Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: An Avengers Retrospective Part 5: Did You Hear the One About Scorpio? (Issues 72-88)
Guest contributor Gene Selassie is back with his latest retrospective of Marvel‘s The Avengers. He started at the beginning and he’s back discussing issues #72 to #88!
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night (legitimately no power or water for a few days here in this Texas blizzard) was able to keep me from this next leg of my journey, re-reading every issue of Avengers from the beginning. This series of issues features the first appearance of villains who become staples in Avengers lore. We also see this book truly be the hub of the goings-on of the Marvel U, with guest stars coming in and out of the book fast and furiously. The personalities of some of Earth’s Mightiest begin to resemble how we know them in the modern era. Finally, we highlight several members of the team, who come to an impasse when it comes to balancing Avenging with their responsibilities outside of the team.
When you mention “Avengers villains”, the first three names that should come to mind are Kang, Ultron, and the Masters of Evil. However, the next tier of villains proved, without the shadow of the doubt, to be “Avengers level threats”.
- Issue 72 opens with an Avengers meeting (sans Black Panther, Iron Man and Thor, who are missing due to personal reasons). They’re interrupted by a communiqué from SHIELD. The investigation that the Avengers are working on is in regards to Scorpio. Fury was hunting him, but was shot by an assassin named Bulls’ Eye (no relation to the popular Daredevil villain) in SHIELD issue 15 and is believed to be dead. Scorpio somehow hacked into the Avengers communications system, later causing it to explode. When they woke up, the Avengers were all restrained. The combined numbers of the secret cabal known as the Zodiac arrive to watch the execution of the Avengers.
- Quicksilver also makes his return in issue 75. Wanda’s powers were lost, so the siblings scoured most of Europe to find some way of jump-starting them. It appears this is where Wanda first started delving into the world of magic. In her haste, Wanda accidentally opened a portal to another universe. We get the first appearance of the warlord known as Arkon, who, somehow, knew everything there is to know about Wanda and Pietro. He seeks a bride and Wanda fit the bill. His other reason for coming here was to find a way to reignite the energy ring, which functions like a sun, surrounding his world. Flashes of light from our world flickered on his…those flashes occurred every time an atomic weapon was detonated on our world. Arkon’s final stop here was a meeting of the top nuclear scientists on Earth. He kidnaps several of them and disappears, obviously wanting to use their knowledge to create a cataclysm here that will light Arkon’s world indefinitely.
- Issue 76 hails the return of John Buscema to art duties. It also features Black Panther and, for some reason Captain America, designing a machine that could breach dimensions to Arkon’s realm, which they haven’t referred to as Polemachus yet. As the Avengers work on this (and Quicksilver’s impetuousness goes into overdrive), Hawkeye gets a visit from Black Widow, who says they can never see each other again. She has to say “I never loved you” to get him to buy it, even though she does a horrible job at selling it. The relationship drama between them isn’t working for me, primarily because Natasha only shows up once every 8-10 issues. Arkon uses a machine to draw the knowledge of nuclear physics from each of the scientist, creating a weapon that could detonate the Earth’s core. Before he can move forward with his plan, the united Avengers, including Iron Man and Thor, arrive. Thor is finally using his hammer to traverse dimensions, as is used in the modern era. After Arkon falsely told Scarlet Witch he’d spare Earth, Wanda is disappointed to find out he lied. When the Avengers move in for the rescue, Clint utters the cringe line of “Don’t let it get you down, Witchie! After all, yer only a female.” Ugggh. The fight moves back to Earth, where Arkon attempts to drop his weapon from the top of the Empire State building. In the end, Arkon’s Vizier contacts him to let him know that Iron Man stayed behind and, with Thor’s help, created a generator to reenergize the ring around Arkon’s home, so they no longer need to destroy Earth. Also, all of the trans-dimensional travel seems to have kickstarted Wanda’s powers again. That ending felt a bit like a deus ex machina since there was no building towards it. This was made worse by the fact that Arkon suddenly no longer wanted to force Wanda into marriage against her will. Overall, a good story slightly marred by the abrupt ending.
