Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Origin of the Golden Age Batman

Secret Origins (1986) #6 (September 1986)
"Golden Age Batman"
Roy Thomas-Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin

Doug: Marshall Rogers drew pretty pictures.  And he left us too soon.  Today's review really has no history to it.  I never owned this book, and really didn't even know of its existence until this past December 25th when I received a copy of the DC hardcover Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers as a gift from my wife for Christmas.  As most of you know, we've been working through the Jim Aparo book in the same series and my copy of the Alan Davis edition arrived two weeks ago.  But today we're going to delve into a fun and great-looking story that will take us back to the War years and the dawning of the career of the Dark Knight Detective.  It's interesting because it's anchored by dates, which when writing an historical piece is fine -- if you check the date of the issue's release you'll see the era of Crisis nigh, and the coming reboots will make all of this moot anyway.  NOTE:  I want to apologize here at the top for the quality of the scans. As I said, the book is new and the spine is very tight -- you'll forgive the muddy look on the edges of scans that were located on interior margins of the book.  Thanks.

Doug:  Roy Thomas starts us out with what we've known since Detective Comics #27 was published way back in 1939 -- young Bruce Wayne went to a motion picture with his parents, Thomas and Martha.  In this version of the story, it was not a Zorro film, but one starring Rudolph Valentino, and the year is set for us as 1924.  A mugger accosted the family while walking home and demanded Mrs. Wayne's necklace.  Her husband stepped forward in her defense and was shot twice at close range.  Martha Wayne began screaming for the police as the man grabbed her necklace.  She apparently had a heart attack as the thief ran away.  Bruce never got a good look at him, and slumped to the ground over the bodies of his dead parents.  Later, while in the care of his Uncle Philip, Bruce is reminded to say his nightly prayers.  Telling his uncle that he never forgets, young Bruce prays, " -- and I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths, by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals!  Please Dear God -- help me keep my promise!  I'll do anything --!"

Doug:  As Bruce got older and entered his high school years, we're told that while he was a fine student he made few friends.  Part of that reservation might have been a fear that his friends would be taken from him.  As he entered college, an adviser told him that he needed to live life to the fullest -- it was more than just books and knowledge.   So Bruce threw himself into athletics and the stage.  We know that he had ulterior motives in each area, but through this branching out he met a girl -- Julie Madison.  They get to know each other through their mutual love of the stage; Bruce says that while he enjoys it, it's really a sort of vocational training for his real passion and career goal -- police work in Gotham City.  Soon the two youngsters proclaim their love for each other, but must separate soon after graduation (the Class of 1939) as Julie heads off to pursue her dreams on Broadway.

Doug:  Twenty-five year old Bruce Wayne has moved into a downtown penthouse, part of his inheritance.  He overlooks the city and again pledges his war on crime.  He muses on Julie, who has sent him a letter telling that she's unhappy being apart from him.  Bruce also meditates on his desire to be a detective, something she is not crazy about.  So he thinks, there must be a way...  Suddenly, a large bat flies in through an open window.  It's an omen.  A few nights later some of the finest costume designers in the business arrive at the Plaza Hotel.  A bent over old man greets them, and commissions them to build him a costume of his own design.  The two men work through the night, and when finished are rewarded quite handsomely for their efforts.  Later that night, the Batman makes his debut!

Doug:  On patrol, the Batman has spied a man looking like he might be interested in breaking into a warehouse.  The Caped Crusader sees him as "filth", and readies his attack.  The guy is descended upon quickly and roughly.  Falling onto a giant spoon that was part of a billboard (a great homage to the days of Dick Sprang), he starts crying about a broken leg.  Batman comes closer for a look and gets whacked upside the head with a hammer handle.  Stunned, the Dark Knight falls back while our tough makes his getaway.  Fleeing across a freshly-tarred street, he's gone.  Batman pauses to look at the guy's tracks, and notices some small white particles that have stuck in the tar.  Upon inspection, he realizes it is thallium, a mineral used to make glass.  Following his instincts, Batman heads to a nearby glass factory.  Once inside, he's trapped in a net, thrown by our criminal from a catwalk.  Our baddie, however, being a member of the "stupid and cowardly lot", binds Batman and puts him in the basement, rather than deep-sixing our hero.  Bad guy's mistake.  It doesn't take long for Batman to free himself, and KO his nemesis.  Announcing himself publicly for the first time, the baddie is tied up and left on the street under a lamp post, a note from the Batman attached.

