Guest contributor Gene Selassie is back with his latest retrospective of Marvel‘s The Avengers. Steve Englehart takes the helm of the series as issues #105 to #114 are covered here!
First things first, I wanted to give a shout out to the audience. As we reconvene for the next leg of this journey, reading every issue of The Avengers from the beginning, I wanted to say thank you for coming along on this zany ride. During these issues, we see how a new writer at the helm fares. We also bear witness to the return of several villains that have close ties to members of the team. Moreover, we see affairs of the heart push a few Avengers to the limit. Finally, the icons on the roster have to juggle their responsibilities to the team with the goings-on of their own books, more than ever before. Hop aboard the Quinjet as we take flight.
Iconic scribe Steve Englehart takes the helm of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with issue #105. The transition in writing duties from Roy Thomas to Steve Englehart appeared seamless. I’m used to the modern era, where every new writer has to put their “stamp” on the franchise. These issues featured Englehart continuing plot threads from prior issues, such as Scarlet Witch’s relentless search for her missing brother, Quicksilver. Unfortunately, the demeaning writing of women continues. In issue #105, while battling Beast-Brood of the Savage Land, Lady Sif (one of several Asgardians staying at the mansion due to events in Thor’s comic) became overwhelmed and needed rescuing. FFS, CAN WE HAVE ONE DAMN ADVENTURE WITHOUT THE OVERUSED CLICHÉS WHEN IT COMES TO WOMEN??? SHE’S A DAMN ASGARDIAN! Issue #113 opens with the aftermath of an adventure from Astonishing Tales #18, where the Statue of Liberty was severely damaged. We now see the Avengers repairing said damage. Wanda is almost crushed by falling debris, but Vision saves her. I am completely over Wanda “Damsel in Distress” Maximoff. Though he tended to use more bombastic narration and had the characters use more slang then they ever have previously, Englehart was the perfect person to carry the torch after Roy Thomas.
Villains that have personal scores to settle popped up quite a bit during this series of issues.
Issues #106-108 feature the return of the Grim Reaper, who has aligned himself with the Space Phantom (not seen since issue 2). While the Phantom wishes to kill the Avengers, Reaper reveals the truth in that Wonder Man’s body isn’t able to be revived. Eric’s real plan was to offer him Captain America’s body for Vision’s mind to be transferred to. With the Space Phantom obviously having no intention of honoring their deal, Reaper sides with the Avengers to help take him down.
Issues #110-111 feature the team heading to the long-hidden X-mansion to assist the X-Men, who were besieged by an unknown assailant. Wanda quickly deduces that the attacker is Magneto. The Master of Magnetism arrives and takes mental control over the X-Men AND Avengers due to his learning to control the iron content in blood flow to the brain. I loved the X-Men costumes of this era, especially Cyclops’, Marvel Girl’s and Angel’s. Magneto’s plan was to attack a conference for the Atomic Energy Commission and force them to increase atomic output to springboard a rise in mutations. Thor, Black Panther, and Vision are forced to call in backup…backup in the form of Black Widow and Daredevil.
In the issues leading up to #114, we saw Mantis and a silhouetted associate planning on meeting and joining the Avengers. In this issue, it’s revealed that her paramour is the Swordsman, who has turned over a new leaf and wished to join the team to make amends. It was so annoying how Mantis only referred to Swordsman as “my man”. Can ONE WOMAN in this series not be defined by her significant other?
Though some of these villains are favorites of mine, I am thrilled that they only appear every once in a blue moon. Modern over use of these characters have made me care less and less about them with each passing year.
Wanda and Vision FINALLY made their feelings known to each other at the end of issue #108, though some were not happy about this.
The opening page to issue #110 shows Thor interrupting a sparring session. He gathers the team in the communications room as they’ve finally received contact from Quicksilver. He explained what happened after the attack on the Sentinel base in issue 104. Lockjaw of the Inhumans teleported himself and Crystal of the royal family to Pietro, completely by accident. They took him to the Great Refuge and nursed him back to health. Along the way, they fell in love. Pietro announces that he and Crystal are getting married. Wow, that was fast, even for Quicksilver. Yet when Scarlet Witch tells him that she and Vision have declared their love for each other, Pietro flips out, telling her it is wrong to be involved with a robot. Man, for someone who constantly snaps at their teammates for not understanding the struggles of being a mutant, Quicksilver sure comes across like a hypocrite during this era.
