The Small Lebowski:
Issue(s): Avengers #275, Avengers #276, Avengers #277
...you have to accept that it's being done with the best intentions and not for any kind of sexism. But you do wonder if you'd see Captain America crying and doubting himself to the degree the Wasp is here.
Part of what's happening here is the overlapping of two different trends, each admirable in their own right. The first is the inclusion and elevation of female and minority characters to a greater extent than we had in the Silver Age. And the second is the realism and more difficult trials that come with comics becoming "darker" or "deconstructed" in the mid-80s. What that means in practice, though, is that you have Storm in charge of the X-Men during the Mutant Massacre, and the Wasp in charge of the Avengers during this Siege and we're seeing these characters fail and doubt themselves in a way that team leaders didn't deal with to such an extent before. Add to this James Rhodes having to give up being Iron Man and, not too long from now, Captain Marvel also failing as leader of the Avengers in favor of Captain America, and the cumulative effect feels like a rejection of all the progress that's been made. At least the Invisible Woman doesn't change her name back to the Invisible Girl.
Now, i may be overplaying the extent to which this issue falls into this category. I know i'd never see Captain America cry, but having the Wasp going through a period of doubt and self-blame is entirely part of that realism that you'd expect. And she definitely finds her center and demonstrates her strength this issue.
The threat is the Absorbing Man and Titania who, fresh off their failure in Amazing Spider-Man, are sent to the hospital where Hercules is being cared for to finish him off. Scott Lang has heard about the problems the Avengers are facing and has arrived to help. So it is the two insect-sized heroes up against two of the Masters of Evil's biggest guns. And they manage to win.
Some interesting things about the above fight, including a noted weakness for the Absorbing Man when taking a liquid form, and Ant-Man's use of a shrinking potion as a weapon.
After this victory, the Wasp truly rallies and gets ready to take the fight back to Baron Zemo.
Meanwhile, Captain Marvel traverses the Dark Dimension. At one point she sees a light opening (i wonder if i should be giving Cloak or Darkstar or someone else a behind-the-scenes appearance for that), but fails to reach it.
However, she sees another one in #276 and does manage to escape, winding up in San Francisco with Shroud.
As for the Masters of Evil, Thunderball leads a raid on the labs that Tony Stark kept at the Mansion.
Baron Zemo has decided to cut Tiger Shark loose, i guess because the Sub-Mariner isn't around and because he fell to Hercules last issue.
Zemo and Fixer are cutting a film to distribute to the world.
And, while the rest of the Masters raid the Mansion and Thunderball has them loot Tony Stark's labs, we see that Zemo is as much interested in breaking Captain America's morale as defeating the Avengers, if not moreso.
Failing to get Cap to react to tearing up a picture of Bucky and having Cap's original shield (or, maybe, one of them) destroyed, Zemo resorts to having Mr. Hyde badly beat Jarvis. Any claims he had of not being truly evil in his film go right out the window here.
The Wasp and Ant-Man are unable to reach the Fantastic Four (see the Considerations) or the Black Panther or the West Coast Avengers, and they find that the Vision and Scarlet Witch are vacationing (and presumably can't be reached; i wonder who is taking care of the babies). The Falcon, meanwhile, has the flu. It's nice of him to not want to get any of the Masters sick. The Wasp considers scouring the city for Spider-Man and Daredevil. But the Wasp did manage to get word to Thor via Sigurd Jarlson's answering machine, and he soon shows up. And Captain Marvel also arrives (without the Shroud).
Another party that gets involved is Dr. Druid, who is watching the event on television while listening to his personal assistant talk about his various media appearances. In addition to the news reports, Druid had been feeling a strange buzzing in his head, which may have been the Black Knight trying to activate the magical connection to his sword, which was kept under a forcefield created by the Fixer and Yellowjacket.
Druid doesn't connect with the rest of the group, but the Wasp, Ant-Man, Thor, and Captain Marvel lead an assault on the Mansion, coming in from underground where Blackout's barrier apparently isn't extended. They cut the power, allowing Black Knight to summon his sword. And so Cap and the Knight begin to fight Mr. Hyde, who is then finished off by the Wasp and finally by just crashing into Thor, who is exhibiting injury and not acting quite as dynamically as usual.
By this point, Dr. Druid has arrived and has mentally contacted Blackout, convincing him to lower the barrier. Ant-Man takes out the Fixer, and then the Wasp tries to relegate him and the Black Knight, who is also injured, to getting Jarvis out of the Mansion for medical attention.
