Saturday, January 6, 2018

Avengers #263 (January 1986)

When it comes to the Marvel Universe, well...comic book universes in general, crazy twists are a way of life. I have heard superhero comics, especially X-Men comics, be described as "soap opera with spandex".

This issue of the Avengers I am looking at here is part of a storyline that does feature a crazy twist. The original return of the original X-Men: Jean Grey. It has become a bit of a joke with the character that she always comes back from the dead. Heck, she took "Phoenix", a legendary bird known for resurrecting, as a codename. But really, it's not that crazy. Jean has only returned from death twice. And this first time wasn't really a death. You'll see what I mean over the course of this storyline. And with that out of the way, let's take a look at my first comic review of 2018: Avengers #263!

The cover is pretty neat. It depicts the Avengers swimming towards the mysterious cocoon. "What Lurks Within The Cocoon?" I think it may be a bizarre mix of a butterfly and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. There's a triangle segment on the cover corner that promises "It Begins Here! X-Factor!" I like those little triangle tie-in indicators. I hope they bring those back one day. As for the triangle, well...I'll explain that later.

"What Lurks Below?"
Writer: Roger Stern
Breakdowns: John Buscema
Finished Art: Tom Palmer
Letterer: Jim Novak
Colorist: Christie Scheele
Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Editor-In-Chief: Jim Shooter

The story begins with three men on a charter plane, waiting to take off and being miserable about it.

These three men are the Enclave, a trio (originally a group of four) brilliant scientists who wanted to use their brilliance to take over the world. The bald man is Maris Morlak, a Lithuanian scientist. I couldn't find what his specialty was. The white-haired man is Wladyslav Shinski, a Polish geneticist. The blond man is Carlo Zota, a Spanish electronics expert. The Enclave themselves are pretty obscure, but they are known for creating the artificial beings called Him and Her, or as they are more known as nowadays, Adam Warlock and Ayesha.

If you have seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, then you have met Ayesha, portrayed by Elizabeth Debicki. The film's take on her is an alien, but her people, the Sovereign, do pay homage to her comic origins as an artificially-created living being. She also mentions Adam Warlock in one of the post-credit scenes. Watch GotG Vol. 2, it is awesome, it will make you laugh and cry. Back to the comic!

The Enclave are worried because they don't want the authorities to catch them before they are able to reach their new retreat. Shinski reminds them the contents of their crate will make them the "masters of this unworthy world"! A group of police vans head for their jet, which makes Zota panic and try to take off. The air traffic controller screams at him not to because he's about to hit a 747.

Zota makes a sudden turn, and it causes the plane's engine and wing to get wrecked. The plane slides across the runway and ends up in Jamaica Bay's waters, sinking fast. An agent named Derek Freeman calls for ambulances, dredgers, and divers to rescue the Enclave. But...kaboom.

In Avengers Mansion, The Avengers are having a bit of an issue with their security liaison, one Raymond Sikorski. Sikorski is shocked that the Avengers are adding Namor to the roster, mainly because of his past issues with the surface world. Yeah, Namor has always had a rather love-hate relationship with the world he shares a paternal heritage with (Namor is half-human, half-Atlantean). Cap explains this could help Namor improve relations with the surface world. Also, there wouldn't be much legal issues with immigration as thanks to his father being an American citizen, he is one as well. Cap also mentions he and Namor helping fight Nazis together as part of the Invaders in WWII.

Wasp reminds Sikorski that at this time, the Avengers' security clearance is in limbo. As such, the federal government has zero say in any roster changes. They didn't even have to tell him about adding Namor, they're literally just doing it as a courtesy. Sikorski warns that this will not making it any easier for him to get the Avengers' security clearance back, but Cap assures him it will work out. The Dane Whitman Black Knight watches this and wonders if he can get a date with the Wasp. Yeah, at this time, Dane had a bit of a crush on the ever-winsome Janet Van Dyne.

Elsewhere in the Mansion, Hercules and the Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel are showing Namor around. They've gotten to the private rooms the Avengers who reside there use. Namor finds the mansion quite common, but Monica tells him the rooms are very spacious and can be decorated to his liking.