Hawkeye, who unsuccessfully made several passes at Wanda in prior issues, handled the news like an angry teenager and decided to leave the team. He heads out to San Francisco to see the Black Widow…even though she’s currently dating Daredevil. With her not being home, Clint decides to hang out in one of the trees out front until she gets there. Good grief, Clint wouldn’t take no for an answer back in the day. At the end of issue #111, Cap offers membership to both Daredevil and Black Widow. DD declines on behalf of both of them, which ticks off Natasha. Though she was right to be upset at Matt Murdock making that decision for her, she then got mad when Matt peacefully departed. Both she and Clint have issues they need to work out before they get into any more relationships.
In issue #113, Wanda and Vision’s relationship goes public. A group of hate mongers are sickened by the thought of a mutant and an android together and try to kill Vision, via suicide bombing, to prevent “androids taking over”.
This was quite the rough opening weeks for one of the defining couples of this franchise. Yet, their love would endure for quite some time.
Many of the resident Avengers have a multitude of duties. The ones that have their own books (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Rick Jones/Captain Marvel, and Black Panther) are beyond swamped during this run, nearly to the point of neglecting their duties elsewhere, or even neglecting their secret identities.
In issue #110, Black Panther has been urged to return to Wakanda to take the throne once again with no more extended leaves of absence. Before he can make a decision on his future with the team, a bunch of Black protestors show up at the mansion and demand that T’Challa return to Africa. These protestors break down the front doors of the mansion and try to take Panther by force. They are led by a reporter, who we thought was slain a few pages earlier. Panther falls under his mental thrall, apparently like the protestors were. When the other Avengers step in to confront him, the reporter transforms into the Lion God, the centuries-old rival of the Panther God. He sought to siphon off all of T’Challa’s knowledge about the Panther God, but the Avengers, primarily Thor, were able to subdue the deity long enough to free the Panther. T’Challa decides that it’s not just Wakanda that needs him, so he decides to stay with the Avengers.
During the Space Phantom/Grim Reaper ordeal, Captain America was flooded with memories that he had no recollection of. These memories were of him and Rick Jones storming a HYDRA base in Cap’s own book. The memories were wiped from Cap’s and Rick’s minds as this was part of the Space Phantom’s overarching plan. During this era, it seemed like Captain America was in five places at once, given all of his adventures outside of the Avengers book.
In issue #113, after Vision is critically wounded by one of the suicide bombers, T’Challa, Tony Stark and Doctor Don Blake have to work to repair him. Tony has to excuse himself so he can “go find Iron Man”. The armored Avenger gives Steve and Wanda an assist. Another of the terrorists attempt to detonate. Iron Man flies him high into the skies right before the explosion. Suddenly, Stark returns to assist the scientists, letting us know he’s alright. He tells Doctor Blake to “go roust out Thor” and pretty much hints that he knows Blake is Thor. Thor was pretty good about keeping his alter ego hidden, so if Tony knew, who knows how many other heroes knew at this point?
One of the reasons that I’ve always gravitated to the Avengers is that, for the longest time, it was the central hub of the Marvel Universe goings on. Be that as it may, despite enjoying seeing the big guns on the team, it seemed that many really needed to take a leave of absence to handle their other responsibilities.
When next we meet, we will recount the second event story and first official “crossover” in Avengers lore, The Avengers/Defenders War. With heavy-hitters like Doctor Strange, Namor, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer filling the Defenders ranks, how will Earth’s mightiest heroes stand up to such power? Until next time, Avengers Assemble!
Guest contributor Gene Selassie is back with his latest retrospective of Marvel‘s The Avengers. The Kree-Skrull War is over and creator Roy Thomas departs the series after six years worth of tales.
Fellow followers of those who fight the foes that no single hero could withstand, it’s that time once again. As I continue my review of every single issue of the Avengers from the beginning, the next leg of this journey deals with the fallout from the Kree-Skrull War. We see some characters coming to terms with their feelings for each other, others reverting back to their old ways and some finding themselves either completely preoccupied or in one case, obsolete. The coolness factor of seeing an adventure so grand that it requires every character who had ever been an Avenger increased exponentially as the very first instance of this occurred here. We also take a look at the more experimental storytelling by the creators during this stretch. Finally, we bid farewell to the steward of the last six years worth of Avengers tales and see what condition Roy Thomas left the toys in the toy box.