Doug:  Back at the penthouse, Bruce phones New York (man, DC just drives me crazy with real cities/fake cities.  The Marvel Universe is so much more manageable) and catches Julie on her way out the door.  He says he wants to talk, and has something to ask her.  She is on her way to a rehearsal, and so asks him to call back the next night -- at 3:00 am!  Bruce decides to kill the time by calling on a friend of his Uncle Philip -- Commissioner James Gordon.  Meeting Gordon, Wayne goes through some pleasantries.  I'd have thought Bruce was going to try to get some inside information on the Gotham City crime scene, but he actually was hoping to get familiar enough with the commissioner to get a recommendation to the NYCPD.  That would be the "tell"; the "ask" was for Julie to marry him.  So as I read this the first time, I'm thinking "who is this Julie Madison?", as I couldn't remember her.  I checked out the comicbookdb, which Karen and I use for our cover shots.  You can look for yourself -- to this point she'd only had nine prior appearances, five of those in the Golden Age.  Anyway, Gordon gets a call that David Lambert, "the Chemical King", has been killed.  He asks Wayne if he'd like to tag along to see a murder investigation.

Doug:  Once at Lambert's home, Gordon interrogates John Lambert, the son.  With his fingerprints on the knife that killed his dad, Gordon asks John Lambert to explain.  Apparently the youth had come home, found his father face down with the knife in his back, removed the blade, and rolled his father over.  David Lambert's dying word was "contracts".  Lambert tells Gordon that his father had three business partners, and one of them -- Steven Crane -- calls right at that time to report that Lambert had told him of a threat; Crane got the same threat.  Asking for protection from the police, Gordon tells him not to move.  Bruce Wayne takes the opportunity to slip out, only to reemerge as the Batman.  As he arrives at Crane's home, shots ring out.  Two thugs climb a rope made of bedsheets to the roof of the home.  Batman attacks them, and it goes much better than during his maiden voyage only nights before.  After defeating the henchmen, Batman lands on the ground and scoops up a rolled up paper that had been dropped during the fracas.  At that moment the police arrive, and of course you know how this is going to go.

Doug:  Or so you thought.  The Batman gives them the slip, as Gordon orders his men to get to the homes of Paul Rogers and Alfred Stryker, Crane's other two partners.  But Batman, in a red roadster, has beaten them to it.  Rogers arrived at the home of Stryker moments before, and was greeted by his manservant (any chance you get to use the term "manservant", take it) Jennings.  Welcoming Rogers into the home, Jennings wallops the visitor with a blackjack and ties him up.  Carried to a laboratory in the house, Jennings places Rogers in a chair inside a large glass dome.  In effect, it's a gas chamber!  As Jennings gets set to introduce the toxin, Batman breaks through the skylight, grabs a vice from a nearby table, and hurls it through the glass enclosure.  Jennings pulls a pistol from his back pocket, but the Dark Knight is upon him instantly.  Roy Thomas' script does a nice job of evolving the Batman right before our eyes.  As Batman and Jennings scuffle, Stryker comes down the steps to the lab.  Rogers implores his partner to free him from his bounds, but is instead greeted with a drawn knife!  Cripes -- this story is dangerous to be in!  Batman grabs Stryker's arm and jerks the knife out of his grip.

Doug: Stryker admits to the plot:  years ago, the four partners had signed contracts whereby Stryker would pay each man a designated sum of money over the years until a point where Stryker would own the entire company.  However, falling short of cash, and with the contracts known to none but the partners, Stryker began to have his partners killed.  Now found out, Stryker twists away from the Batman and falls over a rail and into... a vat of acid.  Because every lab in a Batman story has one, sort of like Reed Richards keeps a vat of water in his (don't believe me? - click here, too).  After the dust has settled, Wayne finds himself back at Gordon's for a debriefing.  The Commissioner agrees with Wayne that this Batman fellow might be useful after all; Wayne states that he might be able to cut through some red tape that might otherwise hamper the police.  Bruce scoots off just before 3:00 am to make his phone call to Julie.

