Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Avengers: Under Siege
by Roger Stern and John Buscema
Collects Avengers 270 – 277
Why I Bought This – As I mentioned a few times the week of The Avengers movie I purchased several trades. This collects the most famous story of the Roger Stern era and Stern is perhaps my all time favorite comic writer (it’s either him or Mark Gruenwald) in large part because of his work on the Avengers.
The Plot – Baron Zemo assembles a small army of supervillains to take down the Avengers in a coordinated assault on the mansion all so he can get revenge on Captain America for killing his father. Your Avengers at the start of this story are Wasp, Cap, the second Captain Marvel, Black Knight, Hercules and Namor. (Spoilers ahead):
Chapter 1 – New Yorkers are protesting the Avengers recent decision to admit Namor as a member due to some of his prior supervillainy in the pages of early Fantastic Four. Moonstone decides this would be an ideal time to pretend to be a widow of a man killed by Namor to incite the crowd to riot. The Avengers deal with the riot and Wasp recognizes Moonstone and they battle one on one for awhile until Black Knight intervenes to defeat Moonstone. As she is hauled off to prison Absorbing Man and Titania are impersonating the police guards in the truck and take her to meet Zemo (as yet unidentified). Namor learns his old foe Attuma is holding his current girlfriend Marina (of Alpha Flight) hostage and leaves to rescue her on his own.
Chapter 2 – Hercules and Wasp continue to argue as part of an ongoing subplot from this era where Hercules resents taking orders from a woman. Wasp goes home to cool off and runs into Paladin, whom she was having a casual relationship with at this time. Wasp and Paladin are interrogating the new Yellow Jacket in prison (Hank Pym’s secretary who stole one of his costumes to become a supervillain six months prior to this story) when Screaming Mimi and Grey Gargoyle arrive to bust her out of jail. The heroes are quickly overwhelmed but Wasp gets out a distress call. Unfortunately only Black Knight is available to answer as C.M. is in space, Cap is out of state traveling via motorcycle, and Hercules broke his at a bar following the argument with Wasp. We end up with a fairly well choreographed three on three fight with the heroes winning. They capture Mimi and Gargoyle but Yellow Jacket escapes. Namor radios the team for help in his rescue mission.
Chapter 3 – The Avengers and Alpha Flight team up to rescue Marina. After the heroes win Marina flees from Namor due to drama of her alien heritage (part of an ongoing Alpha Flight subplot). Namor decides to stick by her anyway and quits the Avengers in order to do so.
Chapter 4 – We finally see Zemo and throughout the issue the full Masters of Evil membership is revealed as the Masters use surveillance cameras to spy on the Avengers, all of whom pursue various individual subplots. The Masters include: Zemo (son of a Nazi, no powers), Moonstone (flight, intangibility, enhanced strength and laser blasts), The Wrecking Crew (four members, all enhanced strength and their leading has a magic crowbar), Blackout (control of the darkforce dimension including making solid objects ala Green Lantern), Mr. Hyde (more enhanced strength), Goliath (enhanced strength near Wonderman levels when human-sized plus growth powers to further increase his strength), Fixer (super science gadgets), Tiger Shark (enhanced strength., sharp teeth, water breathing),Yellow Jacket (costume allows shrinking, flying and energy blasts), Absorbing Man (absorbs the properties of whatever he touches) and Titania (enhanced strength). When their surveillance shows all the Avengers are out they storm the mansion and take Jarvis hostage.
Chapter 5 – Black Knight is first to come home. He is ambushed by Mr. Hyde and severely beaten. They use his comuni-card to call Captain Marvel and when she arrives Blackout zaps her into the darkforce dimension. Cap goes to Wasp’s home and alerts to what is going on (he stumbled onto Zemo’s plot in his own book battling Whirlwind and Trapster in an issue not collected in this trade). Wasp sneaks into an air duct and finds where Jarvis and Knight are being held, and Jarvis warns her Hercules is about to walk into a trap. Cap and Wasp try to divert, but Herc is very drunk and refuses to follow Wasp’s orders. He storms the mansion alone. Cap and Wasp try to back him up but Fixer turns the mansions defenses on them defeating them both and capturing Cap. Hercules defeats Tiger Shark only to be attacked by Hyde and the Wrecking Crew. He’s holding his own until Goliath and then the supervillains beat him to death.
