Monday, June 17, 2013

Titanic Troubles, Part 3: Avengers 125

Avengers #125 (July 1974)
"The Power of Babel!"
Writer:  Steve Englehart
Pencils:  John Buscema
Inks:  Dave Cockrum

Karen: Howdy readers. Before we dive in to our story, let's take a look at that cover. My first impression was that it was the work of John Romita Sr., and the Comic Book Database credits it to Romita, Dan Crespi (!), and Ron Wilson. I thought Crespi was primarily a letterer and production guy, so I'm not sure what his role was in the cover. But I think this is a bit of an odd cover -it looks like Thanos is about to swallow the Avengers' quinjet. Of all the covers in our series, this is probably my least favorite. However, the art inside is a real treat. John Buscema and Dave Cockrum make a dynamite team!

Doug:  It's funny you should say that it's your least favorite, because I've been given some thought to this very cover, marketing-wise lately.  As has been said, I've been using the The Avengers vs. Thanos tpb for my reading/scanning.  Whoever put that together approved the cover of MTIO Annual #2 (coming to this very blog in July, kids) as the front cover, and put the image above on the back cover.  Duh...  I might also have chosen the cover to Captain Marvel #31, although Thanos isn't on it.  But this one, if they were looking for some visual recognition in the general public, features Thanos, Thor, and Captain America.  I just don't get why they didn't use this for the front.  Oh well, water under the bridge...  And I think the GCD lists all creators of a given cover, so I would imagine you are correct in assuming that Crespi did the lettering.

Karen:  Our story begins with the wrap up of the Avengers' recent entanglement with Zodiac and Libra, and the efforts to discover Mantis' true origin. As Libra is escorted away by police, Captain America comes racing up on his motorcycle. Cap had been absent from the action with the Zodiac, as he was busy dealing with the Secret Empire in his own title (as Iron Man mentions). Shellhead congratulates Cap for vindicating himself of the charges against him, but Cap is not in a celebratory mood. Oddly enough, the Vision is the first to notice this! As Mantis heads off to the hospital to see the Swordsman, the rest go back into Avengers'
Mansion, where Cap tells Iron Man and the Black Panther that he needs to talk. Iron Man says sure and then insensitively begins to sing Mantis' praises! A buzzer goes off and the trio sees that there's someone at the door, and she has an official Avengers entry pass - in fact, it belongs to Rick Jones, Cap's former partner, and now the partner of Captain Marvel. Cap reaches the girl just as she collapses and mutters about a trap being set for Rick. Her last words before she loses consciousness are "Thanos...Thanos..." which leaves Cap puzzled.

Doug:  Buscema or Cockrum -- who do you see more?  To me, at times, it's both.  And the results of the amalgamation are really nice.  I enjoyed the two Giant-Size issues that Dave Cockrum would pencil in the "Celestial Madonna" arc.  As this predates his X-Men work, I'd say it was a nice way to cut his teeth on the Marvel side of things.

Doug:  I loved the line-up in this issue -- Iron Man, Thor, Cap, Black Panther, Vision and the Scarlet Witch, and Mantis and the Swordsman.  This was really a fun era for the team.  I really need to get myself into Englehart's early issues and refresh on the first appearances of Mantis and the Swordsman as a couple.  It's been way too long since I read those.  You mentioned Iron Man and the Vision above.  Doesn't Englehart have their characterization down perfectly?  Tony Stark is so self-absorbed, he's unable to give Cap the shoulder he needs; yet the Vision, ever-perceptive and ever-analytical, was the one who noticed that Cap was not himself.  Both vignettes are really short, but it's those nuggets that made Steve Englehart such a great pilot for these characters.   