- In issue 77, the Avengers essentially become “Heroes for Hire” as they have to take on odd demolition gigs to cover rent for Avengers mansion. Tony Stark lets them know that Stark Industries is fighting off a power play by wealthy tycoon Cornelius Van Lunt, the same man who hired the team for their demolition job uptown. Panther, who’s restricted from funding the team, even gets a job (under the alias of Luke Charles) as a teacher. The team deals with a misfit mob of bank robbers this issue. These are some of my least favorite adventures as it feels like a waste of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Van Lunt offered to back off from his hostile takeover of Stark Enterprises if the Avengers agreed to work on some pet projects of his. Later, it’s revealed that Van Lunt was involved in both the incidents with forcibly removing some Native Americans from their land as well as funding a full-scale assault on Manhattan.
- In issue 78, the Man-Ape returns, luring Captain America into a trap. Had it not been for the intervention of the other Avengers, Cap would’ve been street pizza. T’Challa goes it alone, tracking M’Baku to a giant jet copter over the city. Their confrontation is fierce. Before Panther can put away his foe, he’s lured into a trap. M’Baku stated he’s only the first to fall. It is here that we see the first team-up of Man-Ape, Living Laser, Power Man, the Swordsman, and Grim Reaper; the Lethal Legion. Thor and Iron Man are called in to assist with the search for Black Panther. However, this plays right into the Lethal Legion’s hands as they want to kill all of the Avengers. Panther sneaks out of his confinement, in very Batman-like fashion, to get a message to the other Avengers that an ambush awaits them. It turns out that Reaper wanted him to get the message out. He still wants revenge against the team for the death of his brother, Simon (Wonder Man), even though the Avengers had nothing to do with it. Clint was even more of a dick than usual, completely demeaning Wanda as they searched the tunnels underneath Manhattan. They would be joined in battle by Clint’s old mentor, Swordsman, who was accompanied by Power Man. At one point during the fight, Clint shouts “Go ahead, tough guy. I’m from Missouri!” I thought he was from Iowa? Cap and Quicksilver are blindsided at a power plant down the block from the Avengers mansion. Man-Ape and Living Laser get the best of them, capturing them. Power Man went to the mansion to steal personal files and he captured Vision in the process (though I’m not sure how he could have possibly done so). Once Grim Reaper reads Vision’s file, he realizes that Simon’s brain patterns are what was used to create Vision’s mind. Reaper smashes his death trap (though also not sure how poison gas would work on Vision). It turns out that Vision was Power Man? Vision was phased into Power Man’s body…but still looked like Vision? This one caused me quite a headache. As the story concludes, the team defeats the Lethal Legion. Be that as it may, the constant mentioning of Wonder Man was too much for the Vision, so he leaves the Avengers…only to return the next issue.
- Issue 82 features the return of the Zodiac, as their troops launch a full-scale assault on Manhattan. They have a nerve paralyzing force field around the island, knocking anyone who comes a calling out cold. This even affects the Avengers at the mansion (Captain America, Quicksilver, Iron Man, and Thor). Goliath, Scarlet Witch and Vision are across the river in New Jersey as they plan a rescue. The Fantastic Four are out of town. Despite this, a few heroes, who weren’t in costume at the time of the assault, plan their own counterattack. These are in the form of Black Panther and this issue’s guest star, Daredevil, the man without fear. Matt Murdock is being taken into custody, when, during a power failure, Matt unleashes hell on them. Peter Parker is about to join the fray as Spider-Man, but he’s visiting his Aunt May, who’s having heart issues and he doesn’t want the news from Manhattan to frighten her. It’s noticeable how, despite the occasional death in this era, writers would have the villains use non-lethal measures as much as possible. I didn’t mind it as a kid. In my twenties, I found it lame. However, the body count has gotten so out of hand in Big Two comics that I revel in the restraint from the writers of yesteryear. T’Challa and Matt attempt to rescue the captive Avengers, but they spring a trap, set by Aries, to lure Panther there for capture. The two barely escape with their lives. When the invaders round up civilians to witness the execution of the Avengers, Matt, in his civilian garb, allows himself to be taken. It’s he who starts a civilian uprising and, unbeknownst to his captors, uses his billy club to sabotage the machine imprisoning the Avengers. Aries uses a device to shrink the force field, intensifying it enough to kill everyone on Manhattan. Thor is forced to destroy Aries’ escape craft, and Aries as well, to stop it.