Doug:  The phone in Julie's apartment rings, and she staggers out of the bedroom to answer it.  She tells Bruce that her rehearsal had gotten cancelled, but she tried to wait up for his call.  He says that he is coming to New York the next week for a visit, and to ask her something.  She sprightfully says that he needs to ask something that she can say "yes" to.  He does tell her that he is no longer interested in being a policeman, in front of or behind a desk.  He suggests that he might just become a playboy.  As they hang up, each declaring their love for each other, Bruce thinks that he will be much more effective in his war on crime... as the Batman. 

Doug:  This was one of those Roy Thomas-scripted tales that took well over the normal 20 minutes to read.  At 23 pages in length, it was a bit wordy, not boring, with enough plot twists and scene changes to keep it rolling along.  You'll notice that the creators kept a couple of now-important elements out of this origin story.  First, there is no training with Eastern mystics and martial artists.  Second, this is a Batman sans the sidearm that he carried very early on in the 1930's.  The art is simply stellar.  The Rogers/Austin team just pulls out all the stops, making this story have a real Golden Age feel to it; the costuming of the characters in the story is spot-on for the WWII period.  Terry Austin's linework evokes Vinnie Colletta -- sort of soft, feathery even.  It's really nice.  And these two can certainly draw a beautiful lady; of course they are best known for their Bronze Age Bat-girlfriend Silver St. Cloud; this Julie Madison is every bit as gorgeous (and in the 4th panel above, we see Marshall Rogers teasing us with a sexy see-through look he'd use a few years later when drawing Shalla Bal in the revived Silver Surfer mag).  Austin puts so much effort into these pages, that the times when your eye sees zipatone, it's actually the inking.  Outstandingly crafted.  And who draws the Batman's cape better?  No one.  Great stuff!

BONUS:  Because I care, and I do, here's a look at the first appearance of Julie Madison from Detective Comics #31 (September 1939).  She first shows up in only the fifth appearance of the Batman, and is billed as his fiancee.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Discuss: Star Trek: The Next Generation

Karen: What do you think of the second series, Star Trek: The Next Generation? You can discuss it on its own terms, and also how it compares to the original Star Trek.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Who's the Best... 100th Issue?

Doug:  Again, forgive the grammar.  You can dip into the Silver Age, or even bring it forward past the 1980's.  What's your favorite 100th issue, any title, any company (by the way -- great minds think alike, as this was already scheduled before some of the comments in last week's #1 post)?  And if you'd like a bit more of an in-depth review to help you make your decision, check out frequent commenter Comicsfan's blog for his take on several Marvel Comics #100s.  Hey, who says this isn't the Age of Bronze Age Blogger Cross-Pollination?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Under Siege: Avengers 277

Avengers #277 (March 1987)
"The Price of Victory"
Writer:  Roger Stern
Pencils:  John Buscema
Inks:  Tom Palmer

Karen: Welcome to the conclusion of our look at the storyline collectively known as "Under Siege," certainly one of the most popular Avengers' sagas and one we've enjoyed reviewing here at BAB. At the end of last issue, our heroes had regrouped and were starting to turn the tide, but then Goliath began tossing Thor around, and Zemo Jr. looked like he might use the mentally unhinged Blackout to send the entire team  "to the cornfield" (a No-Prize to whomever gets that reference)! 

Karen: This issue picks up with a very over-confident Goliath learning that Thor is quite accustomed to bringing down giants. The thunder god smashes his captor's finger with Mjolnir and then knocks him over, sending them both tumbling down to the lower level of the mansion. The Wrecker then appears and comes after Cap, thinking him easy prey, especially without his shield. The thug is more powerful than ever, as Thor had been in the process of removing the Wrecking Crew's Asgardian-derived powers and had channeled their magic back through the Wrecker himself -now he has all of the mystical energy of the entire gang! Cap realizes he's in for a fight.

Doug:  The splash page with Goliath actually standing on the floor below, with his torso a level up and holding Thor, was an interesting perspective.  The background serves to show the reader the destruction of the mansion that has already taken place.  I love in the Cap/Wrecker scene two one-liners from our hero:  one is the obligatory cliche' "He's faster... more powerful than I remember!" (second only to "I've never seen anyone move so fast!", spoken by just about every hero in the Marvel Universe at one time or another), while the other is a great bit of Cap-characterization:  "He's four times as strong now!  I'm going to have my hands full!"  Attaboy Cap -- no shield, no big deal.  We'll get through this!

