Monday, November 30, 2015

WEST COAST AVENGERS ANNUAL #3

"HEADS YOU LOSE--!"
Story: Steve Englehart | Layouts: Al Milgrom | Finishes: Gerry Taloc
Letters: Bill Oakley | Colors: Marc Siry | Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

The Plot: At his citadel in the Savage Land, the High Evolutionary oversees several technicians working on his project. One tech, Bill Foster, smuggles a note out of the facility in the armor of one of the Evolutionary's Gatherers as they depart for a mission. The Gatherers head to Wakanda to steal the Black Panther's vibranium, but the Panther and his men defeat them and the Panther locates the note, which warns the world is in danger and recommends calling Hank Pym for help.

Panther places a call to the West Coast Avengers, and they soon arrive, but without the recently departed Pym. As the Avengers and Panther catch up, Wakanda is attacked by the Senses, more of the High Evolutionary's warriors. The Avengers and Black Panther defeat the Senses, but one of the Evolutionary's other men teleports in during the fight and secretly steals some vibranium.

With the Senses thwarted and the vibranium seemingly safe, the Avengers depart to investigate coordinates from Foster's note, but find only a large crater in the Savage Land.

"TAILS YOU WIN!"
Story: Steve Englehart | Layouts: Al Milgrom | Finishes: Chris Ivy
Letters: Bill Oakley | Colors: Marc Siry | Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Mockingbird, Moon Knight, and Tigra, formerly of the West Coast Avengers, fly over the Savage Land in a quintet and land to investigate its unexpected restoration. There they bump into Ka-Zar, who tells them of the High Evolutionary. The three ex-Avengers investigate his citadel, and the Evolutionary realizes they could thwart his plans. He throws the trio into a set of deathtraps. While the Avengers fight their way free, Bill Foster goes looking for them.

All three heroes escape their traps and Mockingbird is the first to locate the High Evolutionary. She fights him but he grows to mammoth size to finish her off. Foster arrives then and reveals his other identity as Giant-Man, growing to challenge the Evolutionary. When the Evolutionary receives word from his agent, Foks, that the vibranium has been seized, he retreats from his base. Foster, Moon Knight, Tigra, and Mockingbird escape the citadel just before it self-destructs. The quartet leaves the Savage Land mere moments before the West Coast Avengers arrive to find the recently formed crater.

Continuity Notes: The High Evolutionary's aide, Stack, puts in an appearance, and the Evolutionary compares him to his previous creation the Man-Beast. A footnote states that the Man-Beast's origin can be seen in the "High Evolutionary" serial running throughout all the "Evolutionary War" annuals. (We will cover the serial in one go after the final chapter of the crossover next week.)

The Evolutionary also recalls finding a monument to the Beyonders in the Savage Land and notes that the Fantastic Four discovered it first in issues 316-317 of their own series. A moment later he recalls the Beyonders once drove him mad by towing away his planet, Counter-Earth, in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE 63. Finally, the Evolutionary mentions the Fantastic Four's mission to the Negative Zone, underway in FF issues 318-319.

The Scarlet Witch explains that Bill Foster was Hank "Giant Man" Pym's lab assistant when, in POWER MAN #24, he developed his own growth serum and named himself... wait for it... Black Goliath. Because he's black. And that was perfectly logical and acceptable in the seventies.

Wonder Man continues Foster's story, stating that he contracted cancer in BLACK GOLIATH #1, but in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE 85 he received a blood transfusion from Spider-Woman, whose cells are immune to all disease, and this killed the cancer within him.

(Side note: Why hasn't someone in the Marvel Universe tried to synthesize Spider-Woman's blood or something to cure cancer? This is why real-world diseases in comics are a bad idea unless you plan to follow through with them -- any magical "cure" cheapens the experiences of those who have suffered the experience, or lost someone to the disease, in real life.)

(Side-Side note: Foster implies later in the story that he still suffers from cancer, and his growth is a new way to potentially cure it. So we're still flirting with the distasteful idea of a magical cancer cure, but at this point it's uncertain whether it will actually work.)

Ka-Zar's son, Adam, is given a name this issue. Also, Mockingbird notes that she was once a SHIELD agent and did her training in the Savage Land, where she worked alongside Ka-Zar for some time.

Ka-Zar explains that Terminus destroyed the Savage Land in AVENGERS #257, but the High Evolutionary restored it in X-MEN ANNUAL #12. Also, in a nod to Chris Claremont's story, the X-Men's part in the restoration is unknown to Ka-Zar since Psylocke mind-wiped everyone who had seen them in the Land.

Circa 1988: The West Coast Avengers consist of Hawkeye, Wonder Man, Mantis, Vision, and the Scarlet Witch. As noted above, Mockingbird, Tigra, and Moon Knight had recently deserted the team, but still featured as regulars in the ongoing series, having their own separate adventures.

Also, Wonder Man rocks an outstanding mullet and Moon Knight's earthly body (that of Marc Spector) is, at this point, possessed and fully under the control of Khonshu, the Egyptian God of Vengeance.

The High Evolutionary's Plot: Not necessarily related to his plot, but the Evolutionary unleashes a new team of operatives this issue: the Sensors, consisting of Sight, Touch, Sound, Smell, Taste, and Intuition. Probably not Steve Englehart's finest creative hour.

Also, we get our clearest, most concise description yet of the High Evolutionary's master plan, from the mouth of the man himself: "I'm building a bomb which, when detonated, will mutate everyone on Earth!"

