Jonathan, son of Kevin:
The Small Lebowsky:
Issue(s): Avengers #273
Well that was a very uninteresting way to kick off one of the biggest milestones in Avengers history, wasn't it?
Despite the Black Knight being on the 25th Anniversary cover, this issue focuses largely on the Masters of Evil. It shows Baron Zemo having collected a large group of super-villains, much larger than any past incarnation of the Masters (and even larger than we see here, since Zemo has also employed Grey Gargoyle and Screaming Mimi, and has Whirlwind on an away mission, and is also working to smuggle someone else into the country in the Spider-Man tie-in).
The decision to outnumber the Avengers is explicit.
The easiest way to assemble a villain team is to pick one villain from the rogues gallery of each hero but that at best gives you even odds (and in practice, not even that, since heroes routinely beat their villains one-on-one). So just having superior numbers already increases the Masters' chances, and that's before considering that the group includes such powerhouses as Absorbing Man, Goliath, and Mr. Hyde, plus more specialized members.
In addition to that, Zemo's plan involves careful waiting and watching, so that the team is attacked at the most opportune moment. The downside of this is that Zemo's "more physical recruits" don't like waiting around. And in addition to having to deal with that pressure, Moonstone is actively trying to undermine his leadership and take control of the group. Moonstone's biggest contribution is her ability to control Blackout, who is central to Zemo's plans of containing Captain Marvel and controlling access to the Mansion once it's been occupied. So Zemo has the Fixer devise a headband that will allow Zemo to control Blackout directly. In the meantime, Zemo arranges for Piledriver to start a fight with Mr. Hyde, who is truly monstrous in this storyline in keeping with Roger Stern's development of the character in his previous Captain America and Amazing Spider-Man appearances. Zemo then calms Hyde with a touch - actually injecting a sedative - which leaves Moonstone wondering how Zemo can control such a violent and unpredictable man.
By the time Moonstone openly challenges Zemo's leadership, he's taken control of Blackout. And he's ready to begin the attack, and has managed to keep his unwieldy group under control.
The action this issue is entirely the Masters fighting against the Avengers Mansion's automated defenses, which are no joke but no real challenge for this group.
Thanks to Zemo's planning, the only person in the Mansion at this time is Jarvis.
With that, the villains celebrate their first victory.
A quick check-in on the actual Avengers. The Wrecker had been getting Hercules drunk in order to get information from him, and manages to get under his skin about the Wasp's leadership (Hercules is lucky that he was talking to the Wrecker, since he would have killed any ordinary human).
Captain Marvel has been spending some time on the moon...
...and in Paris.
These scenes are largely meant to demonstrate the problem she poses for Baron Zemo.
And the Black Knight goes to a gala charity event with the Wasp in what he hopes is a date, but things take a turn for the worse when Paladin shows up. This sets things up for the Knight's distraction when he arrives alone at the Mansion at the beginning of next issue.
A fantastic kickoff to my favorite Avengers storyline. Stern writes all of the villains with perfect voices and manages to handle distinct characterization for each unique character. The interplay between Zemo and Moonstone is great, Mr. Hyde is a true menace, and the other villains demonstrate the right amount of camaraderie and antagonism. This story is also important for showing villains as being a credible and realistic threat. So many stories feature super-intelligent arch-villains leading teams of mega-powerful characters and yet failing for pretty dumb and obvious reasons. Not so with Zemo's team. It's not easy for him to keep them together and working in unison, but we see him struggle with that and succeed, and we see him actually plan his attack and we see those plans come to fruition. Coming at the same time as the Mutant Massacre and the increased popularity of characters like Wolverine and the Punisher, this Siege that results in heavy costs for the Avengers can be seen as part of the "Dark Age", but it's a logical application of these characters.
And throughout it, the John Buscema/Tom Palmer art provides iconic but believable images...
...and gives the villains a menacing, earthy look.
Lots more to come, obviously. This storyline runs until issue #277, plus the tie-ins.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: During the course of this story, before the Masters of Evil take over the Mansion, Fixer reports that Captain America has been spotted in southern Florida and so he's commenced "Operation Flag" and sent Whirlwind to intercept him. Cap is actually in Tennessee when Whirlwind catches up with him in Captain America #324, but i guess he was in Florida earlier (ironically, Florida is where Nomad is in that issue, which is relevant since Whirlwind pretends to be Nomad to trap Cap). I'm placing Cap #324 after this issue; Cap will reference the events of that issue when he shows up at the Wasp's home next issue. Beginning with this issue, Avengers Mansion is occupied and ultimately destroyed with Hercules and Jarvis injured, so any generic appearances of the Avengers need to occur prior to this. It also must be the case that the Fantastic Four have fully moved out of the Mansion at this point.
Crossover: Avengers: Under Siege
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (8): show
My interpretation of that scene was that a normal human would have been hurt but not killed by Herc's punch. Still, Herc's behavior was irresponsible, since he knocked a man into traffic.