Avengers #98 opens up with Thor trying to pierce realms to return to Asgard, in the hopes that magicks there would be able to reveal the whereabouts of the missing Hawkeye. However, some unseen force prevents him from leaving Earth. Cap, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch confront an angry mob named the War Hawks. They seek to attack a visiting Asian dignitary. The Vietnam War seems to play quite a role in stories during the Silver AND Bronze ages of Avengers comics. A mohawked figure has his henchman play music that whips the crowd into a frenzy. Before long, it affects the Avengers on the scene. Thor and Vision investigate separately, with Vision being attacked by Iron Man, now under the same thrall that the other War Hawks were. Iron Man blasted Vision into the “Piper”, who somehow died upon impact. Thor uncovered the culprit behind the plot, Ares, the Greek god of war. Before the Thunder God could strike, Ares had the mind-controlled Scarlet Witch neutralize Thor’s hammer. The hammer is freed, from a blast arrow. Yet, no one saw which direction it came from. Hawkeye returns at the end of the issue…wearing a costume that garnered much derision back then. He doesn’t give an explanation for how he returned to Earth. However, he’s accompanied by a returning Hercules, who has no memory of who he is.
Avengers #99 begins with Thor, using the power of his enchanted hammer (along with a device invented by Tony Stark) to jog Hercules’ memory. The device doesn’t work. Hawkeye recounts his encounter on the Skrull craft at the end of the Kree-Skrull War. Surrounded by shock troopers and no Pym Particles left in his system, Clint had to create a makeshift bow and arrows, to become Hawkeye once again. One of his errant arrows hit a main control circuit and caused an explosion. He got out in an escape pod before the entire ship blew up. Clint’s ship crash-landed in the former Yugoslavia. A traveling circus passed by and Clint hitched a ride with them until a torrential storm took Clint’s wagon nearly off the edge of a ravine. A strongman with the circus named “Hercules”, with blonde hair and clothing like a sideshow attraction, pulled the wagon out of harm’s way with his bare hands. Turns out, the blonde hair was a wig and the man was the real deal Prince of Power himself. They contact Tony Stark’s office to get a flight booked back stateside. Both Black Panther and Ant-Man, away on other matters, have been spending time working on a way to help Hercules, but to no avail. From out of nowhere, Clint makes a pass at Wanda, which ticks off Vision. At this point, Clint still is oblivious to the feelings Vision and Wanda has for one another. One who doesn’t let the obvious fly right over his head is Quicksilver. He asks Wanda for the truth and she admits her feelings about Vision to her brother. Vision also departs to the kitchen, where Jarvis offers his ear, as he’s done for so many throughout the years. He also can tell that there’s tension between Vizh and Wanda. Vision doesn’t know if she feels the same. Before any of the drama can play out, two Olympian warriors, Kratos and Bia, show up at Avengers mansion to retrieve the amnesiac Hercules. The Avengers put up one hell of a fight though. During the altercation, Wanda is injured (yes, again) and Vision attends to her a bit too long instead of helping during the fight, which Clint rudely points out. During the distraction, the Olympians, with Hercules in tow, vanish. Clint accuses Vision of blatantly ignoring the rest of the team in the middle of the fight. Wanda, angry at Vision for putting her above the rest of the team, just walks out. The rest of the team knows what they have to do to rescue the abducted Hercules, plan an assault on Olympus itself.
Avengers #100 is a celebration featuring what has now become a classic and welcome trope of gathering every single person who had ever been an Avenger up to that point. Seeing Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, the Wasp, the Hulk, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Black Panther and the Black Knight all gathered (illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith and inked by the legendary Joe Sinnott no less) alluded to a tremendous adventure ahead. Black Knight summoned the entire team to Garrett Castle in England to discuss the vision he saw via the spirit of his ancestor, the original Black Knight. The Ebony Blade, which Dane tried to have destroyed on Polemachus, somehow made its way to the outskirts of Olympus, where Ares laid claim to it. The Enchantress, following the sword there, forged an alliance with the Greek god of war, promising to conquer Olympus, Asgard, and Earth. Ares used the sword to kill the Titan guarding the Prometheum flame. He then destroyed the flame and every Olympian turned to crystal, except for the half-blood Prince of Power. While in a sparring session, Hercules accidentally kills Phoebus, who was just turned to crystal. Ares makes his presence known and his minions toss Hercules off of Olympus. As he slowly falls through space down towards Earth, his memories begin to fade. The War Hawks debacle, Thor being unable to return to Asgard, the attack by Bia and Kratos, all a complex plot by Ares. Another former Avenger happens to make their presence known, the Swordsman. He stole one of the Avengers’ craft and used their surveillance equipment to ascertain what the meeting was about. He stated that he was an Avenger as well, even for a short time, and wishes to help. I had to laugh when they hinted at Swordsman having escaped prison, but no one bats an eye. Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Black Knight, and the Hulk head to Olympus to gather intel and mount a rescue of Hercules. Of course, it is a trap. The Enchantress lets them know that their assault on Asgard is next and their true target, the Odinsword, a weapon which could bring about Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. Meanwhile, Captain America, Hawkeye, Swordsman, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and Quicksilver fight off Ares’ forces in London. One would think that the Hulk would have smashed to his heart’s content. However, he was lulled, by the music of Satyrs, away from the battlefield. He just sat, chilled, and enjoyed the music like he was at Woodstock…until the forces that attacked Earth came back through the portal and rained on Hulk’s happy day. With Black Knight and Thor dispatching Ares, Hercules rescued and the Olympians returning to normal, the Avengers went through the portal back to Earth. Somehow, the portal was sealed by Thor and Hercules, whose fists collided at the same time.