Karen: Two levels below, the Wasp, Ant-Man, and the injured Black Knight watch over the badly wounded Jarvis, who desperately needs medical attention. The Wasp tells the men to stay with Jarvis until she can bring help, but the Knight stubbornly insists on coming with her. He's still teed off about her seeming romantic disinterest in him a few issues prior. They manage to break through the debris blocking their way only to find Thor and Goliath going at it. Thor spots his team-mates before the giant does and tries to distract him, before he notices them and tries to go after them. Thor somehow whispers to Jan to go help Cap, fighting above. Really, how the heck does he manage to whisper to her in the middle of battle? Ah well, it's probably another of Mjolnir's powers...

Doug:  It seems the running theme of this storyline is 
the maturity and independence of the Wasp.  While we can no doubt chalk it up to the "heat of the battle", Jan is quite brusque with the Knight -- rather callously putting him in his place.  This is no ditzy socialite we're dealing with here, but a woman leading her team as capably as would Cap or Iron Man.  This Wasp makes snap decisions that are not only right, but ones she stands by.  And the Knight really comes off looking like a lovesick fool.  As I recall, he didn't look so hot later in the series when Sersi arrives, but my memories are admittedly foggy on that era (I resisted the temptation to refer to that period as the "bomber jacket era".  Oh, wait -- I just did!).  Hey, on the docket for sometime late in the spring is a review of Avengers #'s 139-140.  I'll tell you right now that one of the problems I'll comment on is the inconsistency of height as depicted by penciller George Tuska once YJ starts his out-of-control growth.  That is not present anywhere in this story with Goliath.  He's very consistently drawn, with some great visuals along the way, such as his arm falling through a wall.  No troubles with scale at all.  However, scale is certainly an issue with the whispering, as it would appear there's about 20 feet separating Thor and the Wasp, as well as a height differential.  And... that Thor's head is turned away from Janet would make Asgardian ventriloquism the only acceptable answer to this quandary.  Perhaps the God of Thunder had frequented the wares sold in the midst of Silver Age Marvel Comics?

Karen: I can only assume there was a little artist-writer miscommunication here. 

Karen: You gotta love Cap. Even when vastly outmatched, he's always in the fight. He watches the Wrecker and realizes he's just  a brawler. Cap feints and draws the Wrecker to make a wild lunge, which causes him to bring part of the roof down on himself. This would stop most villains, but not the souped-up Wrecker. As Cap starts to walk away, the Wrecker crawls out of the pile and tells Cap he's going to make him eat his crowbar!

Doug:  You know, when I see a guy get a building dumped on him and then he bursts up through the rubble (or even when Hercules got all of the metal wrapped around him back in #274), I always think how hard his skin must be, because there's never a mark. Well, and how nicely their clothing must be tailored, because it never rips either.

Karen: While everything is occurring in the mansion, Zemo has made his way to the roof, preparing to escape via his ship. We get a repeat of the scene from last issue, where he zaps Dr. Druid with his stun gun, and begins to work on the deranged Blackout, trying to get him to use his powers over the darkforce to send the Avengers and what's left of the mansion away into that mysterious dimension. But Dr. Druid, although paralyzed, reaches out telepathically to Blackout, and tells him to resist Zemo, that Zemo doesn't care at all about him but only wishes to use his powers. It works -Blackout begins to resist, and this frustrates Zemo, who snaps at Blackout, demanding that he obey!

Doug:  This scene sort of plays out like the end of Return of the Jedi, doesn't it?  Struggle for control, lots of lightning-looking energy, etc.

Karen: You're right, all we needed was wrinkles and cackling. Back inside, Cap's doing his best to hold off the Wrecker when Thor and Goliath come rampaging into the area. Thor seems to be getting the better of his titanic foe, so Goliath decides to sprout up another story or so, bursting through to the next level of the mansion! The poor place is literally being torn apart.This causes the hangar deck to collapse and sends the villainous Yellowjacket sprawling. The Wasp arrives and gives Cap a hand with Wrecker, stunning him with her stings, while a blow from Thor's hammer sends Goliath tumbling on top of the Wrecker, taking down both bad guys. A squad of Army Rangers arrive to assist but Cap waves the men off -it's too dangerous, as most of the mansion has collapsed or is about to. In a gaping cavern below them,  Zemo's ship has fallen, and with it Yellowjacket, who quickly sizes things up and surrenders.

