Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Avengers #117. Valkyrie vs Swordsman. Captain America vs Namor.

Avengers #117, Avengers v Defenders. Valkyrie v Swordsman. Captain America v Namor.
If ever there was a character who seemed like he didn't belong in the Avengers, it was the Swordsman. It might've been because he'd once been a criminal - but then so had Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. It might've been that he tended to always keep his mask on and so always felt like a stranger. It might've just been that he had a silly moustache. But I suspect the true answer is because of his talent. He was the world's greatest living swordsman.

As I've discovered myself, the problem with being the world's greatest living swordsman is that for it to be worth anything, you have to be willing to stab people with a sword and, as we all know, good guys don't do things like that. Therefore, in order to function within the Avengers, all he could do was hit people with the flat of his blade, meaning that, for all the difference it made, he might as well have been going into battle with a plank and, somehow, I can't see that particular skill getting you into the team.

The Valkyrie of course had the same problem - all that waving around of weaponry but no actual stabbing - and so it's appropriate that Marvel's two greatest plank-fighters get to come up against each other in the issue's first clash.

On the face if it, it's not much of a clash, as the Valkyrie's clearly more powerful than her adversary but he goes some way to making up for it by being more experienced and devious than her.

Not that it does him any good, as it just leads to him getting shot in the back. That's when he does what he shouldn't and, as he collapses, runs his assailant through.

There's two issues here. One is that his assailant - who we're supposed to see as a baddie - is in fact protecting his property from theft by two strangers. The more important point is the one made earlier, that good guys in Bronze Age comics aren't supposed to run people through with swords. Admittedly it's what I might do to someone who's just shot me but then I'm not an Avenger and it does jar somewhat, a piece of real-life violence suddenly injected into a fantasy tale - especially given that we're clearly meant to think nothing of it.

Happily, although the man with the gun dies, the Swordsman survives and, despite being carried off with all the ceremony of a sack of potatoes by the emergency services, he'll live to fight another day. What's made painfully clear in this tale is the Swordsman too is fully aware that he doesn't really belong in the Avengers and it adds a poignancy to his character as, desperate not to let the team down, he refuses to surrender the Eye to Val even when he thinks he's on the brink of death.

So it's victory to the Valkyrie and off to Osaka for Captain America and the Sub-Mariner. It's a nice pairing, reuniting as it does two former World War Two allies. Interestingly, their fight's interrupted by Sunfire whose power of flinging fire around has echoes of  their ex-WW2 ally the Original Human Torch. Is this coincidence or was it writer Steve Englehart's method of implicitly completing the trinity?

I don't think anyone's going to deny that arch-Japanese nationalist Sunfire's normally a pain in the backside. The problem is, this time round, even though we're clearly meant to think he's an idiot and a nuisance for trying to take the Evil Eye off them in the name of Japan, he's right. Both Captain America and the Sub-Mariner have simply turned up in Osaka to take what they want. There's no implication that either of them have the permission of the Japanese authorities to be there or to take what's effectively Japanese property.

If Cap and Namor are guilty of arrogance, they do at least get one thing right and, instead of just fighting, they actually talk to each other as they hit each other, meaning that, by the end of the scrap, they've realised they've been duped.

At last the good guys are finally starting to act the part.


cease ill said...

What fun! The Sunfire/ Torch analog zipped right past me 'till now. I share your praise of Tomb of Dracula and the Defenders (particularly Gerber's wildly entertaining run); Christmas morning of '09 was spent finally discovering the zany mystery of Nighthawk's brain. I couldn't remember the last time I had such fun! Here's a favorite write-up I hope you enjoy, complete with truly weird photo ref: http://integr8dfix.blogspot.com/2011/02/my-life-and-times-good-and-bad-as-told.html

Excelsior, Steve! Cecil

Steve W. said...

Hi, cease ill. Always nice to hear from a Defenders and Drac fan.

Anonymous said...

Just discovered your site. It's great! Insightful comments on the problems of wielding a sword. (Conan stabbed people, so I guess that is why he was a barbarian.) I loved this issue because Namor was always one of my favorites. As you already know, Namor also joined the Avengers briefly at the request of Hercules. (These days it seems everyone is a member of the Avengers.) Now Namor is allied with the X-men in AVX. Never occurred to me that they would use the mutant angle like that. I have no desire to read AVX. AVD will always be one of my all-time favorite cross-over events.

Steve W. said...

Hi, Mike. Welcome to the blog, and thanks for the praise.

Anonymous said...

I really like the circles on this cover that contain the heads of the Avengers. I don't recall seeing that on covers after the '70s. Also, I like the Vision with his arms folded on the cover logo. By the way, Vision was selected as one of the top 50 heroes by Comic Heroes magazine. (SW should contribute articles to Comic Heroes.)

Steve W. said...

Thanks, Mike. :)

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