Guest contributor Gene Selassie is back with his latest retrospective of Marvel‘s The Avengers. The Kree-Skrull War is over and creator Roy Thomas departs the series after six years worth of tales.
Fellow followers of those who fight the foes that no single hero could withstand, it’s that time once again. As I continue my review of every single issue of the Avengers from the beginning, the next leg of this journey deals with the fallout from the Kree-Skrull War. We see some characters coming to terms with their feelings for each other, others reverting back to their old ways and some finding themselves either completely preoccupied or in one case, obsolete. The coolness factor of seeing an adventure so grand that it requires every character who had ever been an Avenger increased exponentially as the very first instance of this occurred here. We also take a look at the more experimental storytelling by the creators during this stretch. Finally, we bid farewell to the steward of the last six years worth of Avengers tales and see what condition Roy Thomas left the toys in the toy box.
Avengers #98 opens up with Thor trying to pierce realms to return to Asgard, in the hopes that magicks there would be able to reveal the whereabouts of the missing Hawkeye. However, some unseen force prevents him from leaving Earth. Cap, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch confront an angry mob named the War Hawks. They seek to attack a visiting Asian dignitary. The Vietnam War seems to play quite a role in stories during the Silver AND Bronze ages of Avengers comics. A mohawked figure has his henchman play music that whips the crowd into a frenzy. Before long, it affects the Avengers on the scene. Thor and Vision investigate separately, with Vision being attacked by Iron Man, now under the same thrall that the other War Hawks were. Iron Man blasted Vision into the “Piper”, who somehow died upon impact. Thor uncovered the culprit behind the plot, Ares, the Greek god of war. Before the Thunder God could strike, Ares had the mind-controlled Scarlet Witch neutralize Thor’s hammer. The hammer is freed, from a blast arrow. Yet, no one saw which direction it came from. Hawkeye returns at the end of the issue…wearing a costume that garnered much derision back then. He doesn’t give an explanation for how he returned to Earth. However, he’s accompanied by a returning Hercules, who has no memory of who he is.
Avengers #99 begins with Thor, using the power of his enchanted hammer (along with a device invented by Tony Stark) to jog Hercules’ memory. The device doesn’t work. Hawkeye recounts his encounter on the Skrull craft at the end of the Kree-Skrull War. Surrounded by shock troopers and no Pym Particles left in his system, Clint had to create a makeshift bow and arrows, to become Hawkeye once again. One of his errant arrows hit a main control circuit and caused an explosion. He got out in an escape pod before the entire ship blew up. Clint’s ship crash-landed in the former Yugoslavia. A traveling circus passed by and Clint hitched a ride with them until a torrential storm took Clint’s wagon nearly off the edge of a ravine. A strongman with the circus named “Hercules”, with blonde hair and clothing like a sideshow attraction, pulled the wagon out of harm’s way with his bare hands. Turns out, the blonde hair was a wig and the man was the real deal Prince of Power himself. They contact Tony Stark’s office to get a flight booked back stateside. Both Black Panther and Ant-Man, away on other matters, have been spending time working on a way to help Hercules, but to no avail. From out of nowhere, Clint makes a pass at Wanda, which ticks off Vision. At this point, Clint still is oblivious to the feelings Vision and Wanda has for one another. One who doesn’t let the obvious fly right over his head is Quicksilver. He asks Wanda for the truth and she admits her feelings about Vision to her brother. Vision also departs to the kitchen, where Jarvis offers his ear, as he’s done for so many throughout the years. He also can tell that there’s tension between Vizh and Wanda. Vision doesn’t know if she feels the same. Before any of the drama can play out, two Olympian warriors, Kratos and Bia, show up at Avengers mansion to retrieve the amnesiac Hercules. The Avengers put up one hell of a fight though. During the altercation, Wanda is injured (yes, again) and Vision attends to her a bit too long instead of helping during the fight, which Clint rudely points out. During the distraction, the Olympians, with Hercules in tow, vanish. Clint accuses Vision of blatantly ignoring the rest of the team in the middle of the fight. Wanda, angry at Vision for putting her above the rest of the team, just walks out. The rest of the team knows what they have to do to rescue the abducted Hercules, plan an assault on Olympus itself.
