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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

X-amining "Acts of Vengeance" Part 4

Amazing Spider-Man #329, Avengers Annual #19 (Second Story), Avengers Spotlight #29 (Second Story), Avengers West Coast #55, Captain America #367
February 1990

In a Nutshell
Loki is defeated and the Avengers deal with the fallout of "Acts of Vengeance".

Amazing Spider-Man #329 by David Michelinie & Erik Larsen
Avengers Annual #19 (Second Story) by Mark Gruenwald & Vince Mielcarek
Avengers Spotlight #29 (Second Story) by Dwayne McDuffie & Dwayne Turner
Avengers West Coast #55 by John Byrne & Paul Ryan
Captain America #367 by Mark Gruenwald & Kieron Dwyer

Plot
Captain America #367: Magneto confronts Red Skull at his Washington DC office, chasing him through a series of tunnels, dispatching obstacles along the way. Eventually, Magneto catches and imprisons Red Skull in an underground fallout shelter, leaving him alone in the dark, with nothing but water, to think of the horrors he's perpatrated, to suffer such that he'll wish Magneto had killed him. Avengers West Coast #55: Both teams of Avengers meet to discuss Thor's revelation that Loki is the mastermind behind the recent attacks on the Avengers. Meanwhile, in a holding cell, the Wizard activates a teleportation device hidden in his thumbnail and rejoins the Prime Movers. But Loki flies into a rage, saying Thor can trace the teleportation back to this location, and reveals himself to the Movers. Kingpin slips out, but Loki angrily immobilizes Wizard, Red Skull and Mandarin just as Thor appears with the rest of the Avengers. They engage Loki, and during the battle, the rest of the Prime Movers, now ignored, escape. Thor eventually defeats Loki, trapping him in a fissure of his own creation, declaring that the Avengers shall ever and always prevail.


Avengers Annual #19: In the wake of the attacks on the Avengers orchestrated by Loki, Captain America, Thor and Vision meet to discuss the situation, in part using information obtained from the Wizard, the better to prevent being caught by surprise should similar attacks occur in the future. Avengers Spotlight #29: At the Vault, the Avengers and Fantastic Four supervise the return of the recaptured inmates. After they leave, the captive Wizard arrives, but his return was orchestrated by Loki, leading Klaw to attack the facility. Iron Man defeats him however, and the Wizard is returned to his cell. Amazing Spider-Man #329: As a parting gift to Earth's heroes, Loki fuses three of Sebastian Shaw's Sentinels into one massive Tri-Sentinel, setting it loose on New York. Meanwhile, Shaw attempts to strip Spider-Man of his cosmic powers, but in doing so, he inadvertently causes Spider-Man to realize the powers' connection to Captain Universe. More powerful than ever, he defeats the Tri-Sentienl, but burns out his cosmic powers in the process, leaving him to worry he didn't do enough with the power to make the world a better place. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Avengers West Coast #55 reveals Loki's grand plan behind "Acts of Vengeance", to destroy the heroes he inadvertently created by sending unfamiliar villains to battle them. It also brings to an end "Acts of Vengeance", as the Prime Movers scatter in the wake of Loki's reveal, and Loki himself is quickly defeated by Thor.


In Captain America #367, Magneto captures the Red Skull and, to punish him for his involvement with the Nazi regime in World War II, leaves him locked in a cell underground, with nothing but water. I know Red Skull is down there for at least a few issues and does eventually get out, but I have no idea exactly when he does so.



The second story in Avengers Annual #19, published the summer after "Acts" ended, in which Cap, Thor and Vision discuss "Acts", is clearly an effort by Mark Gruenwald to craft a stronger narrative out of the disparate pieces of the story. For the most part it works; I believe the idea of Red Skull robots, in addition to Doombots, is an invention of this story, to explain how Red Skull can appear in Prime Mover meetings when his capture by Magneto in Captain America #367 occurred prior to the end of the story, and it also establishes that the events of Cloak and Dagger #9 occurred simultaneous to the events of Avengers #312, which is why only Falcon and the disparate West Coast Avengers were on hand to battle Freedom Force. But at the same time, a clinical, nearly-Handbook style retelling of the story can only do so much to make the events seem more coordinated and significant than they really were.


To wit, in that story, Captain America says that "Acts" represents the Avengers most devastating setback, specifically saying it's worse than the Masters of Evil's siege of the mansion, which seems like a stretch, given that the Masters captured the mansion, beat Hercules into a coma, tortured Jarvis and tormented Cap before being defeated, whereas the big blow in "Acts" was the sinking of Hydro-Base and little else.

