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.


david_b said...

Hate to start off comments on this momentious issue with perhaps minor reflections (GREAT review, by the way..), but here goes.

That splash page title at top sure dates this issue (it looks more like a GI Joe splash, quite honestly..). The art..? Probably the best of the entire arc, this resolve is very satisfying and how epic the story concludes, it's told very much like a great movie, very cinematic, down to the action sequences, pauses, emotional scenes, you name it. Outstanding cover, probably considered in most folks's 'Top 20' Avengers cover lists.

With Cap's poignant ending scene, it comes near to generating the same sense of loss/emotion I felt during the Secret Empire saga a dozen years prior. But.., as a young gent in his mid-20s, did it resonate as well as the earlier story...? It came pretty darn close, and for a comic to have done that in the '80s, nearly done with college, that was no small feat.

As I mentioned a few issues ago, it's also highly effective that Stern/Buscema/Palmer carried it through start to finish.. If anything, this knocks the 'Kree-Skrull War' down a few notches for it's inconsistency.

In all good story-telling, the protagonist should feel some sense of growth out of what's going on around him, and this is definitely Jan's finest hour, with a nice touch for Cap as well. Too scarce in team books do you find any sufficient emotional impact in single characters. Luckily the team knew how to ice this cake with the right amount of emotional 'take-away'. I wish our current writing teams could embrace these examples more.

Inkstained Wretch said...

One thing that lingers about this story arc for me is that it is all about hate. That is the common thread.

Zemo isn't a crook trying to make a big financial score. He's not a megalomaniac trying to take over the world or make himself more powerful. He just wants to destroy the Avengers and especially break Captain America. That was it. No bigger point. No grander scheme. Dr. Doom or Magneto would have bothered with this.

To do it he surrounded himself mostly with a bunch of twisted, simple-minded thugs motivated by revenge as well.

What results is brutal and ugly. Pointless destruction, torture and attempts at murder. In the end all the bad guys accomplish is another defeat. One is crippled, two are dead, some lose their powers.

And all the Avengers get out of it is that they ... survive. Mostly. Hercules and Jarvis nearly die. The mansion is shattered. They don't save the world or rescue anyone or even stop an evil scheme that would have existed if they didn't also exist.

I guess that is why the bad guys called themselves the Masters of Evil.

William Preston said...

I'm just here for the No-Prize.

Billy Mumy. Twilight Zone. "It's a Good Life."

Edo Bosnar said...

I also really enjoyed your review (of this issue and the entire saga). You touched upon it in your review, and I just wanted to underscore it: I really liked the Captain America moments in this issue. Both in taking down the Wrecker and that rather sad ending. Stern really showed that he's one of the writers with the best - I don't know - 'feel' for Cap.
Inkstained's summary of this story is quite good, actually. It's basically the Avengers literally getting hit where they live, just for being themselves - nothing earth-shattering, nothing cosmic, yet Stern/Buscema/Palmer made it one of the best Avengers sagas ever. Needless to say, I had no trouble deciding which Masters of Evil story to pick in your latest poll...

Karen said...

William: Your no-prize will be winging its way to you in no-time.

As you've all mentioned, this is a much more personal story than many of the other big battles the team has had. I think the only other stories to rival it in terms of sheer emotionalism might be some of the confrontations with Ultron, who being, in a strange way, part of the family, always hits a raw nerve when he shows up.

J.A. Morris said...

Another excellent review, thanks to Karen & Doug for writing about this saga.

After several teams of villains who called themselves the Masters Of Evil, this group truly lived up to their name.

Garett said...

Not much to say, but thanks for the review. It makes me think I may pick up this TPB again. Good to see the Buscema art.

William Preston said...

My No-Prize already arrived! What service!

And this was a great review (and set of reviews), you two. I didn't have these issues, but you did a wonderful job detailing and commenting on them.

Doug said...

I really appreciate the compliments. Aware of the knowledge base of our readers, it truly means a lot. This is a wonderful peer group, and it is gratifying to know that we brought you some comic book joy in the midst of whatever passes for "life".


Anonymous said...

Excellent review Karen & Doug!

I had never read this story arc before but now I know why it's ranked as one of the best Avengers storylines ever! Cap breaking down in tears over his pictures and papers really highlighted the fact that he was a man out of time and had lost all those closest to him. The Avengers was the closest thing he had to a family, which was probably why the destruction of the mansion and the near deaths of Jarvis and Hercules really hit him hard.

- Mike 'when is the next Avengers movie coming out?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

humanbelly said...

Monica's counseling of Steve was so incredibly poignant and effective. In an arc filled with highly memorable moments, this one comes back to me very, very often. It's hard, of course, to truly make the "these-are-real-people" jump with superheroes. This scene does it more effectively than almost anything I can think of. Newbie Monica is just about as grounded a human being as you'll ever find-- she's herself first, and Captain Marvel second. Which puts her in a perfect position to help the spiritually-floundering Steve, who despite his unparalleled competence as a hero and leader, has almost always been entirely "Cap", with very little "Steve" experience to use as his personal foundation. The fact that Monica recognizes that, and can so gently and effectively address it is what made her a particular favorite of mine back then.


Inkstained Wretch said...

Err, I meant to say "Dr. Doom or Magneto wouldn't have bothered with this." Dang...

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