Wednesday, June 03, 2009

And sometimes, I blog about the comics I find next to my desk:

Ultron is a pretty popular villain. And why not? He's perfect for comics, like a Terminator that also speechifys; and has endearingly insane evil plans and family issues. That said, not every Ultron appearance is going to be gold. Or adamantium. This one's barely mylar, and it came in a bag with a card--I wonder how many are still safely sealed away?

Avengers West Coast Annual #8, "If Volcanic Winter Comes..." Written by Roy Thomas, art by...good lord, six pencillers: Kris Renkewitz, Dave Ross, Scott Kolins, Larry Alexander, John Czop, and Vince Russell. "Starring War Machine!" reads the blurb right under the title; he was probably at his height of popularity at the time, but this issue isn't going to help.

Putting the titular West Coast front and center for a change, the AWC respond to an anonymous tip at San Francisco's Coit Tower, by charging in with a Quinjet, and running at the tower. Don't panic, citizens! Nothing to see here!
Next month, Gary accidentally throws away the cable bill before paying it, and has to risk incineration to get it back!
At least one bystander, 18-year-old Gary Wilton, realizes that all these superheroes suddenly arriving probably means imminent carnage, and runs like hell. He trips, and his pencil clip falls into an open manhole. The clip being a present from his stepdad, and drawn to look like the nerdiest pocket protector in comics history, Gary has to go down and get it. (Younger readers may think that a pencil clip might have been a perfectly acceptable gift, in the times before Xbox or fire. It was not. Ever. That pencil clip is the gift of someone who loathes you, Gary.) Of course, the drain leads to Ultron's hidden lair, because as we all know, it's absolutely vital for robots to have...access to plumbing.

More after the break!

Who would have thought sharing a simple goal, the goal of killing all humans, could cause so much friction in the relationship?
Gary is quickly captured by Ultron, and his current girlfriendbot, War Toy. Um, scratch that, she wants to be called Alkhema. Whatever that means. When your sexbot demands you change her name, that's probably a sign that the relationship isn't going to go the way you thought it would. I know Alkhema was based on Mockingbird's brain patterns, the same way last year's model Jocasta was based on Janet van Dyne (you can see the similarities in the headgear design) but I don't know why Ultron picked her to copy. Ultron and Alkhema are having a difference of opinion regarding the killing of all humans: Ultron wants to wipe them all out at once, while Alkhema wants to play it out for a while, since she enjoys the killing. It almost makes Ultron a tragic figure: he wants a family, but his creations keep betraying him, the same way he betrayed his own father. (Of course, this has been taken to the extreme of giving Ultron an Oedipal complex now, hasn't it?)

A panicked Gary starts to glow, but before anything happens with that, he's saved by Hawkeye and Mockingbird. Hmm. You wouldn't want to seem ungrateful, but if you had your pick of Avengers to save your ass from killer supermetal robots, no one would fault you for choosing one with powers. Gary manages to get clear, helping himself to Mockingbird's dropped communicard as the rest of the team shows up, and gets beat for a page or two. Ultron then uses his mesmeric ray to hypnotize all six Avengers; and Alkhema suggests why not make them do their dirty work, deploying Ultron's seismic activators, which would create an effect not unlike nuclear winter. Not a bad plan: Ultron sure as hell doesn't run on solar, so a little shade wouldn't bother him.
Even though Raptor's not a bad time, you just know people would be shouting out Birdman, Hawkman, Big Bird...
But what of Gary? He managed to avoid being hypnotized, so Ultron's about to finish him off, when he transforms into the Raptor. It's a big bird guy with a tail...or something. This would be more dramatic if the Marvel Universe wasn't crammed to the gills with things like this, Ultron even seems a little blase about "yet Another human mutation in our midst?" Before the robots can get him, Raptor flies off.

Outside, Raptor fields a call from Iron Man on the communicard. Tony's a bit skeptical of Big Bird's story, and destroys Mockingbird's card, but calls in another batch of Avengers to investigate. In the meantime, we get the Raptor's origin, which is pretty by-the-numbers but has a couple of touches: his parents were research scientists, and when they were told there was complications with their fetus they did a little experimenting. The dad died in a car wreck before Gary was born; the mom was understandably (but way) overprotective, the stepdad was a jerk to his timid son, and Gary was a mouse of a man who turns into Raptor when threatened. It's kinda like the Hulk, except the Hulk's pants are probably never full of urine like Raptor's doubtless are.

Oh, and Raptor has teeth. Creepy.

Next is the tried-and-true Avengers vs. Avengers matchups, and the hypnotized slaves beat Iron Man's squad--including IM and Raptor embarrassingly defeated by Spider-Woman and USAgent. To be fair, at the time Tony was bedridden and piloting his armor by remote control, and he was still the only one who did manage to disable Ultron's device. Which somehow keeps all of them from working, so Ultron has to make a service call.

Although he's a bit steamed at the quality of his slaves' work, Ultron still takes Alkhema's suggestion to hypnotize the rest of the Avengers as well. But, since he's not really there, the hypnosis doesn't affect Iron Man, and he tries to punch it out with Ultron. Not a great plan--the modular armor of the time wasn't Tony's strongest, and it was an empty suit to boot--but it does rally the Avengers to break free of the mesmeric ray.
Shortly after this, War Toy quotes Mickey Spillane, which is kind of hot.
Ultron must've just got that ray thing, since he's bound and determined to just use it again, as opposed to killing the Avengers some other way. Raptor throws himself against Ultron's shield...accomplishing nothing. Ultimately, Ultron's plan is derailed by Alkhema, who also was the one to tip the Avengers in the first place. In the end, Ultron is defeated, Raptor is injured trying to catch Alkhema and reverts to Gary, and eleven Avengers accomplished just about nothing. Less than usual, even. (You'll note they don't appear in the scans today!)

This isn't the most inspiring start of an origin story ever, and poor Raptor didn't 'take off' with fans (boo!), he hasn't been since since to the best of my knowledge. He does fare better than Bloodhawk, though, since from the cover I honestly thought Roy Thomas was going to tie Raptor into that forgotten gem. Surprisingly, Marvel has a far worse track record at these summer 'introduce a bunch of new heroes' annuals and events than DC does: on this list cribbed from the Absorbascon) several may not have set the world on fire, but at least appeared in comics again, plus they knocked one out of the park with Hitman. I was looking for a similar list of Marvel's 1993 annuals, since I know I had a bunch of them. I think Legacy (or Genis, or Captain Marvel) was the only one to go on to anything; but the Battling Bantam may have appeared again. Somewhere.

1 comment:

SallyP said...

He went down into a sewer to get a pencil clip? Has he got rocks in his head? Maybe if it was made from solid gold or something, but really!

A pencil clip?

I trust that something unpleasant happened to Gary.