A BIRTHDAY SALUTE: A classic from the ’80s that could provide fodder for the big screen…
By SCOTT TIPTON
Ask me for the top three Avengers writers, my answer comes pretty quick: co-creator Stan Lee, ’90s revivalist Kurt Busiek, and my personal favorite, boasting a nearly decade-long run on the title, Roger Stern, who consistently brought the perfect mix of epic storytelling and team-dynamics characterization to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
To celebrate Mr. Stern’s 73rd birthday — he was born Sept. 17, 1950 — let’s take a closer look at my favorite of his Avengers tales, the 1986 high-octane nail-biter “Under Siege!” which played out in The Avengers #270-277.
As we all wait for the next Marvel Cinematic Universe film, it’s got me thinking about the larger Avengers property in the movies, and what Marvel Studios can do with it now that the long-simmering Thanos storyline has finally come to an end. And if you ask me, there’s only one choice: “Under Siege!” which boasted art by John Buscema, Tom Palmer and co.
The story was brewing for over a year, and finally came to a head at a time when the team was at one of its most fractious points, under the leadership of the Wasp, who was heading up a team that included veteran members Captain America and Captain Marvel, new recruit Sub-Mariner (whose decades of battling mankind was causing the team’s approval ratings to sink), resident scientist Black Knight (perpetually hiding a crush on the Wasp), and an increasingly disgruntled Hercules, who was finding it harder and harder to live with taking orders from a woman.
Little did the Avengers know that all around them, conspirators lay in wait, villains and spies placed into motion by Baron Helmut Zemo, son of their old enemy Heinreich Zemo, who had gathered together the largest and by far most powerful version ever of the Masters of Evil, an assemblage of the most dangerous villains the Avengers had ever faced.
Filled with heavyweights like the Wrecking Crew, the Absorbing Man, Mister Hyde, Titania, Moonstone, Blackout and Goliath, this team of heavy hitters outmatched the Avengers top to bottom, especially after the Sub-Mariner is forced to leave the team due to marital issues. And worse, Baron Zemo slowly and carefully plots his moves against the team, noting Hercules’s insubordination and preparing to use it to his advantage, such as when he sends a disguised Wrecker to go out drinking with Herc and needle him about his lady boss:
What’s Zemo’s plan? Simple but brutal. A straight-up home invasion, taking over Avengers Mansion when only their faithful butler Jarvis is home, then waiting as the Avengers return one by one. As villainous plans go, it’s damn effective.
When the Wasp and Captain America realize what’s happening, they try to prevent Hercules from running off half-cocked, but Herc (who had been drugged by another Masters of Evil spy in one of his many trips to the tavern) refuses to take the Wasp’s orders and barges in, only to be beaten unconscious by the Masters. It’s ugly.
Forced to follow his lead, Captain America also gets captured, while the Mansion is sealed off from the outside world, preventing further rescue attempts.
This leaves Wasp on the outside, trying to recruit some superhuman assistance, including new Ant-Man Scott Lang, and finding themselves vastly outpowered by the likes of the Absorbing Man and Titania, sent to the hospital to finish off the comatose Hercules.
Things are even grimmer back at the Mansion, where Baron Zemo tries to break Cap’s spirit, first by destroying his few mementos from the war, and then by viciously beating a helpless Jarvis.
This is the kind of big story you can only tell once, and no one has ever topped Stern and Buscema in combining high-stakes drama with a really personal vendetta against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. It’s currently available in trade, and who knows? Maybe in theaters someday down the road.
— The TOP 13 ROGER STERN AVENGERS Stories — RANKED. Click here.
— SEEDS OF GREATNESS: Roger Stern’s Sterling Run on SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN. Click here.
Scott Tipton is 13th Dimension’s longest-tenured contributor, besides Dan Greenfield. He’s best known as the writer of scores of Star Trek comics published by IDW.