Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's A Wrong Idea: Avengers #200 - An Autopsy

Okay, look, I would love to be able to give Avengers #200 a loving look back. I really would. Unfortunately the book was atrocious. Going back and re-reading it is like opening up a can of peanut brittle and there’s regular peanut brittle in it, and you’re thinking hey, shouldn’t this be full of comedy spring-loaded false serpents and then someone comes along and shivs you from behind with a filth encrusted knife.

I exaggerate. Avengers #200 doesn’t even have the shock of a knife when you were expecting toy snakes. It’s just unremittingly dull and awful, Hannah Arendt’s maxim about the banality of evil in pointillist four color newsprint. It’s not even bad enough to be entertaining, which makes it even worse.

I wasn’t there when this book was written. I have no idea of the rumor presented here is true or not. I can believe it, however, because the comic book reads like a horrible, stitched together monstrosity like Ultra the Multi Alien, except lacking even the miniscule amount of charm that character had.

What we have here is a comic book where one of the main characters is, effectively, abducted to Limbo (not Catholic limbo… or maybe it is? I’ve never been too sure about how Marvel thinks it all works, maybe Immortus wasn’t baptized as a kid or something) and impregnated in order that the person impregnating her can get her to give birth to him. Yes, he gets her pregnant with himself. This plan is entirely in order that the character doing the impregnating (Marcus, son of Immortus and some nameless woman he fished out of the water after the Titanic sank… I’m not kidding) can be ‘born onto Earth’ since, as the son of a guy who hangs around in Limbo and a woman who was supposed to drown in one of the greatest naval disasters of the 20th Century, Marcus can’t exist in our world without Bad Stuff Happening.

That paragraph hurts my brain to read it, and yet, it’s not as stupid as this comic book. I’ve failed to capture the continuous squick as Ms Marvel, the woman who gets kidnapped into limbo and used as the womb in question (seriously, why do comic books so often feel the need to create costumed super hero women and then immediately use them as hostages or worse, reduce them to their biological functions right off of the bat?) runs the gamut of emotions from distaste (having no memory of having been made pregnant in the first place) to horror and confusion (as her weird baby ages to adulthood in a matter of days) to lust for the baby she just delivered that day.

And since he grows up to look like Vincent Price with a ‘fro, the incest squick is only increased by the fact that every time the guys speaks I hear the opening narration to ‘Thriller’ in my head.

I honestly think there could have been an awesome comic book here. We have a lot of great stuff happening in the background of the ridiculous extradimensional rape and incest pony show.

“Wait a minute” you might be saying “You didn’t mention rape!”

Well, okay, that’s fair. I didn’t directly say that Marcus rapes Ms Marvel. The comic book itself shies away from saying this. But it doesn’t shy hard enough.

So, not only does Marcus (who, apparently, we’re supposed to feel sorry for) abduct Beethoven and Shakespeare and force them to help him score, most likely with ‘a subtle boost from Immortus’ machines’) but then he gets tired of waiting for Ms Marvel to let him knock her up with himself, so he uses those same machines on her.

We get an earlier scene where Marcus just admits that’s how Immortus got his mom to go along with the program. Immortus, master of Time, lord of Limbo, built an actual sex machine.

So both Immortus and his kid think it’s perfectly okay to abduct people from anywhere in time and use wacky machines to more or less get them to have sex with you. Oh my, that’s not creepy at all. Now, I think that hanging the 200th issue of one of Marvel’s biggest comic books on the mystery of who got Ms Marvel pregnant is pretty weird to begin with. This is a comic book with an actual Norse god, the personification of American ideals, a man who made himself the most advanced portable weapons system on the planet, a woman who can shrink down to the size of a wasp and blow open a steel door by pointing at it, an android who married a mutant who can change reality… and they’re spending the issue dealing with Ms Marvel being pregnant.

Even with all the Immortus/Marcus/Limbo baby born on Earth makes time go freaky stuff, that’s pretty thin gruel to hang the 200th issue on. Still, like I said, this might have worked out. We get to see Iron Man punch out a dinosaur, a medieval knight stab a robot woman in the chest and break his sword, and Captain America almost punches a smart mouthed baby.

In a way, this story is a real trail blazer. Decades before Brad Meltzer would bring us rape, mind control and forced amnesia in Identity Crisis Shooter, Michelinie. Layton and Perez somehow managed to break that ground here. I don’t mean to imply that Identity Crisis’ mail flaw is that it rips off this story, because it doesn’t and also it isn’t: Identity Crisis is awful in its own amazing way. We’ll get back to that someday. But Avengers #200 manages to be boring (yes, a story where a Norse god delivers a half-alien woman’s baby, who was conceived in another dimension, and yet it’s boring… there’s dinosaurs and robots and it’s still boring) and creepy at the same time.

The best part (for a very particular value of best) is when, directly after hearing how Marcus kidnapped her into limbo, dazzled her with history’s greatest experts in poetry, music, and getting dressed up really nicely, then used machines to control her mind so that she’d sleep with him Ms Marvel decides that she will willingly go into Limbo with her baby who is now a fully adult Vincent Price impersonator. This is after he’s knocked her out once and said the line “Forgive me, mother. Forgive me… my love.”