Avengers #101 is the famous Five Dooms to Save Tomorrow story that Thomas adapted from a Harlan Ellison story (one that was originally written for a Hawkman script but was rejected by DC). Rich Buckler filled in on art, doing a serviceable job on pencils. We open to a story where the Avengers are special guests at Stark Industries for a tournament between a world-renowned chess master (an arrogant Russian dignitary), and a supercomputer…a supercomputer called NIMROD. WHAT? I’m hoping this is just one of those wacky coincidences that happened in comics back in the old days. Just into the opening moves of the match, the dignitary crashes to the floor, with the Avengers thinking he’s having a heart attack. Once they get to the hospital, Thor buggers off, only to change to his alter ego of Doctor Don Blake. It’s apparent that Thor and Iron Man are still keeping their alter egos secret from their teammates. Cap had a hunch and kept the last chess piece that the dignitary touched before his malady. Iron Man scanned the residue, but even his computers couldn’t identify all of the elements. Doctor Blake was able to determine it was a poison from a remote section of Brazil. He lets them know that reverse engineering an antidote won’t be possible unless they find the person who poisoned him. If they don’t the dignitary will die and an international incident of the highest order would further stain America’s reputation. While the Stark Industries auditorium is empty, one man named Leonard Tippit was laying in wait until it was abandoned. Vision appears and startles the man. He knew that when the NIMROD made a certain move that was banned in Curacao in 1962 that it would force the Russian dignitary to make a specific move with a specific chess piece. Vision tries to stop him, but without warning, Tippit emits unusual energy, incapacitating even an intangible Vision. Yet Captain America appears and is able to knock out Tippit with just one punch. Tippit disappears, but as soon as the Avengers arrive, they all fall unconscious. Just after this, Tippit flashes back to two nights ago, when he woke up in his bed, thinking he had a dream. He is promptly contacted by no other than The Watcher. Uatu reveals to Tippit that he is a solid nexus point in all timelines and that a nuclear disaster will affect several timelines and only Tippit can prevent it. Uatu unlocks latent mental powers in Tippit. Uatu then tells him that he has to kill five key people…innocent people…who will give birth to key individuals that cause this holocaust. The Avengers share the vision as well and know of the plot that’s unfolding. They debate whether or not to intervene. The team finally splits up to intercept the other targets. However, Tippit seems to be able to be in all places, nearly simultaneously. He had only enough power to place the targets into a comatose state, not kill them, as the teleporting and battling the Avengers drained him. It was finally Pietro and Wanda who took him down and brought him into custody. The Watcher once again intervened. This time, it was to reveal that it wasn’t the five targets that would be responsible for the coming apocalypse, but Tippit himself. His power level was enough to possibly even kill Uatu. The Watcher sought to take Tippit outside of space and time, to be removed from the timeline forever. Uatu used the Avengers to defeat him. While they objected at first, Tippit himself saw how much of a threat he could become and willingly went with the Watcher in the end.
