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!


Edo Bosnar said...

Having read the entire last part of Stern's run on the Avengers for the first time just recently, I have to say I don't mind Dr. Druid here at all. He's not a great character by any stretch of the imagination (and certainly not my favorite), but Stern really put him to good use here and in the following stories. In fact, I think Stern could have taken an entire team of B- and C-listers and turned it into a compelling read.
As for the Shroud and the darkforce, I think it was established somewhere in the early '80s (maybe in the Marvel Universe Handbook?) that Darkstar, Cloak, Shroud, and anybody else with 'darkness generating' power was tapping the darkforce dimension.
By the way, as cool as that cover is, I always thought there was something a bit comical about it as well. I finally figured out why when I remembered this old Sniffles cartoon:
Go to about 2:52 and I think you'll see what I mean...

dbutler16 said...

Yeah, washed up Power Man became Power Man/Goliath in Iron Man Annual #7 (1984) thanks to some mad scientist for whom he was supposed to work for six months to pay off that debt, but the scientist only got squashed by our ingrate for his troubles. In that issue, written by Bob Harras, it took Iron Man, Wonder Man (who's gone toe-to-toe with Thor as he often reminds us), and Hawkeye to defeat him, and even then it was not through brute force but through trickery. Even more shocking, it was Wonder Man who came up with the plan. Sometimes I think writers forget he was an inventor when he first appeared.

Anyway, I, along with Edo Bosnar, didn't mind Dr Druid. I think some people hold it against him that a fat, bald guy is a member of the Avengers. Then there's that little thing about betraying the Avengers, but that comes well after this.

Speaking of, I was torn between voting for Moondragon and Tigra in the poll to the left, but decided on Tigra. I didn't like Moondragon, but at least she was interesting. I found Tigra fairly useless, plus I didn't like her personality and he struggle between being human and anmial just didn't capture my interest. It's a good tihng Dr Druid wwasn't on this poll, though!

Bruce said...

The scene where Cap & Black Knight have to watch Jarvis getting brutalized is chilling - and so effective in selling this story.

I really enjoy how Roger Stern incorporated Dr. Druid into the Avengers. Druid is a pompous, conniving jerk and adding him to the team created some intriguing internal tension. No, he isn't likable - but I think that's the point!

Inkstained Wretch said...

Dr. Druid... I am on record saying he was a dud too. Not changing that now either, though Bruce makes a good point about him as a plot device.

If I recall correctly he was a character from the very earliest Lee/Kirby anthology title days, who made occasional modern appearances for nostalgia's sake. I recall he appeared in Avengers #225-226, the issues that revived the Black Knight as well.

The Black Knight is another one I'm not overly fond of, though I had a hard time figuring out why. I think I just realized what it is: Having a character with a sword who cannot actually slash or cut an opponent is kind of pointless. I mean, this isn't a Conan title. The Black Knight cannot actually, say, lop off a villain's head.

The Shroud, as I recall, had the "darkforce" powers at least as early as the original West Coast Avengers mini-series. Not sure when the change was made though. Now there would have been a good character to have as an avenger instead of Dr. Druid...

Thor's appearance here was truly a "The cavalry has arrived" moment. Did Thor's brittle bones really happen at this point? I'm not sure but I think that happened a little after.

Hyde was originally a Thor baddie, along with, yes, the Cobra because "cobra powers' are what you want when taking on the Asgardian God of Thunder (ah, the Silver Age!). Interestingly, between the first and second volumes of the Marvel Universe Hyde's strength level was drastically upgraded. He went from being able to lift 11 tons to 50 tons. Still didn't help him much against Thor though...

I have to say I really dig the art of these issues. I think there have been some complaints that Palmer's inks were excessive, but I like the result here. It reminds me a lot of Jerry Ordway's art, which I am a big fan of.

Karen said...

