Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Retro Review: Avengers #114

Avengers #114, "Night of the Swordsman," Cover Date August 1973
Written by Steve Englehart, Penciled by Bob Brown, Inked by Mike Esposito

Avengers 114 Cover


We go back in time (even more?) from the 90's to discover that Mantis is a mysterious customer right from the start!

We begin at Avengers Mansion, where Scarlet Witch opens the window, thinking of the press "outing" her relationship with the Vision (in Avengers #113). She flashes back on Quicksilver warning her, and wonders what the future will hold as Vision trains with Cap and Iron Man. Vision de-materializes, causing Cap and IM to punch each other (foreshadowing Millar's "Civil War"!), and Cap says it's a good thing Vision's an "android," since he can bounce back from injury so quickly. Scarlet Witch overhears Cap from behind a one way mirror and gets offended on behalf of her love, and storms out for a walk.

Avengers 114 Scarlet Witch
"Too bad your boyfriend didn't get murdered. What, it's a compliment!"

Avengers 114 slap Scarlet Witch


Unfortunately, on her walk, Scarlet Witch meets a construction worker, who says that the Witch "turns him on," and that it's "too bad" Vision wasn't killed last issue. For some reason Witch doesn't see this as a compliment, and hex bolts the guy into a hot dog stand. Not taking a hint, the guy gets up and straight-up slaps Scarlet Witch across the face. Suddenly, he's interrupted by a punch to the back of the neck, as Mantis introduces herself. Witch says that the guy is "too strong" for this strange woman she just met, but Mantis quickly pummels the man while bragging about her martial arts acumen. She walks Wanda back to the mansion. The boys are all waiting at the door and apparently were worried about Wanda, but Cap freaks out about unauthorized guests. Swordsman suddenly appears, saying he's with Mantis and wants to re-join the team, but Cap calls him a security risk and reminds everyone that he betrayed the team in his first appearance. Swordsman explains that Mantis turned his life around, but Cap says it "sounds ridiculously melodramatic," because he is a heartless jerk. The rest of the team overrules him, and Swordsman gets to join the Avengers: it's just that easy to join the team with no superpowers, folks! They ask if Mantis wants to join, and she says no, she just wants to hang around with her BF at the mansion, if that's cool. The team agrees, and Mantis responds by kissing all the male Avengers. Weird.

Avengers 114 Mantis kissing
I love everything about this.

We get a montage of Thor watching as they fight various robots and monsters, and eventually he recommends Swordsman for membership. Vision and Black Panther, as the latest two recruits, want to do a quick "training" session with Swordsman first. Swordsman insists he's not working for bad guys, as Panther points out that Swordsman could easily "accidentally" cause a team member their death. On cue, Swordsman knocks Panther down with the hilt of his sword and says he's changed, saying he doesn't kill anyone, "especially his teammates." Well that's settled!

Avengers 114 Mantis Thor knockout
No. Way.

The team watches on a monitor that Hawkeye has returned, but point out he hasn't even dropped by to say hello. Swordsman says they don't need Hawkeye with him around, then disappears upstairs as Cap wonders if he's being neurotic, still not trusting Swordsman. Mantis (somehow) summons the "Lion God," a Black Panther foe that appeared in Avengers #112. The Lion God attacks the Avengers with the help of Mantis and Swordsman, and easily defeat them, including Mantis knocking out Thor with a nerve punch. Oh, come on now. That's ridiculous.

Avengers 114 Captain America
Jeez, Cap, let it go.

The Lion God is preparing to kill Black Panther when Swordsman starts doing cool sword tricks, getting the LG's attention. Mantis does a sexy hula type dance, mesmerizing the Lion God and allowing Iron Man to fire a repulsor blast that drops an adamantium cylinder on the creature. Mantis explains that she has "empathy" powers and recognized a malignant presence, so she played along with it in order to set the Lion God up. Thor gives Swordsman a pat on the back, but Cap's not so sure this wasn't some sort of smokescreen to set up for more trickery down the road. Road, as in... Crossing, Cap?! In a mere 20+ years!