Avengers #102 features the Vision being summoned to a closed frozen food locker to meet with the Grim Reaper. Eric still refers to Vision as his brother in a deranged manner. He remains hell-bent on killing the Avengers as payback for what happened to his real brother, Wonder Man. Eric reveals he has Wonder Man’s preserved body and wants Vision to not interfere with a future attack on the rest of the team, promising to put Vision’s brain in the body, making him human. Reaper also stated he booby-trapped the containment unit holding Simon. Vision is, of course, conflicted. Later, in the most clichéd TV soap opera moment ever, Wanda (on monitor duty at the mansion) is about to tell Clint she has feelings for Vision. But Clint forces himself on her and kisses her right when the Vision arrives. The Starcore deep space monitoring station picks up unusual blips flying out of the sun and heading towards Earth…it is a fleet of Sentinels. Quicksilver thinks back to their last encounter with the mutant-hunting robots in X-Men #57-59. He thought the robots were gone forever. Wanda gets dressed up and goes for an evening stroll. Pietro beckons Vision to go after her, finally understanding that both need to stop playing games and tell each other how they feel. Vision declines, only until he sees in the distance, something flying in Wanda’s direction. He jets out after it, with the other Avengers following. Wanda is attacked and captured by the Sentinel. I didn’t know these early models could adapt to mutant abilities, I thought that wasn’t until the NIMROD class. The one Sentinel holds off the entire team (Thor later stated he and Iron Man were holding back to ensure Wanda wasn’t hurt), then teleports away with Wanda. Pietro blows a gasket because the “so-called Mighty Avengers” couldn’t take one lone Sentinel. He vows to find his sister, alone.
To start off Avengers #103, the team exchanges intel with SHIELD to locate the Sentinels, while Pietro explores an old Sentinel bunker he was once held prisoner in with the X-men and the Brotherhood. He chases a lead to Judge Chalmers, someone who took in Larry Trask, the now orphaned son of Bolivar Trask, creator of the Sentinels. Larry has amnesia and Chalmers was trying to keep it that way. Be that as it may, Pietro did abscond from the residence with Trask. While the team conferences with Nick Fury about the situation, Vision contemplates using the amulet that Grim Reaper gave Vision to contact him. Peter Corbeau, from Starcore, contacts the team to let them know something is causing massive solar flares in the sun that may soon reach Earth. The flare-inducing beam is tracked to the Australian Outback. Just as the team is about to take off, Rick Jones appears, intent on joining them on this mission. Cap, however, states that the mission is too dangerous and wants Rick to sit out this one. Rick is pissed, due to the fact that he saved the universe a few months earlier (Kree-Skrull War). The team flew off in an experimental jet that hit supersonic speeds, with an engine designed by Tony Stark and powered by lightning from Thor’s hammer, which was pretty damn awesome. Trask had an amulet around his neck that suppressed his memories (man, amulets were pretty popular this arc). Quicksilver ripped it off and Trask’s memories flooded back. Pietro felt guilty for exploiting a mental illness, but he felt justified because of trying to find his kidnapped sister. Trask revealed the location of the Australian Sentinel base. Pietro stated if they don’t make it in time, Trask will pay with his life. The team attacks the Sentinel base. I appreciate Thor discussing a battle plan. Sometime in the 90s-2000s, Thor went from strategist on par with Captain America to giant brute that gets trounced by the new villain du jour, just to prove how badass said villain is. Vision jumped the gun and they were all attacked by Sentinels. In a passenger jet en route to the battle, Trask discussed that Sentinels never had the ability to teleport. Suddenly, Trask concentrated enough and he teleported the plane. He remembered now that his father wanted to hide a dark secret. Larry is a mutant. In addition to teleporting, he can see into the future. He predicted not only the death of Pietro’s teammates but everyone on Earth due to a massive solar flare.
Avengers #104 is the end of an era, marking the final issue of Roy Thomas’ six-year run on The Avengers. While the Avengers continued to do their best against the Sentinels (with Vision only feigning injury in the last issue to sucker punch a couple of their attackers) Pietro and Trask found an alternate entrance into the base. A captive Wanda discovers her captors’ horrific plan. They seek to use Wanda to boost the power of their flare generator to create enough radiation to make all organic life on Earth sterile, a loophole around the Sentinels’ primary programming; to not bring harm to any non-mutant humans. Once the human race eventually dies off, the Sentinels will genetically engineer humans, removing the possibility of mutation. It was The Matrix, by way of Josef Mengele, quite unsettling. Quicksilver outwits a Sentinel that can move nearly at his speed. He intentionally face plants into a wall, knowing the Sentinel was too large to change direction in time and the Sentinel smashes into a control panel, killing two birds with one stone. Yet, Pietro is injured, forcing Trask to push on alone to stop the plan of the murderous robots. Trask gets another vision. This time, he sees the complete annihilation of Earth and then…nothingness. The leader of this pack of Sentinels, Number Two, took command after the Master Mold, the gargantuan unit that manufactures the Sentinels, was destroyed in X-Men #16. Though it looks half-melted, it is the biggest threat, namely because it doesn’t have the “non-lethal against humans” protocol that the other Sentinels do. Before it can dispatch Cap, Iron Man, Thor and Hawkeye, they’re saved by Vision and a now freed Scarlet Witch. A crude Cerebro-like device is noticed by both Scarlet Witch and by Larry Trask. They both notice it’s turned off. On a hunch, Trask activates it. Suddenly, all sensors home in on Wanda, Pietro, Trask…and Sentinel Number Two. When they flew close to the sun, some of the components and organics in the Sentinel mutated, making him essentially a non-organic mutant. This also gave Number Two the ability to teleport. The other Sentinels promptly turned and engaged Number Two in battle. Once he is destroyed, the Sentinels deactivate, one of them collapsing on and killing Trask. That is why his last vision was total darkness. He willingly helped the Avengers stop the murder machines built by his father.