After locking up Red Skull, Magneto attempts to help the catatonic Scarlet Witch, as seen in the last few issues of Avengers West Coast, setting up his post-"Acts" storyline in that series.

The prisoners who escaped from the Vault at the start of "Acts", as well as some new ones, are returned there in Avengers Spotlight #29.


Amongst them is the Wizard, who was teleported there by Loki as part of a trap to attack the prison again, implying that when the Wizard tried to escape the Isle of Silence in Avengers West Coast #55, Loki redirected him to a prison transport. However, Avengers Annual #19 has the Wizard recording a statement for Cap, Thor and the Vision shortly after their battle with Loki. 





Spider-Man finally learns the origin of his cosmic powers in Amazing Spider-Man #329, and he manifests the traditional Captain Universe look as a result.


The Tri-Sentinel, a fused combination of three Sentinels, debuts in Amazing Spider-Man #329. It is created by Loki as a parting gift following his defeat. 


A Work in Progress
Loki's battle with the Avengers (and the location of the Prime Movers' meeting place) is a facsimile of the Asgardian Isle of the Silence, which is where Loki escaped from, triggering the events which led to the formation of the Avengers, in Avengers #1.


The Guardsmen at the Vault receive new armor from Iron Man in Avengers Spotlight #29, an effort by Stark to make up for destroying their earlier models (though he's careful to design them such that they won't work away from the prison).
The Red Skull cites Magneto's attack on the Soviet sub Leningrad as an example of his villainy, though as with his trial in X-Men #200, that's the only overtly villainous act that is mentioned.


Magneto refers to himself as the master of the four fundamental forces, a convenient way to avoid any "but ___ isn't magnetic!" observations.


Sebastian Shaw, looking over the future Tri-Sentinel, name drops Project: Nimrod. 


I Love the 80s
Spider-Man worries he didn't do enough with his increased powers, saying he could be taking down Kaddafi or ending Apartheid.


Teebore's Take
"Acts of Vengeance" comes to a close with a bit of whimper, as Loki stands revealed as the mastermind behind the attacks and is confronted by the Avengers in one issue, then is defeated by Thor in a few panels. It's an appropriate ending for a storyline that is more about the setup than anything (and where the most significant setback dealt to the heroes occurred early in the story's run), and while the ease of Loki's defeat makes sense (if he could take on the Avengers himself, he wouldn't have needed the Prime Movers and this whole scheme), that doesn't make it any more satisfying as a conclusion to a four month long crossover that spanned the Marvel Universe.

Once again, then, it's the events happening on the periphery of the story that standout, Spider-Man using his cosmic powers to battle a massive Sentinel, Magneto taking revenge on the Nazi Red Skull. In the end, as a crossover and overarching story, "Acts of Vengeance" is better for its parts than for its whole. The central idea of heroes battling unfamiliar villains works, and leads to some entertaining and/or interesting tie-in issues, but the unifying conflict is barely there. The story in Avengers Annual #19 story makes a valiant (and appreciated) effort at forming the parts into a more cohesive and compelling whole, but at the end of the day, this is the rare crossover where the ancillary issues are better than the ones chronicling the central narrative. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Jamie Braddock wreaks havoc in Excalibur #19 and on Friday, Wolverine #21. Next week, Uncanny X-Men #259. 

Collected Editions

14 comments:

  1. Because of recent television, I find it hilarious how they're here now escorting Angar the Screamer back into prison with his mouth-gag securely on.

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  2. Spider-Man worries he didn't do enough with his increased powers, saying he could be taking down Kaddafi or ending Apartheid.

    In most online fora you really can't leave such an open net for people to get political. :D

    Not me, though. But I'll note there are works that are examinations of what'll happen when super-beings set out to correct the "big" problems of the world, and usually the lesson is that you shouldn't. Sometimes the best thing a hero can do for the people is to just whisper "no" when the accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"

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  3. "to destroy the heroes he inadvertently created by sending unfamiliar villains to battle them."

    Of course, that line of thinking works against the villains as much as it does against the heroes. Then again, Loki is the God of Evil, not Intelligence...

    "Magneto captures the Red Skull and, to punish him for his involvement with the Nazi regime in World War II, leaves him locked in a cell underground, with nothing but water."

    A much more interesting look at Magneto, as opposed to the mustache twirling throwback Byrne wanted to foist on us...

    "I believe the idea of Red Skull robots...is an invention of this story, to explain how Red Skull can appear in Prime Mover meetings when his capture by Magneto in Captain America #367 occurred prior to the end of the story"

    Which then begs the question, when was it Robot Red Skull, and when was it the real deal? Was it, like the Doombot, always a robot, or was there a trade somewhere during the story?

