After facing major big bads Thanos and Ultron earlier this season we finally get to the battle that’s been building since the seventh episode of “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” – the Avengers vs. the Squadron Supreme. Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on the grimly titled “Avengers’ Last Stand.”
The Secret Origin of the Squadron Supreme
The concept of the Avengers fighting the Justice League – and in theory, that’s what this is – has been brewing in comics circles for decades. From the fans playing ‘Who’d Win?’ to the comics pros themselves doing ersatz crossovers like the one that initially created the Squadron. Marvel writer Roy Thomas and DC Comics writer Mike Friedrich conspired to have the Squadron Supreme appear in Avengers the same month as the Champions of Angor – a team that included analogues of Thor, Yellowjacket, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch – over in Justice League of America back in 1971.
Shortly after the first appearance of the Squadron Sinister, the Avengers encountered the team they were modeled after, the Squadron Supreme. They were fully formed, from their own world, their own continuity, and really becoming their own characters as opposed to just a copy of the Justice League. Over the years they came more and more into their own, as both enemies of the Avengers, but also allies, as a version of Hyperion recently became an Avenger.
As we open this episode, Iron Man and Captain America are exploring the now flooded Citadel for clues to the Squadron Supreme’s plans. As expected, it’s a trap, and when the remaining Avengers assemble to rescue their leaders – they are confronted by the entire Squadron who have seemingly beaten both Cap and Stark. Then as now, it’s a trap.
The Avengers are teleported away to unfamiliar locations, it’s simple divide and conquer. Ant-Man, Thor, and Hawkeye in a killer factory against Speed Demon and the new Doctor Spectrum. Hulk and Black Widow face Hyperion and Zarda in what looks like the Arctic. And finally Nighthawk vs. the Falcon over the Statue of Liberty. This is sweet as it allows Widow, Falcon, and Ant-Man to step up as leaders. And man, I would especially not mess with the Widow now that she has Cap’s shield.
Plans Within Plans
Almost as a parody of Batman always being prepared and always having a back-up plan, Nighthawk has plans within plans, almost to the point of ridiculousness. Like Vizzini and Wesley in The Princess Bride, the plan duel between Nighthawk and Falcon is a battle of wits running like ‘if you know that I know that you know’ and on and on and on…
I have to wonder if perhaps the writers weren’t even sure what Nighthawk’s plans were. First it might be conquest of the Earth, or the defeat of the Avengers, or the destruction of Earth, or the raising of their Citadel, or finally the resurrection of their teammate Nuke. Was Nuke a last minute thought? He hasn’t been seen or mentioned before. We did see the other Squadron members before they officially appeared, but not Nuke. And why Nuke, and not say Golden Archer, Tom Thumb, Lady Lark, Arcanna, or The Shape?
Though sharing the same name, this is not the Daredevil foe who laid waste to hell’s Kitchen during Frank Miller’s run on the DD title. This Nuke is an analogue of DC Comics’ Firestorm who first appeared along with Zarda in Defenders #112, sort of later addition Squadron members.
Unlike Firestorm, Nuke was not a gestalt being born of nuclear fusion, but a burnout mutated by radioactive waste, which eventually killed him. While he lived, Nuke could fly and create massive bursts of nuclear energy, making him perhaps one of the more powerful, as well as one of the more underestimated Supremers. Unstable, impulsive, and dangerous is not a good combination. Who knows what the Marvel Animated Universe version of Nuke will be like? If nothing else, he seems older, if not wiser.
Thor’s Last Stand
To me, it has always been a curiosity why Thor hangs out with the Avengers. His power levels are off the scale compared to his teammates. Yes, they are his friends, and camaraderie obviously counts for something, but let’s face it, the Avengers are ants to him, as an Asgardian god. When the Avengers have encountered Galactus, the world devourer only addresses Thor, as the others are beneath him. And I have often brought up Moondragon’s accusation that Thor is merely slumming with the team. Vicious, yes, but it sounds about right.
We see the truth of this in this very episode when Thor holds his own against the full power of the assembled Squadron Supreme. He is the God of Thunder after all, and for a while, he is on top of things. I am reminded of two moments from the comics – the moment from Ultron Unlimited, “Ultron, we would have words with thee,” and what happened right after Superman crushes Thor in JLA/Avengers, and the Avengers en masse take down the man of steel. This is a wonderful homage to both, and a healthy reminder of just how powerful Thor truly is.
Avenging Odds and Ends
I loved the Black Widow in this episode, and by all rights, she should have been the impromptu leader with Cap and Tony gone. I loved her taking on Zarda. Teamwork was at a high point in this episode, but I just wish it wasn’t all on orders from Falcon. The final skirmish with the Squadron where they switch up how they all use their powers was pretty cool.
It wasn’t all good however. Zarda’s ‘weakness’ was too convenient, and to be blunt, weak. The nightmare that Spectrum conjures for Ant-Man was ridiculous. And of course I hated that it ended in a cliffhanger, but I have to admit it was quite a cliffhanger. Can’t wait to see how this one works out.
Ants and Spiders
Immediately following “Avengers Assemble” this week was the “Ant-Man” episode of “Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors.” On this version of the series. Spidey is the leader of a group of superhero trainees working for S.H.I.E.L.D. As the title might imply, Ant-Man guest-stars trying cash in on the theater release hype obviously. He’s there to teach the kids as an Avenger, but the lesson is interrupted by a jailbreak – Nick Fury has released Doctor Octopus.
As it turns out, Fury is under Ock’s control, and only a shrinking mission into Fury’s body can save the day. There’s lot of good Ant-Man action in this left-handed homage to Fantastic Voyage with Matrix-style space ships, and the usual “Ultimate Spider-Man” silliness. I like Amadeus Cho as the Iron Spider and wish he’d had more screen time. A nice diversion.
Next: “Avengers Underground,” and the fight to the finish with the Squadron Supreme!