Saturday, December 24, 2011

Moondragon Mindtrip: Shooter Style Avengers, part three

I love writing these things from memory, so I can emphasize the most memorable parts and keep emphasis on the characters, rather than plot summary. It IS good to check back when I have the issue on hand (thanks, Joe Braband and David Holt, again!)---that way, we don’t miss bits like “Mechano-Marauder.”

We could make this small role a spotlight, too; after all, he re-appears in #221 in the middle of the membership drive! I don’t think Assistant Editor’s Month would’ve been complete without him, either; it’s there we discover he’s an inventor who won the lottery. Here, he attacks Avengers Mansion in his exo-skeleton. Iron Man casually engages him in combat while the Wasp, Captain America, and Thor arrive!

(It’s this meeting where the returned Wasp nominates herself as chairperson in “an election that’s long overdue.”) Shellhead greets them each in turn while addressing the ranting would-be…what IS he trying to accomplish, anyway? So if he beats an Avenger, he will get a rep? I think he’s spent more time working out his armor than his intentions.

Moondragon kicked off Shooter’s run, and she’s back again to start us off. She is an example of more time given to intentions, but a questionable amount devoted to means. #218 features a fill-in by the ever-thoughtful J.M.DeMatteis, who may’ve been the first writer in comics I noted and memorized as a favorite, for his Marvel Team-Ups with Reed Richards, the Vision, and Scarlet Witch. (Steven Grant was the first name that sank in, for a Werewolf By Night MTU I borrowed from a big DC fan!) Before I digress on the tale behind buying my first JMD comic, I’m going to put this back on track as Jim Shooter’s Avengers---one of the few runs he had time for as editor-in-chief over the massively fun decade of Marvel Comics Group from 1978-1987.

Now I wish Big Jim nothing but happiness---it’s easy to feel that way about everyone at the moment---while I wonder what he was thinking, regarding his role as Overlord at Marvel editorial and the subsequent mixed reactions to his activities, and contrasting that with Moondragon’s editorial fiat of peace, enforced by a degree of mind control of which you just know every boss has dreamed at some point! A great comic book’s never just a comic book, but some implications only arise in hindsight. Sometimes, Groucho said, a cigar is just a cigar. Well, I’m sure Freud said that, too.

Moondragon plants a doubt in everyone’s mind by manipulating the catalyst of the Avengers’ issue 211 cast changes. She spurs numerous heroes there to ask for membership, at the very time Cap’s just called for a six-member team as a management decision for safety and efficiency in the field. This is more of the type of somewhat unpopular planning a real life boss may face; taking charge, making a stand, is business for someone thoughtful who may yet act---not the vacillation of the narrator of Notes From the Underground (Doestoyevsky: another deMatteis shout out!). Once she reveals her hand and engages the Avengers in combat, they begin wondering if she didn’t plot the whole thing. In fact, are they as yet free of her mental influence? This echoes as late as the actual ending of that story.

You see, Yellowjacket’s one of the ones manipulated into arriving to request membership; he then explains “my research was going nowhere!” and sticks with the idea of he and the Wasp joining. Only at the end of this saga, issue 230, will the mind-control counter device---developed in these stories by an exhausted, near-to-breaking Iron Man in #228---finally be tried by Hank Pym, as they desperately hope for some alleviation in the truth of Hank Pym’s actions.

His life will continue developing, under cameos by Roger Stern and WEST COAST AVENGERS stories by Steve Englehart. Remember how Tigra couldn’t stand his stinging abrasiveness from the start? That’s his very next girlfriend!

Considering she’s an Avengers candidate at one point, obviously she has some great power or skill, as well as a general desire for peaceful ends. There only needs to be one or two fatal flaws in the whole package to make the most earnest of heroes a menace. Here, we have an Earth girl, Heather Douglas, saved from a car crash along with her father, abducted to the Saturnine moon, Titan (with its near-Earth nitrogen-rich atmosphere, altered for life by what we find in #247 are expatriated Eternals). She’s raised in a fashion reminiscent of one-time Celestial Madonna rival Mantis (see my August blogs at integr8dfix!): trained for mental and physical perfection, to excellent results. She achieves, rather than acquires, her powers, similar to Iron Man, but instead becoming a telepath and telekinetic of the first order. If you think manipulating a roster change at Avengers Mansion is something, ya ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

This time, she provides us a subtle hint of cheesecake that brought to mind my own lady: she calls the Avengers out of the business of their daily lives and summons them to a ship for a distant planet, Ba’Bani.

Turns out, Janet Van Dyne doesn’t wear “unstable molecule” outfits that provide for shrinking into the Wasp at all times---certainly not on this trip to the hairdresser. I don’t think any other superhero’s used a bow-tied handkerchief for a costume! It’s just the kind of thing an impressionable youth might recall with fondness---like She Hulk answering the emergency alarm in #236, hollering at Jarvis for a towel! It’s a sly wink at the older audience, too. It’s one of those moments like Don Blake rushing into the men’s room to stamp his cane and become Mighty Thor, only to discover the trellis is much too small for an exit, leading a Thunder God to step out of the gents into a busy restaurant…reassuring himself no one would think the crippled fellow would be connected with the superhero. Iron Man’s showing off as Tony Stark, multimillionaire pimp (before inflation meant he’d have to be a billionaire?), telling his latest interested ---er, bimbo--- about blackjack strategies when he gets the irresistible urge to change! But Steve Rogers is about to hook an invitation to a yacht party from none other than Ann Nocenti, while soliciting for a commercial art job. She believes while her back was turned, he’s dived out the window! See, the freelance life is an anxious one, indeed.