Doug:  How strong must Goliath be?  As Cap says, he bursts right up through a level that was reinforced to hold the quinjets, and he goes head first!  Additionally, just counting what is actually shown, he's taken four blows to the face from Mjolnir.  That should be some serious damage to the ol' noggin!  So I'm thinking that, at least as Stern/Buscema/Palmer characterize him, this version of Goliath (again, nee Power Man) must be almost to Hulk strength -- or at least heading toward that level of durability.

Karen: Back on the roof, Zemo continues to struggle with Blackout, using cybernetic control devices in his mask to try to overpower the madman's brainwaves. The effort is too much for Blackout, and he collapses. Zemo rushes over only to discover the man is dead. Dr. Druid, recovered from his paralysis, explains that it was a massive cerebral hemorrhage that killed him- all due to Blackout's tremendous resistance to being used by Zemo. Captain Marvel arrives, more than a little angry at Zemo, and he attempts to shoot her, but she easily melts his guns. Cap and the Wasp then join them on the roof, and Cap tells the rest of the Avengers he'll handle Zemo. The other Avengers leave, and it's just Cap and the son of one of his oldest foes. Zemo tries to attack Cap with his own shield, but he easily dodges it. As they fight, Zemo tries to blame Cap for what happened to his father and his family, but Cap's not buying it. Bucky's death still wounds him deeply, and Zemo's attack on the Avengers has Cap furious. Zemo still can't understand why all the things he did to Cap didn't make him break. "I've known torture, Zemo. I've endured the worst the Third Reich had to offer. If there's one thing life has taught me, it's never to give up!" OK, call me hokey, but I love heroic speeches like that. Cap continues to say that seeing Jarvis tortured only made him more determined to avenge him. And with that, he clobbers Zemo with a left round house to the jaw. Zemo desperately tries to throw Cap's shield at him, but he plucks it one-handed from the air, and then hauls the villain up by the shirt. Zemo asks, "Will you kill me, as you murdered my father?" Cap explains that the original Baron Zemo's death was caused by Zemo himself, but his son doesn't want to hear it. He springs at Cap, who blocks the blow, and then Zemo stumbles, and teeters over the edge of the roof. Cap tries to grab him , but he falls and lands hard on the ground below. This whole sequence really seems to epitomize Cap to me. It also reminded me of the sequence in Avengers vol. 3 when Cap fought Kang all by himself. I'm sure Kurt Busiek must have been aware of this scene when he wrote that.

Doug:  Once the jig was up, Zemo began to cower, didn't he?  When Monica melted his guns and he immediately raised Cap's shield, offense wasn't on his mind.  He was looking for the best way out.  When Cap faces him, alone, you can still sense Zemo's desperation.  At that point he's devolved to crying about his foiled plans.  It sort of smacks of stereotypical over-the-top comic book villains, but you know what?  It seems wholly appropriate here, and Stern pulls it off.  Cap remains stoic even while recounting the losses he's faced at Zemo's (or his father's) hands.  I loved the panels when Zemo maniacally hurled the shield at Cap, and Cap catches it so nonchalantly, as he's done a million times before. Hey, in the last issue our commenters brought up the lack of violence by sword-wielding characters in four-color comics.  In that vein, Buscema/Palmer do a very subtle job of showing the brutality of Zemo's landing.  We see that his back is bent over a large chunk of masonry, and his right ankle appears to be either broken or at least dislocated.  If he's dead, it was a painful end.

Karen: The depowered Wrecking Crew are hauled off by the police and both Jarvis and the Knight are taken to the hospital. Zemo is said to be "perhaps fatally injured" and Moonstone suffered a broken neck, although little spinal cord damage. As all the injured are taken away, Captain Marvel wonders, "Where's Cap?" She finds him alone in the mansion. In one of the most memorable scenes from any Avengers comic, we see Cap at his most human, and most vulnerable: on his knees, holding the bits and pieces of the photos shredded by Zemo and Hyde. Captain Marvel is clearly stunned to see Cap this way. As he raises his face to look at her, we see he is crying. "I didn't think it would hurt, Monica. Zemo took pictures from my footlocker and tore them up before my eyes... and then it didn't matter...not then. The Avengers were in danger, lives were at stake...for all I cared, Zemo might have been ripping up old train schedules. But...but now...This was the only picture I ever had of my mother...She didn't like having her picture taken...and now...gone...trashed like everything else." She's never seen Cap like this, and neither have we. It's moving. Cap feels somewhat ashamed to be crying over pictures when his comrades are in the hospital. But Monica reassures him. It's not just pictures he's grieving over -it's his past. It's the sense of violation he's feeling. But she tells him that they're the Avengers. They'll get past this. They have too many people depending on them for them not to. And with that, they both walk back out into the light, facing the task of picking up and starting over.