It was around this time that Barry Windsor-Smith started experimenting more with his art, to amazing results. I loved the thin line work and more odd “camera angles” and expressions that really made his work stand out from the pack at the time. Speaking of amazing, I have to give credit where credit is due. Despite Stan Lee’s first three years with of issues, pushing the team as Marvel’s all stars, it was Thomas who really did explore the meaty dramatic elements with the secondary characters like Vision, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Black Knight. He really gave Vision his voice and had the foresight to plant seeds leading to the first “event story” in Avengers lore (The Kree-Skrull War). On the one hand, reading tales penned by him will be missed. On the other hand, I cannot wait to dive into the upcoming writer’s run once again.
When next we meet, we celebrate the debut of Steve Englehart as the writer of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The Grim Reaper’s scheme unfolds, with guest appearances galore gracing the pages of the book. We also build up towards the next event story, The Avengers/Defenders War. Until next time, my friends…AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!
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 the classic Kree-Skrull War!
This is it, fellow Avenger aficionados. It’s here that we discuss the first official (or unofficial) event story in Avengers canon. The Kree-Skrull War is an epic that I’ve not gone back to read in almost 25 years. There are elements to the story that stuck out with clarity (the changes in art throughout the story did make for a slightly unharmonious visual flow, Rick Jones being such a centerpiece to the story, when he hadn’t factored much into Avengers continuity in the year or two leading up to this story did make the climax not hit as powerfully as it could have). Other elements did catch me off guard (I mistakenly thought Wanda and Vision’s romance was hinted at before this story, the grand cosmic side of Marvel was more interconnected back then than I’d realized). Here, I’ll be doing more of a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Let’s begin our trek through the Kree-Skrull War.
The cover of issue 89 is almost one of my favorites as the striking image of Captain Mar-Vell getting the electric chair is a cover that I never thought would fly. My only qualm is the tagline “The Only Good Alien Is a Dead Alien”, which has some unsavory connotations.
Sal Buscema, who has been the “swing artist” for the book the last few years, is who illustrates this opening chapter.
The story opens up with Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and the Vision chasing down Captain Marvel. He evades capture for a while, but he’s blindsided by Rick Jones. Rick fires a ray gun at him, disabling the Kree warrior.
Through flashbacks, we see that Rick Jones became a singer and guitarist. We also see that when Captain Marvel and Rick Jones swapped bodies, once the adventure was done, it was the Negative Zone that Mar-Vell’s body returned to. Mar-Vell showed Rick an image of Reed Richards exploring the Negative Zone and then escaping. Both men figured that the key to Mar-Vell permanently escaping the Negative Zone resided in the Baxter Building. Mar-Vell broke in while the Fantastic Four were away. This alerted the Avengers. Mar-Vell activated Reed’s dimensional gateway and Rick was able to make it through. Unfortunately, the ruler of the Negative Zone, the living death that walks, Annihilus, followed them through.
The powerful being, possessor of the Cosmic Control Rod, was more than a match for the team, even shrugging off Wanda’s powerful hex bolts. Vision lured Annihilus into a trap and they shunted him back to the Negative Zone.
Yet, before they could catch their breath, Mar-Vell fled the scene, stealing the Avengers’ Quinjet in the process. His destination, Cape Canaveral in Florida, so that he can find a ship that could make the journey back to the Kree Empire.
The team discovers that during the time he spent in the Negative Zone, Mar-Vell absorbed ungodly amounts of radiation, to the point where it threatens his life.
Once Rick and Mar-Vell separated the powerful weapons, known as the Nega Bands, dissolved from Mar-Vell’s wrists.