Soon all are aboard the ship sent by Drax the Destroyer (Papa Douglas, as transformed by opponents of mad Thanos into a flying powerhouse.) Upon arrival on Ba’Bani, they’re asked to quell a violent revolution, on a planet led by Moondragon, as priestess, to peace. This, the Avengers do in spectacular fashion; they’re thanked and shown the door. Yet some lack of mental acuity leads Cap to request they stay a couple of days, so Moonie asks Drax to take them on a quick tour.

Janet, by the way, avails herself of an old tarp; she won’t get a costume until she goes shopping after the action---“Since I doubt they’d take my Amex here, I charged it to Moondragon!” While one Avenger’s getting dressed, another’s getting undressed. Thor answers an invitation for his hammer, extended by Moondragon. Considering he’s about three millennia old, the fact she can show him an unusual time leaves a lot to the imagination. The less obvious purpose is to set up a pliable Thunder God to join her quest for universal peace; she appeals to their fellowship as gods. Thor’s now ready to fight his friends to the death for her cause!

He may well have to: Iron Man’s taken the initiative to bend some girders around Drax to make the point he’s become pacified to a suspicious degree. Then, they watch a monitor replay of the battlefield, clearly demonstrating Drax watching impassively when Captain America needed, at the very least, a heads-up. When he gets through to Drax, he has doubts about the force he’s unleashed now!

There’s a level of ambiguity, indeed, to the Avengers’ counter-mission.

Moondragon’s mental powers have quelled a planet-wide war. Her Machiavellian means, however, make Drax call the Avengers. She then stages the revolutionary take-over battle to give the Avengers something satisfying to do, so they can leave without questions! Cap and Jan find yesterday’s insurgent leaders, contentedly cleaning up after the conflict, clueless, they say, as to why they abandoned their shops to incite violence!

Thor provides an ample challenge to the Avengers; it gets pretty personal, with Iron Man---a guy who knows a thing or two about ego---delivering an exasperated punch, powered by a massive lightning attack on his armor.

What Iron Man’s called “benevolent psychic tyranny” here shows its claws, as peaceful means of protecting her plans end when the Avengers resist. Still, if you had Moondragon’s powers to influence people to your ends---wouldn’t you use them? She may not live up to our ethical ideals, but I think she accurately reflects just how people would respond if they could change intentions with a thought!

Spoiler alert:

While Thor can’t be dissuaded, there’s another side of the hero: mortal Don Blake, who continues to be as important to Shooter’s writing as Tony Stark’s ingenuity figures into the character of Iron Man. Thor makes the decision to change, and so resist. As Moondragon prepares for all-out assault, the Wasp borrows Don Blake's coat "for modesty's sake!" then quickly grows to full size, using her momentum and surprise to belt her! After all, "Cap and Iron Man may be too much the gentlemen to hit a woman! I don't know any martial arts; will this do?"

Then, her decision to act as a god is taken to a worthy court: Odin, All-Father, will decide Moondragon’s justice. I’d love to know how that played out! I’ll check into it; surely it came about before her stint in deMatteis’ Defenders (our THIRD shout out to J.M.; just who’s featured in this blog?)

I MAY well find the time to discuss 221, 222 and 224 further, but you can see the Wasp’s entry in Stern’s Avengers posts around Thanksgiving to get the story on Janet Van Dyne and Tony Stark. AS for #221, there’s a membership drive, planting the seeds for Spider-Man’s two part appearance the next year and once again stirring up triple the letters! Janet Van Dyne invites super-heroines over for tea, only to meet up with the return of the Mechano-Marauder (who meets similar disdain, not to mention encountering a design problem with pratfall consequences).

#222 features Egghead’s return with the new Masters of Evil and the first new adventure with members She-Hulk and Hawkeye. It's scripted by Steven Grant, so there's HIS other shout-out! The appearance of the re-assembled Masters of Evil also sets up the confrontation that will involve Hank Pym being still further framed by the Shocker---an unwitting Egghead pawn. Now, what about #223 by David Michelinie? Well, that’s a matter for fans of Hawkeye and the new Scott Lang Ant Man to explore! The new Ant Man may be a painful reminder of Jan’s old days with her hubbie as the original, but he pops up a lot in this run (and in IRON MAN) as a supporting character.

Tomorrow, you get a few of my favorite Avengers moments, then we index a couple of classic Japanese anime/ tv classics, a Steve Gerber reluctant heroine, and if we’re really good, the script to Mystic Order of Defenders #1! I’m finishing some original pieces and re-writing some of the long fiction from Integr8d Fix---hopefully, the book will be ready for you Bronze Age fans next month! Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Loveable Lue

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