Pardon our tumbleweeds, regular readers. I know we haven’t posted much lately, but you’ll have to forgive us—Rachelle is busy settling into her new house, Johnathan’s been appearing in a play, Tiina’s been hunting humans for sport on a private island in the South Pacific, and I’ve been trapped in an oil painting.
Okay, I’m pretty sure that at least two of those excuses are not entirely truthful, but I don’t have time to look into it; I’ve been too busy preparing this post about my favourite Avengers storyline, which can be found in issues 273 to 277 of the original series (or in the Under Siege trade paperback, which is unfortunately out of print). Why exactly am I digging out a 23-year old Avengers arc right now? Well, last week Marvel announced that all this Dark Reign business (where Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers are basically in charge of everything) would be coming to an end in January with a storyline called Siege, which promises to reunite the Big Three Avengers—Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor—for the first time in several years, hopefully for some time to come. The Avengers has been pretty much my favourite Marvel franchise for most of my life, but it’s been a rough couple of years; I’m not really a fan of Bendis’ revamp of the whole concept. Granted, it gave us Young Avengers, and has made the Avengers brand name into a big deal again, but it’s not the same for me. Also, Hawkeye is now Ronin. What’s that about?
Anyway, the title Siege carries with it the implication that this new storyline will somehow be related to that long-ago epic by Roger Stern, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer. Sure, it may just be a cheap ploy designed to draw old-school dinosaurs like me back into the fold (although if the killer art by Stuart Immonen on the current run can’t make me buy Bendis’ New Avengers, I suspect nothing can), but there is a possibility that there may be a deeper connection here. Probably not, but we’ll see.
The Under Siege storyline deals with second-generation Nazi bad guy Baron Zemo assembling a new Masters of Evil team to take down the Avengers, mostly as an elaborate revenge plan designed to destroy Captain America’s “family” as Cap as destroyed his (from his point of view, anyway). This is a serious powerhouse group here, filled with super-genius types like Moonstone, Fixer, and Yellowjacket II, as well as top muscle like Mister Hyde, Goliath, Tiger Shark, and the whole blamed Wrecking Crew.
Zemo begins his campaign of terror by engineering distractions for most of the Avengers (and taking advantage of several personality clashes and other flaws within the team’s solidarity), then brazenly has his goons waltz up to the front gate of Avengers Mansion and smash their way in. Taking the Avengers’ faithful butler, Jarvis, hostage, and making short work of the Black Knight when he arrives, the team then sets about reprogramming the Mansion’s security systems to repel anyone who tries to bust in. Serpent Society member and Masters of Evil affiliate Black Mamba poses as a boozy floozy who gets Hercules good and drunk (and drugged) and sends him back to Avengers Mansion, where the Masters deliver unto him a royal beat down. They beat him so bad, they put him in a coma that he almost doesn’t come out, and is even declared dead for a few minutes. Keep in mind, now, that this wasn’t just some musclebound clod in a leotard—this is actual Hercules, from Greek mythology! And they stomped his drunken ass! Cap is also beaten and captured, while the Wasp barely escapes.
Afterward, Zemo gets brain-damaged Nova nemesis Blackout (who he controls via microcircuitry hidden in his headgear) to blanket Avengers Mansion in his patented Darkforce goo, which is nigh-impenetrable. Zemo also orders poor, confused Blackout to banish energy-based Avenger Captain Marvel (the Monica Rambeau version) into the dimension that his Darkforce jazz issues forth from. Titania and the Absorbing Man are sent to the hospital to finish the job that Tiger Shark, Mister Hyde, Goliath, and the Wrecking Crew started on Hercules, which leads to a hilariously mismatched battle with the Wasp and Ant-Man (the Scott Lang version). Our tiny heroes win the day, but just barely. Seeing Jan and Scott take down two grade-A badasses like these two is pretty exciting—just one of ‘em would have made a lesser do-gooder run for the hills.
Meanwhile, within the Mansion, Zemo and his flunkies get up to all sorts of mischief, like raiding the team’s databanks, videotaping dastardly missives to the outside world, and looting and destroying the team’s personal possessions. Hyde in particular takes it up a notch by busting into Cap’s locker and destroying several decades’ worth of belongings in front of his face, such as his famed original triangular shield.
When that doesn’t faze Cap, Hyde decides to torture poor Jarvis instead.
In the days before rape and murder became sadly commonplace events in superhero comics, the sight of the hulking Hyde sadistically torturing a helpless old man was pretty shocking stuff. Still is now, really. Poor Jarv. Eventually, though, the Black Knight uses his mystical connection to his Ebony Sword to draw it to him, and he sets himself and Cap free to trounce Hyde.
Around this point, the tide starts to turn as Dr. Druid and Thor (appearing between pages 5-7 of issue #373 of his own title, a caption informs us—busy guy!) show up to lend some mind and muscle power, respectively. Druid psychically urges Blackout to drop the Darkforce walls, allowing the Avengers to sneak in. A knock-down, drag-out fight breaks out, with Thor draining the mystical power out of the Wrecking Crew (I’m not sure why he never did that before, but whatever). Goliath, however, is not so easily dealt with, and he gives Thor a good trouncing before getting what’s coming to him.
If you’ve ever wondered what sound an Asgardian God of Thunder makes when you bounce him off the floor, now you know–that sound is "WUNG". Captain Marvel escapes the Darkforce dimension (via the Shroud’s cloak all the way over in San Francisco), and she arrives in time to give chase to a fleeing Moonstone. Moony is flying so fast and is so scared of being collared that she flies smack into a cliff face doing 100 miles an hour.
Zemo tries to regain control of Blackout by upping the wattage on his brain-control doohickey, which gives Blackout a fatal brain hemorrhage. Poor dope. Soon, it’s down to just Captain America and Baron Zemo, who have a fateful showdown on the Mansion’s roof, where Zemo, like Moonstone, lets his emotions get the better of him.
The Masters are all defeated and detained (and in the case of Blackout, deceased), so all that’s left is the clean-up. However, since Jarvis is on his way to the Intensive Care Unit, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have to do it themselves. This leads to the storyline’s heartbreaking epilogue, where poor Cap sifts through the wreckage of his personal locker, where Zemo and Hyde gleefully made short work of all his memorabilia (including a smiling photo of him and Bucky and a baseball signed by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth!). Sadly, the most irreplaceable casualty of the whole affair is Cap’s only surviving photo of his long-dead Mom.
I suppose Under Siege does have some connection to the current state of the Marvel U, where the bad guys have made themselves comfortable in the heroes’ home base (and costumes, even), and it’s time for them to be taken down a peg. If nothing else, any connection will hopefully spur Marvel to re-issue Avengers: Under Siege in a new printing. Either way, it was great fun to revisit this storyline, which taught me that when the chips are down, the good guys pull together and win the day, while the bad guys fly away without looking where they’re going and nearly kill themselves.