- Issues 85-86 see Thor transport himself, his teammates, and the mansion back to Earth after a mission. While Black Knight returns to England and Thor and T’Challa return to Manhattan to meet with Captain America & Spider-Man for a Toys for Tots charity toy giveaway, Goliath, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Vision seem to have been pulled to an Earth several days in the future, one in which everyone is dying due to intensely hotter than usual solar rays. Wanda uses her hex power to try to pull them home. They arrive back on the correct date. However, it’s apparent that the team is not on their Earth, but that of the Squadron Supreme, not the Squadron Sinister they faced several issues ago. Nighthawk, Hyperion, Doctor Spectrum, and Whizzer are joined by American Eagle, Lady Lark, Tom Thumb, and their own Hawkeye (obvious analogs for Mr. America, Black Canary, The Atom, and Green Arrow). Doctor Spectrum, Whizzer, and Hyperion are at a rocket launch site. Somehow, this rocket, the Avengers believe, causes the cataclysm they witnessed just days from now. From my experience, Roy Thomas is the only writer who used Quicksilver like a human pinball, much like that of Speedball from the New Warriors. Nighthawk believes the Avengers and tries to help them stop the rocket. However, all are being watched by a mysterious presence. Another fight breaks out between the teams. Wanda desperately uses a hex sphere to hold the rocket in place until Nighthawk can explain to his teammates. The rocket, named Brainchild-One, was named after its creator, who makes his Marvel debut (he was the mysterious presence watching everything unfold). We see the origin of this Earth’s version of Brainchild. He’s a genius whose deformed cranium earned him scorn, despite his work for the U.S. military. He planned to use Brainchild-One to eradicate all life on Earth in revenge. Quicksilver seemed to empathize with him as Brainchild is essentially an ostracized mutant. Back on their home Earth, Iron Man, Thor, and Black Panther use a dimensional scanner, designed by Tony Stark, to try to locate their missing teammates (didn’t Panther and Cap create one earlier?). Quite noteworthy is the fact that the book is nearly a hundred issues in and both Iron Man and Thor still keep their alter egos secret from the other Avengers. The combined Squadron and Avengers confront Brainchild and his deadly advanced technology. The first classic “team-up/splitting off into smaller groups to take on the villain” warms my heart in issue 86. Quicksilver and The Whizzer are blindsided by hundreds of flying boulders. Scarlet Witch and Nighthawk take on a giant humanoid creature. Vision and Doctor Spectrum are attacked by an enormous amoeba-like creature. Goliath and Hyperion tackle Brainchild head on. Despite Brainchild’s psychic brain bolts, the two powerhouses fight on. Clint uses brains, not brawn, to outsmart him (he grows giant-sized, then throws Hyperion, like a lawn dart, at their foe’s protective chair. All of the threats were psychic manifestations of Brainchild. Once defeated, his mind reverted to that of a child. I found this somewhat baffling. To say nothing of Doctor Spectrum’s power prism being able to transform Brainchild’s body into that of a normal child. WTF? The Avengers are pulled back to their Earth by Thor, who locates them. In the end, Vision ponders something quite unsettling; what if the Earth they were brought back to was yet a different Earth, who also happened to have those four Avengers go missing? They would never even know.
Several famous Marvel characters popped in and out of the book in quite the hurry in these issues.
- Rick Jones has returned to the team in issue 72. He states that he was spying around Fury’s apartment and was knocked out by Scorpio, who was also snooping around. This is also around the time that Rick Jones wore the Kree Nega Bands. When he clanged them together he would swap bodies with the Kree warrior and superhero, Captain Mar-Vell, which he’s kept a secret from the rest of the team, even Steve. Rick grew frustrated with the swap and at one point in the action, refused to allow Mar-Vell to come out during the fight.
- Issue 73 features the first appearance of jazz singer, Monica Lynne. I can understand someone not wanting to get involved in politics. Yet as a Black woman in 1970, Lynne came off as someone who likes to stick their head in the ground whenever tough issues are brought up. The Sons of the Serpent attempt to kidnap Lynne. Black Panther rushes in to save the day. The Supreme Serpent, to prevent his minions from being interrogated, kills them remotely. Lynne noticed how the police took their time because the victim was Black. She becomes more socially conscious after this incident.