Karen: The next page is a recap of events in Captain Marvel #25-32, at least the ones that affect the Avengers. The reader learns of Thanos and his attainment of the Cosmic Cube, and that he plans to conquer the galaxy. With a thought, he abducts Captain Marvel, Drax the Destroyer, Moondragon, and Iron Man, and transports them to Titan. But before the Avengers can react to this, they discover that Thanos has a space fleet  headed for Earth. With no time to lose, the team heads for space. Strangely enough, they go in two spacecraft: the ever-versatile quinjet, which transports Thor, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Mantis, the Swordsman, and Captain America, and then, in the confiscated Zodiac star cruiser, the Panther, oddly all by himself. The ships blast off from New York and soon travel all the way to our sun, where we see Thanos' fleet in a spectacular two-page spread, which to me looked very similar to Cockrum's depictions of space in the X-Men years later, especially the concentric circles that seemed to represent energy blasts.

Doug:  The recap of what has gone before was concise but o-so-dynamic visually!  You noted that the Panther flew solo in the Zodiac craft -- do you recall any other instances of contraband being appropriated by the victors?  Sure, the FF used Doc Doom's time platform, as have the Avengers.  But I'm trying to think of any sort of a craft like this that was taken over, and so soon.  It's a goofy-looking contraption, what with that big star on the nose.  The 2-page splash reminded me of the Chitauri entry in the Avengers flick a couple of summers ago.

Karen: Thor leaves the quinjet and launches his own attack on the enemy ships. I've always enjoyed seeing the thunder god in space action and he doesn't disappoint here, zapping ships with Mjolnir and tearing hulls open with his bare hands. The Panther runs interference -it seems that the Zodiac ship is larger than the quinjet and so it makes a better target. I still don't get why he would be in it alone, but hey! That's the way it is. Cap pilots the quinjet, which we learn has been modified since the Kree-Skrull War. The commander of Thanos' flagship begins to panic and puts in a call to his boss, who has now ascended to godhood. This startles the alien commander.  Thanos barks at him, saying his ships all have enough power to destroy the Earth, and to quit whining and get back to business. Of course, right as Thanos hangs up, who should come ripping through the hull but Thor?

Doug:  The space battle was frantic, and you're right -- Thor was taking no prisoners and it was awesome.  His entrance into the ship is akin to his greeting made to Ultron years later under Busiek/Perez.  I guess I shouldn't ask how he can survive in space with no protection, since it doesn't appear that Asgard has an atmosphere anyway.  I have noticed throughout our now-three issues that Thanos employs just about any alien race out there.  I've spotted a Badoon, and we'll see a Skrull get his from Ms. Wanda a bit later.  Should we infer that all aliens are crooked?  

Karen: The battle rages on in space, and we see some of Thanos' ships crashing to Earth. Wait a minute -- weren't they fighting out near the sun? That's a long ways away from Earth! OK, OK, I'll let it go as artistic license. The Panther discovers an area of space that is completely pitch black -- there are no stars or anything else visible through it. He correctly surmises that there is some sort of force field hiding something there. He can't blast through it either. He calls the quinjet and quickly the team decides they have to investigate. The Vision takes the lead, and snaps at a brooding Swordsman to get his head into the game. The Swordsman then begins accusing the synthozoid of coveting his girlfriend, Mantis. The Vision coolly says he won't even dignify that with a response, but then Mantis has to jump in and ask if the Vision has praised her to the Swordsman, and this makes Wanda look like she's about to have a heart attack. All this soap opera in the middle of a cosmic saga!

Doug:  Obviously we know what's to come with the love quadrangle, but this chipping back and forth at each other was a favorite part of the story for me.  As you say, it's the mundane in the midst of the chaos that so humanizes these fantastic characters.  You really wonder what an artificial man like the Vision, with his computer brain, really thought of all of this emotional wreckage.  The push-and-pull within his psyche was a great, long-running subplot of the Englehart era, which I felt really paid off in issue #136 when we got what I consider to be the Vision's true origin.  The Swordsman was a great character, wasn't he?  I know some of our readers have expressed disdain for sword-wielding heroes in general, and I'll readily admit that he's on a different power level than his Avenging mates... But he was such a loveable loser and it was great to watch him evolve, having been in the book since darned near the very beginning!

