Armagideon Time

Of all the fruits of Marvel’s early-to-mid 1980s creative renaissance, pilule Roger Stern’s long stint on The Avengers is the nearest and dearest to my heart. It may not have been as flashy or groundbreaking or popular as some of the other great works of that era, order but it exemplified the unique strengths of the franchise as well as the simple virtues of solidly entertaining craftsmanship.

The latter part of Stern’s run — marked by the classic “Under Siege” storyline and some excellent John Buscema art — is better remembered by fandom, but I’m more partial to the earlier stories, from the “Trial of Hank Pym” up through the conclusion of the “Unlimited Vision” plot arc. The stories, as hit-or-miss as the are, emphasized the team’s role as both the backbone and the crossroads of Marvel’s shared universe, while the illustration team of Milgrom and Sinnott (and Bob Hall and others) delivered some quaint yet iconically classic visuals.

The X-teams share a genetic bond and the Fantastic Four a familial one, but Avengers’ group dynamic is based on the relationships between professionals — a small, relatively fixed core of “lifers” and a cycling roster of “temps” bound by a shared sense of duty. It’s a workplace melodrama dressed up in capes, spandex, and other accoutrements of unstable molecules.

Stern embraced that premise to craft a consistently entertaining narrative woven in and around past and present points of Marvel continuity — including Secret Wars, Walt Simonson’s Thor, Iron Man’s relapse into alcoholism, and plot threads left dangling from the canceled Spider-Woman and Eternals series. Stern also had a rare facility for handling the team’s ensemble cast, doling out just the right amount of facetime and relationship-building while developing the Wasp into a strong, competent character and elevating She-Hulk out of z-lister limbo.

Even more remarkable, he managed to make Starfox a tolerable…

…if inexplicable addition to the team. No mean feat, indeed.

Introduced as a supporting character in the Mar-Vell side of Jim Starlin’s Bronze Age cosmic epics, the Titanian Eternal named Eros was the sibling and symbolic counterpart to the malevolent Thanos. Left devoid of purpose following the deaths of both his Kree-born brah and his genocidal bro, Eros packed up his wanderlust and Brin Londo Signature Hairstyle (if you caught the reference, give yourself a gold star), and trekked to Earth in search of what we Bostonians call “advenchah among tha Avengahs.”

After a presidentially mandated name change to something a little more stupid acceptable to the Comic Code Authority…

…”Starfox” was admitted to the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as an “Avenger-in-training” (provisional, I assume, on learning that “unitard + collar = a fashion faux pas”).

Starfox served the team in the capacity of “strong alien dude who flies” for just shy of three years.  When he wasn’t honing his cosmic creeping skills on the local ladyfolk…

…he restored the comotose Vision by networking the dormant synthezoid up via a 300 baud acoustic modem to the Titanian supercomputer, ISAAC — thus setting the stage for the android’s abortive bid at global domination, but, hey, live and learn.

Starfox’s other little gimmick was a secret “special power,” ominously referenced across countless internal monolgues yet pretty fairly obvious to deduce for even the dullest knives in the drawer…

 

…the ability to sex you up with his mind.  Of course, it wasn’t referred to as such in those more family-friendly days of funnybooks, but given the laughable literary contortions performed in order to acceptably euphemize the nature of Starfox’s so-called “pleasure power” – ample use of “sensation,” “ecstacy,” and “stimulation” — they might as well have stuck with “mindfucking” and been done with it.

Towards the end of his tenure as an Avenger, Starfox’s happy-go-sleazy demeanor was rattled by a chance encounter with Nebula, a space pirate who claimed to be the daughter of Thanos.  The revelation that his sibling’s evil might have carried over to a new generation of continuity footnotes caused the Ardent Avenger to adopt a grimmer stance, which was…well…

Let me put it this way.  My brother and I are very close, and I’m telling you this under the assumption he’ll be a good sport about it.  My brother is as much a cheery extrovert as I am an embittered recluse.  When he does get angry, his rage manifests itself in what could be described as comic indignation — he shakes, he voice rises an octave, and he begins sputtering his disgust.

There’s nothing wrong with that — except that it is very difficult to discern between his legitimate anger and a put-on.  Confusing the former for the latter only makes him angrier…and even more comical to behold.  (My dad is not above exploiting this, but that’s akin to stating “water is wet.”)

Any time I read “angry” Starfox dialogue, I hear it in my brother’s high-pitched raging voice.  (Sorry, kid, but it’s true.)

Starfox has made a number of appearances since his departure from the Avengers’ roster — either in reference to a some stray thread of Thanos/Mar-Vell mythology or as part of a revisionist, seedy take on his “special power”  — but more out of service to continuity maintenance than to popular demand. 

The man called Eros is what he is, a stray bit of shared universe fluff who happened to be pulled into a favorite franchise and was put to good effective use for a while.  Inspiring neither good will nor ill, he’s the epitome of the “I can take him or leave him” school of Nobody’s Favorites.

