Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Marvels: Avengers #5

"The Invasion of the Lava Men!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman
(May 1964)

It's been an interesting journey for the Hulk. After six issues and a great appearance in Fantastic Four #12, his book was canceled and he seemed to be cast aside as an experiment that didn't work. Fan demand brought the character back, and seven months after his cancellation, he appeared again as the catalyst that brought together Earth's Mightiest Heroes in Avengers #1. Since then, he's alternated between tragic hero and unstoppable force. After being run out of the Avengers by their distrust, he briefly teamed up with the Sub-Mariner to get revenge on them, and then attacked the Avengers (and New York City) one more time in Fantastic Four #25 and 26, driven by his anger at Rick Jones for abandoning him to team up with Captain America.

After all of that, with the various members of the Avengers taking a breather after that epic battle, we finally end up back where it all started: in New Mexico, with Bruce Banner having made his way back to the Army base, much to the relief of Betty Ross and the annoyance of her father, General "Thunderbolt" Ross. (This is the first time we've seen either character since Incredible Hulk #6, in March of 1963, and the general is not happy that Banner's been missing for so long.)

General Ross barely has time to call Bruce a lily-livered milksop before Bruce is called into scientific action. There's a hill that's begun growing out of the earth, getting bigger every moment, and giving off some strange vibrations that have been damaging electronics. The Avengers have noticed it, too, and show up to the base to investigate.

The rock is actually the Living Rock, and it's being pushed up to the surface world by the Lava Men. Do you remember way back in Journey Into Mystery #97, when Thor fought the Lava Man? Back then, the Lava Man (whose name is revealed in this issue as Molto) was just one of a race that lived dormant in volcanoes who was released by Loki to harry Thor. Now, they're an entire underground race (one of a surprising many in the Marvel Universe) with a hierarchy who are trying to get the Living Rock up the surface world before it explodes, which will wipe out our surface civilization and allow the Lava Men to retake the planet.

Molto, having been defeated once by Thor, tries to reason with King Basallo and Jinku, the Witch Doctor, not to attack the surface, but they won't listen.

Basically, the deal with the Living Rock is that when it's struck, it causes an explosion of deadly soundwaves, the force of which once destroyed an entire Pacific island. (Krakatoa?) Now the Living Rock is growing so large that it's going to explode of its own accord, and trying to destroy it while it's inside the Earth itself could result in a force large enough to destroy the entire planet.

King Basallo explains all of this to Thor (after Thor literally walks through molten lava unharmed--even his clothes!) while the other Lava Men try to hold off the other Avengers in a pretty entertaining battle that sees Cap's shield bouncing all over and Giant-Man using a whirring helicopter pretty much the same way that kid used the whirring lawnmower in Dead Alive. And while Thor is trying to figure out what to do below the surface, Giant-Man has found one vulnerable patch on the Living Rock that, if struck, will cause the Living Rock to harmlessly implode.

I don't even have time to do anything but accept the science of that because there's so much going on with the battle. Then, before Thor can do anything, Jinku tries to blast him with his radioactive rod; when it meets the force of Thor's hammer, there's a radioactive explosion underground that somehow causes Thor to turn back into Don Blake. While the transformation scares off the Witch Doctor, Don is so weakened by the blast that he can't function.

And then Bruce Banner changes into the Hulk, and all bets are off.

The Avengers being the Avengers, they immediately try to restrain the Hulk, even though we've seen time and again how impossible that is.

However, Captain America comes up with a way to use the Hulk's strength to their advantage. With Thor missing in action, Cap has Giant-Man and the Wasp lure the Hulk to the top of the Living Rock. Giant-Man does the same trick he did in FF #26 and changes sizes rapidly to confuse the Hulk, and then Cap uses his shield to reflect light into Hulk's eyes, throwing him off-balance. Then, the next second, the Wasp flies past and, as the Hulk punches to smash her, she dodges and the Hulk hits the vulnerable patch on the Living Rock, which implodes without destroying anything!

When the dust clears, the Hulk is gone, and Thor has stopped the Lava Men invasion, and everything settles back down. This issue really managed to keep the suspense up for pages and pages before the concussive conclusion of this epic. Betty finds Bruce in the desert, dazed and weakened, while the Avengers get an emergency message from the Teen Brigade that is going to send them right back into action.

But that action won't involve the Hulk. I'm not sure when we'll see him again, but I can't wait for it. It will be nice to see the Avengers deal with something other than the Hulk for a little while, though...

Other observations:

:: Captain America puts on a gymnastic exhibition for Rick's Teen Brigade friends, and is apparently going to start teaching them about fitness, judo and karate.

:: This really does feel like a backdoor pilot, if you will, for a new series of Incredible Hulk, as it not only reestablishes Hulk's old supporting cast and location, but Stan & Jack also take a page to remind us of the Hulk's origin.

:: After a couple of years, I'm still not used to the smaller keyboard on my laptop, and every time I write Incredible Hulk I accidentally type Incredibly Hulk, which sounds like a Disney Channel sitcom that I need to see. Or some kind of Animal Planet show, at any rate.

:: I really want to see the Lava Men in battle with Atlantis. I don't know why. Two ancient races duking it out just seems like fun.

:: I love that the Wasp is the one whose action is so crucial to this issue's victory. It's so much better than just having her hide in Giant-Man's pocket for the entire battle. Steps towards making her a more active character.

:: This issue begins the letters page, called "All About the Avengers." One of the letters is from future Marvel pro Alan Weiss, who wrote and penciled Steelgrip Starkey for Marvel Epic in the mid-80s, and also co-wrote (with Steve Gerber) the classic Marvel Comics Super Special #1, featuring KISS.

This was another issue worthy of the Avengers. I'm still loving that this is a bi-monthly, where the heroes are brought together to deal with epic threats much larger than in their own books. You need a big menace to justify having so many heavy-hitters on one team, I think, which is why I like these older Avengers issues more than any others.

Can't wait for more, especially now that Captain America is here.

Next Marvels: Odin visits New York.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

In my someday free time, I'm going to have to reread a lot of these!