Stop staring at me like that I didn’t write it Jim Shooter probably did.

So Thor, Norse god of Thunder and also apparently of opening portals in space time so that Ms Marvel can have sex with her own baby who raped her so that he could exist in the first place, does just that. And off Ms. Marvel and Marcus go to cohabitate in Limbo. I’m really starting to think it’s not Catholic Limbo, I don’t think I could have missed that in catechism.

The ending to this story was so creepy that even Chris Claremont, a fellow who is no stranger to rape in comic books (he has Warren Worthington, the Angel, get dragged down into the sewers and stripped of all his clothes in order to be forced to marry another mutant named Callisto) thought this had to be dealt with. He brings Ms Marvel back to point out the whole ‘he used machines to make me love him’ bit that’s directly stated and then immediately glossed over here in a later Avengers Annual.

But aside from the horrible, insane, crazy-ass subtext that Immortus and his son are both effectively rapists who use machines instead of rohypnol, what does this story have for us? Well, we can thrill to multiple scenes of Carol Danvers (Ms Marvel’s real name) giving birth while everyone wonders how she could be doing so when she wasn’t even pregnant the day before. Then we thrill to scenes of the baby growing up fast and giving Captain America shit until Cap nearly belts him before Iron Man restrains him and calmly suggests they back off.

Yes, Captain America wants to punch a baby and Iron Man stops him. The 80’s, ladies and gentlemen. We also have a subplot where Jocasta, an android, tries to get the Vision, a synthezoid (basically an android made out of artificial flesh) to have sex with her only to be blocked by his wife, the Scarlet Witch, who is a mutant. I’m sure it was a continuing thread in the book at the time (robot girl loves robot boy who is married to human woman oh the soapiest of operas) but man, I really don’t care. Captain America almost punched out a baby and you’re wasting my time with this, story, you fail in every conceivable way. (Yes, I made that joke. No, I don’t apologize.)

Lots of Avengers fight lots of time lost stuff in scenes that tantalize us with the faint whiff of potential. Perez and Layton draw the hell out of this comic. Seriously, having George Perez and Bob Layton illustrate this thing is like having Michaelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci lovingly render a prolapsed colon.

The ‘meat’ of the story consists of a mostly naked Marcus working on a machine that will supposedly make it okay for him to stay in our world only to have Hawkeye blow it up because he doesn’t trust the guy.

I don’t blame him.

Then we get the horrific denouement. All in all, the comic just sits there after you’ve read it, as horrible and pathetic as an incontinent old terrier simultaneously attempting to eat, defecate on and fornicate with your right leg.


  1. Claremont must've gotten over feeling bad about this sometime before having Carol get raped AGAIN, this time by the Brood over in Uncanny X-Men.

  2. Good to see your writing again, Matt.

    I wish I could defend this issue, but I can't. This was one of the first Avengers comics I bought and it fixed my ideals of the perfect line-up, right down to a blue furry Beast and Wonder Man's "I'm not even trying" costume of a red safari jacket and tights. This one should have it all--gorgeous Perez art, dinosaurs and musketeers, Hawkeye shooting his mouth off even faster than he shoots arrows at some poor caveman whose only fault was getting caught in some interdimensional pervert's time warp.

    Look back at this issue from the other side of puberty and all you can see are the magical pregnancies and rape fantasies, engineered by a smartass baby who wants to sleep with his mother. Which if you think about it, could have put him in the highest pantheon of classic Avengers villains; hell, Ultron's main qualification is his Oedipus complex. But even he has the good taste to build his robot brides Universal horror-style.

    Wait a minute... so when Jocasta (created by Ultron with Wasp's brain patterns) is hitting on Vision (created by Ultron with Wonder Man's brain patterns), is she hitting on her brother? Or just some weird uncle who stares at her ass when the family gets together for Robot Thanksgiving? If the old joke about inbred hill folk is that their family tree is a straight line, the Pym/Ultron clan is a goddamn mobius strip.

    Okay, so on reflection the Avengers and their villains were all perverts; at least the others pretended to be something else long enough for a seven or eight-year-old kid to read their comic without becoming too scarred (I think). Maybe Marcus's problem is that he's too out in the open with his devilish eyebrows and Jheri curls and his purring Vincent Price come-ons and his time-hopping mixtape of Romantic makeout music. Look at those panels, man--you can practically feel the shag carpet through your toes, smell the--oh god--the BODY OIL.

    There is no way this creep didn't invite Beethoven and Shakespeare to join in. That's all I'm saying.

  3. "There is no way this creep didn't invite Beethoven and Shakespeare to join in."

    A whole new meaning has just been leant to "Marvel Two-In-One."

  4. Wait, does that mean Marcus was also Beethoven's kid?

  5. "My Three Temporally Displaced Bangsian Fantasy Daddies"