I did a very brief review of Dr. Druid's first appearance (although he was Dr. Droom back then) in this post (, where I reviewed Weird Wonder Tales 19, a reprint of Amazing Adventures 1. It was a Lee/Ditko production and pretty much a dry run for Dr. Strange. Not sure when and where he was first brought back though, perhaps it was in the Avengers. While Dr. Druid is not a great character unto himself, he does add some fuel to the fire, much like Mantis or Moondragon.

I agree with Inkstained, sword wielding heroes never made any sense to me, as they always have to use the flat of their blade. Why not just get a mace then? On the other hand, a sword wielding villain makes perfect sense! But I have always dug the Knight's costume. Great colors and design.

Doug said...

Count me among the anti-sword wielders as having a viable power. Good thing Valkyrie was able to kick some but without Dragonfang.

And yes, I know Druid was an able plot device. Let's just say the characterization worked on me, because I just found him a "love to hate" sort of guy. Even here, when he's saving the day (and next issue) he's quite pompous. But I do like the nod to Marvel's earliest Silver Age "hero". It just took Stan and Jack another couple of months to get rolling.

dbutler, in regard to the poll I cut it off at 1985, hence the omission of the Doctor. You know I'd have voted for him had I included him (I did vote for Moondragon, and again -- she basically serves the same plot purposes as Druid. Who can forget that two issue lecture she gave Thor?).


Doug said...

That would be Valkyrie kicking fannies, not conjunctions as previously stated.

Mind or fingers -- which to blame?


William said...

To me, "Under Siege" was one of the last great Avengers stories ever done. I can't really find anything after it that I would consider a true classic. (Correct me if I'm wrong). Busiek and Perez tried to revive the Avengers a few years back, but I thought they really dropped the ball. The art was great, of course, but I thought Busiek went a little off the reservation with the writing, IMO.

Anyway, back to this story. I really loved this one because I love the Masters of Evil. (How could you not love a group that would call THEMSELVES evil)? I had a chance to pick up the trade paperback a few years ago at Megacon in Orlando, for 50% Off (about $8.00) but I had just reread the story a couple of weeks before that, so I passed on the trade. I really regret that decision because it's a book I'd like to own now, and the collected volumes go for a pretty penny these days. Even the recently released hardcover. Oh well, you live and learn I guess.

Doug said...

William --

I think it's the scope of the "classic" Avengers stories that may set them apart from other stories within the series, or other important stories from other series. Now, you could of course argue that Fantastic Four was just one long space opera from the introduction of the Inhumans through the second Galactus story (Annuals included), but the Avengers seems marked by several long epics (with good stuff sprinkled throughout in between):

Kree/Skrull War
Celestial Madonna
Serpent Crown/Kang
Korvac Saga
Under Siege

For my money, those are the "classics". Yes, there are other great stories that are shorter in length, but the five I listed above are for me the mark of how great the Avengers were in the Bronze Age (and agreeably just beyond).


humanbelly said...

Yep, yep-- I couldn't stand Doc Druid either, but in retrospect, I think that qualifies as a "Mission Accomplished" for Roger Stern. There really seems to be a solid Avengers tradition of having at least one unlikable hero on the team, and that surely cannot be by accident. Off the top of my head: The Hulk, Quicksilver, Mantis, Moondragon, Dr. Druid, and Jack of Hearts. As opposed to being written badly, these characters seemed to have been purposely written as being folks that you'd rather not have lunch with. Essence of drama is conflict, right?

However, I don't think I ever recognized this device or convention until I read and considered the Severus Snape character in the Harry Potter series. An example, in the extreme, of a thoroughly unpleasant, unlikable, bloody-minded SOB. . . who was without question a full-blown hero- undeniably a "good-guy".

Now, unfortunately, Marvel couldn't leave that lesson well-enough alone, and most of the characters above went fully over to the dark side sooner or later. . . 'cause a writer just couldn't resist. . . which makes those characters far less interesting and complex.

A bit of tangent there, sorry-- just a couple o' cents. . .


david_b said...

Great column today. Doug, I'll see your list of great sagas, and raise you.. this cover.

Honestly it should be ranked in the Top Ten Avengers covers. It really screams out 'the tide has turned'.. No word balloons (another hallmark of the Stern/Buscema/Palmer tenure..), nothing, just a stellar cover.