Namor sees Hercules's room, and pulls the whole "I'm a King, so I get what I want" thing, and he wants it. Which understandably annoys the Greek demigod of strength. It is kind of funny to see Namor describing décor. Monica tries to calm things down, but the two powerhouses start arguing and she leaves, not wanting to make a career out of breaking them up. Monica flies towards a tower, and does some thinking. She worries about Namor's membership, and despite Captain America's judgment, she's unsure if she can fully trust the Sub-Mariner. She witnesses an explosion the massive explosion at JFK (The explosion shot very high into the sky), and flies over to JFK Airport investigate.

FBI agent Duane Freeman introduces himself to Monica. He explains that he was trying to recapture the Enclave, whom Monica is familiar with thanks to the events of Avengers Annual #12. They're in bad shape, but they'll live. Freeman is more concerned about the cargo inside. He's not sure what it is, but he thinks it might be the cause of the odd explosions. He sent down a couple divers to check the lake out, and he hopes they're alright. And then this happens.

Well. That's something to tell the kids about. "Did you find anything interesting police diving today, Daddy?" "Yes, sweetie. And it tossed me out of the water like I was yesterday's garbage". One of the divers explains that they found...something. And it came with a voice. The voice warned them to stay away, and then they got tossed out of the water. Monica decides to investigate this herself, and tells Freeman to call the Avengers. She dives into the water, taking the form of light. She finds a broken cargo crate. There's a heavy glass tank inside it, which makes her wonder if something broke out of it, or it got shattered on impact. She then senses another light source, and discovers where it came from.

Monica turns her body into X-Rays so she can see what is inside, but is knocked back. The cocoon screams at her to stay away. It also causes Monica to change back to human form. The force from the cocoon is keeping her from changing into energy, and the former cop must get back to the surface or she'll drown. Thankfully, Monica is able to reach the surface and get some air.

Elsewhere, the Avengers' Quinjet is being watched by Bruno Horgan, the original Melter. His assistant Keegan wonders why they're watching the Mansion. Melter calls him stupid, then explains that when the whole team is together, he'll show them the power of his new and improved Melting Ray. He'll destroy the Avengers with it, and people will never laugh at him again. He goes to a locker that contains the new Melting Ray, only to find...Keegan's dead body. "Keegan" reveals he has the Melting Ray, and now he'll have the Melter's life.

With Horgan dead, "Keegan" smashes the new Melting Ray projector. You see, at the time in various Marvel books, many minor supervillains were getting killed off by a mysterious Scourge of the Underworld. It was a way for Marvel to clear out many supervillains they felt were too silly, redundant, and ill-conceived. In the 2000s, a new Melter would be introduced: Christopher Colchiss.

On the surface, the Avengers have arrived. Monica tells them about her discovery. Using his art skills, Steve Rogers plays police sketch artist and draws the pod based on Monica's description. Cap notes that the Enclave has created artificial beings in the past (Adam Warlock and Ayesha), and they used cocoons similar to the one that Monica saw. Wasp warns they could have their hands full, but Namor pulls a "It's a water thing, I got this", and dives in. This infuriates Janet, and Dane Whitman demands he be brought up on charges. Cap tries to reassure that this the first time in a long time he was part of a team, and he'll shape up. The pod then tosses Namor out of the water.

Heh heh, I love the grawlix there. Clever touch making them look different from "normal" grawlix, showing that the Atlantean language is different. Wasp, being Wasp, can't resist teasing Namor about it. The Sea King can admit when he has been humbled. The Avengers need a plan. Captain Marvel will go fly to the hospital to talk to the Enclave, and the others will try to investigate the mysterious cocoon. Cap, Namor, Hercules, Wasp, and Captain Marvel dive into the water and the cocoon drives them back with an energy blast, screaming at them to keep away.

Hercules, ever the hothead, is infuriated and tries to strike it. He gets knocked back. Black Knight tries to help him, but discovers he can't deflect the energy with his sword. he finds it odd as his Ebony Blade can deflect all kinds of energy before. The Avengers are under assault, and they have no idea what to do.

