power and more power, etc.
Hyperion gets a strong case of "what the?!?" and as he reaches toward Rockefeller we find that it's not ol' Nelson at all, but the bouncing blue Beast in disguise! Bounding off down the hall, Hank slips into a side chamber where the rest of the Avengers are assembled (natch) around some sort of portal or stargate. Iron Man has figured it out, and sends the team back to Earth. Hyperion rushes to follow them, but is called back by the Golden Archer and Dr. Spectrum. Seems what the Beast said bears further consideration, and they're willing to chew on it for awhile.

Karen: Beast served as a mouthpiece for Englehart to make some social commentary. It would probably be considered heavy-handed now but considering where the national psyche was at in 1976, I think it fit in perfectly. "We commit the most outrageous acts...and you go right along, pretending not to notice!" Actually, much of that speech still resonates today.

Karen: I thought the resolution of the story seemed a bit rushed -the Avengers guess rightly that the portal to their dimension is at the White House? I guess it makes sense but seems to come out of nowhere. And where'd Beast get his Rockefeller mask?
Hey Doug, this is another example of those incredibly life-like masks we see all the time in comics! Remember when we discussed this back in the Two Girls, A Guy, and Some Comics blog?

Doug: Cracks me up how his little Beasty-hair tucked under that mask perfectly smooth!

Karen: The Squadron actually does decide to consider what Beast said, and years later they would screw things up royally in the Squadron Supreme 12-issue maxi-series. That was a very interesting series. We might have to review it some time.

Doug: This has been a great story, and we're not done yet! Next month promises the resolution of the Serpent Crown Affair, the return of Thor and Moondragon, and a big, fat, super-villain!


Edo Bosnar said...

The last 2 issues of the Serpent Crown saga (148/149) were the only ones I originally had, but now, thanks to my Serpent Crown TPB, I've now caught up with your reviews. Like you guys, I really enjoyed the rather satirical take on the JLA and the JLA/JSA crossovers. And I have to say, pretty much all of the Beast-as-Rockefeller's little political science lesson still resonates. I also found really amusing, and similarly relevant, President Rockefeller's speech to his fellow corporate honchos at the beginning of the story, in which he says he'll gladly take down the Avengers for his allies' sake, and then adds: "Besides, the Squadron Supreme will be doing all the fighting!" Classic.

Karen said...

Politicians haven't changed much in the last 30 years have they? Well, except to get even worse I guess!


Inkstained Wretch said...

For me the amusing thing about the Squadron Supreme was how they were always screwing up! They were supposed to be the greatest heroes of their universe but they always needed to be rescued by a group of Marvel heroes or else, as in this story, they were getting their butts whooped on by Marvel heroes.

This formed the basis of the concept for the 12-issue miniseries, where the Squadron's defeat at the hands of villian caused the near collapse of civilization. They tried to make amends by remaking their earth as a utopis, only to create a further mess by undermining democracy in the process.

Knowing these guys were JLA analogues, it was a pretty snarky Bronze-Age in-joke for Marvel.

That said, the mini-seroes was really good, raising the question of what a world with superheroes would really be like. I didn't agree entirely with the author's take, but it was a thoughtful mediation on the uses and abuses of power. I'm pretty sure it predated the Watchmen by at least a year.

Steven R. Stahl said...

I thought AVENGERS #148 was great when it came out, although I found it less exciting to read than #147 because the fights were less interesting. Hellcat and the Beast vs. the idiots, though, was still a hoot.

Perhaps the best part of the issue was the political sequence at the end, in which the Squadron Supreme members realize how badly they've been misled by the Crown-controlled pols and businessmen. The same criticisms can be leveled at an alliance between the government and ____, which enriches and empowers individuals at the expense of society. If you track political developments, you can find such alliances at the local, state, and federal level on a continuing basis, whether it's a developer getting a sweetheart zoning deal, a corporation getting unjustified tax breaks, or an industry lobbyist writing legislation for a congressman to introduce as his own bill.

The war with Kang and the parody of the JLA made the Serpent Crown storyline entertaining; the use of the Crown and Roxxon made the storylline great, decades before CIVIL WAR occurred to anyone at Marvel.


Inkstained Wretch said...

Any thoughts on that Jack Kirby Cover? The King having the JLA analogues standing over a defeated pile of Marvel Heroes -- most of them he created -- seems a little ironic, especially since the king had just done a stint at DC.

Anonymous said...

It would be hilarious if the "Golden Archer" was a skilled, yet morbidly-obese bowman. When I saw that codename, McDonald's came immediately to mind.

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