Avengers #100 is a celebration featuring what has now become a classic and welcome trope of gathering every single person who had ever been an Avenger up to that point. Seeing Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, the Wasp, the Hulk, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Black Panther and the Black Knight all gathered (illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith and inked by the legendary Joe Sinnott no less) alluded to a tremendous adventure ahead. Black Knight summoned the entire team to Garrett Castle in England to discuss the vision he saw via the spirit of his ancestor, the original Black Knight. The Ebony Blade, which Dane tried to have destroyed on Polemachus, somehow made its way to the outskirts of Olympus, where Ares laid claim to it. The Enchantress, following the sword there, forged an alliance with the Greek god of war, promising to conquer Olympus, Asgard, and Earth. Ares used the sword to kill the Titan guarding the Prometheum flame. He then destroyed the flame and every Olympian turned to crystal, except for the half-blood Prince of Power. While in a sparring session, Hercules accidentally kills Phoebus, who was just turned to crystal. Ares makes his presence known and his minions toss Hercules off of Olympus. As he slowly falls through space down towards Earth, his memories begin to fade. The War Hawks debacle, Thor being unable to return to Asgard, the attack by Bia and Kratos, all a complex plot by Ares. Another former Avenger happens to make their presence known, the Swordsman. He stole one of the Avengers’ craft and used their surveillance equipment to ascertain what the meeting was about. He stated that he was an Avenger as well, even for a short time, and wishes to help. I had to laugh when they hinted at Swordsman having escaped prison, but no one bats an eye. Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Black Knight, and the Hulk head to Olympus to gather intel and mount a rescue of Hercules. Of course, it is a trap. The Enchantress lets them know that their assault on Asgard is next and their true target, the Odinsword, a weapon which could bring about Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. Meanwhile, Captain America, Hawkeye, Swordsman, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and Quicksilver fight off Ares’ forces in London. One would think that the Hulk would have smashed to his heart’s content. However, he was lulled, by the music of Satyrs, away from the battlefield. He just sat, chilled, and enjoyed the music like he was at Woodstock…until the forces that attacked Earth came back through the portal and rained on Hulk’s happy day. With Black Knight and Thor dispatching Ares, Hercules rescued and the Olympians returning to normal, the Avengers went through the portal back to Earth. Somehow, the portal was sealed by Thor and Hercules, whose fists collided at the same time.
Avengers #101 is the famous Five Dooms to Save Tomorrow story that Thomas adapted from a Harlan Ellison story (one that was originally written for a Hawkman script but was rejected by DC). Rich Buckler filled in on art, doing a serviceable job on pencils. We open to a story where the Avengers are special guests at Stark Industries for a tournament between a world-renowned chess master (an arrogant Russian dignitary), and a supercomputer…a supercomputer called NIMROD. WHAT? I’m hoping this is just one of those wacky coincidences that happened in comics back in the old days. Just into the opening moves of the match, the dignitary crashes to the floor, with the Avengers thinking he’s having a heart attack. Once they get to the hospital, Thor buggers off, only to change to his alter ego of Doctor Don Blake. It’s apparent that Thor and Iron Man are still keeping their alter egos secret from their teammates. Cap had a hunch and kept the last chess piece that the dignitary touched before his malady. Iron Man scanned the residue, but even his computers couldn’t identify all of the elements. Doctor Blake was able to determine it was a poison from a remote section of Brazil. He lets them know that reverse engineering an antidote won’t be possible unless they find the person who poisoned him. If they don’t the dignitary will die and an international incident of the highest order would further stain America’s reputation. While the Stark Industries auditorium is empty, one man named Leonard Tippit was laying in wait until it was abandoned. Vision appears and startles the man. He knew that when the NIMROD made a certain move that was banned in Curacao in 1962 that it would force the Russian dignitary to make a specific move with a specific chess piece. Vision tries to stop him, but without warning, Tippit emits unusual energy, incapacitating even an intangible Vision. Yet Captain America appears and is able to knock out Tippit with just one punch. Tippit disappears, but as soon as the Avengers arrive, they all fall unconscious. Just after this, Tippit flashes back to two nights ago, when he woke up in his bed, thinking he had a dream. He is promptly contacted by no other than The Watcher. Uatu reveals to Tippit that he is a solid nexus point in all timelines and that a nuclear disaster will affect several timelines and only Tippit can prevent it. Uatu unlocks latent mental powers in Tippit. Uatu then tells him that he has to kill five