In the hospital, Captain Marvel goes to talk to Shinski. She tells him that his cocoon creation is on the loose, and she needs to know how to stop it. Shinski is confused by this, and she explains she found the crate it was in. Shinski reveals that whatever that cocoon was, it was not an Enclave creation. After two disasters, they realized a third would change anything. The Enclave did have a discovery of Shinski's in one of the crates, but it's nothing to worry about as the waters would render it inert. Monica finds it unlikely he's lying, because of his condition. But if the Enclave didn't create the cocoon, then who did?

Back in the waters of New York, the Avengers can't get near the cocoon, so Wasp orders them to back off...but Hercules refuses to listen and tries to power his way through the cocoon's energy blasts. His charge is causing the cocoon to be forced back, taking the layer of silt off of it. Cap realizes that the cocoon must be covered with silt, but there's none of it on the plane debris, as the plane just crashed. Namor adds that the cocoon must've been under the water for a very long time, hence all the silt.

Captain Marvel returns and confirms the Enclave didn't create it. The cocoon still blasts at the charging Hercules, screaming at him to get away. Wasp yells at Herc to back off, as it's clearly scared. Herc loses his footing, and bets blasted. She suggests the cocoon is acting in self-defense, and they have to convince it that they mean no harm. She tells the other Avengers to stand back and approaches the cocoon, saying they want to help. Black Knight tries to stop Jan, but Cap holds him back. The cocoon asks for help, and Wasp agrees the Avengers will do what they can. The silt completely comes off, revealing...

A giant metal pill! Nah, it's actually some kind of capsule. The Avengers take the pod back to the Mansion. Dane Whitman has discovered that it's some sort of capsule, and it contains a stasis field. It's not like any he has ever encountered, though. Wasp asks if whatever is in the cocoon has spoken, but it hasn't. Cap has been checking with some sources in the intelligence community, but all he's been able to get was that a space shuttle crashed in the area a few years ago. It's possible the shuttle got it in space. Captain Marvel is calling NASA for more information.

Just then, Captain Marvel calls in, saying NASA is in the dark about the capsule. However, the administrators of JFK Airport want the Avengers to coordinate with Agent Freeman on mopping up the scene, so there won't be any more surprises. The Avengers head out, leaving the capsule. The story ends with it sitting in the lab. The capsule briefly becomes transparent, and the source of the strange voice is revealed.

Jean Grey, one of the original X-Men, calling out for Scott "Cyclops" Summers. The comic promises the story will continue in Fantastic Four #286.

This issue was really enjoyable. It had some good character moments (Namor and Herc arguing, Herc big a big lummox, Wasp taking on the leadership role, Dane's crush on Wasp, and Monica wondering if Namor can be trusted), and Buscema/Palmer's tag-team of fine artwork. It also pushes along a couple of storylines: the Avengers' troubles with the federal government over Namor's membership, the Scourge of the Underworld rampaging through Marvel's criminal ranks, and the returning of Jean Grey. I love Roger Stern's Avengers work, and to me, this was a really underrated roster. You had powerhouses in Namor and Hercules, scientific expertise in Black Knight, a strong pair of leaders in Cap and Wasp, and Monica Rambeau, the newbie who would grow into a great Avenger in her own right. Stern's Avengers run is highly underrated, and I highly recommend obtaining it.

I also liked that this story would continue on in another book. To me, it really helps reinforce the idea that the Marvel Universe is a shared universe. It shows that these characters are interconnected, and events have impact on the universe in general. You got the idea that the creators of these books all worked together to tell these stories. It's something I feel is kind of missing in the current Big Two. Everyone seems to be more interested in doing their own thing, and not all building on came previously and showing their shared universe is interconnected.  Kind of sad.

As for the triangle on the cover? Well, this issue, alongside Fantastic Four #286 (January 1986), were meant to be a launching pad for a new title: X-Factor. The original X-Factor book was meant to be a reunion of the original five X-Men: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Beast, and Iceman. The return of Jean Grey was actually an idea suggested to Roger Stern by one of my favorite Avengers writers, Kurt Busiek. Busiek suggested the idea for Jean's return to Stern, who then passed it to John Byrne. Byrne, who was writing and drawing Fantastic Four at the time, then made issue 286 with Busiek's idea. But I'll talk more about that when I get to reviewing that comic.

Next time, we'll travel to the DC Universe, as Batman joins forces with the Martian Manhunter...

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