Chapter 6 – Wasp rushes Herc to the ER (the Masters tossed his body out of the mansion) while Zemo gloats to Cap. Ant-Man 2 arrives at the hospital having seen the incident on the news and offers to assist Wasp. The doctors pronounce Herc dead but then his heart starts up on its own; he is however in a coma. Zemo sends Absorbing Man and Titania to the hospital to capture Wasp. Zemo destroys Cap’s personal possessions in front of him and then has Hyde torture Jarvis in front of him. Wasp and Ant Man somewhat improbably defeat the two villains.
Chapter 7 – Captain Marvel escapes from the darkforce dimension by using a portal created by the Shroud when he generates his black fog power. She meets up with Wasp, who has also called in Thor to help. Dr. Druid sees TV coverage of the mansion (which is now enclosed in a Darkforce cube to prevent police and the military from helping the imprisoned Avengers) and he decides to help as well on his own. Wasp has power cut to the mansion, which enables Black Knight to teleport his magic sword to him (Zemo & Fixer were keeping it in a stasis field). He uses it to free himself and Cap and they take the fight to Mr. Hyde. Wasp has CM burn into the mansion from beneath and the assembled team helps finish off Hyde. Druid walks through the darkforce wall with his mystic/mental powers as Ant Man takes out Fixer by surprise. Thor takes out the Wrecking Crew and depowers the three who aren’t Wrecker (they got their powers by Asgardian magic originally) only to be ambushed and pummeled by Goliath. Moonstone attempts to flee and C.M. gives pursuit causing Moonstone to crash into a mountain and break her neck. Druid attempts to deal with Blackout but is shot from behind with a tranquilizer gun by Zemo. Zemo orders Blackout to send the entire mansion into the Darkforce dimension.
Chapter 8 – Thor gets his second win against Goliath, while Cap squares off against Wrecker in a pair of well done battles. Druid uses his telepathy to free Blackout from Zemo’s mind control headband but the ensuing fight causes Blackout to die from a brain hemorrhage. Cap confronts Yellow Jacket, who just surrenders without a fight because as always Cap is the man. C.M. returns to melt all of Zemo’s weapons. The Avengers surround him but Cap demands a one on one fight and it ends with Zemo falling off the roof of the mansion. In the aftermath of the battle C.M. comforts Cap as he mourns the loss of the stuff Zemo destroyed in Chapter 6 and the injuries Zemo caused to Jarvis and Hercules.
Critical Thoughts: The story is as excellent as both I remember and its reputation. Stern in my mind is the definitive Captain America writer (his work on Cap’s solo title is perfection and that carried through in his long Avengers run), and in general I really liked his team of Avengers with Captain Marvel, Black Knight and Hercules all among the best second tier members in team history in my view. This is an epic story with epic fight scenes and yet It also includes plenty of character moments for both heroes and villains. Indeed it’s probably little wonder that a decade later Busiek used these same Masters of Evil for his Thunderbolts because despite the large crowd here several of the villains are given unique motivations throughout the story. (Indeed the only real downside to Thunderbolts is we lost some great Avengers villains like Goliath when they reformed). Zemo also emerges from this story as clearly the #2 all-time Captain America villain; and I have no problem with that.
If there is a downside to this trade it is that the Namor chapter with Alpha Flight is boring (and filled with characters I don’t care for), but that’s one chapter out of eight and it has nothing to do with the main story so that’s a fairly minor criticism.
Grade A. If you like either Cap or the Avengers and you’ve never read this, you should. Nuff’ Said.