Review:

This is actually Mantis's second appearance, but her first appearance is just on one page having vague "plans" for the Avengers. Here, the cover seems to indicate that she's evil, but the actual story has her as being a bit more mysterious, as Cap at least seems to think she's not on the level, and she's clearly depicted as being the "brains" of her relationship with Swordsman. She's portrayed as aggressively flirtatious, but with vaguely defined powers, including martial arts skill so great that she can knock out Thor with a well-placed blow, which is just silly. One of the best things about this issue is the economy of story, telling a complete beginning and end in only 20 some pages, even if it means skipping ahead in time via montage a few weeks. If this was written in the 2000's, it would be a six part story arc with three issues where nothing happened, and concluded with a 20 page fight. One of the underrated aspects of Englehart's Avengers is that even as he was telling long-form storylines involving Vision and Scarlet Witch, or Swordsman and Mantis, he was telling them in the context of one and two part "comic book" action scenes. I also miss the days when comics could have one-off villains that weren't really the showcase, instead of today, where there's plenty of generic goons for when a hero needs to beat somebody, but everybody else gets full story arcs. Englehart also smartly sticks to just a few characters this issue, but we do see that each of them does have a pretty well-defined voice, even if Cap is forced into the role of grouchy old man, which makes some sense as far as the Swordsman goes, but it's usually Iron Man's job to be the "practical" guy on the team.

Bob Brown was a veteran penciler who perhaps unfairly wasn't given much of any attention after he was brought back to Marvel in the 70's (he died in 1977). The penciler of "Vigilante" back-ups in the early 50's, his style was seen as outdated by this point, and a lot of his art is very reminiscent of Don Heck (pretty girls, awkward posing, occasionally sloppy), but it's not bad at all. There's also plenty of disappearing backgrounds, which obviously doesn't bother me as a 90's reader. He also doesn't lay out an Avengers Mansion that looks even a bit familiar, as Scarlet Witch is on the second floor walking down a hallway and is suddenly looking in on a battle, and later, Swordsman heads upstairs in an enormous, metal-looking stairway that doesn't look like I've ever seen the mansion drawn. Still, his work seems to fit the material, and he draws a pretty dynamic "Lion God," which has to be the Jack Kirby-iest design not done by Jack Kirby (it was Don Heck). The armor, the sci-fi mysticism... it feels like something out of Kirby's (awful) Black Panther run from a few years later. Unfortunately, since Kirby never read other people's comics (again, read his Black Panther or Captain America runs from the 70's for proof), he never used the Lion God over there.

All in all though, this is some good bronze-age-y fun. If you like this stuff, check out the good folks over at "Traveling Through the Bronze Age," as their podcast goes through 1970's and early 80's comics with a healthy dose of humor.

2 comments:

  1. I haven't read all of Englehart's AVENGERS, but I've read enough that I feel safe declaring that I don't like it. In fact, about the only thing I know I have liked from the guy is his DETECTIVE COMICS run, and even there he has the same issue he had on AVENGERS, introducing a female "Mary Sue" character. Mantis can knock out Thor. Silver St. Cloud can figure out Batman is Bruce Wayne when no one else who's spent time with both characters has ever done it before. It's ridiculous.

    Bob Brown's work here does look very Don Heck-ish. He did some decent Batman material in the early seventies. Once he adapted to the Neal Adams model, and received some inking from Dick Giordano, it looked pretty good. Of course at that point it could be argued we weren't looking at "pure" Bob Brown.

    Love that John Romita cover, though!

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  2. I don't know if they're really "Mary Sue"s in the traditional sense of the word, but I agree he does have a habit of introducing new characters primarily to spice up a title he comes into- he does the same thing in his abysmal late 80's FF run with Sharon Ventura, probably the worst of his characters. I think part of it is when he came onto the scene there were just so few female characters, since Stan Lee only wrote waif-ish girlfriends. He introduced Valkyrie (the real one), he developed Scarlet Witch, and for the most part was a pretty strong writer for the bronze age, even with his tics. I haven't read his Batman run, so I can't comment on that, but his website does give him a downright comical view of his own importance and lasting work within the industry, so I don't begrudge you not being a fan at all.

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