- Issue 80 is the first appearance of the character Red Wolf. While he pursues an armed man that fires at him, Vision decides to investigate. It’s interesting seeing Vision pre “image inducer technology”, where he had to wear a fake human mask and clothing. Vision defeats Red Wolf and takes him to the Avengers, even though he quit the previous issue. The team is already in a heated debate over whether to start a worldwide manhunt for the still at large Zodiac, or something about crime on a local level. It’s odd, yet welcoming, to see a big picture guy like Black Panther more concerned with the youth in the streets of New York. Red Wolf did come across as one of the bigger clichés of that era. However, he became a personal favorite of mine in later years. Apparently, Cornelius Van Lunt tried to strong-arm the land of his reservation away from the people. When they wouldn’t budge, Van Lunt used violence as his next step. When the grandfather of a young boy is murdered, he engages in the ritual to become the warrior of justice for his people, the Red Wolf. The gunman that Red Wolf was after was an enforcer for Van Lunt. Long before Occupy Avengers was ever a thing, we see Clint and Red Wolf developing a kinship.
- Issue 88 features a story that Roy Thomas adapted from a plot by famed novelist, Harlan Ellison. Three decades before there was an Illuminati in the Marvel Universe, Reed Richards (leader of the Fantastic Four), Charles Xavier (headmaster of the X-Men) and Tony Stark (Iron Man, founder of the Avengers) combined resources and built a device that could finally contain the Hulk for the U.S. government. Reed mentions that “Perhaps they could even rescue Bruce Banner one day from his living coffin of flesh”, revealing that everyone knows Banner is the Hulk now. This is the first issue of Avengers featuring Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon. One of Falcon’s friends from New Orleans goes missing. His and Captain America’s investigation leads them to a voodoo ritual in the bayou. It turns out that the Vodou priest running things was Sam’s missing friend. He appeared to be in a trance once unmasked, babbling a set of coordinates in the South Pacific. Steve and Sam took Goliath, Iron Man and Thor with them to investigate. They find, what appears to be a giant monster, instead turns out to be the entrance to a temple. While Reed went about transferring the Hulk’s unconscious body to a containment unit, he was mysteriously teleported away, away to the underground lair of the creature known as Psyklop. He is a member of an underground race that predates humankind, going back to when the dark gods roamed the Earth.
Many of the characters, who had less defined traits in the Silver Age, begin to develop the personalities we all know and love to this day.
- When Quicksilver returns, his temperament seems much more in line with the modern interpretation. He is quite the impatient jerk. You’d think someone needing the Avengers’ help wouldn’t initiate a fight with them first.
- Goliath also spouting “I never liked him much anyway” felt like Clint didn’t want Pietro to win douche of the year by a landslide.
- Wanda’s brief foray into the world of magic would be a prelude of things to come.
- Issue 87 features the first time that we’ve seen Black Panther’s origin in the pages of Avengers. T’Challa uses much less American slang and speaks more formally as time goes on.
- Iron Man is starting to come off a bit cockier here, not unlike his rendition in the modern era.
The most noticeable aspect of this run is how, unlike the “resident” Avengers (Clint, Wanda, Pietro, Vision), the other Avengers really struggle to balance their duties elsewhere with their duties to the team.
- Issue 75 opens with Hank and Jan departing from the team as Pym is requested by the U.S. government to look into the effects of oil fields on Alaskan wildlife. On the one hand, Hank is confident the team will do fine without them. On the other hand, Jan sure is mopey about being away from the action.
- Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and even Rick Jones randomly enter and exit the book due to the goings on of their own series.
- T’Challa tells his origin story to the team because the temporary chieftain of Wakanda, N’Baza, passed away. This forces T’Challa to have to now choose between being an Avenger and a teacher in New York, or returning to Wakanda as its true chieftain.
This is it, Avengers fans. When next we meet, it will be to discuss, what could essentially be called the first “event story” of the Avengers; the Kree-Skrull War. Yes, part six of this journey will be dedicated entirely to the retelling of the massive conflict between two alien empires, with Earth (in general) and the Avengers (in particular), caught in the crossfire. Until next time, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!