Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: Avengers #392

Avengers #392, "The Past is With Us Always...", Cover Date November, 1995
Written by Bob Harras and Terry Kavanagh, Pencils by M.C. Wyman, Inks by Tom Palmer

Avengers 392 Cover

It seems like forever since I've checked in with the Avengers during this Avengers crossover. Just so we're caught up: Iron Man murdered two people, but apparently doesn't remember doing it. He found the records, but seems to have forgotten them, and the next thing anybody knew, surveillance footage was changed to be of Hawkeye. Hawkeye was brought in by Force Works, presumably for questioning, but U.S. Agent and War Machine broke him out of Force Works headquarters before anything was resolved. There's also a mystery door in Avengers Mansion that a guy named "Neut" came out of, stabbing forgotten Avenger Gilgamesh. And now we're all caught up!

We begin with a crew closing off Avengers Mansion, as Iron Man watches. The structure being built around the mansion begins to collapse, and Iron Man, along with Hank Pym and Vision have to save some construction workers and bystanders. While Iron Man wonders what happened to Tony Stark's brand quality, the trio go back into the mansion and again poke around the murder site, but only find a weird little object that Iron Man claims he's been tinkering with. Vision leaves to go meet up with Black Widow, the Avengers leader who never does anything, before heading upstate to visit with Swordsman.

Swordsman (not this earth's Swordsman, but one that's been here for a few months) is in a mystery area near the mystery grotto, when a green form emerges- and it looks exactly like him! It's the return of the Cotati-Swordsman we've all been waiting for! The Cotati haven't been seen since 1989, for those keeping score at home. But there's no time to explain who that guy is, or why he looks exactly like an alternate dimension Swordsman (only the Cotati is green), because Vision flies in (his meeting is not dramatized), followed closely by a blonde teenager in a Professor X/Metron chair. She mentions the Crossing being a success, and two brothers named Tobias and Malachi show up, apparently to kill the Cotati.

Avengers 392 Tobias Malachi
"hmmm, green and yellow color scheme, dot on the forehead. They must be Hare Krishna!"

Meanwhile, back at Janet's Mansion (which I hope she owns outright, because Tony Stark recently bankrupted her), the Avengers try to console Luna, who is still upset. Deathcry, who is wearing her mourning bikini, stupidly brings up how Marilla was always good at consoling Luna. Yeah, until she was murdered. Try not to bring it up around the 3 year old, D.C. The team finally realize Luna may have seen at least one of the murders. Of course, Quicksilver says Luna could "hold the clue to these murders" which is a strange thing to say, considering everyone saw video footage of Hawkeye murdering Marilla.

Avengers 392 pool party
Marilla would've wanted us to enjoy this pool party.

Back at Avengers Mansion, Tony apologizes to the construction foreman for Iron Man's rudeness (does that fool anyone?), and finds the device he lied to Hank about. Looking at it, everything suddenly goes white. Tony speaks to a mystery woman, who seems to be controlling him. She gives him a hard time for letting Luna see him, and he starts crying.

A few hundred miles north, Vision is fighting with one of the mystery brothers, noting that he has pretty cool solar eye beams that are exactly the same as Vision's. Vision is about to overpower the mystery teen, when his compatriot stabs him in the back. The duo have apparently captured the Cotati, and the blonde in the chair lies to the brothers that they need to get back through their time-travel vortex, so they don't have time to kill Vision so as to leave no witnesses. Vision notices that was a total lie, and wonders why this mystery blonde seemed to care whether he lived or died.

Avengers 392 Mantis
Oh no, not Mantis?!

We cut to "someplace else, beyond a great crossing," where the brothers return to their home. They're told by the staff that their father isn't in, but that their mother is expecting them. They bring the Cotati into the next room, where a feminine hand touches the alien's face, and then reveals that she used to be married to the plant guy. That's right, it's Mantis! And she's evil!


Well, we get the second big revelation since Iron Man blasting Marilla at the end of The Crossing. I should probably explain who the heck this big "reveal" is. Because while hardcore Avengers fans and 70's Steve Englehart fans know Mantis, almost no one else does. Just a quick refresher: Mantis is a half-Vietnamese daughter of Zodiac member Libra, an obscure Avengers villain. As a baby, she was given to the "Priests of Pama," a sort of Buddhist monk Pacifist sect of Kree descendants. Later, she joined the Avengers, despite her only power being that the priests taught her martial arts. After flirting with Vision, she eventually marries the plant version of the Swordsman, as it's revealed she's something called the "Celestial Madonna," a long-term 70's Avengers mystery where Scarlet Witch, Mantis, and Moondragon were all suspects.

Mantis is also one of the best known "pet" characters of a particular writer, as before the Crossing, 99% of Mantis appearances were written by Steve Englehart. In addition to telling her original storyline, he re-introduced her during his time in Avengers West Coast in the mid-80's. After he was fired from that book, he brought Mantis with him to the Fantastic Four. It should be noted that nobody cared much about Mantis in any of these appearances, but he just wouldn't stop. He even introduced a version of a character in some DC work he did, under a different name.

So now Mantis is here, and is evil, and has a new husband, and it's set up as a big revelation. But it just doesn't work, because anyone who knows anything about the character knows this is completely opposed to Englehart's storyline, and everyone who isn't an obsessive fan has no clue who she is. A crossover should be a jumping on point, but this storyline has featured some of the most obscure Avengers in their history (Gilgamesh, Yellowjacket II, Mantis). It seems like this would just annoy diehards and confuse casual fans. Plus, Mantis has one very well known tic, and they don't even bother to do it! Normally she says "this one" instead of I, but they miss a golden opportunity to say "this one has never forgotten you" or some variation.

In addition to obvious structural issues and the fact that we've just sort of treaded water for two months, there's the problem of figuring out exactly who this book is about. Is it about Iron Man? He's clearly being manipulated into doing evil stuff, but he's getting a lot of screen-time and hasn't really done a lot with it. In fact, nobody seems to know what's going on or is moving towards resolving anything. Black Widow, the nominal leader of the team, doesn't have a single line of dialogue in this issue. Captain America, a guy that should get involved when Avengers start dying, is nowhere to be seen. Hawkeye, on the run from the law with his pals, doesn't even get a mention, and Quicksilver acts like finding the killer is some mystery. Hank Pym and everyone else have sort of bumbled around, but at this point, there's still almost no hard-and-fast conflict. As dumb as Mark Millar comics are, you can bet that if he did the Crossing an issue like this would have surly Hawkeye on the run from his team, surly Captain America demanding answers from surly Nick Fury, and surly Iron Man cackling maniacally as he planted a bomb inside the Wasp's ovaries. It would still be dumb, but I'd at least get some cool drawings of stuff happening. We do get a fight scene this issue, between Swordsman and Vision and two complete unknowns. Where did Big Barda, I mean Magdalene go? Why aren't the rest of the Avengers around?

Speaking of drawing cool stuff, it would also be nice if the Avengers regular penciler could've drawn this issue in the middle of a crossover. It's been two (2!) issues since Deodato's last fill-in in issue #389, and he's out again this month, forcing M.C. Wyman to pick up the guest spot. Wyman was already featured in my review of Avengers Unplugged #1, but this work is far better, probably in large part due to inks by Tom Palmer. That said, that boosts the art from dreadful to average. There's one point Harras and Kavanagh try to make that the art whiffs on: the bottom right of one page is of blonde mystery woman's face, and top left of the next page is Luna crying, but the artist manages to make Luna look like a muppet, so the super obvious foreshadowing is for naught. The nicest thing I can say is that the story is bad enough that any minor silly art issues get overlooked.

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