Wednesday, April 17, 2013

When Villains clash

There's so many super-villain running around most comic book universes that it would be surprising if they didn't get in each other's way from time to time.

This is what happened in Avengers #154 -156 (December 1976-February 1977), with a side trip to Super-Villain Team Up #9. One bad guy is Attuma, an Atlantian warlord who was always trying to overthrow Namor and then subjugate all us pathetic surface dwellers.

He wants to steal a new device--a "chloro-beam" designed to increase food production in the oceans, but that Attuma can use to turn his henchmen into super-powered giants. I'm not sure that makes sense, since the name implies it was affecting chlorophyll and not other sorts of cells, but what the heck. Comic book science is pretty all-encompassing.

So his plan is this: Attack and capture the Avengers; equip them with slave collars to force them to attack Namor; then, while they are all hopefully destroying each other, he'll attack the sea base at which the chloro-beam is being tested and steal it. But Namor isn't where Attuma thought he would be and the Avengers end up attacking Dr. Doom instead.

I enjoy the way the story plays out, with several sets of character acting independently with them all coming together in the same place and time at the end. A superpowered thug of Attuma's--named Tyrak--attacks Avengers Mansion by surprise and knocks out most of the team. Only the Beast escapes. It's a very nice touch that the Beast realizes he doesn't stand a chance and just runs away, intending on getting reinforcements.

Attuma attaches the slave collars to his captives and sends them after Namor, who at the time has was residing at Hydrobase, a floating U.S. government facility. But the story arc taking place in Super Villain Team Up has put Namor in Latvaria, while Dr. Doom is at Hyrobase.

The Avengers don't fight well while enslaved and are captured. In the meantime, Beast has recruited two heroes who had been involved in the previous storyline--the recently resurrected Wonder Man and the World War II-era speedster with the unfortunate name of the Whizzer. (Seriously, even in the 1940s, how could that name NOT have made 8-year-old boys giggle?)

Attuma captures the chloro-beam. The Avengers work together to allow the Vision to escape from the trap Doom has put them in. Namor shows up and mistakes Beast and his allies as Attuma's henchmen. Vision talks to Doom and convinces him to join forces with the Avengers against Attuma. Everyone ends up fighting Attuma, his troops and a now giant-sized Tyrak. Doom snitches the chloro-beam for himself, which means the Avengers have one last fight ahead of them even after Attuma is defeated.

The art is by George Perez, whose work is always exceptional but who really seems to shine  particularly bright on team books. Gerry Conway wrote the script and handles the twists and turns quite expertly. I really do enjoy the way he took the characters down different roads to get them all to the same place.

The way the story was marketed back in 1976, though, does touch on a pet peeve of mine. It encompasses three issues of Avengers, but it's a four-parter. Part 2, which was the fight between the enslaved Avengers and Dr. Doom, carried over into an issue of Super-Villain Team Up. (With that part of the story written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Jim Shooter.)

I grant that events taking place in the team up book cross over with this story line, but all the same I dislike this. It forces you to buy an issue of a comic you don't necessarily want to get the entire story. I understand that comic books are a business and must be marketed effectively. And I love it when characters from different books cross over with each other. That can be a lot of fun and its a legitimate way to get readers interested in other books.

But buying a particular book should always be a choice. It should never be forced upon you. Crossing stories throughout different books has become annoyingly common over the last couple of decades. In 1976, it was fortunately more rare. And comics were only 30 cents at the time, so it wasn't has painful a financial experience buying one as it is now. But was still an annoying thing to have to do. Besides, at the time, comic book stores were still rare. You got comics off the rack at your local 7-11, so missing an issue was all too real a possibility.

But I suppose that after 36 years, it's time to stop whining about having to spend an extra 30 cents. On the other hand, if I had saved that 30 cents and invested it wisely, I might be a multi-billionaire today.

Darn you, Marvel Comics. See what you did to me.


  1. Jim Shooter was a pretty decent artist, and had interesting layouts in his original Legion of Superheroes stories. now, he's not as dynamic as Perez, but then, only 2 or 3 are.

    I agree with you about crossovers, though. I think in my neck of the woods I saw exactly one issue of Super Villain Team Up, and it wasn't this one.

    great write up on my favorite Avengers era!

  2. DC had their high points during the 1970s. There will be a JLA review posting in June about one such high point.


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