The next group to face is the Wrecking Crew. And Thor demonstrates the ability to draw their powers away from them.
If that seems too easy, don't worry. All it really does is transfer the powers of all four of them back to the Wrecker (and it was a lightning bolt that allowed the Wrecker to share his powers back in Defenders #17 in the first place). But it does knock even the Wrecker for a loop for a bit. Which is lucky because it means Cap and Thor don't have to deal with him and Goliath at the same time.
Captain Marvel, meanwhile, arrives on the roof where Moonstone is trying to figure out why Blackout lowered his barrier. And when Moonstone sees Captain Marvel, she flees. Moonstone panics, crashing into a cliff wall and breaking her neck.
Zemo arrives on the roof next and hits Dr. Druid with a needle gun.
It's worth looking at Yellowjacket's thoughts in the above scene and here:
As things fall apart, she's seeing Zemo strategically abandon his group as needed, but it doesn't necessarily convince her that Zemo's someone she doesn't want to be following. Just that she wants to stay on his good side.
Zemo tries to convince Blackout to send Avengers Mansion and everyone in it to the Dark dimension...
...but he's foiled by Dr. Druid, who is playing possum and still mentally manipulating Blackout.
Issue #277 has a few oddities to it, structurally. Some of the scenes, especially Zemo's zapping of Dr. Druid, are repeated from the previous issue, and not as a flashback.
And Captain Marvel fails to identify Moonstone when talking to Baron Zemo. She arrives on the scene and just says "She told me how it was on your orders that Blackout warped me into the Darkforce Dimension". Heat of the moment, i guess.
But the epic battle continues, with Goliath and Thor bringing the Mansion down around them.
And the Wrecker waking up and turning his full power on Captain America and the Wasp.
Eventually Golaith falls on the Wrecker, taking them both out.
Yellowjacket surrenders without a fight.
Captain America is kind enough to let Baron Zemo not get defeated by Captain Marvel. Cap wants to fight him one-on-one.
What's interesting is Zemo earnestly trying to figure out why he wasn't able to get Captain America to crack.
In fact, the final fight in #277 works as a great Captain America story, independent of the other Avengers.
It ends with Baron Zemo falling to his seeming death (Zemo is later described as "perhaps fatally injured"), in a parallel to the death of the original Baron Zemo.
Captain Marvel later catches Cap alone going through the items Zemo destroyed. And ok, i guess Cap can cry, but he holds it back until the danger has passed.
Definitely some nice moments for Cap.
The Masters of Evil are described at the end of this story as terrorists, which is probably how they would be described in the real world instead of super-villains.
It's really a motley group that defeats the Masters of Evil. The Black Knight is concussed, and Thor is injured for unrelated reasons. And the team's ranks are bolstered with Ant-Man and Dr. Druid. Druid will soon join the team, a wild card choice that makes Starfox look normal. But Stern really focuses things down on the Wasp, Captain Marvel and especially Captain America for the finale here, and their rematch works really well and doesn't just feel like "ok, you beat those Avengers so we brought in some new ones". Ultimately this story was about Baron Zemo wanting (misguided) vengeance on Captain America, and it's that conflict that makes the ending powerful. Well that and the utter havoc that Zemo inflicted upon the entire team.
You can't really be objective about art and entertainment but i do try to be fair. But after years of comic book reading, i still find that many of the books i read in realtime while i was first starting to read comics are the best comics, at least in the superhero mega-genre. Now, was i just lucky, and i happened to start reading comics when they were at an an absolute highpoint, with the likes of Roger Stern, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer on Avengers and similar levels of superstardom on other key books? Or do i like these books so much because i read them in my formative years? I'll never be able to say for sure, but i know that i'm not alone in my love for this era, and i know that Roger Stern's Masters of Evil storyline in particular is highly regarded. To channel my 11 year old self for a second, i can tell you that these issues were awesome. And the downside of that is it's this level of quality and stakes that i unconsciously use to compare any other comics i read.
