NOTE: This post was originally published on 21 November 2011.
Avengers #96 (February 1972)
"The Andromeda Swarm!"
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Neal Adams
Inkers: Adams, Tom Palmer, and Alan Weiss
Karen: First off: that has to be one of the most memorable Avengers covers ever!
Doug: Funny you should mention that -- not too long ago I was checking out some of the Link-Within posts of days past when I came across the very first Do-It-Yourself Open Forum. The question of that day was on favorite Bronze Age covers and you picked this very one!
Karen: At least I'm consistent! You thought you'd seen some spectacular scenes in the previous issues of this extravaganza, didn't you? Well, the best is yet to come! Our mighty team goes space-bound to save not only their own team mates, but every man, woman, and child on Earth!
Karen: Our story opens with our five free Avengers landing at a colossal orbitting space station. Once there, Nick Fury offers them up a spaceship, telling them to hurry before H. Warren Craddock manages to intercede. The team boards the craft, and powered by Thor's hammer, blasts off spectacularly into space.
Doug: Allow me to be SHIELD-ignorant -- can you or anyone else tell me when or where this was used before? Shoot, since would be nice, too! I was not a regular Strange Tales or Nick Fury reader. There is some nice characterization on the flight deck, and the thought that Mjolnir could power the ship just added another layer to the legend of the Asgardians.
Karen: I'm not sure if it was seen before, as I only have a handful of SHIELD or Strange Tales comics. I thought maybe it was Starcore, but I think that shows up in a few issues. So anyone out there no about this space station? After exiting hyperspace the Avengers come out to find the vast Skrull armada ahead! Luckily for them, the Skrulls assume that their presence is some sort of trick and come to a dead halt in space. The Skrulls only detect one vessel with their space-radar, but visually they see a fleet. The Skrull commander, by order of the Emperor, takes his flagship to investigate while the other ships hang back. Here's a question: who made that image of the fleet? It doesn't seem like the Avengers did it. Was it the Supreme Intelligence? This left me puzzled.
Doug: The emergence of the Avengers' ship in the midst of that armada was right out of Star Wars! Or, Star Wars was right out of this, rather. I don't really know who was behind the illusion -- as I was reading it, I just assumed that it was some sort of cloaking device in the ship's defenses. However, as we'll see toward the bottom of this review, it most possibly could have been the Supreme Intelligence.
Karen: Our heroes figure if they can defeat the commander maybe the other ships will take off. That seems like a stretch. They launch in four smaller ships (Iron Man is his own ship basically) and are fired upon by a missile, which Thor destroys. As the Armored Avenger draws fire, Thor and the Vision fly up to the Skrull ship, and using their bare hands, tear back the hull! Inside they are attacked by gun-wielding, space-suited Skrulls. Cap sends his small ship crashing through the hole his comrades have made, ejecting just in time. Goliath stays outside, patrolling in his ship in case any of the other ships come to the flagship's aid.
Doug: While the visual of Thor and the Vision ripping into that Skrull ship was awesome, did you have any problems believing Iron Man's armor could withstand the vacuum of space? Thor -- I guess not. But the Vision, too... I just wasn't sure that his body shouldn't have ended up inside-out. Oh, heck, long as I'm nit-picking: Cap and Clint just had on the ol' fishbowl spaceman helmets. At least the Legion wore those paper-thin "trans-suits".
Karen: Some spacesuits might have been nice for Cap and Goliath. I could buy Shellhead surviving for a short time though. The Avengers make their way through the ship towards the command center. Thor rips off the huge door and throws it across the room, making quite the dramatic entrance. He warns the Skrulls that they are "but the meekest harbingers of those who follow" and tells them to turn back. The commander is not so easily fooled though; he knows most Earth people do not have such powers. Suddenly the enormous view screen behind him comes alive and the Skrull Emperor tells the Avengers to give up -and shows them the captured Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. he also shows them Captain Marvel, and describes how he is building an omni-wave device for them! The Avengers wonder if Marvel would really do this -well they quickly learn the answer. he's used the omni-wave to make an illusion of himself, so that he could surprise his Skrull guards! After knocking them out he frees the two imprisoned Avengers and turns on the Emperor, who has a force shield to protect him. So it's game on again!