Posted by: Michael | February 14, 2014 7:44 PM
Fantastic issue and my favorite storyline ever. Zemo shows more leadership in this issue than 99% of heroic "leaders" in the previous decades of Marvel comics. In that sense he is one of the best villains ever, despite not having any super powers, no super science, or even real fighting skills. Just will and a plan. This catapults him into the top tier of villains, although this really won't be acknowledged until the Thunderbolts ten years away.
Posted by: Chris | February 14, 2014 8:12 PM
agree 100 per cent. Zemo really establishes himself as a top-notch villain (rescuing him from the incompentent from his last appearances). To be honest, he should have won as his planning was better than the heroes
Roger Stern really was the best writer out there. He does it all well.
Posted by: kveto from prague | February 17, 2014 2:57 PM
Super-heroes almost always are playing defense and trying to relax into "normal lives" (NYC-based ones, for example, not necessarily, say, Asgardians), so they DO run into vulnerability to cold, obsessive planning. Zemo's job is 100% to be a comic book writer---er, to plan his revenge, without consideration of the consequences of his success, either (what's next, really?). Just as their civilian lives and personal differences provide the Achilles' heel for the Avengers here, as they are not fought as a fighting force head-on (where their training can win the day), villains carry a bevvy of psychoses that takes apart their own best-laid plans (like Doom's bossy control-freakiness getting him aced by Terrax in FF #260). One thing about even successfully killing any number of Avengers is that the concept will resurrect another team, anyway! I don't honestly think Zemo's control could've been sustained much longer, anyway.
Posted by: Cecil Disharoon | July 5, 2014 3:49 AM
Totally fine to link to your site, Cecil, and thanks for all of your commentary here.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 5, 2014 10:24 AM
Why thank you! I agree with the pitch-perfect villain voices. A terrific novel demands as many uniquely-developed support and antagonistic characters as possible, and if we are talking about comic books that stand well as literature, they need that, too. I think most average grade comics discussed here don't honestly pass that litmus test, which is hardly surprising under the duress of commercial production. Other comics may contain memorable art or interesting concepts; the average ones usually don't align the full possibilities therein, or re-tread plots and don't break new ground as to our knowledge of the characters (or, the more subjective problem, takes them in shallow or confusing directions).
The forethought that went into the characterizations adds up to Stern's tour de force in comics. A head-on melee between teams might have had a certain adolescent fascination (I certainly wanted MORE of that in Secret Wars as a child), but what you learn about everyone as people, via actions and interactions, gives this arc its head-and-shoulders above stance.
Posted by: Cecil | September 6, 2014 9:24 AM
How nice that everyone seems to agree that this is one of the best, if not the best Avengers storyline of all-time. This was gut-wrenching, for a few months, waiting to see what the toll of this battle would be.
Posted by: Erik Beck | July 7, 2015 12:38 PM
There's an extended scene (or scenes) that take place during this issue that is featured in Marvel Age Annual #2. It's written by Stern and I believe the art is handled by the artists of each book it names where appropriate.
Interestingly, the Captain America bit sets up a Man-Thing appearance that never happens in Cap #324.
There's also a panel where Zemo is shown with the Masters of Evil shrouded in the background and we can clearly see Screaming Mimi's hair (although, it COULD be Hyde's), at this point in the story she was gone.
Basically, it's just a bonus bit. A bonus bit they've not included in ANY of the various reprintings of Under Siege.
Posted by: AF | July 12, 2016 6:51 PM
AF - That is a blast from my past. It was the only issue of Marvel Age I ever bought because it gave a year worth of previews. But, as I recall, there were other things in that issue that never came to pass - after all, Firebird didn't actually join the team at this point and she became Espirita before she next appeared. I would go back later after the year was done and check all the other things that were listed in that issue that never ended up happening - fascinating to see what was planned that never came to be. So would that be considered canon? I agree with you, that at some point they should have included it in a reprinting of Under Siege - it would have been a nice bonus.
Posted by: Erik Beck | July 13, 2016 6:22 AM
I think the combination of discrepancies definitely make it non-canon. Treat it as a "deleted scene", I say.
As for Firebird, maybe she was just popping in between adventures and - due to her repeated association with the team - Zemo, much like Marvel editorial, decided she was basically a member anyway.
Posted by: AF | July 13, 2016 7:17 AM
The Wrecker's "It's a *%#$ flyin' stun-nulator!" has always been one of my favorite comic book quotes.
Posted by: Bonez | October 6, 2016 11:07 PM
Recently purchased the Under Siege saga for the Kindle Fire, and it does include, as a bonus, those "deleted scenes" AF references above. I think it also encompasses more issues (Avengers #264-277, plus the Alpha Flight crossover) than the trade.
Posted by: ira13 | March 16, 2017 9:49 PM
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