    Talk about an anti-climactic ending. Looks there are some good issues scattered here and there, but overall, as a crossover? Meh. In theory, there is lost of potential there (the big villains of the MU uniting to defeat the heroes), but the execution was just so boring.

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  4. The execution gets into problem when none of the villains can really not be allowed to win the hero, or, the guy whose name is written in big on the cover.

    They could have gone Under Siege and have Erika Eleniak show her wait no I mean some villains have a serious victory over some hero and maybe build an arc of it for the book. That'd have needed more time for the writer to prepare for it, but wouldn't it have been cool if there would have been an actual rogues gallery transition and a lasting grudge far over-living the event.

    The X-Men haven't yet popped up to beat the Mandarin ever since, have they?

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  5. Interesting that most of the artists were drawing Loki in his original Kirby outfit, but Larsen put him in the (much cooler) Simonson get-up.

    I love that Gruenwald used this crossover to do something interesting with Magneto and the Red Skull. I believe he uses the Skull's time in that hole for a bit of character work, too. That's how you make lemonade out of crossover lemons!

    wwk5d -- "A much more interesting look at Magneto, as opposed to the mustache twirling throwback Byrne wanted to foist on us..."

    I'll agree there. I prefer Magneto as a villain, but I like him three-dimensional, at least. This is a good way to show Magneto being "evil" while keeping him interesting.

    (Though I do enjoy the WCA story, too.)

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  6. "I believe the idea of Red Skull robots, in addition to Doombots, is an invention of this story, to explain how Red Skull can appear in Prime Mover meetings when his capture by Magneto in Captain America #367 occurred prior to the end of the story,"
    The Red Skull robots were first shown in Captain America 367- Magneto destroys several of them.
    "Amongst them is the Wizard, who was teleported there by Loki as part of a trap to attack the prison again, implying that when the Wizard tried to escape the Isle of Silence in Avengers West Coast #55, Loki redirected him to a prison transport. However, Avengers Annual #19 has the Wizard recording a statement for Cap, Thor and the Vision shortly after their battle with Loki."
    The problem is that Avengers Spotlight 29 CAN'T take place immediately after Acts of Vengeance. Simon and US Agent are captured by Dark Wanda and the Avengers' struggle to rescue her lasts until Avengers West Coast 62. I guess Gruenwald's idea was the Wizard was captured, tried to teleport away again using another mechanism and Loki screwed up THAT teleportation.

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  7. What is the main story in Avenger Annual 19 all about? Anyone know? Or can they point me to a plot summary?

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    1. It's part of some crossover involving Terminus isn't it? It's been a long time since I've read the annual and it says a lot that this back-up is by far the most memorable thing in it. Although opinion is divided on when it begin, this period until Bob Harras became the permanent writer and since Roger Stern/Walt Simonson/John Byrne (delete according to preference left) is widely considered the most chaotic and direst periods in the Avengers' history.

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  8. @Teemu: Because of recent television, I find it hilarious how they're here now escorting Angar the Screamer back into prison with his mouth-gag securely on.

    Ha! Safety first, after all.

    The X-Men haven't yet popped up to beat the Mandarin ever since, have they?

    Not that I can recall.

    @wwk5d: Of course, that line of thinking works against the villains as much as it does against the heroes.

    Yeah. And, as you point out, Loki can be forgiven for not thinking of that, but I feel like maybe some character should have hung a lampshade on that idea at some point.

    @Matt: Interesting that most of the artists were drawing Loki in his original Kirby outfit, but Larsen put him in the (much cooler) Simonson get-up.

    With Byrne, I assume it's because he's anti-anything past the classic Marvel era, and he was the driving force behind the story, so the others may have just been following his lead. Though it does make thematic sense to put Loki in his original costume, since that's what he was wearing during the act he's trying get revenge for.

    @Anonymous: The Red Skull robots were first shown in Captain America 367- Magneto destroys several of them.

    Yeah, I should have been more clear. The existence of the Red Skull robots was made clear in CAP #367; however, I believe it's the annual that suggests that at least one of those robots was specifically sent to Prime Movers meetings (or, at least the meeting just prior to the Avengers' attack).

    Gruenwald's idea was the Wizard was captured, tried to teleport away again using another mechanism and Loki screwed up THAT teleportation.

    That's as good an explanation as any.

    @Jason: What is the main story in Avenger Annual 19 all about? Anyone know? Or can they point me to a plot summary?

    Yeah, as Tim said, it's a chapter in "The Terminus Factor", the multi-part story in that year's Avengers annuals.

    This isn't the most thorough synopsis, but it gives you the gist of it.

    @Tim: Although opinion is divided on when it begin, this period until Bob Harras became the permanent writer and since Roger Stern/Walt Simonson/John Byrne (delete according to preference left) is widely considered the most chaotic and direst periods in the Avengers' history.