key people…innocent people…who will give birth to key individuals that cause this holocaust. The Avengers share the vision as well and know of the plot that’s unfolding. They debate whether or not to intervene. The team finally splits up to intercept the other targets. However, Tippit seems to be able to be in all places, nearly simultaneously. He had only enough power to place the targets into a comatose state, not kill them, as the teleporting and battling the Avengers drained him. It was finally Pietro and Wanda who took him down and brought him into custody. The Watcher once again intervened. This time, it was to reveal that it wasn’t the five targets that would be responsible for the coming apocalypse, but Tippit himself. His power level was enough to possibly even kill Uatu. The Watcher sought to take Tippit outside of space and time, to be removed from the timeline forever. Uatu used the Avengers to defeat him. While they objected at first, Tippit himself saw how much of a threat he could become and willingly went with the Watcher in the end.
Avengers #102 features the Vision being summoned to a closed frozen food locker to meet with the Grim Reaper. Eric still refers to Vision as his brother in a deranged manner. He remains hell-bent on killing the Avengers as payback for what happened to his real brother, Wonder Man. Eric reveals he has Wonder Man’s preserved body and wants Vision to not interfere with a future attack on the rest of the team, promising to put Vision’s brain in the body, making him human. Reaper also stated he booby-trapped the containment unit holding Simon. Vision is, of course, conflicted. Later, in the most clichéd TV soap opera moment ever, Wanda (on monitor duty at the mansion) is about to tell Clint she has feelings for Vision. But Clint forces himself on her and kisses her right when the Vision arrives. The Starcore deep space monitoring station picks up unusual blips flying out of the sun and heading towards Earth…it is a fleet of Sentinels. Quicksilver thinks back to their last encounter with the mutant-hunting robots in X-Men #57-59. He thought the robots were gone forever. Wanda gets dressed up and goes for an evening stroll. Pietro beckons Vision to go after her, finally understanding that both need to stop playing games and tell each other how they feel. Vision declines, only until he sees in the distance, something flying in Wanda’s direction. He jets out after it, with the other Avengers following. Wanda is attacked and captured by the Sentinel. I didn’t know these early models could adapt to mutant abilities, I thought that wasn’t until the NIMROD class. The one Sentinel holds off the entire team (Thor later stated he and Iron Man were holding back to ensure Wanda wasn’t hurt), then teleports away with Wanda. Pietro blows a gasket because the “so-called Mighty Avengers” couldn’t take one lone Sentinel. He vows to find his sister, alone.
To start off Avengers #103, the team exchanges intel with SHIELD to locate the Sentinels, while Pietro explores an old Sentinel bunker he was once held prisoner in with the X-men and the Brotherhood. He chases a lead to Judge Chalmers, someone who took in Larry Trask, the now orphaned son of Bolivar Trask, creator of the Sentinels. Larry has amnesia and Chalmers was trying to keep it that way. Be that as it may, Pietro did abscond from the residence with Trask. While the team conferences with Nick Fury about the situation, Vision contemplates using the amulet that Grim Reaper gave Vision to contact him. Peter Corbeau, from Starcore, contacts the team to let them know something is causing massive solar flares in the sun that may soon reach Earth. The flare-inducing beam is tracked to the Australian Outback. Just as the team is about to take off, Rick Jones appears, intent on joining them on this mission. Cap, however, states that the mission is too dangerous and wants Rick to sit out this one. Rick is pissed, due to the fact that he saved the universe a few months earlier (Kree-Skrull War). The team flew off in an experimental jet that hit supersonic speeds, with an engine designed by Tony Stark and powered by lightning from Thor’s hammer, which was pretty damn awesome. Trask had an amulet around his neck that suppressed his memories (man, amulets were pretty popular this arc). Quicksilver ripped it off and Trask’s memories flooded back. Pietro felt guilty for exploiting a mental illness, but he felt justified because of trying to find his kidnapped sister. Trask revealed the location of the Australian Sentinel base. Pietro stated if they don’t make it in time, Trask will pay with his life. The team attacks the Sentinel base. I appreciate Thor discussing a battle plan. Sometime in the 90s-2000s, Thor went from strategist on par with Captain America to giant brute that gets trounced by the new villain du jour, just to prove how badass said villain is. Vision jumped the gun and they were all attacked by Sentinels. In a passenger jet en route to the battle, Trask discussed that Sentinels never had the ability to teleport. Suddenly, Trask concentrated enough and he teleported the plane. He remembered now that his father wanted to hide a dark secret. Larry is a mutant. In addition to teleporting, he can see into the future. He predicted not only the death of Pietro’s teammates but everyone on Earth due to a massive solar flare.
