BHOC: AVENGERS #171

As we left off yesterday, this was the second of the two AVENGERS issues that I purchased simultaneously on a Saturday in 1979 and which made me a regular reader of the title going forward. If I had to guess so many years later, I would suppose that it was the artwork which made me take the jump–despite the fact that artist George Perez had also drawn the earlier issue of the book that I had sampled and didn’t love. I may also have been becoming more aware of Perez as an artist that I liked by this point, based on his work on recent issues of FANTASTIC FOUR, or it could just have been that I thought the two issues looked good. Either way, we were off to the races.

Writer Jim Shooter is listed as writer/editor here, which makes me wonder if this was the time when he came to power as Marvel’s EIC. I never went back and determined when that switch-over happened in my comic book reading history, but it would have taken place at about this time; outgoing editor Archie Goodwin having gotten tired of the grind and chosen to go back to freelancing as one of the finest writers in the business. Shooter’s tenure as EIC was a lengthy one, and contained both spectacular highs and crashing lows along the way. But if nothing else, he brought Marvel into the 1980s by instituting the structure in which there would henceforth be multiple editors, each of whom oversaw a handful of titles under the auspices of the EIC. This was the system that DC had in place when Shooter entered the business, and duplicating it over at Marvel eliminated a lot of the chaos inherent in any one person trying to ride herd on a line of 40-50 titles.

This issue also brought Carol Danvers, Ms Marvel, into the mix and ultimately onto the roster, possibly as a way to shore up flagging sales on her solo title. Or possibly Shooter just liked her and saw some potential in her as a member. During this era, she had a fun relationship with Wonder Man, who was portrayed as a bit of a relic of the early 1960s (when he had gone into his ionic coma) and so not used to an assertive woman like Carol. Ms Marvel shows up in response to one of her precognitive “sixth sense” flashes that would give her warnings about the future–a power that was meant to be a cross between Spider-Man’s spider-sense and the fabled “woman’s intuition”. It’s one of the attributes of the character that was discarded a long time ago.

Much of the opening of the issue involves the Avengers’ pursuit of the fleeing (and never seen) Jocasta, and through her the location of her creator, Ultron. Shooter and Perez pack these pages densely full of incident, incorporating a bunch of silly gags as the Avengers muscle their way through crowds of New York pedestrians. It was this combined ability to present a lot of story in very little space which made both Shooter and Perez great fits for the Avengers, a team that was comprised of a large number of characters. At a certain point, to make their trek easier, Yellowjacket turns up with this absurd flying craft. I’m just guessing, but i’d be willing to bet that George just drew this thing and then Shooter, realizing how ridiculous it looked, came up with the rationale for it. Because the Marvel books were being produced Plot-Art-Script you would often get situations like this one showing up.

The trail leads the Avengers to a convent somewhere in the city, an unlikely place to find their foe. Shooter and Perez have fun with the juxtaposition of the outlandish Avengers and the serenity of the convent and its nuns for a bit before the action breaks out. But suddenly, both the Mother Superior and the Scarlet Witch vanish in a burst of light, and the Avengers realize that they are under attack. The pass through a set of doors and come face-to-face with their quarry, Ultron. Having just taken the one Avenger whose powers are effective against his indestructible adamantium body off the board, Ultron is quick to join the fight, confident that he can now easily obliterate the rest of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. But his victory isn’t so easy, as Yellowjacket has proofed the Avengers against Ultron’s encephalo-beams. Ms Marvel, though, hasn’t been similarly treated, and so she is dispatched to look for the Scarlet Witch while the others combat Ultron.

Wanda, meanwhile, has been imprisoned in a prismlike cell designed to disorient her with illusion and deception–as the cover image illustrates. She seeks liberation, but finds herself seemingly tumbling through space and falling into unseen pools of water. She cannot trust her senses, and so she cannot use her powers effectively. Ms Marvel, however, is on the move and honing in on her location, battering her way past the convent’s electronic defenses. On the other hand, the Avengers themselves aren’t doing so well. Ultron is still indestructible and physically powerful, and he’s at the center of a base that he’s gimmicked into an attack chamber. So after several pages of pitched battle, Ultron momentarily traps the Avengers in a force-field, and he turns his attention to his reactivated bride, Jocasta.

But Jocasta blasts Ultron in the face. Having gained sentience from the Wasp’s brain patters, some residual trace of Janet’s personality is also a part of her, and so she loathes Ultron, despite the fact that she’s also been programmed to love him. Ultron’s day just got bad, and it’s not over yet, because at this point Ms Marvel shows up with the freed Scarlet Witch. Wanda whammies Ultron with her unpredictable hex-power, causing his outer casing to rupture and his power source to run wild. Thor is able to contain that power and send it hurtling into space, leaving Ultron as nothing but a shattered and disembodied shell. So it’s a big win for the Avengers–except that as everybody looks around, they (and we) realize that we haven’t seen Captain America for pages now. He’s disappeared just as mysteriously as the other seemingly-abducted Avengers from issues past, snatched up right in the middle of this adventure. Jocasta, too, has suddenly vanished in the same manner. This is a crisis that the Avengers are going to need to investigate immediately–but immediately was going to be the next issue, as this is where things were To Be Continued. This was a pretty great two-parter all things considered, and one of the key stories in making Ultron one of the Avengers’ most implacable foes.

The letters page this time out included a missive from Kevin Dooley, who would in later years go on to a career as an editor at DC. Dooley is probably most famous for overseeing the storyline in which Green Lantern Hal Jordan went nuts following the destruction of Coast City, rampaging through the GL Corps and the Guardians of the Universe until he’d stolen enough power to become Parallax. This was the moment when Kyle Rayner was introduced as the new Green Lantern, a role that he’d hold for a bit more than a decade.

2 thoughts on “BHOC: AVENGERS #171

  1. Bottom panel of page 10 (I miss page #’s), nice line-up. Great shot by Perez. Ridiculous dialog by Jim, though.

    I agree with you, Tom, that nobody did a better version of this iteration of the Beast.

    Simon & Carol had a “fun relationship”? I never knew. I thought their quick dating period was 30 years later, in “Ms. Marvel”.

    Like

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