Doug:  In regard to the scene with Cap, this filled out a personal triptych of heart-warming/wrenching humanistic comics in the mid-1980's.  Beginning with Amazing Spider-Man #248 (January 1984), and moving into Fantastic Four #285 (December 1985), and then to this book (March 1987).  From "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man" to "Hero" to this scene with Cap, we got to see our heroes as real people with real emotions.  Maybe not coincidentally, the bookend stories were both written by Roger Stern.  I agree with you -- it's one of the most memorable moments in the Avengers canon.

Karen: This story had an epic feel without an epic scale. It all played out inside Avengers mansion  but the epic quality of it comes from the emotional aspect of it. There are wonderful character moments, and of course the art was top notch. It's not hard to see why "Under Siege" consistently ranks as one of the favorite Avengers stories of all time.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Who's the Best... Super-Hero Team?

Doug:  It's been awhile since we had this conversation.  I do believe the last time we had it we were working off some fanboy list that had Gen-13 (?!?) in some Top 10.  Egad...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

G.I. Joe: 12" fighting man or 4" American hero?

Karen: Today we look at an American classic, G.I Joe. But wait -which version rules? The original 12" moveable fighting man, or the 3 3/4" real American Hero?

Karen: As a child of the 60s and 70s, I have to give my respects to the original. Why, he's worth three of those puny, gaudy latecomers! The original Joe had all the coolest gear. And in the 70s, he figured out how to grow a beard! He was a bad mutha...

Karen: But I know some of you later Bronze Age babies love your tiny titans. And certainly that line from the 80s was colorful and varied. Of course, they also had their own cartoon. 

Karen: So sound off: support your favorite plastic soldier!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Praising the Best #1 Issue

Doug:  Today we're looking for nominations and discussion on the very best #1 issues of all time.  Any company, any era -- if the cover has a big ol' 1 in the corner, it's fair game for discussion.  But I hear some among you saying "what about Journey Into Mystery #83, or X-Men #94?"  Nope -- today we're going to stick with bona fide first issues.  To your advantage in regard to DCs, this does allow you to discuss Justice League of America #1 instead of The Brave and the Bold #28.

Doug:  For example, some have said that Avengers #1 was a weak story, largely not caring for elements like the Hulk in the clown suit and/or the two weakest Avengers (Ant-Man and the Wasp) saving the day.  But I'll give you this -- if you want to declare that Avengers King-Size Special #1 is the best of the lot, go right ahead.

Doug:  So I hope your thinking is complicated just a bit with these parameters.  The goal is not to... well, yes it is -- I'm just trying to be a pain-in-the-butt.  Stick with #1 issues, and tell us what your favorite all-timer is in that narrow category.  And have fun out there!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Discuss: Movie Themes of the 1970's

Doug:  Instrumentals or with vocals (Blondie's Call Me from American Gigolo?) -- all are fair game today!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Discuss: Star Trek (the original series)

Karen: OK. let's hear it: share your thoughts, feelings, and observations on the original Star Trek series (just the TV show, not the films that came after).

Monday, February 18, 2013

Under Siege: Avengers 276

Avengers #276 (February 1987)
Roger Stern-John Buscema/Tom Palmer

Doug:  I'm not messing around with these guys you see above.  But wait -- Dr. Druid?  Ugh.  Remember when we had the post last week asking where your jumping off point was for certain titles?  Well, while Dr. Druid certainly proves helpful in the concluding two issues of this story, he was part of my personal "beginning of the end" in terms of my love for this title.  I like Mantis, but for all of you out there who don't?  Dr. Druid is my "Mantis" -- see what I'm saying now?

Karen: It truly is an enigma how this guy ever wound up on the team. Really, was he anybody's favorite?

Doug:  We pick the story up back at the hospital where Hercules lay in a coma, suffered from the beating he sustained in Avengers #274.  The Wasp and Ant-Man (Scott Lang) despatched Titania and the Absorbing Man the previous issue and are being interviewed by the police.  Jan is burning to make the whole situation right, and with Lang's offer of help flies off to pursue a plan.  As we remarked previously (and our readers blew up the comments section on that post), Roger Stern has really deepened the personality of Janet Van Dyne, and I like it.  The subtle bits of characterization that we'll find in these last two issues, of Thor and Cap deferring to her leadership, are great pieces of the overall puzzle that has been the creation of this richer Wasp.

