Friday, January 17, 2014

A Lot Of Rambling About Acts Of Vengeance

I'm in one of those odd writing moods where I have three or four ideas for posts, but none of them feel quite ready to go. For two of them, I'm waiting for the next batch of comics so I can see how a couple of things play out. The others, I'm just not feeling like they're ready.

I spent most of last night flipping through all the Acts of Vengeance tie-in stuff. I have pretty much everything, save the X-Factor issues, which didn't seem necessary. The team itself is off-world throughout, so the tie-in is limited to Apocalypse mulling over whether to join Loki's little roundtable. Since I know he declined, it didn't seem worth the trouble.

I had read something of Tim O'Neil's from 2012, relating to how much of a disaster Avengers vs. X-Men was in terms of logical progression or coherence, and he brought up Acts of Vengeance as a comparison for how there used to at least be a minimum amount of care given to making sure the pieces fit. He mentions used to have a reading order mapped out for the whole thing, which sounded like the sort of odd time-consuming exercise I might enjoy. That was one of my projects two summers ago, pick up all the AoV tie-ins I didn't already have, but I hadn't gotten around to trying to figure out an order until last night.

It's early stages for me yet, so I'm not sure how it's going. I currently have no idea where the X-books (Uncanny and Wolverine) fit relative to everything else. Wolverine precedes Uncanny X-Men for sure, but past that. . .

It is strange to see the Mandarin in that weird blue armor he rocks for most of the crossover, then to see Jim Lee slap him in a suit about half the time during the Uncanny arc. I think he looks better in the suit myself.

I don't understand how Iron Man #250 can come after the whole thing had started, considering Doom doesn't give any indication he's part of some group. You'd think Loki might notice when Doom is magically whisked away to the future by Merlin.

I know Doom wonders why he has to work with a common gangster like the Kingpin, but the guy who felt most out of place to me was the Wizard. Kingpin can at least say he's an archfoe for Daredevil and the Punisher, and as he noted, he's the closest thing to a Spider-Man arch-enemy of the bunch. Mandarin's an Iron Man foe, Red Skull for Captain America, Doom for the FF, Magneto for the X-Men, Loki for Thor/Avengers (even if they don't realize he's there). The Wizard's smart, sure, but I had a hard time buying him as a topflight villain. He tries, but it's never really panned out. I think the Leader might have served better, as a Hulk arch-enemy, but this was the Joe Fixit era, when the Hulk was allegedly dead (though Doom clearly knows better), so maybe that's it. The Jester made an offer to the Leader, but he sent one of his lackeys instead, so I guess he had better stuff to worry about. The Wizard has spent more time networking with lesser villains than the others, so perhaps Loki thought that would help.

The order of the Spider-books among themselves isn't difficult. Amazing, Spectacular, Web, starts with Amazing #326, ends with Amazing #329, which comes after the big Avengers vs. Loki showdown in Avengers West Coast #55. I've had all the Spider-Man issues for years. Cosmic Spider-Man is one of my favorite stories ever. watching him struggle with the new powers, with the question of what he ought to be doing with them. And the idea that after years of being the guy who always winds up in fights where he's punching way out of his weight class, now he's the guy everyone else is overmatched against. Him uppercutting the Hulk into orbit is something I always enjoy reading, at least in part because Joe Fixit Hulk is such an ass he needs to be knocked down a peg.

It's kind of interesting to see which of the lesser villains pop up in more than one book. Most of them are among the third-raters that get trashed by the FF in their crossover. Hydro Man, Owl, Shocker, Orka, Whirlwind. The last two oddly, were a couple of the villains that didn't seem to make a successful escape from the Vault at the start of the whole thing, while the Owl fled for Canada at some point (naturally running smack dab into Alpha Flight). Shocker gets dropped by Spidey alongside Rhino as a warm-up to Doom sending TESS-One after him. Hydro Man winds up in a team led by the Jester, and attacks the Avengers at a town hall meeting the heroes are using to try and address public concern about heroes. There's a whole backdrop to Acts of Vengeance about a Super-Hero Registration Act - which the FF were called to testify about, and which Reed Richards spoke against, in stark contrast to his behavior in Civil War, in case you needed reminding the latter story was a pile of burning garbage. If you were trying to forget Civil War ever happened, sorry.

Maybe the trick is not to take the Fantastic Four issues seriously. Simonson was clearly having some fun with it, because Doom ends up picking the FF's foes. The trick is, he uses a device that compels all these loser, second-rate villains to attack, when they have no hope of winning. Half the time, the baddies don't even reach the heroes, they get taken out by the security system or each other. Which is the point. Dr. Doom is damned if he's going to let anyone else kill the accursed 4, so no Ultron, or the Wrecking Crew or whatever for them, no sir.