    Yeah, I'd definitely say that the chunk of issues from about #290 up to "The Collection Obsession" is probably my least favorite run of issues. There's some decent stuff mixed in there (the "Acts" issues, the two-part Dr. Doom story that introduces the new HQ, and there's some charm in the Avengers/Alpha Flight/Soviet Super Soldiers mashup, though it runs too long), but it is indeed a pretty dire and aimless stretch of issues.

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  9. That post-Stern period was pretty uneven, but there was a core level of competency there throughout.

    Much worse was the tail end of Harrras'run where Terry Kavanagh was helping out with the writing and the art standards went off a cliff. "The Gathering" was truly the nadir not just for the Avengers but for Marvel in general. Some of the most unprofessional comics ever produced by the company.

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  10. // Magneto captures the Red Skull //

    I really do have to read more of Gruenwald's Cap run sometime. The art veers wildly from impressive to awful (on the splash page alone, in fact) but that Skull-vs.-Magneto battle, philosophically as much as physically, is good stuff.

    // The second story in Avengers Annual #19 ... is clearly an effort by Mark Gruenwald to craft a stronger narrative out of the disparate pieces of the story. //

    Although you're right that the crossover/event itself was woefully uneven and either put together or played out (or both) too loosely, I'm also with you in appreciating the effort here.

    The last story in the annual, which has nothing to do with Vengeance, is a nice little slice of early-ish Busiek focusing on the impact of heroes and villains on everyday citizens. (I didn't read the first story, which as Tim says is part of a story involving Terminus running through the Avengers-family annuals — Cap, Iron Man, Thor, WCA, and this.)

    // Magneto refers to himself as the master of the four fundamental forces //

    He actually says "one of the four" (emphasis added), so I don't think it was any kind of fudge or retcon. Now I want a team consisting of Magneto, Graviton, and Nuklo… Or at least an Electro-Magneto partnership.

    // Sebastian Shaw, looking over the future Tri-Sentinel, name drops Project: Nimrod. //

    While Magneto has long been a villain used in the wider Marvel Universe, I wonder if this and the use of Freedom Force was an attempt to appeal to X-Men readers (or completists) or if they were purely a function of the villain-swapping conceit.

    // Spider-Man worries he didn't do enough with his increased powers, saying he could be taking down Kaddafi or ending Apartheid. //

    That impossibly rotund African-American fellow whom Spidey webs up for the police is pretty durn '80s. Not to say his gold chains and flattop (like the hairstyles of his would-be shakedown victims) couldn't pop up today, but I'd like to think scripting that dialect is a thing of the past.

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  11. "I feel like maybe some character should have hung a lampshade on that idea at some point. "

    It just occurred to me: Did you ever look at Hulk 363 for these AoV posts? Maybe I missed it.

    It's the Hulk's only "participation," involving the grey Hulk vs. the Grey Gargoyle. Since it's Peter David, as you might expect, he does mock the concept just a smidge ...

    Hulk: "Why are you attacking ME?"
    GG: "To get revenge on Thor and Iron Man."
    Hulk: "Well, that makes tons of sense. You hate this guy, so you go and attack some OTHER guy? Cripes, what a dopey plan."

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  12. Thanks, Tee, for linking me to that AA 19 synopsis! I'm on a Great Lakes Avengers kick currently, and I knew they were in the comic ... just wanted to know if it was a cameo or a full-fledged team-up. Looks like it's a true team-up, so I might have to pick that baby up at my next LCS visit.

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  13. @Blam: He actually says "one of the four" (emphasis added), so I don't think it was any kind of fudge or retcon

    Ah, so he did. Call that overeager reading, then. :)

    I wonder if this and the use of Freedom Force was an attempt to appeal to X-Men readers (or completists) or if they were purely a function of the villain-swapping conceit.

    Freedom Force, I could see that, given that they're involvement in-story wasn't really tied to the larger "Acts" plot, such as it was, and that their past with the Avengers specifically, as was discussed in the comments here, wasn't really addressed either, suggesting more of a "guns for hire" attitude behind their appearance.

    @Huey: Much worse was the tail end of Harrras'run where Terry Kavanagh was helping out with the writing and the art standards went off a cliff.

    Fair point. As much as I enjoy Harras' run, I often forget how badly it ends, and just how awful the slow crawl into "Heroes Reborn" is.

    @Jason: It just occurred to me: Did you ever look at Hulk 363 for these AoV posts? Maybe I missed it.

    I did not, as it didn't involve any X-related characters, nor didn't seem to tie-in to the larger plot much at all.

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