Karen: She's as take charge as any male leader but still seems to be the same character, somehow. I don't know if part of it is my willingness to accept the change, since I never liked the Wasp's flighty personality, but I bought into the idea that this really was just a more mature Janet Van Dyne here.

Doug:  Back at the Mansion, Mr. Hyde continues to give Jarvis a brutal beating, laughing about it the whole time.  Cap and the Black Knight, both still bound, are forced to watch... and listen.  Dane continues to try to reach his ebony blade mentally; but the Fixer's stasis field holds both the sword and Cap's shield.  Outside, the U.S. Army has gathered and headquartered in Central Park.  Jan and Ant-Man meet with the commanding officer, and the three of them mull strategies.  Jan asks for time, and to be allowed to do things her way.  With few options, the Colonel agrees.  Jan tries to raise Thor, using the biggest cell phone ever invented, but finds him unavailable.  We then shift scenes to the dark dimension that holds Captain Marvel.  She continues to fly around, looking for some way out.  As we saw last issue, she was drawn to a pinpoint of white light, only to see it disappear as she drew near.  But again this issue, she sees one.  Launching herself toward it, we then immediately scene shift to a dock in San Francisco of all places!  The Shroud, he of Super-Villain Team-Up fame,  has a baddie cornered.  As the Shroud begins to emit his Darkness, who should suddenly blast out of the inky mists but Marvel?!  Stunned, she is helped to her feet by the Shroud, and they quickly deduce that the Darkness that the Shroud taps into must be the same dimensional force used by Blackout.

Karen: Jarvis must be a pretty tough guy, because Hyde really seems to be whaling away on him. Even though very little is shown, it's still hard to take, as we mentioned last time. The gigantic cell phone was just a sign of the times. I remember those bricks! No wonder so few people were interested in having a phone back then. But I didn't recall that the Shroud had the ability to manipulate the darkforce. I had to go back and read the Wiki entry on him to see that he gained that power later on in his career. I guess it was appropriate for the character.

Doug:  I remember really liking the Shroud back in 1970-whatever, but man, on those SVTU re-reads was it disappointing.  Time was definitely not kind in this guy's eyes!

Doug:  We then look in on a Dr. Anthony Druid and his personal secretary.  Druid is concerned about the news of the Avengers Mansion takeover, and decides to attempt to clear his mind and learn what he can.  He picks up on Dane Whitman's efforts to reunite with the sword, and having seen the dark force surrounding the Mansion soon changes into his "fightin' duds".  Back at the army camp, Ant-Man and the Wasp are doing a little crying in the coffee as they commiserate about all of their strike-outs for assistance -- no West Coast Avengers, no Fantastic Four, no Vision and Scarlet Witch, no Falcon.  Just as they decide they'll attempt to scour the city for the likes of Spider-Man and Daredevil, Captain Marvel arrives.  As she tells them about her ordeal, who should literally walk up but the God of Thunder.  Alriiiiiight...


Karen: The shot of Druid's eyes and the image of the Knight above them was pure Buscema to me. Did ol' Doctor D seem like a huge dude -I mean tall and big -to you? He looked about 6'6" when he stormed out! It's a bit hard to believe that Wasp and Ant-Man were having such poor luck getting a hold of anyone -are there no telephones in Wakanda? - but it was good to see Thor show up, even with that silly beard.

Doug:  Well if he's that big, then he's that ugly, too.  And I remember the Panther's cool entrance in issue #159 when they were fighting Graviton for the first time.

Doug:  Inside the Mansion, the thugs continue to loot the place.  Moonstone finds every opportunity to be alone with Blackout, continuing to attempt to sway his loyalty from Zemo to her.  No dice.   In the Assembly room, Hyde holds up the nearly-dead Jarvis and gloats to Cap and the Knight.  In a control room, Zemo oversees Yellowjacket and the Fixer as they attempt to steal the memory discs from the Avengers' mainframe.  Suddenly the lights go out, alarming Zemo.  The Fixer moves quickly to find the source of the problem.  Oops -- when the power went out, so did the field locking down the Avengers' weapons.  The sword is gone!  Now possessing the ebony blade, the Knight frees himself and Cap, while Hyde bellows threats.  Using the darkness for stealth, the Knight and Cap mete out their revenge against Hyde, frustrating him into an even deeper mad rage.  Captain Marvel suddenly materializes through the floor, followed by the Wasp and Thor.  Hyde is knocked out while trying to head butt Thor.  This was during the time when Thor's bones were becoming brittle, if memory serves.  If I also recall, the Thunder God would soon have to wear a special suit of armor to protect his degenerating condition.

