We continue to press our way into...what has been up until now...the morass of a comic book epic that is the Kree-Skrull War. That's right. I said "up until now" because things finally get good in the fifth installment, "This Beachhead Earth!" I say this for two reasons. One, the "big three" Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor) finally become major playing characters in the story arc. Second of all, Neal Adams takes over on the artwork. Anyone who knows me will tell you when it comes to comics, I care far more about the writing than the art (something of a rarity among fans). That said, Adams effects an invaluable change in the epic. He renders artwork that has seldom...if ever...been surpassed in comic book storytelling.
Avengers #93 opens with the aforementioned "big three" hanging out in Avengers Mansion when the Vision suddenly crashes in through the front door. He gasps for help and then falls inert to the floor. Iron Man then, get this, checks for a pulse and breathing. Captain America questions this procedure, rightfully pointing out that the Vision is an android. Iron Man insists, however, that the Vision has had it.
That's when everybody's favorite wife beater Hank Pym shows up. This time, however, he is costumed as Ant Man rather than Yellowjacket. Shrunken to ant-size, he and his ants enter through Vision's mouth and they enact an Avengers version of Fantastic Voyage. Indeed, there is a battle between Ant Man and mechanisms that act as "anti-bodies" and "white cells" for the Vision, protecting the android from what might be termed "infections." As an aside, Pym does redeem himself a bit by showing compassion for ants as fellow living things. One of his ants is killed by a defense mechanism. Pym comments aloud, "Human beings are funny--they think no living thing but themselves capable of feeling pain. That's because they've never heard an ant scream. Well I have...and it's a sound to haunt a lifetime worth of dreams! A sound like lost souls in torment---or the wailing of a foresaken child--and I don't ever want to hear that sound again! Not ever!"
Wow. What a statement! He may be a domestic abuser but the man has a thing or two to say about animal rights...and they're powerful words! Actually it's more Roy Thomas expressing himself (and eloquently, at least in terms of comic books) through a character and not any attempt to redeem Pym for his treatment of his wife...that's a subject that will have to wait for much later in the myth arc of the Avengers. Or is it? Ants are more than study subjects to even a scientist like Pym. He has actually come to know them on a familiar, one-to-one basis to the point where each ant has a name and acts as a character in the warped drama that is Pym's life. Again, that's my interpretation.
Anyway, Ant Man orders his ants to safety and then makes the needed repairs to the Vision. Then he scoots out of the Mansion before you can say deus ex machina.
The Vision awakes and basically says to the three "thanks for kicking me and the other three members off the team." (*Last ish!--Jonny) The others have no idea what he is talking about and it becomes apparent that three impostor Avengers did the deed. Everybody's confused and Vision still doesn't trust Cap and the others, seemingly adhering Nietzsche's stance of "there are no facts, only interpretations." Regardless, the Vision tells them what happened.
He and the other three exiled team members, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Goliath, and Rick Jones, traveled to the house in upstate New York to where Captain Marvel retreated with Carol Danvers. They do this by renting a convertible with Scarlet Witch's credit card and taking to the highway. Trust me, it's quite a...postmodern sight, superheroes in full regalia riding in a typical American car and "getting the funniest looks from everyone they meet." The super powerful are humbled? The gods must become as mortals? Relying on mere normal conveyance and a credit card limit just as we do?
Anyway, they reach the house. There are cows grazing in a nearby field. As an aside, there is a moment where Quicksilver passive aggressively makes clear that he doesn't like his sister cozying up with the Vision. Fraternal protection? Prejudice even between mutant and android? Both? Who knows, because before things can fully unfold, the three grazing cows fire energy beams at the Vision, knocking him down. The cows then shapeshift into the forms of The Thing, the Human Torch, and Mr. Fantastic. Seeming to have all the powers (and then some) of the Fantastic Four, these "cows" apprehend the other Avengers. Meanwhile, the Vision's intangible and barely operable self slinks back to New York City and the Mansion,bringing us to where this issue began. Fully briefed, the big three Avengers vow to head for the house and investigate.
It should be obvious by now that those weren't really bovines. They were the shapeshifting aliens known as the Skrulls. In fact they were the first three Skrulls ever encountered in Marvel comic books, going allllll the way back to Fantastic Four #2. Reed Richards and the others captured the Skrulls and hypnotized them into believing that the Skrulls were really cows, off to live a nice peaceful life on a farm. The house where Captain Marvel went to was on that farm and it was of course a front for a Skrull spaceship. The three impostor Avengers were Skrulls as well and Carol Danvers was not just any old Skrull...she was really the Super-Skrull!
The a-list Avengers attack and battle does ensue for a few pages between them and the Skrulls. Goliath manages to break free but they are all unable to stop the Skrull spaceship from taking off with Captain Marvel, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch still held captive.
Thus ends part five.
Things end on a really interesting note, too. The Avengers feel defeated. I mean utterly defeated. Goliath speaks of his wounded pride for having to be caught in mid-air by Thor.
"Pride," remarks an injured Iron Man. "Yeah. That's something we used to feel...back when we were winners."
Captain America assures them they will bounce back. Goliath is less confident.
"Yeah--play it again, Cap--and maybe even you'll start believin' it."
The Avengers now have no faith in themselves or their abilities. Hell, with all of the Vision's rightful suspicions, a few members of the team don't even have faith in each other. Rick Jones even remarks that he has never seen the team so down...and with two fellow team members captured and the Earth seemingly caught in the midst of an interstellar war, this sense of inadequacy couldn't have come at a worse time.
What good are superpowers if they are no guarantee against feelings of self-doubt? Even superheroes get the blues, I suppose. That really is part of the artistic vision that made Marvel what it was in its heyday; the heroes might have superpowers but nearly all of them are susceptible to human foibles and emotions. This really set them apart at the time from their competition at DC. Will the heroes find their "will to power" (there's Nietzsche again)? Shall Earth endure?
Find out next time, True Believer.
Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets