Problems with the cover include Taurus is shooting Thor who's ignoring him and hitting their ship instead of his enemy (except from the cover we can't tell what he's hitting.) Iron Man is blasting...something. (A beam of light maybe?) And Leo grabbing the Vision and Vision hitting Gemini both look awkward. Actually it looks like the characters were drawn separately then stuck on the cover like Colorforms.
Richard Mantle said:
AVENGERS #120 (02/74)
Writer – Steve Englehart
Art – Bob Brown & Don Heck
Cover Art – Jim Starlin & Frank Giacoia
“Death Stars of the Zodiac!”
So Cosmic Marvel legend Jim Starlin provides this cover and other than the face of the Vision which is clearly Starlin I didn’t think the rest looked much like his work. Also, is it just me or is the perspective way off in the group bottom right corner.
I do not think it is a strong cover but I have difficulty explaining why it doesn’t feel like it works.
Inside and the art continues as last issue , Bob Brown is a capable pair of hands for this team and manages to cope with the Zodiac team of 12 villains even throwing in that memorable two-page spread of the bad guys melting the wall into battle with the Avengers.
The story begins a lengthy story arc here as Englehart throws off the crossover with the Defenders and builds the Zodiac team as a viable threat.
We learn via a prison visit by the hidden secret identity of Taurus to the incarcerated Joshua Link, Gemini that at midnight that day “every person in New York who was born under the sign of Gemini----will Die!”
That’s a kind of conceit that can only work in our type of drama but it provided the hook for the story.
Link/Gemini explains he had become linked to the spirit of his brother courtesy of an experimental ‘electron chamber’ (naturally) which even Taurus calls “A rather bizarre tale.”
Coincidentally (yeah-right) Link’s brother, a Cop, forges a liaison with the Avengers (due to Captain America’s being held for murder in his own title.).
Link blacks out and is possessed by his evil brother, causing a change in his ‘vibrations’ that Mantis kind of notices.
I was already getting fed up of her speech patterns and of her vague power set.
Inside the mansion, Link rummages through some secret weapons brochures the Avengers have left lying around and so the Swordsman exposes him as a spy and confronts him – only to fall victim to his own injuries and pain that he has secretly contended with since his battle in Bolivia.
As he falls his sword slices Link’s uniform open to reveal his Gemini costume and the battle begins.
As the mystery man who is Taurus changes his voice and his clothes we learn how the Swordsman’s wounds are infected and he explains he had avoided treatment a she wanted to prove himself as an Avengers.
I quite liked the “Funny…you say I’m hero…and now…they call Cap…crook” as he is taken to his sickbed.
It is then that the 11 other members of Zodiac melt the mansion’s wall and confront our team.
Taurus harnessing ‘Stellar energy’ in a star shaped gun.
The Avengers are quickly overwhelmed leaving Mantis to struggle on valiantly on her own.
Mantis, again, spotlight, again.
She is defeated but is the first revived to locate a tape player (how quaint) via which Taurus explains Zodiac’s master plan. A giant version of the Star gun thingy will zap every Gemini in town at midnight
The set piece is arranged therefore and the huge star weapon is shown to be on one of the roofs of the World Trade Centre.
Protecting their Gemini and after bickering among themselves like all bad-guys are prone to do the confrontation begins as the Avengers attack...
The Gemini zapper blasts mantis (not a Gemini apparently) to the roof’s edge and as Taurus prepares to zap her to fall to her death, we cliff-hang – literally –until next issue.
I did not know much about the Zodiac guys other than the obvious theme, I knew there’ had been an Iron Man cross centered on Scorpio but I had no idea what had occurred in the Astonishing Tales #17-20 that was referenced regarding Gemini himself. (Link’s ‘origin’ is referenced as from Astonishing Tales #8)
The brothers linked in spirit is very Brother Voodoo isn’t it.
We are told this Aries is a new member, the previous being now dead in Avengers #82.
It should be noted that Taurus seems to have as much if not more knowledge of Mantis than the Avengers do…” Mantis feels everyone’s pain as if it were her own!”…another Mantis-centric mystery.
There is a lot of story set up in this issue and I find the pacing is off, while the ‘Mantis and her Merry men’ emphasis is already beginning to grate on me.
The Heck inks dominate in places, especially on some of the faces and Bob Brown’s growth as an artist not so evident here.
The Swordsman remains in a pathetic state now, unfortunatly, until he rallies before the end several issues down the line.
I believe this issue and this arc it begins is quite a popular one, but for me it is all about Mantis and that taints the era.
I’m sure I remember wishing the Avengers would just let Mantis fall…which of course…they kind of do…
Ah, now I really have no problem with that cover - in my head it's classic old-school Starlin, certainly in the faces and figurework. Ironman looks wonky-legged with outstretched arms (check), Thor's got his Starlin/Thor-face on (check), and Cap's getting punched back by Aires (check and double check - Cap's always getting punched out by someone). Sure, we'll see a lot of these tropes over the coming years (decades) but, c'mon, it's a Starlin Avengers cover!
The story was pretty mediocre, though. At the time I though it was just the art (too many ugly angular faces) that took me out of it, but after a re-read it's clear the whole issue was an exaggerated set-up for the continuing Mantis storyline. Engelhart put some in-fighting into the Zodiac cabal and tried flesh them out, but, really Cornelius van lUNT as the big bad! Even as a twelve-year-old I thought, you're havin' a laugh, mate.
Funnily enough, I'm pretty sure this issue (and the next half-dozen or so) weren't sent to British newsagents, so I had to catch up after the fact, but until issue 129 or so I don't think I was missing much.
You missed Thanos and Ultron.
When Obadiah Stane showed up years later I saw him as a remake of Van Lunt, who had already tried taking over Stark Industries. No reason to make a new villain when you've got pretty much the same character already sitting around waiting to be used. That's why we so rarely see Tyrannus or Kala when you can do the same story with the Mole Man and he's much better known.
I remember not being happy when they introduced the Zodiac group. When Jim Steranko introduced Scorpio in the SHIELD stories he was very impressive and special. Retroactively making the character and his successors into just one of a dozen boring bad guys was a bad choice, IMO.
I only heard about Scorpio later so I liked these guys. Making him the leader instead of Aries, or, later, Taurus, might have helped. (And possibly prevented him from eventually killing the others off.) I think the stand out character in the group was Capricorn. He had a weird graphic power and he looked like a Blue Meanie.
Wonder if Roy had any real backstory in mind for Capricorn to describe how his skin turned green or if Roy meant for Taurus to be Cornelius Van Lunt all along or was that entirely Engleharts's idea. With a group of this size, it'd be difficult to make each member really stand out. The original Scorpio and Aries stood out in those earlier appearances as drawn by Steranko and J. Buscema, respectively. This time out, it mostly comes off as Taurus and his costumed goons, but even if he wasn't the leader, visually he pretty much stands out, both here and in that first group shot by Sal Buscema in issue #72, in which Aries was the head honcho and looked it, with a strong regal presence but Taurus very much competing with him for attention with his sheer bulk and gruff manner. Of course, as we'll see, the new Aries didn't quite appreciate having to take a subordinate position to the big bull!
I think his last story where they were all killed established he had normal skin color and that was just a costume. Didn't look like it unless he was wearing green makeup. Sure didn't look like a mask. Like people talking about when Dr. Strange wore a mask clearly never noticed that wasn't a mask. The story where he changes has him state he can't come into Earth's dimension because someone has stolen his face "But many are the faces of Doctor Strange!" Just putting on a mask wouldn't have gotten him through the barrier. You can't fool cosmic forces that easily.
Van Lunt wasn't the sort to be pushed around, as we see in this story. Just who was that first Aries that he could get away with giving Taurus orders, and is it possible Taurus might have had something to do with his death to get rid of the competition? It's been many years since I read it but that story seemed to have parts missing. It started with the Avengers already beaten and imprisoned, and I don't remember any of the villains in that story other than Aries. And his death seemed odd and abrupt.
And let's not forget the unforgettable Star-Stalker (he literally "stalks the stars!")
I did miss Thanos, but for no apparent reason Marvel comics started appearing in newsagents again with Avengers 126 or 127 (and its corresponding Fantastic Four 150), so I got the Ultron crossover, but by that time I hadn't been around for the continuation of the ongoing Swordsman/Mantis/Vision/Scarlet Witch love quadrangle and was a bit lost in the Avengers half of those issues.
Plus I much preferred Rich Buckler's artwork on FF to Sal & Staton on Avengers, so maybe that informed my young "this is better than that" perception - FF150 just seemed miles better than A127.
And i could never quite wrap my, er, head, around how Ultron's tiny head would fit on that giant Omega body, still can't, but I guess that's a question for a later post.
Ron M. said:
You missed Thanos and Ultron.
I'd guess the sudden death of Bob Brown threw them and they put Sal Buscema on the title when he wasn't able to devote the time to complete pencils, thus the use of Joe Staton finishing Sal's breakdowns clear up until the last issue of the Celestial Madonna story, which will be drawn by George Tuska. Sal and Joe weren't a good art team. Sadly this was also the time printing went really bad. These stories were classics but they look like they were published by Charlton.
AVENGERS #121 (03/74)
Writer – Steve Englehart
Art – John Buscema & Don Heck
Cover Art – Ron Wilson & John Romita
“Houses Divided Cannot Stand!”
Ron Wilson provides the cover pencils with John Romita the inks, it’s an okay enough action scene with the looming screen view of Taurus straight out of the comic which I like but the figures are oddly positioned again.
The placement of Taurus’s busy speech text being squashed between the logo and the figure of Iron Man makes the top appear very cramped and the bottom right corner cries out for a blurb of some sort doesn’t it?