Karen: I believe you are correct, amigo. It did give me a little smile to see that Thor didn't have to raise a finger to stop Hyde-he just stood there and let him knock himself out! How was Hyde ever a major Thor villain? Of course, all our heroes seem to get more and more powerful over the years, but the villains -particularly the grade C listers -don't keep up.

Doug:  You ask how Hyde was a big-time baddie?  Because his partner was the Cobra.  Duh...  OK, I'll admit I almost laughed out loud while typing that.

Karen: Yeah, I was thinking about that partnership too. What an unbeatable combo. If you're Ka-Zar, maybe.

Doug:  Now the tide begins to turn.  The Avengers reunite to inspect the damage done to Jarvis.  Thor swears revenge as Yellowjacket eavesdrops.  She scurries back to Zemo and tells him of the danger the Masters are now in.  Zemo decides to flee immediately, leaving everyone to their own devices.  He takes YJ with him.  Outside, Dr. Druid has arrived at the Mansion, cloaking himself from the notice of the assembled soldiers.   He contacts Blackout and orders him to remove the darkforce cube that has encased the Mansion.  It falls, and Druid enters the grounds.  Inside, Ant-Man has snuck up on the Fixer and KO's him with one punch!  There's a cool moment back in the Assembly room, as Jarvis has been laid prone on the meeting table.  Thor looks at him, and in what at least to my ears appears to be Dr. Don Blake's voice, examines and passes judgement on the condition of the Avengers' faithful servant.

Karen: Seems like they were still getting some mileage out of the Blake identity, at least in moments like these. Ant-Man's one punch takedown of the Fixer was also great fun.The way poor Jarvis was drawn, with his shirt shredded, you'd think he'd been attacked by a wild animal. Then again, the way Hyde was drawn, I suppose he was.

Doug:  Jan begins to give the team orders, when Captain Marvel reports back from her tour of the building.  She reports that the trouble will arrive, and soon.  And wouldn't you know it?  It's Cap, unarmed, who takes the battle to the Wrecking Crew.  Thor quickly follows, and using Mjolnir removes the Asgardian enchantments the group had received from Karnilla.  But, in removing the magic, it had to be channeled through the Wrecker -- more on that later.  There's no time to gloat, however, as Goliath grabs Thor's cape from behind and begins to swing the Son of Odin back and forth, each time striking his body against the floor.  Remember, this Goliath was once Power Man, and is infinitely stronger than Hank Pym or Clint Barton ever were with the growth serum.  Outside, Druid has levitated to the roof, where he encounters Moonstone, in one last gasp to wrest control of Blackout's mind from Zemo.  But as Druid arrives, so does Captain Marvel.  Moonstone hurls Blackout toward Marvel, and takes to the skies in an effort to flee.  Monica gives chase, cutting off Moonstone's path time and again.  They dodge and dart, until Moonstone suddenly crash lands, head first, into the rocky banks of a river.

Karen: That's a good point about this Goliath being stronger -I hadn't thought of that but I do believe you are right. He really tosses the thunder god around like a rag doll, and the expression of shock on Cap's face says it all. It's rather convenient though, that Thor is able to steal back the Norn power from the Wrecking Crew. Not that it isn't in line with dozens of Lee/Kirby era stories, as far as the miraculous powers wrapped up in Mjolnir. But it does wipe the battlefield of about half the bad guys!

Doug:  Druid has moved near to Blackout as Zemo and Yellowjacket emerge from the stairs.  Zemo shoots Druid with a stun gun, dropping the mental mage.  Zemo helps Blackout to his feet, and tells him that enemies are all around.  At the river, Captain Marvel inspects Moonstone's condition.  She's paralyzed, apparently, but tells Marvel that it's Baron Zemo who controls Blackout.  On the Mansion's roof, Zemo implores Blackout to send the Mansion and all of their enemies... into the dark dimension!

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