The Avengers #55

The Silver Age of Comics has brought about changes in pop culture that will reverberate for years to come. From the two major companies, Marvel and DC, the sheer amount of work they created that is still being mined is amazing. But do they stand the test of time? Not always.

To get back in the saddle of reviewing I thought I would dive into a classic issue of The Avengers. This issue was the debut of Ultron-5, the evil robot played so amazingly by James Spader in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The premise of the issue is that The Avengers have been kidnapped by the reformed Masters of Evil under the guise of the mysterious Crimson Cowl. While the previous issue came out and said Jarvis, Tony Stark’s butler, was The Crimson Cowl, it turns out Jarvis was being hypnotized by Ultron. The scheme was to have a hydrogen bomb held over the Empire State Building while Ultron contacts authorities for a ransom. The Black Knight arrives after Jarvis is able to escape, hijinks ensue, and The Avengers save the day.

The overall story itself was not horrible. I’ve certainly read much worse than this. Yet it does have a couple major failings. The biggest one is how Jarvis is dealt with. First, they imply he’s being hypnotized yet at the end of the issue Jarvis tells The Avengers that his mother was sick and he needed money so he sold them out. Which is it? Was he forced against his will through hypnosis or did he go along with the plan simply to help his mother? Also, maybe someone can fill me in as to what Tony Stark’s fortune was at this point in time but I strongly suspect that Tony would have willingly given Jarvis whatever cash he needed to care for his family.

Secondly, he was attacked by the Melter (after previously being attacked by Ultron) yet was able to escape with essentially minor bruises. When Jake and Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers were attacked over and over again yet were able to simply walk away it was done for humorous effect. When a simple butler is able to survive an attack from a robot and a hardened criminal with simply nothing more than an Excedrin headache, it takes the believe ability of these villains, tosses it out a window, and lets birds use them for scraps for their nests. While I could let it slide when it happens to one of The Avengers, because let’s face it, even during the 1960’s you would expect members of a group to train for situations for like this, for an average civilian, you’d expect them to be straight up murdered.

Another issue I had was something I’ve seen a lot in Silver Age Comics. They introduce the big bad villain yet only showcase that villain for a couple of pages. Granted, I’m admittedly being a little impatient here. This issue was during the era where they were just getting into the groove of multi-issue stories. If you take early Avengers stories, early Spider-Man stories, most would be single story issues. With what is called decompression, they were letting stories breath really, letting them flow longer and more organically like a story in a novel or movie compared to the compression stories of the past eras. One drawback of the decompression method is if you find yourself in the middle of the story you may find that certain characters you want to see are simply not going to be around in a particular story simply because they’re not needed. Yet, I still found myself frustrated because for Ultron’s part in the story, we mainly saw him as The Crimson Cowl. Once he reveals himself as Ultron, he only appears in four more pages of the story in only a small handful of panels. This is a complaint…but a complaint I am sure a writer wants to see a person have because I wanted to see more of him.

So where do I stand on this issue? You have to take it in full context honestly. It’s a part of a longer story told in previous issues. With that, as a stand alone story, it doesn’t hold up too well. However, what it did right was not having the enjoyment of this issue be completely reliant upon total knowledge of what happened in previous issues. To me, the sign of a good comic is one that you can pick up with any issue and enjoy it. They have to have the mindset George Lucas said he had for Star Wars, that each film is its own story but all the films together tell one coherent story. This issue fits that formula nicely so I do recommend it as a read. It’s certainly not a classic in comics history along the lines of Amazing Fantasy #15, with a solid beginning, middle, and end, it does what it needs to do. In the age of graphic novels and comics available upon demand digitally, I think this is something some comics creators are forgetting today. They have the mindset that each issue is a chapter in a story and write it accordingly. Comic stories, even today, share more with old movie serials than they do with books. Basically, you have one issue to sell a new reader on your story so make whatever issue they pick up feel like a complete story, not a small part of something bigger. If they like what they read, they will purchase the other issues.

The Avengers #171

Avengers_Vol_1_171

Jocasta has escaped thanks to Iron Man and Captain America allowing her to do so. The Avengers head onto a crowded New York street and get reports from passersby that Jocasta was just there. They also apparently have time to be ogled by the ladies in The Beast’s case and with The Scarlet Witch, she’s offered a modeling gig. With a robot that could destroy the human race on the loose, taking time to get laid sure shows some folks priorities.

The Avengers head into an alley to discover a wino who says that a robot and a penguin had just left the place. They think he’s a drunk but the next scene you see is Jocasta in a car with a nun. The nun is apparently working for Ultron. At this point you wonder whether the writer of the piece was actually paying attention to the story he was writing. He goes one minute giving the impression that the team has lost Jocasta and with the next, Iron Man is still tracking her. So scenes like this where they’re asking folks if they’ve seen a female robot are just pointless if Iron Man has the ability to track her. The story almost comes across like it was written in one draft and, after a cursory glance for spelling errors, just published as is.