Avengers #104 is the end of an era, marking the final issue of Roy Thomas’ six-year run on The Avengers. While the Avengers continued to do their best against the Sentinels (with Vision only feigning injury in the last issue to sucker punch a couple of their attackers) Pietro and Trask found an alternate entrance into the base. A captive Wanda discovers her captors’ horrific plan. They seek to use Wanda to boost the power of their flare generator to create enough radiation to make all organic life on Earth sterile, a loophole around the Sentinels’ primary programming; to not bring harm to any non-mutant humans. Once the human race eventually dies off, the Sentinels will genetically engineer humans, removing the possibility of mutation. It was The Matrix, by way of Josef Mengele, quite unsettling. Quicksilver outwits a Sentinel that can move nearly at his speed. He intentionally face plants into a wall, knowing the Sentinel was too large to change direction in time and the Sentinel smashes into a control panel, killing two birds with one stone. Yet, Pietro is injured, forcing Trask to push on alone to stop the plan of the murderous robots. Trask gets another vision. This time, he sees the complete annihilation of Earth and then…nothingness. The leader of this pack of Sentinels, Number Two, took command after the Master Mold, the gargantuan unit that manufactures the Sentinels, was destroyed in X-Men #16. Though it looks half-melted, it is the biggest threat, namely because it doesn’t have the “non-lethal against humans” protocol that the other Sentinels do. Before it can dispatch Cap, Iron Man, Thor and Hawkeye, they’re saved by Vision and a now freed Scarlet Witch. A crude Cerebro-like device is noticed by both Scarlet Witch and by Larry Trask. They both notice it’s turned off. On a hunch, Trask activates it. Suddenly, all sensors home in on Wanda, Pietro, Trask…and Sentinel Number Two. When they flew close to the sun, some of the components and organics in the Sentinel mutated, making him essentially a non-organic mutant. This also gave Number Two the ability to teleport. The other Sentinels promptly turned and engaged Number Two in battle. Once he is destroyed, the Sentinels deactivate, one of them collapsing on and killing Trask. That is why his last vision was total darkness. He willingly helped the Avengers stop the murder machines built by his father.
It was around this time that Barry Windsor-Smith started experimenting more with his art, to amazing results. I loved the thin line work and more odd “camera angles” and expressions that really made his work stand out from the pack at the time. Speaking of amazing, I have to give credit where credit is due. Despite Stan Lee’s first three years with of issues, pushing the team as Marvel’s all stars, it was Thomas who really did explore the meaty dramatic elements with the secondary characters like Vision, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Black Knight. He really gave Vision his voice and had the foresight to plant seeds leading to the first “event story” in Avengers lore (The Kree-Skrull War). On the one hand, reading tales penned by him will be missed. On the other hand, I cannot wait to dive into the upcoming writer’s run once again.
When next we meet, we celebrate the debut of Steve Englehart as the writer of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The Grim Reaper’s scheme unfolds, with guest appearances galore gracing the pages of the book. We also build up towards the next event story, The Avengers/Defenders War. Until next time, my friends…AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!