The Evolutionary also wishes Foster no ill will since he's trying to evolve himself with his growth formula.

My Thoughts: Like the Chris Claremont of the eighties, Englehart had this annoying idea that his comics should be forward looking and progressive, mixing things up with the intention that they never go back to the traditional status quo. Unlike Claremont, however, Englehart's stories weren't very good. But I have to admit, this one's a little more traditional, with a more-or-less classic Avengers lineup, so it's not as bad as the FANTASTIC FOUR annual.

Unfortunately, it's also kind of boring. I like the idea of a split story following two groups on opposite sides of one adventure, but Hawkeye's group winds up doing nothing of importance as they show up, have a fight, and fail to protect the vibranium (though they're unaware of this failure). The entire lead story is kind of pointless.

The second story, meanwhile, gives us a better look at the High Evolutionary's plans and, while the heroes fare no better than the first group, at least they're a catalyst for the Evolutionary abandoning his Savage Land base and moving his plot into its next phase. That said, there's absolutely no explanation given for why this group is flying over the Savage Land when their story opens, which seems really odd.

Positives: Englehart is really playing nice with the rest of the crossover, here. He uses Stack, making him the first writer other than Louise Simonson to do so. As noted above, he also references the restoration of the Savage Land, and even notes that nobody remembers the X-Men's involvement, a little tidbit which might not have been caught by other writers.

Curiosities: First off, when the Avengers arrive in Wakanda, there's a bit where Al Milgrom clearly drew Mantis approaching the Black Panther and then anxiously speaking to him about something, but Englehart scripted over the panels with Hawkeye, Black Panther, and Wonder Man speaking instead, despite Mantis being the center of attention in both shots with her mouth wide open. Wonder Man even speaks to Black Panther while looking and pointing at Mantis! No idea what the heck happened here, but it's really weird.


Also, somewhat humorously, while he remembered to note that the X-Men's involvement in their chapter should be forgotten by everyone, Englehart (and Milgrom) gets another little detail slightly wrong: Ka-Zar says that he learned about the Savage Land's restoration from his friend, Nereel. Nereel, of course, is known to us as the girl with whom Colossus had his first fling, and who bore a child as the result. She's pretty definitively a woman. But somehow, both Englehart's script and Milgrom's art portray Nereel as a man!

So that's odd.

Anyway, at least we finally have an idea of the High Evolutionary's endgame. Let's see if it remains the same when we move into the final chapter next week!

6 comments:

  1. Actually, Spider-Woman LOST that ability curing Foster.
    I could be mistaken about this, but I believe that Mantis' Harpo routine was editorial mandate. Marvel didn't want Englehart to use Mantis for WCA, so they forced him to remove her word balloons.

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    1. Interesting; at least Spider-Woman losing her magical blood is a way to prevent anyone else from trying to cure cancer with it.

      The Mantis thing is bizarre. If editorial didn't want her there, fine. But removing her dialogue seems absurd and petty. Just tell Englehart to write her out, but let him do it his way.

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  2. Also, in a nod to Chris Claremont's story, the X-Men's part in the restoration is unknown to Ka-Zar since Psylocke mind-wiped everyone who had seen them in the Land.

    Impressive. Is that the only instance of someone outside of X-MEN acknowledging the whole "they were there but no one remembers" schtick? I feel like we get plenty of "the world thinks the X-Men are dead" stuff outside the X-books, but can't think of another time the whole "X-Men as legends" thing was done like this.

    "I'm building a bomb which, when detonated, will mutate everyone on Earth!"

    I'm not quite sure how that tracks with everything else he's been doing, but I'll give it points for being succinct. And tangible, in a way that this is a plan a hero could actually stop in a fairly direct way.

    Let's see if it remains the same when we move into the final chapter next week!

    Wait, there's only one more chapter to this thing? I'm sure it seems like forever to you, but I felt like we had to have more. I'm less forgiving of the "master plan" line now; at first I just figured they were finally getting around to laying out his plan. Now I realize they were just setting it up at the absolute last minute, leading into the finale.

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    1. Teeb, this week only started, and there's been more than one posts per week. There's plenty of time for the event to start make sense. But, reading these postings this far, this one can't help thinking that if there is much fandom shown for this Annuals event it must be first and foremostly because at least it's not ATLANTIS ATTACKS.

      Or, god forbid, KINGS OF PAIN, to which I have just acquaintanced myself, and I must say the name delivers because I hurt.

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    2. Teemu is correct; there are two more chapters, in the SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL (to be covered this Wednesday) and the AVENGERS ANNUAL (for next week). Though the Spidey annual really doesn't advance the overall plot at all, so this really is the last major chapter before the finale.

      "Is that the only instance of someone outside of X-MEN acknowledging the whole 'they were there but no one remembers' schtick?"

      You may be right about that, Teebore. I certainly can't think of any other instances of the Legend of the X-Men spreading, even within Claremont's own X-MEN issues!

      Teemu -- I read "Kings of Pain" a few years ago in a NEW WARRIORS connection. It's pretty awful. About the only thing it has going for it are some Mark Bagley artwork in one chapter and the weird instance of a team being called "X-Force" in the pages of a comic titled NEW MUTANTS.

      But I guess we should probably save further discussion since Teebore will get there soon enough so we don't wind up repeating ourselves!

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    3. Teeb's upcoming dissertation of it is the very reason why I acquaintanced myself with it at this point, Matt, so naturellement.

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