From there we go back to the lady who offered The Scarlet Witch a modeling job. Seems she had left a lady in a changing room in a department store and she was rushing back to her. That lady was Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel herself. At first I thought she had something to do with Korvac when she changed into her Ms. Marvel gear. Then she flies off and joins up with The Avengers, telling them she is tagging along because she senses some danger that will face them. Yellow Jacket and The Wasp arrive in a cobbled together ship that Tony Stark had previously made and Iron Man, suddenly remembering he had the ability to track Jocasta, the killer robot they were all worried about stopping except when they were offered modeling jobs and sex, tells everyone to follow him because he knows where the bad guys are.

They arrive at a convent. A nun lets them in and they head into the lair. Thor has a panel where he’s talking about how folks consider him and his people god’s but that they make no claim to supreme divinity. Which is true and all but it’s not like any other Asgardian apart from Thor views Earthlings as anything but subservient animals. He finds himself uncomfortable in a house of worship which is an interesting idea that could be expounded upon at some point.

Wanda is teleported somewhere. We don’t know where. The Avengers are concerned but focus on finding Ultron first which they do in quick order. A robot built on logic gives a monologue to the heroes when he should have just been firing everything he had at them. I get that with artificial intelligence, Ultron will end up having some form of emotions. With the memory banks he holds, and the fact that he talks about Yellow Jacket being his father and all the other stuff he talks about, Ultron is not like the Cybermen from Doctor Who. The Cybermen or the Borg from Star Trek are cold, methodical creatures that have a single focus. Sure they’ll talk to you but it’s more to tell you that you’re insignificant and that you will be murdered soon. They’re not going to have a Bond villain type of monologue.

We then break to The Scarlet Witch who’s in a room of mirrors. For someone who’s power is sending hexes, it would be an appropriate way to keep her prisoner. When she attempts to send out a hex, it could just as easily hit and hurt her. I just wish that, since this is part of the Korvac Saga story according to the Marvel Unlimited app, that there had been some reference up to this point about the fact that Korvac was taking people. Sure, at the end of the story we’re brought back into the main story we’re reading here but with Wanda being taken like she was, it was a bit of a red herring for the reader to think that maybe we’d be getting to the bottom of the story for once which we are clearly not at this point.

From there we see Ms. Marvel roaming the halls of the convent. Seems she had bowed out of the fight against Ultron since Hank Pym had mentioned that he had built a resistance for the existing team which she is not a part of from Ultron’s attack. I can accept this as a reasonable way to get her somewhere else. It’s little things like this that are missing in the story so far that have made this reading experience a bit of a chore. When you do see that the writer finally takes the time to explain why things are happening as they are, you find yourself getting lost in the action of the story which is what they want you to do.

Turns out that the nun that drove Jocasta to the convent was an android as well. Ms. Marvel quickly makes her her bitch and discovers that Wanda is still in the convent being kept prisoner. She also discovers that the real nuns are still in the building, tied up by Ultron. Again, something that doesn’t make sense. Ultron has no problem attempting to murder the man who made him and the rest of The Avengers as well but a robot would still tie up some nuns and just not brutally shoot them in the face? Why would he care? He wouldn’t. Even with his artificial intelligence, when an android has its mind set on something, little things like murder would not keep it from accomplishing its goal. It’s a machine. Even with the artificial intelligence, logic would state that straight up murdering the nuns would have been the way to go for Ultron. But apparently he has a soft streak for Catholics. Maybe Hank Pym put in some special programming from the Vatican to protect people of the clergy.

Ultron wakes up Jocasta to have her join his side only to have her, in a fit of human logic, decide that even though she is programmed to be at his side, she has to kill him because she knows what type of robot he is. It’s been established that Jocasta had an imprint of Janet Pym’s mind in her recently which made her a sort of pseudo-human. It is what it is I guess. Yeah, The Vision is an android in the story as well but is basically a human but I still don’t buy the fact that they somehow have life. They have programming telling them how to react. That’s nice and all in order to resolve the story but maybe it’s just because robotics at this point and time are not at the point where artificial intelligence could be any sort of a threat to mankind but I just don’t buy androids in a story that are presented as having some sort of emotion. Yes, it’s a fantasy set in a place that is real. But I just don’t buy it. Let the robot be crazy as fuck looking to kill everyone but I just can’t accept it having human emotions or reactions.

The story ends with Ultron defeated. They commiserate about a job well done only to end the story with Jocasta and Captain America disappearing. Seems the writers may have gone down from their high and remembered that they were supposed to write about Korvac. Oh to see the drugs that were passed in the Marvel Bullpen in the 70’s!

Bottom Line:

This issue has some serious flaws in execution. They’re the type of flaws that if they had been addressed in editing could have made this a pretty decent story. Having Iron Man especially go from not knowing where the heck Jocasta was to suddenly remembering that he was tracking her was annoying as hell. I also didn’t like the fact that they set up a big story element of Iron Man and Captain America allowing her to escape as if they had some sort of advanced knowledge that the rest of the team did not have only to completely ignore it. They seriously just dismissed the big ending from the previous issue by saying that with Iron Man as leader he can do whatever he wants. Now that would make me feel secure if The Avengers actually existed.  Another chapter in the Korvac Saga is in the books and the main story would probably take all of one comic to tell at this point. Mostly filler up to this point which is not so bad since the stories are taking place in a universe where multiple things can and will occur at once but I wish there was a little more coherence.