It's also neat to see how the different lower-tier villains get into it. Some of the are approached directly by one of the roundtable guys. Web of Spider-Man and Spectacular, are Doom and the Wizard setting up different guys to go after Spidey (Doom's mostly trying to get a sample of that cosmic energy). Oddly enough, in Amazing Spider-Man, most of the threat comes from Sebastian Shaw, who isn't even part of the group, but is approached about killing Spidey in exchange for the death of the X-Men, and also had a Sentinel project going (and ultimately, Loki fuses all the Sentinels together to destroy a nuclear plant and that's why Spidey got the cosmic powers). Some of them get suckered into it (the U-Foes and Mole Man both go after the West Coast Avengers because they think the Whackos attacked them first), or dropped in with no idea what's going on. Loki basically blinks the Juggernaut out of an English prison and dumps him in New York. Juggy has no idea how it happened or why, but he's fine with smashing stuff until the reason becomes clear. And that's how we got the New Warriors, which is why Acts of Vengeance is the greatest Marvel event thing ever.

Then there are villains no one approached, they decided to get in on it all on their own. New Mutants has a whole bit about Vulture being pissed no one thinks he's worth using, except as a dope to free Nitro so he can wreak havoc. Then Nitro goes and gets punked by Skids, for pete's sake. Moon Knight runs afoul of Killer Shrike and Coachwhip, both of whom spend the entire fight bemoaning the fact they couldn't find anyone better to kill. Which is pretty funny coming from a couple of losers like them. Coachwhip was second-rate even among the Serpent Society, who are hardly the Masters of Evil when it comes to super-villain groups. The first time I ever saw Killer Shrike, he was attacking Spider-Man, believing the Webhead had been sent to get him by some mysterious group, only for Spidey to take him down in three pages, sighing internally the whole time how tired he was of fighting the same foes over and over.

One thing that was kind of nifty was only one guy figured out who was behind everything from the start, and it was the Mad Thinker. Loki - in his role as a mysterious benefactor - offered the guy an escape from jail, and spot on the team, but the Thinker turned him down. Saw a high likelihood of failure, and immediately surmised who he was talking to. It makes a bit of sense the heroes would have so much trouble figuring it out. Even when they can catch one of the people who attacks them, assuming it's one who was directly approached, that person was approached by one of the roundtable. Loki somehow managed to play to all their egos simultaneously, making them all believe it was really each guy's idea, and he was merely a lackey helping them out. Which has the benefit of keeping him in the background, and the heroes chasing after the other guys, not realizing that Doom attacking the Punisher, or the Brothers Grimm attacking Spider-Man are all part of the same plan, hatched by the same person.

I don't know, it'll be a process, but it's been fun to go back and reread the books. A lot of them I hadn't read since right after I bought them. But a lot of them have a tone that suggests the creators know this is a little silly, but they're having a good time with it. Quasar, for example, treats some of the threats as serious, Absorbing Man with the power of the Quantum Bands, but it doesn't insult your intelligence by treating Venom like a real threat to Wendell Vaughn. They put him on the cover, possibly as a joking sales boost thing, and Quasar takes him out in the first two pages, then goes on to have slightly greater trouble with Klaw, before getting stuck chasing the Living Laser into the Watcher's digs, only to get sidetracked by the Red Ghost. None of these guys are really on Quasar's level, but he's trying to be polite and careful, and each villain keeps popping up to attack while he's preoccupied with the previous one, so he only ends up with one by the end of the whole thing.

In most cases, the ongoing plotlines are treated as being more serious, and these attacks by unfamiliar super-villains are intrusions that highlight those problems. The Avengers are scattered and preoccupied with their own problems, so no one can show up to defend the Hydrobase, or they have to fight Freedom Force with a bunch of people unaccustomed to working together. Having Cosmic Power amplifies Spidey's usual concerns about power and responsibility. Daredevil's trying to figure out what the hell's gone wrong with his life, whether the problem is that he doesn't want to care about others, or that he still does. And here comes an Ultron who can't reconcile all the different views in its mind, it's issues as creator and created, which makes it a danger to itself and others. The X-Men are scattered, which makes Psylocke easy prey for the Hand and Mandarin, and Logan still hasn't recovered from the thrashing Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers gave him. And everyone else thinks they're dead, so no one's on the lookout to see if they're in trouble.

Some of the stories work better than others, some of the art is much stronger, but it really does hold together pretty well. There's a common sense of the heroes being caught flatfooted by it all, and struggling to figure out what's happening. Meanwhile, there's tons of property damage (since Damage Control has been purchased by entities that gutted its effectiveness in their own mini-series). That the damage isn't being rapidly fixed, raises public concern, which plays into the whole arc about the Registration Act. Most critically, the creative teams are able to, as I mentioned above, use the thing as part of their ongoing plots. The stories they were telling don't come screeching to a halt for the duration. They keep moving in the background (like Immortus' plans for the Scarlet Witch), or they stay in the foreground and absorb the event into them. Which is not something I feel a lot of books these days can manage. Some writers can (bringing up Civil War again, I still contend Nicieza on Cable/Deadpool, and Peter David on X-Factor did just fine using it, without letting the stories they wanted to tell be derailed).

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