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THE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 122 (April 1974) Trapped in Outer Space
It’s kind of nice that you readers have been so enthusiastic about these nice little bits of escapism. That’s why I’m doing two per week now. We can all use a light-hearted distraction now and then.
As our last installment ended, five Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, The Scarlet Witch, The Black Panther and The Vision) were battling seven of the twelve members of the supervillain team called Zodiac (Aries, Leo, Cancer, Aquarius, Pisces, Scorpio and Sagittarius).
The Avengers called MANTIS and the Swordsman were recovering from their injuries back at Avengers Mansion. Taurus, the leader of Zodiac, had lured the seven mutinous members of his criminal cartel to a seeming warehouse that was really a trap.
The Avengers, all unknowingly, had trailed the Zodiac superteam to that locale and had attacked them, only to have the battle royal interrupted by the taunts of Taurus. Taurus – openly revealing his true identity of billionaire Cornelius Van Lunt – launched the warehouse/ disguised spaceship into orbit to let his enemies die when their air runs out.
TRAPPED IN OUTER SPACE
Synopsis: At first all of the Avengers and Zodiac members are pinned to the floor by G-Forces but eventually the huge deathtrap reaches its programmed altitude and settles into orbit. The reinforced steel door slides right to reveal the Earth far below and a mostly transparent force-field enclosing the entire warehouse.
Thor hurls his hammer at the force-field, but it just penetrates the force-field, which re-forms after it passes through. The hammer tries to return to Thor’s hand like usual but his relative position to the hammer has changed as the spaceship/ trap has moved along in its orbit. Thor’s hammer remains floating outside in the vacuum of space.
The Vision is not able to phase through the force-field because it is the same technology that Zodiac used to seal off Manhattan from the rest of the world in one of their previous clashes with the Avengers. In 1974, when this story was published, Thor would still magically transform back into his secret identity as the lame (as in limping), mortal Dr Donald Blake after 60 seconds without his hammer.
He leaps behind one of the prop boxes in the phony warehouse and pulls some tarp over himself just in time to avoid having Zodiac see what has happened to him. The villains HAVE noticed how paniced Thor became without his hammer Mjolnir and realize something is up. Aries leads his teammates in an attack to finish off Thor, who is obviously in dire straits.
The other Avengers rush to the hiding Dr Blake’s defense and the battle between the two teams is back on. Aries’ Star Blazer pistol (stolen from Taurus last time around) gives Zodiac a temporary advantage but the Avengers drive them back and the Vision tries to talk sense to the villains, pointing out that their air is running out and they all need to work together to get back to Earth alive..
Meanwhile, back at Zodiac’s skyscraper headquarters in New York City, Taurus is telling his remaining loyal subordinates – Libra, Capricorn, Virgo and Gemini – what he did to the rebellious Houses of Zodiac AND the Avengers as a bonus.
Libra calmly informs Taurus about how Aries tried to recruit him, too, but he declined because – as the balance – he did not think he should choose a side. Taurus erupts in anger, implying that it was actually cowardice that made Libra stay neutral. Losing control, Taurus further shouts that Capricorn, Virgo and Gemini are also too scared of him to rebel and he tells them all to get out of his sight.
Cut to Gemini and Libra later, walking around Zodiac’s plushly furnished HQ and chit-chatting. Gemini defends Taurus’ foul mood, sympathizing with how rough it must be on him to make sure all the Houses of Zodiac are on hand for his master plan, i.e. recruiting replacements for the dead Aries and the missing Scorpio, plus busting Gemini out of prison, only to see everything fall apart like this.
Without warning, Libra attacks Gemini. Libra, though blind, is as skilled at martial arts as Zatoichi, the blind Japanese hero, is at swordplay. Despite Gemini having the strength of two men Libra eventually knocks him out and ties him up.
Next he rushes to the room where Damian Link, the “good” Gemini twin, is still in a trance induced by the evil twin’s control of his mind. Libra slaps him a few times to bring him around. He hurriedly enlists Damian’s cooperation. Since Damian is the police liaison with the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. he is glad to play along in anything that undermines Zodiac.
Libra has Damian Link pass himself off as his evil brother in order to keep Taurus occupied for as long as possible. Libra, meanwhile, sneaks off to steal Taurus’ Master Starship from its hangar on the penthouse level of Zodiac HQ.
Back in the orbiting death-trap, the Avengers and the rebellious Zodiac members have set aside their conflict for the sake of survival. At length they all enact a plan the Avengers have come up with. While the Vision and Black Panther safeguard Thor/ Donald Blake, M.D.’s hiding place, the Scarlet Witch uses her hex power on the “warehouse” force-field.
A rift momentarily opens in the force-field and Iron Man flies through it before it closes again. Out in space, Iron Man’s heating system and built-in air supply keep him alive. First off, he flies over and grabs Thor’s orbiting hammer, which he is able to lift since it’s in weightless space.
Next Iron Man flies back over to the “warehouse” and begins pushing it down toward Earth’s atmosphere. The plan is that when gravity starts pulling it down he will position himself underneath it and use his armor’s super-strength to support the death-trap. Then he will fly it back down to the land below.
Unfortunately he forgets to reposition Thor’s hammer first, and as gravity reasserts itself the hammer pins one of Iron Man’s arms to the top of the warehouse. From there he is unable to slow the phony warehouse’s descent. Soon the craft and Iron Man begin burning up in re-entry.