Karen: He had a solid story arc.Eventually the four of them exit the ship (I bet Cap was happy to stay behind and pilot the quinjet) to investigate the black force field. They must have borrowed the Legion's trans-suits, because it looks like they are essentially in their costues and wearing fishbowl helmets. The Vision does mention 'plasti-garb' though. In any case, Wanda's hex power manages to weaken the force field enough for the foursome to enter. Once through, they see what it concealed -- a massive starship, dwarfing anything they had seen before! The Vision opens an airlock and they move inside, where they are
immediately attacked by alien troops. The bickering between the team-mates continues, but they manage to make quick work of their foes. The Vision deduces that the craft is actually one gigantic machine. He sees a device with English writing on it ("Universal Language Equalizer"), but Mantis claims the writing is in Vietnamese. Vizh quickly realizes that the machine must be translating all of the different alien languages that the crew men speak so that they can all work together. He also finds another control for the force field (did it remind you at all of the old Batman TV show, where everything had a switch and a big label?). Vision shuts off the field and they leave the ship, and contact Cap and Panther, who blast the alien ship into nothingness.

Doug:  Just to show our readers that Karen and I are generally on the same wavelength, here is a line that I've cut from a paragraph above, immediately after I'd written about Thor in space with no protection:  "I thought there was a nod to the Legion's transuits a bit later when the Vision remarked to his team about their plastigarb covering."  Since I did the same thing a couple of weeks ago, forcing Karen to slightly amend a comment, I'll just paste that here!  You see, whenever she frames the post, I just go paragraph by paragraph, adding in my two cents.  I guess I should read ahead!

Doug:  The Swordsman really cut loose -- I'm sure he was getting rid of some aggression directed at another person in the room, huh?  I really liked the idea of the big ship serving as some sort of translation hub, but you nailed it when you likened the execution of the premise to the Batman show!

Karen: With their translator ship destroyed, none of Thanos' thralls can understand each other. The invaders' ships begin to crash into each other and destroy one another. Back on the quinjet, Thor rejoices in the victory, saying that soon they will take down Thanos himself, but Cap cautions him from being so sure. Mantis also joins in, saying that her natural empathy has allowed her to sense increased danger. The Scarlet Witch chides her for this, but the Vision himself says that given the power of the Cosmic Cube, Thanos' power could be far greater than what they have seen. All good and well, right? Here's the bizarre part: as the Avengers land on the roof of the mansion, who is hiding behind the chimney but Thanos?! Yes, the Titan who has become a God is sneaking around on the rooftop, listening in to the Avengers' discussion! This is the one thing that really felt off in this issue. Thanos overhears the Avengers talking, and thinks that he sacrificed his space fleet as part of his master plan. I think they could have left this bit out entirely. The story concludes in Captain Marvel #33, we are told (and we'll review that next week).

Doug:  One could write off the scene with Thanos lurking in the shadows, if Jim Starlin ignored it in the "next issue".  But since Englehart will replace Mike Friedrich as the wordsmith on Captain Marvel, the entire episode is referenced again.  Agreed, it's just sort of strange.  One again has to wonder why a villain in possession of the Cosmic Cube wouldn't just off all of his enemies with but a thought.  It would be a short story, that's why.  And a parting comment from me on the art team -- many Marvelites love to hate Mantis, but I thought she never looked better than in this very issue.  That Buscema-Cockrum combination really nailed it in regard to her, especially facially.

Karen: While I loved the art on this issue, I thought the story was just middling. As a part of the Avengers series at the time, it offered up some more of the love quadrangle that was such a big deal, and there were a few nice action bits. But overall it was relatively tame compared to issues either before or after it. It had little impact on the overall Thanos-Cosmic Cube saga. But I would have loved to see more Buscema-Cockrum art, or even just Dave Cockrum on the Avengers! 


david_b said...

