Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hijacking a Helicarrier

WARNING: Though this review talks about a 35-year-old comic book story, it does contain minor spoilers regarding the latest Captain America movie.

I have to say that I've really enjoyed the Marvel Universe movies, especially the first Captain America movie and the Avengers. They have a sense of fun to them that recent DC movies have lacked. It's as if DC's philosophy for its movie universe is "There are superheroes in the world and because of that everything is dark and depressing and you are all going to die."  Marvel, on the other hand, has its movie universe telling us "There are superheroes in the world and, though there is danger and evil present, the superheroes make the world COOL AND AWESOME!"

Anyway, the plot of the second Captain America movie reminds of a four-issue story arc published in Marvel Team-Up #82-85 (June-Sept 1979), in that this story also involved bad guys infiltrating and taking over SHIELD.

In the case of the comic book story, though, it's not a decades-long plot. Rather it involves the lady terrorist Viper and a mind-control beam.

It all starts when Spider Man rescues a lady from muggers, only to discover the lady is a amnesiac Black Widow. In fact, what little the Widow does remember is wrong--she thinks she's a school teacher named Nancy Rushman (a cover identity she used when she first came to America as a Soviet spy).

Soon after that, SHIELD agents led by Countess Valentina Allegra de Fontaine are trying to kill the confused
Widow. She and Spider Man spend most of issue #82 fighting them off, only to be ambushed and tranquilized by Nick Fury.

It's a neat set-up for a strong story. We are, at first, as much in the dark as Spider Man as to what the heck is going on. Also, the Widow with amnesia aspect is handled well. As "Nancy Rushman," she's confused and terrified, but her skills as the Widow still show up when she's under stress, so she gets to be more than a damsel-in-distress during the story.

Chris Claremont is the writer, by the way, and he really was at the top of his game during the 1970s and early 1980s. Sal Buscema provides strong, clear art work throughout the tale.

The second issue adds to the confusion. Nick Fury is worried about many of his agents acting bizarrely, worried about who he can trust. In the meantime, Spider Man is trying to rescue the Widow from SHIELD headquarters while also confused about what's going on. Then the villains Boomerang and Silver Samurai show up and try to kill everyone.

By Part Three, everything is gradually becoming clear. Viper has taken over the Helicarrier, using a hypno-beam to turn the crew into her puppets. She plans to crash the ship on top of the capital while President Jimmy Carter is giving a speech to Congress. (Black Widow's amnesia was actually caused when she was captured and tortured by Viper during the planning stages of Viper's scheme.)

Well, that certainly has to be stopped. Unable to trust his own people, Nick calls a friend in MI6 for help--The friend is Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, which means Shang-Chi soon shows up. (Something the story tries to make a surprise reveal part way into the third issue, despite Shang-Chi being prominently shown on the cover!)

More action and shenanigans ensue. In fact, the extended action sequence that takes up most of issues #84 and 85 is really superb, with the four good guys battling mind-controlled SHIELD agents, Boomerang, Silver Samurai, and Viper back and forth through the Helicarrier, with Widow occasional reverting to "Nancy Rushman" and coming close to panic. It ends when Widow and Viper face off against each other while Nick and Spidey desperately try to hot-wire the Helicarrier engines  before  it crashes on top of most of the U.S. government.

It's a wonderful yarn, with a strong plot in which the various twists and turns all make sense, backed up by some great fight scenes. There's some emotional bite involving the Widow recovering from amnesia along with Spider Man being attracted to the Nancy Rushman persona--something that Claremont wisely underplays to make it seem real without resorting to melodrama.

It makes one think. The Helicarrier is one of the most awesome fictional vehicles ever created, but it does get taken over by bad guys quite frequently, doesn't it? Is something that potentially dangerous to its owners really a wise idea? Maybe SHIELD needs to use more mundane equipment.

Oh, what am I saying? There are times when the world simply has to risk total destruction in the name of giving the good guys getting to show off their really cool stuff.

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