Just when it looks like the suffering Avengers and Zodiac members are doomed the plummeting craft suddenly stops. The blind Libra – piloting Taurus’ Master Starship, (yes, THAT’s how good his supernatural senses are) has used the Starship’s own forcefield to encircle the warehouse and halt its fall.
He uses intercom communication to let the Avengers know who he is and that he has come to save them, against Taurus’ wishes.
Meanwhile, back at Avengers Mansion, the injured Swordsman sits in his wheelchair watching the recuperating MANTIS sleep. He begins to feel more and more anxiety over the way the Vision seems to be falling in love with Mantis, his romantic partner. He also wonders if Mantis would prefer the Vision to him.
Suddenly, Mantis gets one of her empathic wave-blasts. It wakes her up and she tells the Swordsman that the Vision is troubled and will need her. She then heads off to where her mutant empathic powers are leading her. The Swordsman tries to follow her but falls. He lies there, worried about how his lady has run off to help the android Vision, and what that may mean for their own relationship.
Cut to Zodiac headquarters where an increasingly nervous Damian Link is still bluffing his way through his impersonation of his evil twin brother. By now he and Taurus are in the bull’s office, where Taurus has unmasked to talk with Gemini since the evil Gemini twin already knew he was really Cornelius Van Lunt. Taurus plans to regroup, then take over the world using BOTH his Star Blazer technology AND the nuclear weapons plans that Gemini stole from Avengers Mansion.
The inevitable mistake happens when Damian makes an erroneous remark which makes Van Lunt realize he is NOT the evil twin. Taurus tears off the Gemini mask and the brown hair on Damian proves Van Lunt right. (The evil twin Joshua has white hair)
Taurus knocks Damian out and summons the other Zodiac members. Capricorn and Virgo come running, but it turns out nobody has seen Libra in hours. Right on cue, the trio of villains hear the Master Starship land on the roof instead of trying to reenter the hangar.
Taurus, Capricorn and Virgo rush to that roof, where the huge swimming pool is located, and watch as the Avengers and the renegade Houses of Zodiac exit the craft. At first the mutinous Zodiac members plan to help the Avengers mop up Van Lunt and his two remaining loyal teammates.
Taurus reminds them that even if they DO help the Avengers our heroes will STILL arrest them, too. Thus persuaded, every Zodiac member except Libra attacks the Avengers. So, for the fifth time in this three-part story there is a huge fight between the two super-teams.
Thor takes on Aries and Cancer, while Iron Man and the Black Panther use teamwork against Pisces and Leo. The Scarlet Witch gets revenge on Virgo for the defeats that Virgo inflicted on her yesterday and the day before.
The Black Panther next tangles with Capricorn while reflecting to himself how much he longs to convince MANTIS to give in and teach him some of her own other-worldly martial arts some time. Iron Man is seen fighting Scorpio while the Vision and Taurus have been squaring off at poolside.
The Vision is using the solar-rays that he shoots from his eyes against the energy blasts from Taurus’ Star Blazer pistol. Those colliding energy beams have been deadlocked for awhile but the Vision pulls off a maneuver that lets him blast the gun out of Van Lunt’s hand while simultaneously knocking him into the pool.
Taurus panics and surrenders, announcing that he can’t swim. He simply lucked out escaping the flood that ended the previous clash between the Avengers and Zodiac. Van Lunt pleads with the Vision to save him but the Vision merely stands there, paralyzed with fear of his own.
*** YES, it’s the latest manifestation of the recurring problem with the Vision that will reveal itself alongside MANTIS’ revelations in the issues ahead. If you’re keeping count the previous incidents were: a) Ant-Man’s mysterious discovery in the Vision’s brain during the Kree-Skrull War and b) Panicing while trapped in Dormammu’s quicksand in the Dark Dimension.
This third incident finds the android Vision arrested with fear over half-forming memories in his mind, memories regarding a swimming pool and other fleeting thoughts. Thor is hollering at the Vision to save Taurus, since he and the other Avengers are each locked in combat with a Zodiac member.
The Vision replies that he cannot. Just when it looks like Van Lunt will drown, MANTIS bursts onto the scene. The Vision’s impending panic attack was what filled her with another of her empathic/ precognitive “visions” as it were, but since the Vision seems okay she dives in to save Taurus.
Shortly, after Mantis has hauled Van Lunt’s sizable carcass out of the swimming pool and the villainous members of Zodiac have all been defeated, Thor resumes chewing out the Vision over his inaction. He tells Vizh that this ugly incident has tainted their victory over Zodiac. (Personally, given how Cornelius Van Lunt has been the Avengers’ version of J Jonah Jameson for so long I’d just be happy that his true identity has been revealed and he’ll be going to prison.)
The Scarlet Witch follows up Thor’s Tough Love with some tenderness, trying to get her romantic partner the Vision to open up about these panic attacks he keeps having. He replies that he doesn’t understand them himself. Internally, he fears that his android brain may be starting to malfunction.
The Avengers’ attention turns to Libra, who is turning himself in. When asked why he betrayed Zodiac to save them, he replies that it was all a mistake. When Taurus said that he had trapped the Avengers WITH the mutinous Houses of Zodiac, Libra assumed MANTIS was with them in that death-trap.
In grand soap opera fashion this issue comes to a close with Libra announcing that he could not let Mantis die because she is his daughter. +++
I’LL COVER THE NEXT ISSUE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
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