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Avengers 157
"A Ghost of Stone!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND March, 1977

Gerry Conway Writer/Editor

Don Heck Guest Artist

Pablo Marcos Inker

Gaspar Saladino Letterer

Don Warfield Colorist

It's Christmas Eve: 1976 at Avengers Mansion, and three of Earth's Mightiest Heroes are getting ready to head for the kitchen for some of Jarvis' holiday beverages when Yellowjacket warns Iron Man and The Beast that something is smashing through the outer wall! And whatever it may be, says The Beast, it isn't Santa Claus!

The outer wall crumbles, with Iron Man using his repulsor rays on the falling debris, while The Beast avoids the rocky barrage, and Yellowjacket shrinks to safety. Y.J. warns The Beast that someone is leaping through the opening, and Hank McCoy is stunned by the savage punch of the shadowy intruder!

Iron Man sees that The Beast is only stunned, then shifts his attention to their attacker! He uses his repulsor rays on the intruder, but they fail to have an effect, while a torn power cable used by their attacker electrifies Ol' Shell-Head! The Beast leaps and slams into their mysterious foe from behind, only to be slammed back into a wall from the intruder's sweeping arm. Yellowjacket swoops in and uses his stinger, only to be caught between two large fingers... the pressure causing him to black out!

He had expected more resistance from his old comrades -- but apparently, The Avengers have lost much might since he last fought by their side... and he has become much stronger! It is a simple matter for him to lift a half-ton computer memory bank -- an ability which would have been unheard of in his previous form! Once having a body of flesh and blood, he is now a being of stone! Even so, he is still who he has ever been -- Dane Whitman -- THE BLACK KNIGHT! He has returned from where they had abandoned him! He who was once their ally -- is now their foe -- and shortly, their executioner!

He recalls the events of the past hour when The Black Knight's statue was in a cellar -- the storeroom of The Master of The Mystic Arts known as Doctor Strange. Months had passed since it was placed among the arcane objects of the Sorceror Supreme. The statue was but a statue -- (* Since Defenders #11) The once-human form of Dane Whitman, which was transmuted by a kiss from The Enchantress (* Defenders #4). An hour ago... blinding light filled the chamber, casting the shadows away, and building in intensity until it resembled an eye... or a half-realized portal to another world. From the light, a metal hand reached out, and touches the still statue... setting it free! The light faded and died, whil the statue... lived!

The memories end, and The Black Knight recalls how he smashed the alarm system so that the others would be unaware of his arrival until it was too late! In the kitchen, Captain America watches as The Wasp and Jarvis debate the merit of adding sugar to the plum pudding, when a crashing sound alerts them to the presence of an uninvited guest! Jarvis wonders if this could be Dane Whitman, while Cap sees that their former friend means to attack, and The Living Legend of World War II moves forward! He seeks to halt The Black Knight for an explanation, but Steve Rogers' only answer is a sharp stone slap to the side of his head!

Cap crashes against the oven, while Jan realizes that the real Black Knight would never attack them, and must be an imposter! She believes that the costume and stone make-up must be an act, but as he gets closer, Jan sees that this is no act! Jan shrinks to wasp-size and uses her sting, while Jarvis goes for help, but Yellowjacket and the others are out of action! The Black Knight's stone hand catches The Wasp, then closes off her air, causing her to black out!

He recalls how months ago, The Avengers-Defenders War had ended when the groups were in search of The Evil Eye... Loki had told The Avengers that The Defenders had declared war on humanity (Holy Busiek, Batman!), while The Non-Team explained their reasons for seeking the six sections of The Evil Eye! (*Avengers #115 - #118 And Defenders #8- #11) The Defenders had sought The Evil Eye in order to restore Dane Whitman to life, and since Earth's Mightiest Heroes had opposed them, The Non-Team had assumed that they were entranced by a mystic spell! Doctor Strange had sent a message to Whitman's spirit in limbo, and it had told them what to do! It turns out that it was all a lie by The God of Deceit -- Loki!

The Avengers had left him to remain as a statue, and when The Defenders returned from their fight with Loki and Dormmamu, they too left him -- traveling back into time for an adventure with his ancestor, The Original Black Knight! (*Avengers #118, Defenders #11) In Midtown, Simon Williams and Wanda Maximoff are Christmas shopping, and Simon notices how times have changed since his "death." Riots, student protests, the money crisis -- memories to the others, but stories to him! She asks if he's happy, and he is -- but he'd be happier if her husband would talk to him. Wanda recalls the previous night when she and The Vision had argued -- her husband so cold and robotic that it frightened her. Simon is aware of The Vision's feelings, but he wonders about his own. Hank Pym had told him that the synthezoid shares his brain pattern -- which makes him an identical twin! The conversation stops as Wanda sees a bus --

Heading right for the startled pedestrians, it is out of control! Wanda uses her hex power to cause a minor earthquake, while Simon uses his strength to bring the bus to a halt, crashing through a store window in the attempt! (Holy Partidge, Batman!)

The people recognize the heroes in their midst, and give chase! Wanda and Simon manage to catch a cab, and in five minutes, they are at Avenger's Mansion. Simon pays the cab fare and marvels at the $2.50 from Midtown to there, while a worried figure watches from the bushes! Inflation is the least of their problems, as Jarvis tries to warn them of the danger, only to have a stone fist crash through the door, and knock Wanda out! The Black Knight emerges and wonders who the man is in his midst, and Simon Williams vows that if he has hurt Wanda-- he'll smash her attacker to a pulp!