One of my early favorite Avengers (or Marvel overall) issues ever. Just AWESOME art, I recall being happily pleased when Big John was back doing another issue, without Mr. Heck popping up like he had in ish 123.

I had just thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed Cap's 'Secret Empire' saga, so it was a great time in Avengers cross-connectivity that Cap came zooming back, just as we know he would. Pretty seamless Englehart shtick here.

I must admit, despite it being one of the favorite Thanos saga chapters, I was a bit concerned by the wonky timing of this..: The MarVell flashback was from his ish 28, released September '73.. This ish came out July of '74, about 10 months later. Doesn't seem like much now, but I bet Starlin and Englehart had a few conversations when Jim had his Avengers scenes in MarVell just prior to Steve's Avengers-Defenders Clash (Avengers 115 came out the same month as CM 28..).

That's quite a wait, but SO worth it.

As for covers, yeah, I didn't think much of this cover, I scarcely recognize that huge face as Thanos, unless I really focus on it. I did find it odd as well that the 'front' cover of 'Avengers vs Thanos' TPB doesn't even feature an Avenger (at that time anyways).

Ah, the 'love quad-angle', one of the best quieter Avenger moments on Steve's watch. C'mon, who DIDN'T want this to play out more, perhaps in the next ish..?

(Oh wait, it did..)

For years I lamented the loss of Jacques DuQuesne and 'ol 'This One'. What a nice foursome we had with them, along with T'Challa and the Big Three..? As much as I loved Steve's tenure here as writer and how he basically focused on this quartet since ish 114, it could have gone a lot more interesting had he kept the dynamics as it stood. So much to explore, it nearly made Hawkeye's return a bit anti-climatic. Don't know about anyone else, but quite frankly, the return of the Pyms, Clint and the Beast's entry seemed quite dull next to what we had going on right here. It was so well played out.., I was so irritated to find out Jacques died, again blaming poor midwest distribution to find out second-hand.

All in all, coming off of the stupendous summer Clash and Zodiac story arc and just prior to Kang, this ended up as one of the last great Avengers highpoints for me back in the day.

Edo Bosnar said...

This one brings back interesting memories: I probably mentioned it before, but the guy who later became my brother-in-law loaned me his huge box of early '70s comics in the summer of 1981 (I'm pretty sure). Full of mainly Marvel comics from 1975 and before, including Avengers and Defenders. I remember finding this issue kind of confusing, because there were no Capt. Marvel comics in that box. However, one thing that did stick in my memory was the bickering between Swordsman and Vision and Wanda's sulking.
And I love this art. Buscema and Cockrum really mesh well, although Doug makes a good point (at least based on what you've posted here) - it's kind of hard at times to recognize either of them, like it becomes something entirely new. Would have been cool if they had had an extended run as the title's art team.

david_b said...

Personally I see a LOT of Cockrum in the facial features. I compare these renditions to GS#2 and while the layouts are pure Big John, as in this awesome foursome shot..

I see far more Cockrum influence in the second half of the book.

Humanbelly said...

Now, see, I read this script and dialog, and I LOVE it! And I remember hanging on pins & needles w/ this soap opera back when I first read it nearly 40 (!!!) years ago. But I've been involved in a discussion elsewhere lately about Englehart's run on West Coast Avengers about 10 years after this. . . and THIS writer seems nowhere to be found in that later run. What the heck-?

And I don't think it's the superior art here. Mr. No Human Emotions Vision, barking at Swordsman to "Snap to!"-?? Priceless! His spoken, "Swordsman--" (only to be cut off by an aggravated Wanda), is CLEARLY an android who has reached an all-too-human end to his patience. And it's put together well, and flows quickly, and acts as a great disfunctional counterpoint to the effecient way they're still conducting the mission.

Karen- ". . . this makes Wanda look like she's about to have a heart attack." is a flippin' hilarious summation of that earlier moment, 'cause it's dead-accurate-! Heh. Y'know, that whole beloved arc had those characters exhibiting all of the steadfast emotional maturity of the Sophomore quadrant of the high school lunch room. . . Holy Hoppin' Hormones. . .