When the flashbacks are done, we see that it’s not an electric chair that Mar-Vell was put in, but a decontamination device to siphon off radiation, in the hopes of saving Mar-Vell’s life. The machine lacked sufficient power, so Vision nearly sacrificed himself to power it, saving Mar-Vell’s life in the process. I wonder how much of this plot point may have factored into the eventual Death of Mar-Vell, a decade later, given how Mar-Vell died.
The story then cuts to the entity that rules over all of Kree civilization, the Supreme Intelligence. A coup is staged and the Intelligence’s guardsmen are all killed. Ronan the Accuser, who was imprisoned in Captain Marvel issue 16, is released. He forces the Intelligence to cede power. Ronan also activates the titanic automaton known as the Kree Sentry, which laid dormant for months at Cape Canaveral. Its mission, to kill the still unconscious Mar-Vell.
Issue 90 begins with the Kree Sentry breaking through the walls of the facility to get to the comatose Captain Marvel. Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and a still weakened Vision attempt to hold off the enormous automaton. Despite their combined power, they’re not able to repel the attack, and the Sentry escapes with Mar-Vell. The Sentry states that the Kree are to enact Plan Atavus, which freaked out a revived Mar-Vell so much that he shouted “No! Kill me here, Sentry. Don’t use that!”
As the Avengers proceeded to leave, they were stopped by the head of Cape Canaveral security, one Carol Danvers, future Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel. She demanded a full report of the incident…at a pretty inopportune time, as the team was trying to rescue Mar-Vell.
Rick Jones went on to recount the history of the Kree that he gleaned from Mar-Vell. It also explains Mar-Vell’s original mission, to spy on Earth and determine if it’s a threat to the Kree. Over time, he learned that Earth was a noble species, worthy of saving and he all but defected from the Kree.
One of Roy Thomas’ favorite lines is “You win the Kewpie Doll”. I’ve seen that line nearly forty times since the beginning of this run.
The Avengers return home, only to be greeted by an emergency message from Goliath, letting them know that Hank and Jan are in trouble up in Alaska and for the team to rendezvous with them. Storming out, they all accidentally knocked down poor Jarvis, who was bringing them tea and snacks. He gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield.
Jan explained to Clint that she and Hank were exploring an unusual phenomenon, a jungle in the middle of Alaska. Hank freaked out and made a dive for it to investigate while sending Jan back to their ship. Clint decided to go it alone to search for Hank, stating that he “can’t work with women around, not since he and Natasha broke up”. Good grief, the sooner I get to the modern era, the better. The casual sexism has overstayed its welcome.
There were quite a few spelling errors in this book; from Jan’s “What have you done with the I love?” to Quicksilver’s “That blast, if it had struck where the Wasp was standing“. They made for quite a discordant reading experience.
The other Avengers arrive and find Clint under the control of Ronan the Accuser and the Kree Sentry and so they do battle.
Ronan reveals to the captive Mar-Vell what Plan Atavus is. The Kree feel that humanity will become a threat to them in a short while. They plan to use a machine to devolve humanity back, millions of years. The test subject on this, a now Cro-Magnon Hank Pym, set out to kill an unconscious Wasp.
Issue 91 continues the fight, with the prehistoric Pym somehow stopping himself before he hurts Jan. The three other Avengers were able to knock out Goliath as well.
However, the Kree Sentry seems to have adapted to Vision’s ability to alter his mass. As Wanda attends to the temporarily disabled Vision, he unknowingly releases pent-up energy and they both are incapacitated.
Quicksilver is forced to flee with Rick Jones in tow until they could come up with a new battle plan.
The captive Avengers have an emotional moment when Wanda attempts to kiss Vision. His self-loathing nature wouldn’t just let it happen though. MAN, I don’t remember the first move coming from out of nowhere like this.
Rick Jones going from the gee golly character in those early Avengers issues to the wise-cracking smart aleck was also a bit jarring if you didn’t keep up with The Incredible Hulk or Captain Marvel comics to see the evolution of his character.
Ronan adjusts his plan and decides to juice up his devolution device to revert mankind to the primordial ooze from whence it came.
Quicksilver and Rick mount a rescue and free their captive teammates.
Before the fight can really get underway, Ronan receives a scrambled transmission from his home galaxy with a warning, “The Skrulls have invaded”. Ronan quickly abandons all plans on Earth and transports himself away. The Sentry and the secret Kree installation are both buried beneath the reformed ice caps. The humans affected by the devolution device also revert back to normal.
Hank feels he was pretty useless in the fight. He decides that he’s retiring from the Avengers for good. Jan joins him.