Related posts:

  1. Nobody Else’s Favorites: Some assembly required
  2. Nobody Else’s Favorites: One note wonder
  3. Nobody Else’s Favorites: Community service

15 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Fair fox to you”

  1. Tom Hartley

    Wasn’t Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel the real nobody’s favorite from that era?

  2. Bill S.

    I think Monica Rambeau has been written well since then, so you could argue that. Although as Captain Marvel, she was a bit of a non-starter.

    These sorts of posts are why I check this site everyday. It doesn’t hurt that I have distinct memories of thinking “Why does Starfox exist?” at the time. I was a bit too young to realize that ‘pleasure power’ was coded.

  3. Kid Kyoto

    Yay! I got a gold star!

  4. kuwagata

    As a kid I came up with pretty much the same guy. His name was Groovy Man. I thought Marvel ripped me off

  5. googum

    Not a huge fan, but Starfox gets a pass for his narration and appearance in Infinity Gauntlet, where Thanos kept him around with no mouth. (Wait, if your brother is like Starfox, wouldn’t that make you…?)

  6. Monzo

    I don’t know who Brin Londo is, but that felt like the place for a Klaus Nomi reference.

  7. Prankster

    Dan Slott featured Starfox in his otherwise superb run on She-Hulk–it was one of that series’ few missteps, since it started out critical of Starfox’s creepiness and then seemed to do an abrupt (editorially mandated?) about-face and paint him as a hero.

  8. JdR

    Thanks for another great post. You’re right that the early part of Stern’s run is sadly overlooked – although Nobody’s Favourites isn’t the right forum for fixing this, I hope you reflect a bit more on that era (which I used to call ‘the Wasp and the Girls’ era (which in itself was a great change from earlier when either the Wasp or the Scarlet Witch WAS the girl).

    For my reading, Starfox was another interesting ‘temp’ on the Avengers list, as Moondragon and Tigra were in the recent past – and of course when the Avengers was a way for Marvel to try raising the profile of some characters to see if they could become favourites.

    Important for the run and Stern’s skills, Eros was written as light-hearted (and I think his ‘secret power’ came from that – rather than being about the sexysexy, I always took it as being about being happyhappy), which was a great contrast from Thor, Captain America and Iron Man, who’s storylines were becoming increasingly less happy-go-lucky in tone.

    Yes – he was never anyone’s favourite. But in this period he was a valuable addition to the saga of the Avengers!

  9. MrJM

    Top notch!

  10. Matthew Johnson

    Well, obviously Starfox was Roger Stern’s favorite, or one of them, and considering the poor reputation of most writer-favorite Avengers (see: Mantis, Deathcry, Rage, Triathlon…) the fact that most people don’t actively hate him is pretty good. His “pleasure power,” creepiness aside, is an interesting experiment in coming up with a non-violent power; the problem is that, like a lot of similar powers, it either works or it doesn’t, making him kind of limited in terms of storytelling. (Jericho in Teen Titans had a similar problem: either his power worked on the bad guy, in which case the fight was over, or it didn’t work, in which he was useless… which led to him being useless most of the time.)

  11. Tim O'Neil

    Well, “useless” being relative when we’re talking about a Uranian Eternal who can still benchpress a city bus.

    I have to second the support of Monica Rambeau – AKA Captain Marvel, AKA Photon – who has managed to stick around as a respectable second-tier supporting player for long enough that I think she definitely rates more credit than being “Nobody’s Favorite.”

  12. Brimstone

    Starfox gets a pass because of Starfox 64.

  13. Tijmen

    The first Avengers’ comics I read where from the Stern era, which is why I’m still irrationally fond of Captain Marvel, Doctor Druid, the Black Knight and yes, Starfox. In the case of Monica Rambeau, I think she got short-thrifted: that black-n-white costume design is wicked cool, and sleek and elegant enough to count as a genuine classic. Plus, she’s got the powerset and background story to be brought (back) into the a-list one day (hey, if it can happen to perennial loser Ms. Marvel, why not?).

    Starfox’s kind of goofy, but when you’re a kid used to He-Man and Thundercats, his costume/design is pretty cool (that red-white-yellow combo is rare, but it works), and he had kind of an elfin Nightcrawler vibe. It’s a shame his backstory’s so footnote-heavy and convoluted, otherwise I think he could’ve been a contender.

    Someday, when I’m a successful writer at Marvel, maybe…

  14. nazz nomad

    Thanos was a big pussy.
    There…I’ve said it.
    And that whole Kree – Skrull war? Like watching two drag queens fighting it out over a $3 purse down on the Bowery.

  15. Lugh

    I remember he was in Peter David’s Captain Marvel – Genis referred to him as “uncle”. He didn’t do much. ChrisCross drew him with interesting hair, though…

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