Hey, and the Panther flying alone? Man, he ALWAYS did that, and I never got exactly what the deal was, there. When he first joined the team, he would invariably eschew joining the rest of the team in the Quinjet, and would fly alongside in his one-man WakandaHopper, or whatever. The captions would refer to him as "The Man Alone". A really, really unfortunate choice to make for the ONE Avenger of color at the time, y'know??


Anonymous said...

Nice review guys, as always.

I remember being big into the Avengers at this time and the whole quadrangle soap opera. But, I wasn't too into Captain Marvel. So my reaction was sort of like Cap's - who or what is Thanos? Yet it was stories like this that fostered my appreciation of the Marvel universe. You had the Captain Marvel-Avengers crossover and also the subplot of Captain America being in and out of the group because of the Secret Empire mess. Englehart and Starlin really had some great ideas. And yes, the art is visually stunning. Love the Buscema/Cockrum pairing.


Garett said...

Sorry to go off-topic, but this may interest the Jack Kirby fans here. Kirby's grandson is asking for funds in a Kickstarter project, to put together a new book on Kirby, with as yet unseen photos and art, and even...a play written by Kirby!

Fred W. Hill said...

Another great chapter in both the original Thanos epic and the slowburning Tragedy of the Swordsman. I like that Englehart kept adding bits to the latter drama even amidst the various cross-overs, including the clash with the Defenders and the upcoming tie-in with the FF for the wedding of Pietro & Crystal.
Very convenient that Thanos couldn't bring himself to just blink all his enemies out of existence with the cube but that's a standard variation of fantasy tales going back at least to whoever first came up with the idea of good dieties and bad dieties duking it out but never quite able to permanently do away with one another.
And even in the midst of this Titanic clash, the Swordsman can't put aside his anxieties over personal issues and continues to dig his own hole. This whole scenario, for me, could only really work in a long, ongoing series, such as comics or tv shows, as I can't see anyone doing this well in a movie (oh, so this guy with a sword who tricked his way into being an Avenger ages ago now returns with his new girlfriend and is allowed to join for real, but then he gets jealous because he thinks there's something going on between her and an android who is involved with another woman ....)

david_b said...

Another sidenote (surprised with the low responses for SUCH a great story..).

I like Steve's return to form on classic Avengers stories..: It's great to have the 'big three' on board, but as it was with the Pyms, T'Challa and Clint (and the kooky quartet before that..), the substance of all great Avengers stories were the group dynamics with the less-than-mightiest heroes, with the 'big guns' of Thor, IM and Cap added for extra robust and flavor.

Steve really was the best writer for this type of dynamics, which as HB correctly recognized.., WHERE was this Steve Englehart on WCA..?? When I started recollecting comics in the late 80s, I thought I was in for a treat, with one of the old schoolers at the helm. Between the terrible stories, terrible covers and Milgrom interior art, my interest died a very quick death.

Where was that zest from the fun Limited Series..?

Just how much Master Pandemonium can one take..?

A long Tigra story arc..?

Yessir, I'd boldly call this Bronze Avengers stint among Steve's best, second only to his CA&F storylines.

david_b said...

One further note, forgot to mention (sorry...)..:

I'd see this chapter working as a great framework for the movie sequel with Thanos, logically taking the fight into space. 'Course, give or take a few liberties with the team members, since T'Challa, Mantis and some others obviously aren't part of the movie team.

Anonymous said...

I would have loved to see Big John Buscema and Dave the Dude Cockrum do the art on almost any character in the Marvel universe back then!

- Mike 'Excelsior!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Kevin Parker said...

Glad to see the praise for Buscema & Cockrum. I thought Cockrum never topped his LSH stuff (X-Men # 100 came close), but he was always his own best inker and a superior inker of others as well. Particularly in these early years.

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