Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Giant-Size Avengers #4. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 13.

Giant-Size Avengers #4, Dormammu. The Vision marries the Scarlet Witch. Mantis marries a tree. The conclusion of the Celestial Madonna Saga
At last it's the end of the Celestial Madonna Saga. Soon I shall be free to drivel on about whatever it is I want to drivel about next.

But first, with such an event, I think we can take it for granted Marvel'll have pulled out all the stops to make sure such a tale's special, using the finest creators to produce a truly landmark issue that people'll speak of in hushed whispers forever.

And so it is that when we open the book, we find Giant Size Avengers #4's guest artist is...

...Don Heck.

Now, as long-suffering readers of this blog'll know, I'm open-minded on the subject of Don Heck. I quite like his early Iron Man and Avengers work, and I like his work on Sub-Mariner #68.

But sadly not all his art was of that standard and there were times when trying to read a comic drawn by him could be a painful experience.

This is one of those times. It simply looks dreadful. How much of that's down to Heck and how much is down to John Tartag(lione), whose inking here can only be labelled primitive, is hard to say but either way the final effect is terrible. In places it genuinely looks like the thing's been drawn by someone who was just randomly dragged in off the street.

Still, as we all know, pretty pictures are only part of a comic book, and a great story might yet overcome ugly graphics.

Giant-Size Avengers #4, Umar and Dormammu threaten the VisionIt turns out that story has an awful lot to pack in.

Diverted from his travellings through time, the Vision finds himself in what I take to be the centre of the Earth where he discovers Dormammu and Umar have captured the Scarlet Witch and're up to their usual out-to-take-over-the-world mischief. The Vision soon sees off Dormammu's underlings but looks like he's going to come a cropper when the Witch, under Dormammu's control, drains him of all power. Happily the sight of her BF dying brings the Witch to her senses and she sorts out Dormammu with an almost bathetic ease before she and the Vizh head off to Vietnam to rejoin the rest of the gang.

While all this has been going on, the rest of that gang have been exposited-up senseless as writer Steve Englehart tries to tie up all loose ends.

Giant-Size Avengers #4, Kang and the Space Phantom
So we get the final threads of explanation that Moondragon and Mantis were both raised as potential Celestial Madonnas but, of the two, the more in-touch-with-reality Mantis has been chosen. Then at least three different version of Kang show up to cause trouble before a final Kang appears and kidnaps Mantis, who then turns out not to be Mantis but the Space Phantom in disguise. Kang out of the way, Mantis is now free to marry a tree and fulfil her destiny - but not before the Vision and Scarlet Witch arrive and say they want to make it a joint wedding. So Immortus does the honours, Mantis and her new tree-husband become beings of pure thought, and everyone lives happily ever after - except Kang who's presumably now stuck with the Space Phantom for a girlfriend from now on.

Giant-Size Avengers #4, The Vision proposes to the Scarlet Witch
The thing that strikes you about the story is how over-crammed it feels as Steve Englehart seems determined to throw in everything including the kitchen sink. We even get the return of the Titanic Three. I suppose some of it's unavoidable; he had to finish off the Scarlet Witch sub-plot that'd been rumbling on for several issues, in order that the Vision and the Witch could get married. Hence we need the intrusive and unwelcome Dormammu sub-plot that, apart from making Dormammu look feeble, really feels like it belongs in a different issue altogether.

Of course, the question has to be asked why did the Vision and the Witch have to be married this issue anyway? Wouldn't it have made more sense to have a later tale devoted to their wedding rather than having what should be a major event squeezed into Mantis' wedding story?

The multiple Kangs really do feel like overfilling the bucket, as does the arrival of the Space Phantom. By the point that he shows up, you're feeling it wouldn't be a surprise if even the Living Eraser put in an appearance.

I also wonder just how valid the Vision and Scarlet Witch's marriage is. I'm no expert on American law but does a wedding overseen by "the King of Limbo" really have any legal status in the US?

Giant-Size Avengers #4, The weddings of the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Mantis and the Swordsman/Cotati plant person
Being the rampant hard-line feminist (grrr) that I am, I also query the fact that, without ever being consulted, Mantis and Moondragon have been raised purely with an eye on them becoming a wife to a tree. You'd have thought it's something they might be a little offended to discover. Instead Moondragon seems offended only that she's not the one who's been chosen.

I also have to wonder about the ethics of Mantis' prospective tree-husband having resurrected and taken possession of the Swordsman's corpse to use as a kind of zombie for its purposes. There is such a thing as respecting the dead.

So, overall it's a disappointing end to the whole thing, with Steve Englehart simply trying to fit too much in for the good of the story, lapses of taste and a terrible art job.

The one thing I do like is the characterisation of Thor, from whom we get a fair bit of internal monologue as he ponders on the nature of mortality, godhood, the passage of time, leadership of the Avengers and no doubt a whole bunch more things I've forgotten about. I don't remember him ever being depicted as so thoughtful in his own mag and it's refreshing to see here.


Don Hudson said...

I have always heard that D. Heck was best on Western stuff and not so nimble on the Superhero work.

Anonymous said...

On some of Don Heck's later art (ie after 1977 ish) it can be a bit like Russian Roulette when you pick up his comics is it good stuff or is it Ghost Rider!!!! I specifically remember some painful issues of Ka-Zar (although some heavily inked by Jack Abel were very good) in the mid 70s and even some horror inking jobs where he inked Neal Adams (why?!) but I have to say Im a fan of ole Dons work he was a great story teller, and apart from his classic early work (50s to the early Avengers, Capt Marvel, Subby etc) he also did some great art at DC particularly on Bat Girl, Wonder Woman ,Teen Titans & others - his female art was always impressive (Black Widow) and I think in the 60s he was Marvels premier artist on females - he did some really nice non super hero art on westerns, was mystery/horror/SF and romance where he was probably more at home -he was a master in the 50s and by his own admission he took his eye of the ball in the late 70s producing some awful work but he was also a legend (saying that GS Avengers 4 kinda sucked )- McScotty

Steve W. said...

I know (because someone on here once told me) that John Buscema had to knock out the final part of the Kree/Skrull War in a weekend. Looking at the artwork here, I wonder if Heck and Tartaglione had to work under the same kind of deadline? It really does look rushed.

Anonymous said...

WOW that's amazing re Buscema knocking out the last part of the Skrull/Kree wars saga so quickly - the Neal Adams sections of that story were stunning but I thought Buscemas last part was the best art he did (with Tim Palmer) McScotty

Kid said...

Don Heck was once a master artist. I loved his Iron Man and Avengers stories - but his style certainly loosened up after that. It's the old story I suppose. Just like Kirby and Ditko, perhaps his heart wasn't really in it any more after doing it for so long.

Dougie said...

I first read this- and perhaps you did too- in weekly installments through the "Grease"-dominated summer of 1978. I had been waiting for the storyline since the previous spring and the Perez panel in "The Trial" that depicted the double wedding. Why, by the Great Pama, was the Swordsman green?!
I was fairly disappointed by the conclusion and hated the art at the time but does it look better in colour?

Nowadays,I find it quite endearing that Englehart's message is about Man achieving a "higher consciousness" through plants. Presumably the next phase for the Celestial Madonna was the Celestial Munchies At Three AM?

Steve W. said...

Yes, I first read it in, I think it was, Spider-Man Comics Weekly (or Super-Spider-Man, or whatever it was called by then).

dbutler16 said...

I loved the Celestial Madonna story, but I have to agree that the ending was a bit...off. Also, I'm not the biggest Heck fan, either.

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