Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tigra, Ghost Rider---Shooter's Marvel Comics Group: the Avengers

Courtesy the Tigra Picture Page


Tigra the Cat Woman, demon hero Ghost Rider, emotionally-backwards Molecule Man, and Hank Pym, hero no more: these four center our next discussion of Jim Shooter’s 1980’s run on THE MIGHTY AVENGERS by Marvel Comics Group. Specifically, we’re examining these four in light of issues #214-217, published in 1981.

First: the Ghost Rider. Johnny Blaze is so emotionally troubled at this point, he’s brooding out in the desert, homeless, aimless, hopeless. It’s no accident we meet him on the heels of Hank Pym’s breakdown chronicled over the two months before. Shooter really nails this character: in his despair, his envy over the speeding playboy with the girl and the two hundred mph beautiful auto sparks anger at the injustice of his now- nowhere life. So, he unleashes the Ghost Rider, flame-skull vigilante now virtually free of human influence. He still has Blaze’s champion rider skills and uses them to first provoke a car crash, then challenge the driver to a race---for it’s Warren Worthington, the high-flying Angel. They defy death with their powers, but the Angel ends up seriously hurt, a coma patient in the next small town! Shaken by her unbelievable circumstances, girlfriend Candy Southern calls in the Avengers. Captain America, in the middle of trying out an early Battle of Britain computer game, answers and reassures grieving Candy they’ll come out to hunt the Ghost Rider.

Meanwhile, Ghostie’s human half couldn’t be sorrier. He realizes he’s done a terrible thing, and snapped out of his plight long enough to get a job pumping gas and stay around to see how Worthington recovers. Then Blaze sees Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Tigra (Wasp is on leave, briefly). None know his dual identity, but now becoming his hell-fire tossing demonic alter ego would be a high-stakes gamble of a different order. In human guise, he completely evades the Avengers’ search.

Cap’s decision to give a guy fifty dollars a day for his freely-lent motorcycle is a nice character touch, leading naturally into the admiration of the local young people. A meeting at the local cafĂ© scares off the adult regulars, however. I did enjoy the joke about Al’s chili “will make them THINK their heads are on fire!” The mayor/ post master/ local hotel owner’s a hoot, too, without throwing the plot off-track; in a call back to the Avengers taking the bus during the Korvac Saga, now we get our quartet riding in a locally-rented pick-up truck. That alone’s worth the price of admission, folks. Tigra’s newfound pleasure at trying out the Avengers’ expense account gives us a quirky shopping scene ending with her in ridi-cute cowgirl clothing, riding with the Captain.

Ghost Rider’s unleashed in a desperate moment: a little boy named Kim’s trying to play Thor on a water tower, bringing the earlier scene to a surprising but logical new place while building the plot and demonstrating character. Blaze’s desire to try to do something good with his terrible curse, going horribly awry here as the Ghost Rider declares there’s nothing to avenge and leaves the little one dangling!) The limited spiritual warrior in Blaze results in a Ghost Rider without conscience.
Ghost Rider’s increasing unpredicability and Johnny Blaze’s basic decency in turmoil with his frustrations really shine through; it’s one of the best guest spots in any Marvel Comic.

His fight with the Avengers is loaded with surprises. You just might never have expected the out-classed Ghost Rider to put up this kind of battle, but with his speed and ruthlessness he puts back each Avenger on his/her heels. The three mortal Avengers, and Tigra in particular, experience the Hellfire, induced fear of a sort she’s never known. She really relates how tough it would be for a regular person, unused to psychic attacks or confronting overwhelming fright, to stay on the playing field. Even Iron Man is most assuredly glad he can now seal his armor (though with artistic license, the emotional quality of his Hellfire might really still give Ghostie a weapon, as it’s not usually manifested as actual flame). I am going to say you have GOT to see how he takes advantage of Thor’s weapon’s enchantment (remember, the returns to its thrower) to give the Thunder God a rude surprise!

Yes, the Ghost Rider’s meant to be a super-hero, albeit the most popular survivor from Marvel’s Monster Craze in the early ‘70s. Despite his rough handling, the Angel returns to the scene, provoking a climatic showdown with emotional pathos. The internal states of the characters, in the best of these stories, seek resolutions alongside the fantastic action.

These stories are SO jam-packed; interactions with regular people, build-ups, thoughtful interludes, loads of surprising action, and COMPLETE stories with an actual ending, in this case, done-in-one!

Tigra’s not the first heroine that comes to mind when you say “Avengers” but she comes across as an interesting person, while still very much a classic Marvel hero with monster-type problems. Anywhere she goes, she stirs attention; some of it, she makes clear, has no place in her plans. Her interactions with the public are comical yet disruptive; her unusual appearance makes a simple bank trip a lot of trouble.

These issues (#211-216) complete the arc of Tigra’s stay with the Avengers. Admittedly, as she says, she’s “heroic enough” but she feels like a character for a very different kind of adventures than the straight-ahead super-heroics. Maybe for some she’s a statement here on how Captain America, Iron Man, and Mighty Thor, with the Wasp, represent the foundations of Marvel Comics and its fictional universe, serving as an indictment by contrast as to the less enduring characters created on the backbone of work by impressarios Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and then other dedicated craftsmen.

I think for Shooter, it’s this simple: in what she is not, we clearly see what these established characters ARE. It’s no accident that those three all star now in blockbuster summer movies, while Tigra’s at best a cult hero figure; it’s by design.

In a different fictional world focus, however, Tigra, like She-Hulk, could be a figure in the pop culture.