Monday, December 12, 2016

Zodiac - Key To The Kingdom!

The meandering saga of the Zodiac cartel takes a frankly weird turn into the pages of Iron Man and later Daredevil as the secret of the Zodiac Key is finally revealed, though not without some confusion in continuity of the tale to date. It's one of the earliest tales written for Marvel by the a fresh Gerry Conway.

The story actually began in a rather exciting pair of Iron Man comics (issue #33 and #34) written by Allyn Brodsky in which Shellhead is confronted with a deadly threat called the "Espionage Elite". This team is in fact five individuals gathered by a masked super-villain named appropriately enough Spymaster. Spymaster gathers five experts (Marya Penskiyov - Soviet trained agent, Samson Washington - circus strongman, Farley London - make-up and disguise, Godfried Herter - electronics and Roger Phillips - athlete) to work with him to bring down Stark Industries. Spymaster's motives are unclear but he speaks of revenge and of an employer. The team is tough and against a somewhat demoralized Iron Man they find some success but eventually the members of the Espionage Elite are captured though Spymaster escapes. There are casualties as Jasper Sitwell was gravely wounded.

In Iron Man #35 by Gerry Conway and artwork by Don Heck and Mike Esposito, it is revealed that Spymaster was employed by the Zodiac cartel, specifically the members Capricorn, Sagitarius and Aquarius (Pisces is seen on the cover but is not in this story.). Nick Fury shows up and gets Stark to help with the analysis of the Zodiac Key which he claims SHIELD got hold of after the Avengers battled the Zodiac in their first encounter.

This doesn't seem true as Aries was seen escaping with the Key in that battle and was brandishing it late when he and his forces kidnapped Manhattan. Most likely SHIELD found the Key after that latter battle when Aries was seemingly killed in an explosion. Anyway the analysis of the Key is interrupted when Daredevil and Miss Masque arrive (the latter in love with Jasper Sitwell) and still later in a battle with the Zodiac members the heroes are all captured.

In Daredevil #73 drawn by Gene Colan and Syd Shores, the story continues as Nick Fury is attracted to the Zodiac Key and compelled to use it. He transports himself, Iron Man, Daredevil and Miss Masque to another dimension where they find an ancient cult of the Ankh.

This cult's leader says that the Key was the focus of their religion but had lost its potency to balance chaos and order and was sent to the younger dimension on Earth where these forces were less balanced. That served to recharge the Key and now the cult wants to reclaim what was originally theirs. To further empower the Key they arrange for the heroes to battle members of the Zodiac but then that is ended when another member of the cult calls a halt when DD seems not so into random battles, and sends everyone back home.

Returned to Earth in Iron Man #36 the heroes quickly dispatch the members of the Zodiac cartel and then move on to other matters. Spymaster gets away, but will become one of Shellhead's most implacable foes. The Key is seemingly left behind with the cult of Ankh.

It's a furious story which doesn't really hold together all that well, but as drawn by veterans Don Heck and Gene Colan the story has an energy which mostly results from the rookie Gerry Conway's scripting. It's vigorous if confusing and is the beginning at Marvel of the career of a potent talent.

But never fear the Zodiac will return, in a rather astonishing place.

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  1. The Capricorn villain with the odd eye tentacle thingies… Is that his whole super power? Capricorn is traditionally the mountain sea/goat in the Zodiac. Is this over-the-top Marvel artistic license here – or are they going for some sort of weird Lovecraftian sea creature thing here?

    1. No Lovecraft that I could see. Yeah, his horns just extend and whip around. It's a strange power but it's what he had. He got killed soon thereafter so it didn't really matter.

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