The Black Knight is unaffected by Simon's punch, and Dane Whitman manages to grab ahold of his leg, then sends him crashing into a nearby mailbox!

With The Scarlet Witch, The Black Knight has three of the seven Avengers who betrayed him. Mantis is gone, Thor has vanished, and The Black Panther is in Wakanda! Only The Vision remains! With her consciousness slipping, Wanda calls out to her husband -- in the only way The Scarlet Witch can! As The Black Knight places his latest captives beside his other fallen foes in the laboratory of Hank Pym, he is satisfied with the near end of his goal... and in that moment, he drops his guard. He does not hear the footsteps behind him until, The Vision speaks! The intruder has won much, but the end of his game is upon him! When he asks how the robot entered, The Vision replies, "By walking through the wall!" It is not his own presence which the synthezoid questions, but that of The Black Knight's!

The animated statue swings a lethal punch, but his opponent has turned intangible, and now alters his own density to that of Tungsten Steel... WHAM! The Vision demands to know the intruder's true identity and why he threatens his teammates! Thinking him a fool, the unliving stone figure tells him that he is The Black Knight, but The Vision knows that Dane Whitman is -- The creature of stone insists that he is Dane Whitman, and the synthezoid suggests for him to recall how he came to be! The Black Knight will never forget the day The Defenders returned from their trip to another time and another place-- carrying his stone form like so much luggage. They arrived at Garrett Castle, and afterwards, Doctor Strange brought him to his Sanctum Sanctorum. (* Defenders #4.)

He recalls how he had hoped that his friends would find him and release him, but they had turned away instead! The Vision asks if this is all he can recall, and The Black Knight has other memories -- of travelling through a void between worlds, with The Valkyrie riding his horse, Aragorn, and carrying his Ebony Blade. This, he also remembers, and wonders if he should remember more? The synthezoid tells him that there should be one more moment he must recall -- if he is who he claims to be. The Black Knight seeks to strike the flying form of The Vision with some metal debris, and likens him to a thing of synthetic flesh! The synthezoid knows more than he can imagine, and he knows what Doctor Strange told him about Dane Whitman's transformation.

Against his will, the stone creature remembers how The Enchantress was angered by his false love, kissed him -- and transmuted him to stone. Now he recalls something more: at that moment, Dane Whitman's soul fled his body, and escaped into limbo-- where it remained until it was contacted by Doctor Strange. Then -- then-- the memories end. On that day, Dane Whitman's body left his body, and now resides in the 12th Century -- where Merlin's magic has caused it to inhabit the form of Dane Whitman's ancestor. The Black Knight hesitates, for if what The Vision says is true, then -- He is but a memory pretending to be the man. A souless ghost of stone who seeks that which he cannot have. The stone figure is defiant, and insists that he is The Black Knight! In his anger, he shatters his fists against The Vision's diamond-hard form, and the synthezoid knows that someone must have granted the statue mobility and memory -- making it the pawn of his revenge. Who could that be?

The stone knight sees all this as lies, and continues to attack, crumbling his arms in the process. The Vision warns him that his futile attack will only result in his self-destruction. The stone figure screams, then hurls himself headfirst at the unmoving form of the synthezoid. The ghost has become one of crumblling stone! The air has become thick with dust, and even so, The Vision does not cough nor does his eyes tear. He is what The Black Knight called him: "A Thing Of Synthetic Flesh!" Perhap he, the android whose mind he cannot call his own, perhaps he too is a ghost -- a ghost of crumbling stone...

A classic cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott of several Avengers strewn about, and the ghost of stone touted as the most unexpected villain of all!

I've enjoyed Gerry Conway's work on such group books as Avengers and JLA, as well as single character books, such as Firestorm.

To me, Don Heck is synonymous with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and Pablo Marcos enhanced his pencils for this holiday tales. Definitely the best present a reader could receive and savor.

Gaspar Saladino's lettering style is dramatic and he seems to favor the "--" for effect and emphasis.

During the holiday season, The Avengers were haunted by The Ghost of The Past, with The Black Knight, The Vision, and Simon Williams. Certainly a different trio than Dickens envisioned.

It was never explained where the light came from, or where the metal hand came from. My guess would be: Loki, Dormammu, The Evil Eye, or Prester John.

Loki is no stranger in using pawns to fight his battles and concealing his identity from his foes. He could have used an Asgardian metal glove, whose enchantment could have brought the stone statue to life.

Dormammu is a second possibility, but unlikely. He, too, uses catspaws, such as Baron Mordo, and he would be most likely to have attacked Dr. Strange and The Defenders first! This would be an interesting untold tale to serve as a sequel.

The Evil Eye has interesting properties, and perhaps another of its aspects was responsible for The Black Knight's resurrection.

I'm reminded of Prester John, a being who lives outside of time, and who delighted in observing others. Perhaps he was bored, and decided to test an invention.

The above observations is a large part of why I miss letters pages, and interacting with other readers. Thank goodness we have the SAR List.

On Bob Rozakis' Answer Man message board at SBC, a person was asking about this particular story, which spurred this review in part, as well as being a holiday tale.

This Review Is Dedicated To Hoy Murphy

Steve Chung
"A Review of Stone!"