As for the story this issue, I remembered I was quite relieved when Thor made his entrance. Over-all, just a well chaptered out tale, probably better executed than most of the other ones you listed Doug. Not too long, no other artists thrown in (like the KS War..), just a well-done story.

I remember scratchin' my head about Druid... Just couldn't understand WHY there needed to be a silly character like him, almost the 'token jerk'. Mantis I enjoyed, Moondragon was tolerable most times. Druid..?? Eh.

david_b said...

By the way, Doug, you DID forget the 'summer of '73'...?

Yes, the Avengers/Defenders Clash.

Probably my favorite of 'em all.

Doug said...

Gah! David, I stand corrected!

Man, I thought there was a gap there!

And hey, even though it was only a 4-parter, the Bride of Ultron should be on the list as well.

Thanks, sir!


Matt Celis said...

This One would take Doc Druid over Mantis any day. Aside from an ugly costume, This One found Doc Druid enjoyable and an interesting set of abilities to contrast with the other Avengera. This One seems to recall Doc Druid foing bad after Stern was thrown off the Avengers.
What might have been, wonders This One!

Edo Bosnar said...

I would add Nights of Wundagore to that list of Avengers sagas, as one of the shorter ones - although in fact issues 181-182 were actually sort of a prologue, so the whole thing is a respectable 5 issues. Also, just a few issues after Under Siege, the Assault on Olympus arc began - also quite an epic story (and, unfortunately, Stern's last on the title).

Bruce said...

No trying to steer the thread in a different direction, but I personally disagree with William re: the Busiek/Perez Avengers. To me, that was the last great Avengers run - and on par with anything from the Silver and Bronze ages.

Another great aspect of the "Under Siege" epic is that it segued into another great storyline, where Zeus blames the team for the injuries Hercules suffered at the hands of the Masters of Evil. Needless to say, The Avengers was on my "must-buy" list during this period!

david_b said...

Agreeing with Bruce on both counts here..

Having just gotten back into collecting a few titles after a decade long absence, I didn't have much confidence in 'current storylines' back when this came out, but it ended up quickly becoming my fav..

Shame it wasn't to last.

Comicsfan said...

Part of what makes this saga so memorable is that the Masters of Evil have executed their plan so well. They make for a formidable force against the Avengers--and Zemo has planned this operation by the numbers and made use of his forces proficiently. He also made excellent use of the intelligence he gathered, step-by-step (e.g., Hercules), which enabled him to predict the Avengers' actions and adjust his timetable accordingly. Were it not for his personal vendetta against Cap, he might have simply issued orders to kill the captured Avengers outright, ransack and destroy the mansion, and pick off the remaining Avengers as efficiently as he did the active members. His mistake was in underestimating the Wasp and leaving her free to marshal her forces--and of course he couldn't have predicted Captain Marvel's escape.

The earlier Masters of Evil group had its own plan as well as the power to back it up, allowing them as well to capture the Avengers and come within a hairsbreadth of victory--but again, its leader had his own agenda and pretty much threw the group to the wolves when things started to go bad. There's really nothing wrong with the Masters of Evil--a really cool group of villains, IMO--that couldn't be fixed by its leader keeping an eye on the finish line. Each of them--including Egghead, with his own group later--seems to forget that victory and vengeance can go hand-in-hand.

Humanbelly said...

Uhm. . .ComicsFan?
You're, uh, AWFULLY comfortable with that "Five Steps to Successful Supervillainry" mindset. Should we be keepin' an eye you-? Alerting the U.N.? Or perhaps the media?

Holy cow-- that meteor in Russia! That was YOU'RE doing, wasn't it-??!
Ohhhh, this is just chilling. . . chilling! Right here in our very midst-!

HB (headin' for the bomb shelter. . . )

Comicsfan said...

LOL--I wouldn't worry, HB, I don't seem to have the ear of these super-villains. (At least if Zemo's plunge from the roof of Avengers Mansion is any indication!)

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