Quality Rating: A
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Absorbing Man and Titania appear in Amazing Spider-Man #283 prior to this issue. This issue does begin more or less directly from the end of Avengers #274, with a newscast showing scenes from "scant moments ago" of the Wasp accompanying the paramedics taking Hercules to the hospital, so the Wasp's appearance in ASM #283 must take place during Avengers #274. I've given Characters Appearing tags for the behind-the-scenes appearances of Tiger Shark and the Falcon (but not the Vision & Scarlet Witch) based on things i've described above. There are also some behind-the scenes occurrences with the Fixer and the Super-Adaptoid in issue #277 but we won't learn about that for a while and i'm not giving the Adaptoid a tag. Tiger Shark next appears in San Francisco in West Coast Avengers #16, as does Whirlwind, and it's debatable whether those events are occurring during this arc or afterward (the WCA are probably still on the wild goose chase in Indonesia when Ant-Man tries to contact them, but they may return later while the battle is still going on), but either way i've placed it directly after. In #275, Ant-Man says the Fantastic Four's answering service says "they're off on a secret mission" with a reference to "the Fantastic Four issue now on sale", which would have been Fantastic Four #298. But see my Considerations on issue #274 for that; the FF must not be home for other reasons. A footnote says that Thor's appearance "takes place between pages 5 and 7 of Thor #373". But this is another footnote that i will have to ignore. Thor #373-374 take place during the Mutant Massacre, and directly after that story Power Pack visit the Avengers Mansion, which is still standing and is occupied by an uninjured Black Knight and Hercules. So this story must take place after Thor #374. That actually works better because Thor is showing definite signs of weakness which shouldn't be present until after Blockbuster injures Thor in the Massacre.
Crossover: Avengers: Under Siege
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (18): show
I was reading Marvel UK's reprints when I was about 11 or 12, starting with the Onslaught era. I read them avidly, and soon afterwards my uncle, who was moving abroad, left me his small comics collection. That included almost the complete run of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, which blew my mind, and ten issues or so of Roger Stern's run on the Avengers, including most of this storyline, and I can assure you that, at least in comparison to the contemporary comics I was reading then, these issues are indeed awesome, teenage bias be damned. OK, so 'good next to Onslaught' isn't saying much, but still... trust me, you're not biased. This storyline rules.
Posted by: James M | February 16, 2014 5:18 PM
Hyde's beating of Jarvis is considered by fans to be one of his most brutal and cruel acts.
Posted by: Michael | February 16, 2014 5:23 PM
I wonder how the storyline would have turned out if Stern still had control of the West Coast Avengers.
The fourth Masters of Evil team really scored some runs before losing in the 9th. I was glad when some version of the time resurfaced as the Thunderbolts later on, but I would have liked to see them surface again earlier. I understand though, if you bring them back too much, this team won't shine so bright. Many of these characters show up again independently, and it would have been good to see this attack and team mentioned fondly by the villains as a time when they shook the pillars of heaven.
I especially liked the fight between Wasp & Ant-Man versus Absorbing Man & Titania. Their victory was improbable, but Stern did the fight well and made it believable.
I would have liked to have seen Scott Lang be more integrated into the Avengers at this point. He really came through for them against some tough opponents. Plus, he was one of the few legacy characters (at the time) with ties to an original founder.
Posted by: Chris | February 16, 2014 5:30 PM
The "She told me..." balloon appears to have been relettered.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 16, 2014 5:53 PM
Storm's in charge of the X-Men during the massacre--but Cyclops is in charge of X-Factor, who also fail to stop the killing. I see what you're saying about the unfortunate coincidence of non-WASP leadership w/ realistic defeats, but I don't think it really detracts from the effort to show women as leaders. Storm continues to be treated by Claremont as uber-competent, and Wasp and Monica do well in the Avengers until Simonson takes over.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | February 16, 2014 8:17 PM
Zemo's fall is a callback not only to his father's death but his own plunge into a vat of adhesive-X in his first appearance. His next story ends with a dive into a volcano.
Fnord, I'm also someone who grew up with this era's comics, and I too think they're objectively Marvel's best. It's shocking to compare just how good issues like these are compared to what we get 10 years later. '70s Marvel had its moments, but usually with secondary characters like Warlock or Howard the Duck. The '80s are a golden age for the main Marvel properties.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | February 16, 2014 8:34 PM
As far as Jan crying, I don't think it makes her seem that weak. I can imagine quite a few male heroes shedding tears in a similar situation: Spider-Man crying on MJ's shoulder, for example. I think we see Reed Richards crying in the upcoming X-Men/FF series; if that was Ben or Johnny beaten (almost) to death instead of Hercules, Reed in this era would probably be tearful.