Doug: Thor's line was great -- a bluff, yet full of bravado. Mar-Vell was a hero to the end. After reading the graphic novel we reviewed last week, I am becoming more and more inclined to pick up the first Essentials of his adventures. Roy is really amping up the Vision/Wanda tension. Even that old warhorse Captain America is catching the vibes of love. Then he says "nah...". Did you think it was intentional that both he and Thor at different times referred to the Vision as an android? Was Roy creating some sort of "racial" tension? That sort of thing would certainly have been taboo in 1972.
Karen: There was the possibility of that, but all of the Avengers, with the exception of Quicksilver, pretty much accepted the relationship between Wanda and the Vision. Despite the Avengers' threats, the Emperor is crafty. He orders the commander to carry out Plan Delta. The order is given before the Avengers can act. The Vision grabs the commander and demands he tell them what Plan Delta is. He also demands to know the location of "the girl -and the others!" Shockingly, the android delivers a savage beating to the alien; he might possibly have killed him if Thor and Iron Man had not intervened. The panel showing the Skrull's battered face is burned into my mind. The commander reveals the truth of Plan Delta, as he says it is too late to stop. A small ship has left the flagship, headed for Earth, with a cargo of "a nuclear warhead to dwarf all your daydreams of destruction." In another very memorable sequence, Cap radios Goliath and tells him to stop the ship "at any cost -including your life! Do you read me?" A grim faced Clint simply says, "I read ya Cap." I still get goosebumps from that. Clint manages to maneuver on top of the Skrull ship and somehow blast his way inside. He finds himself staring at four Skrulls and wondering why oh why he threw his growth serum away.
Doug: You have to love a bunch of uglies that complain about how backwards a planet is, and then go and use an alphabet from its most classical civilizations. Hawk was great, wasn't he? We all know he idolized Cap. I've been thinking through this entire storyline how well Roy has been writing Clint. It's been a nice and seemingly natural evolution from his obnoxious days under Stan's pen.
Karen: Of all the secondary Avengers, I always thought Hawkeye had the best story arc, and best progression as a character. He did a lot of growing up, although he never lost his smart-ass nature. Far away from this action, we turn to Rick Jones, boy captive, and the Kree ruler, Ronan. Sadly, Ronan will be miscolored as a "pink Kree" the rest of our tale. I know nit-picky, but it bothers me. Ronan is highly displeased to find that although he requested that the Inhumans be brought back to Kree-Lar to help fight the Skrulls, all he has in hand is Rick. Rick pulls an incredibly lame-brained stunt and whacks Ronan with a staff, which obviously does nothing but cheese him off. He smacks the kid, but has a grudging respect for his bravado, and decides to make him his 'body-slave' (Oh my...shades of Spartacus!). He's in a generous mood, as he shows Rick the great Kree fleet that is taking off to go battle the Skrulls for Earth. Rick tries to run off but is easily stopped by Ronan, who tires of him and throws him in a room...with the Supreme Intelligence? Kind of a strange move. The S.I. (not Sports Illustrated) tells Rick that he's been manipulating events behind the scenes, such as stirring up H. Warren Craddock, causing Rick to have his prophetic dream of Mar-Vell, and keeping Mar-Vell from realizing 'Carol' was actually the Super-Skrull. He also caused the Kree solider to kidnap Rick last issue. But why? That'll have to wait, as S.I. has one more stunt: he zaps Rick in to the Negative Zone -right next to Annihilus!
Doug: In time... but I didn't get the Negative Zone deal. Good excuse to end this with Annihilus, though. After all, we started this whole mess with him, didn't we?
Karen: There's just no let up in this issue. Wall to wall action, but every bit of it was entertaining. And those visuals! Adams does an amazing job with the space scenes. It really transported me. This was certainly the most spectacular comic I had read at this point. He and Thomas really drive home that sense of extreme heroism here. As I said before, I think this is when the Avengers truly became big leaguers.
Doug: One of the complaints I had earlier in the series was Neal's long and lithe figurework not being wholly appropriate for Thor. No problems here, as the God of Thunder has been appropriately bulked up. Adams draws movement so well, doesn't he? And big leaguers? Wasn't it Kurt Busiek who once characterized the Avengers as the varsity? There can be no doubt in this storyline.