The main story opens on the top of one of the twin towers with Mantis lying over the edge.
What I noticed here is that the star-blaster that was to kill off all people Gemini is also referred to here as a .dual purpose star-ship which I am sure wasn’t mentioned before.
How Zodiac came about the technology for a blaster of such vague power is unlikely enough but…what do a ‘crime cartel’ want with a star-ship?
Not only was the threat to Mantis, here, being thrown off the roof but she, we are told will
“feel the same pain a real Gemini would!”
That’s a really suspect way of highlighting her ‘empathy’ and another annoying way of making her an extremely powerful, enigmatic, plot device already eclipsing the Avengers team itself. (IMHO)
The Vision stands firmly in the ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists’ camp while the Scarlet Witch positions herself for attack in a neat and actually quite rare scene of synchronicity between the two.
The fight between the two groups rages and Captain America arrives to help out – embroiled in a murder accusation from his own mag at the time (the oh so excellent Secret Empire run!) but Aries throws Mantis over the edge!
The Vision reacts and produces a memorable save by ripping his arm into the building to slow their decent after grabbing Mantis.
The Avengers repair the damage as Zodiac flies their starship away.
Mantis is impressed …and so begins her interest in the Vision…”He is – magnificent!”
As Mantis recuperates back at the mansion we learn how she and Swordsman got together.
I still cringe at the name of the black marketeer Swordy worked for…Monsieur Khruul (Cruel – really?!)
The Vision informs Swordy of his high opinion of Mantis “This is quite a woman Swordsman” …and the Swordsman is visibly devastated by his interest.
Cap returns to his own mag again and the Black Panther returns to the team (he’d just helped the Falcon get his wings.)
Elsewhere Aries and Taurus fight for control of the Zodiac which begins a split in the team – along water sign versus earth sign lines.
Convoluted but clever don’t you think?
We are reintroduced to Cornelius Van Lunt, the financier behind the Zodiac who the Avengers discover with the bad guys in a barn near their landed star-ship.
The barn gets revealed to be a trap, Van Lunt is revealed to be Taurus, the Zodiac split is revealed and the trap …becomes a rocket ship and rockets away!
It is a sudden crazy rattling end to a very mis-paced choppy issue, the whole storyline feels like it has no direction and appears to have run away with Englehart who appear to want to inject certain points but seems to have trouble stringing them together in a narrative.
The art is scratchy and the influence of ‘guest’ John Buscema clear but this is not great work, even the dramatic set-piece is simplistically inked and presented. I believe artist Bob Brown’s absence is deeply felt but considering the caliber of artists here I do think the result is poor which adds to my personal feeling that this was not a glory story for the Avengers title.
I am prepared to hear testimonials in its favour but I’m not a fan of this issue or this arc in general.
I’m not a big fan of this story, either (but wait until the main title starts crossing over with Giant-Size). If I had to describe the cover to this issue in one word, it would be “serviceable.” Here’s what the author had to say.
STEVE ENGLEHART ON AVENGERS #121:
“I talked a lot in the last Masterworks about wanting to get to ‘Steve Englehart’ stories, as opposed to striving for my version of ‘Roy Thomas’ stories. I wanted to hit Roy’s level of quality, and I thought that meant writing like Roy. But when I put together ‘Avengers/Defenders,’ marrying the team I had no trouble writing (The Defs) with the team I always felt strain writing (The Avs), I finally saw the problem. Roy had told me that, as a general rule, he started with a plot and added character. It obviously worked great; see many previous Masterworks. But it turned out that I liked starting with character and adding plot. Both of us had to make sure both sides of the equation balanced, but what it took me almost a year to realize was, it mattered where you started. I spent my first Avengers year starting in the wrong place.
“But with #116, I had to work out a multi-issue plot based on the characters who would fill its various slots. I started with a plot, but then the characters took over as I figured out what stories could be made by what combinations—and once they did, I learned my lesson, because I just let the characters live their lives. For the first few issues after that, their choices didn’t surprise me—and I hadn’t figured out anything about Mantis’s mystery, which was directly related. But between #120 and #121, it was time to give it some thought, and it was then that Mantis told me what path worked for her. I was definitely surprised by her choice, but I liked it.
“For the reader, the mystery of Mantis deepened: ‘We both know she’s more than you say—a lot more!’ There’s (hopefully) no way for the reader to know it, but when she was enigmatic with the Panther, it was because I had no explanation; when Taurus is enigmatic, it’s because I’m starting the path of explanation. One thing will now lead to another…
“The Vision saves Mantis, and she sees, for the first time, the same noble soul that wanda saw. But then she checks out, to heal herself with her own powers, and it’s left to the weakened Swaordsman to tell what he knows about her, and himself. At the end, it seems the Vision has seen something in her, himself. And it seems the Swordsman has seen that.”