Posted by: Weepin' Walter | February 16, 2014 9:41 PM
The 1980s were a dream era, dare I say the true Golden Age, for comic books, in my opinion.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | February 16, 2014 10:42 PM
"your hand...man...give me your hand!"--I swear Cap says this every appearance to Zemo at some point
Posted by: MikeCheyne | February 17, 2014 12:48 AM
Personally, I think it is a mistake to portray a Cap that never cries. It makes him more of a mishappen fairy tale character than anything else. Punisher-lite, if you will.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | February 17, 2014 5:17 AM
this is it. It doesn't get any better than the Raid.
Although I wish they had given the Falcon a better excuse. "Hey, your friends are dying." "Doctor said I haven't stay in bed."
Posted by: kveto from prague | February 17, 2014 3:59 PM
About Falcon's flu...I know at first glance it sounds a bit silly, but its also a nice touch of realism. Sometimes heroes can get sick too--and at the most inconvenient times.
If Falcon really is down with the flu, then him coming into battle WOULD have been irresponsible, because he'd be putting himself and the others at risk by being a liability. How much help is he going to be in a fight if he can't fly straight because he's nauseated, or he can't stop throwing up, etc?
Besides, not to undervalue Falcon as a hero--but, let's face it, of all the reserve Avengers he is NOT at the top of the list for people who are going to be helpful against Blackout, Goliath and the Wrecking Crew!
Posted by: Dermie | February 17, 2014 11:50 PM
The comments on the Falcon make me wonder if it would have been better to stack even more villains onto the Masters that Zemo would let loose in the city so that any heroes who would logically show up, but which Stern doesn't want to write into the story, can be off scene fighting them (and would make some nice back up in an Annual some day).
However, I agree about he flu. It seems like a poor excuse until one remembers that the flu is one of those diseases that go all over the place from mild nuisance to deadly threat.
The Shooter EiC era is Marvel's second golden age. Despite all the complaints that would be laid at his door, the man must have done something right.
Posted by: Chris | February 18, 2014 12:56 AM
As far as I'm concerned as well, this is Marvel--is comics--at its peak.
Posted by: Thanos6 | September 1, 2014 2:08 AM
The Falcon probably saw the newscasts of this and when he got the call, said he had the flu. Would YOU want to wade into the middle of this fight? ;)
Posted by: Bill | May 31, 2015 7:23 PM
Fnord, I was 12 at the time, so I potentially have the same bias. But reading through your site I've seen how weak a lot of the other comics I read at this age were. And I was collecting a lot of DC at the same time, and aside from Crisis and New Teen Titans, a lot of that doesn't hold up either. So this is definitely all about the quality of this storyline - the art is great, the story is great.
#275 was especially great - the way that Jan and Scott manage to hold their own against two over-whelmingly powerful villains. (For those who don't know, Scott is referencing the 1985 Oscars, held in March of 1986, only a few months before this issue was probably written, when The Color Purple was nominated for 11 Oscars but Spielberg wasn't nominated for Best Director and therefore couldn't win the Oscar).
I was especially touched at the time that Steve holds it together until the end and that when he finally does let his emotions cry, it's with Monica there - their friendship has really grown through the years and it's natural that he would look to her as the next leader.
Posted by: Erik Beck | July 8, 2015 7:35 AM
I was 17 when these issues came out. That's a time in my life when I had my first car (a 1972 Ford Maverick, painted Earl Scheib green with four doors and fuzzy dice!), my first job, and whiplash from all the pretty girls at school, work, and the mall. Comics were supposed to fall on the backburner due to getting ready for college, new responsibilities, and of course hormones. I did pick up this storyline down at the local convenience store and was reminded why I became a comics fan in the first place, also reminding me how great the art form can be when it tries to. I was moved to anger when Hyde beat Jarvis to a pulp, cheered when the rat bastard got what he had coming, and was saddened when Cap found the picture of his mother. I realized I could handle the new status quo that came with those years, while still being a "geek" at heart. Around the same time I managed to work in a local convention, where I participated in a fan Q&A with Michael Golden, and had my GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS signed by the very cool and congenial Mike Grell. Sometimes in life, you CAN have it both ways!
Posted by: Brian Coffey | July 8, 2017 9:14 PM
I was 31 when these comics were published, but I agree with the high praise you all have been giving them here. It's not just nostalgia on your part. This story really is that good; some of the best comics ever.
Posted by: Holt | November 14, 2017 9:23 PM
This was my very first superhero comic. I loved it and never looked back! It's still amazing to me how these guys could take a little newsprint and a little ink and for 75 cents could produce more entertainment value than people today with way more production input options and charging crazily inflated prices.
Posted by: Justin | November 26, 2017 10:09 PM
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