Issue 92 starts off with a seemingly relaxing day for the team (along with chauvinistic remarks from Quicksilver). This was the first time I’ve seen Vision wearing plain clothes, like in the MCU films. He rarely did so in the 80s-90s, so I completely forgot this was a thing in the comics as well.
Their tranquility is upended when they see a news report about the incident in Alaska, an incident that all involved, including the scientists that Hank was working with, were sworn to secrecy over. It appears the scientists broke their silence and a worldwide panic about an alien incursion has started. Also made public was the fact that Captain Mar-Vell was a Kree, which turned the public against the Avengers fairly quickly. A government oversight committee has been formed (headed up by one H.W. Craddock), which resembles a McCarthy-era witch hunt.
SHIELD aircraft were ordered to circle the skies over Avengers mansion. There were a few continuity errors, one very noticeable one is that Fury had no eye patch in the first few pages he was on, but later did.
Carol Danvers arrives at the mansion, offering Mar-Vell a place to lay low while all of this blows over. They escape in a Quinjet.
Craddock contacts Fury to let him know he’s monitoring all law enforcement AND SHIELD activities around the mansion. He feels Fury intentionally let them escape. Fury shuts off communications, but Dum Dum Dugan asked him why he let them escape. Fury tells him that after the war, he saw some of the relocation centers that Japanese Americans were forced to live in during World War II. He saw what it did to people. He says he didn’t allow the escape for Mar-Vell; he did it for America, or what America is SUPPOSED to be.
Rick Jones’ mind drifted back to simpler times when he was a kid and only read about superheroes in his comic books. Heroes like the Whizzer, the Destroyer, or even ones he met like Captain America, all come from a simpler time when there was a clear line between good guys and bad guys. Now, as Rick has grown up, he sees that line isn’t as clearly defined as he once thought.
The Avengers are served a summons to appear before an oversight committee about the incident in Alaska. As the proceedings occur, it’s obvious that Craddock is trying to use fear to incite the public.
In the courtroom, Rick Jones relives what he thought was a dream. In actuality, he had a vision of Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers arriving at the farmhouse that Carol offered to Mar-Vell. The noble Kree warrior was then attacked by some green monster. The sight was enough to make Rick flip out and flee the courthouse.
The rest of the team returned to the mansion, which was vandalized by protestors. Jarvis shut off the security measures, as all they needed was for some idiot rioter to get accidentally injured or killed by them.
At the same time, the big three (Cap, Iron Man, and Thor) show up. They’re concerned about how the team sheltered Mar-Vell and how he avoided going to the hearing. Due to their by-laws, the big three have the power to disband the Avengers and do just that. However, their tones were so condescending, especially Iron Man’s, that it was pretty obvious that something was amiss.
The magnificent pencils of artist extraordinaire, Neal Adams, graces the book in issue 93. The intense character poses and dynamic camera angles make it obvious why he was such a huge influence on megastar artist, Jim Lee.
The big three are at the mansion when Vision shows up. The synthezoid fell unconscious right inside the front door. The team doesn’t know how to help him. Hank Pym arrives, in his original Ant-Man costume, as all of the founders were called in by Iron Man.
Hank figures the only way to determine what is ailing the Vision is to shrink down and go inside of him to do a diagnostic.
This is a fantastic trip through hard sci-fi land, which some of my favorite Avengers tales are. Hank and his ants are attacked by perceived monsters, but they’re only defense measures within Vision’s android body. They’re eerily similar to the human body, but still noticeably different. It’s fascinating how, unlike in humans, Vision’s mental impulses don’t have to travel through winding nerves, but dart directly to and from his brain.
Hank makes it to Vision’s brain and repairs some things. Although Hank finds something odd, which the readers aren’t made privy to, he has to haul tail as more antibodies show up. Hank makes his way out of Vision’s nasal cavity, ending, as the narrative caption so eloquently put it, the strangest rescue mission of all time.
Hank tells the others that he really has resigned from active duty, but if they ever need help, he’ll be there.
Vision and the big three talk about the awkward ending of the last issue. Thor and the others have no recollection of the incident, meaning that the ones who disbanded the team were imposters. Vision also recounts that the other Avengers, after leaving, tried to track down Carol and Mar-Vell. The farm they found had no one but a few cows. These same cows shape-shifted into the Fantastic Four and possessed the same powers as the team. While Vision was incapacitated, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were abducted. Vision’s body, on autopilot, returned to the mansion.
The story shifts to Mar-Vell and Carol, who are prisoners of the shape-shifting Skrulls. Those Skrulls were cows due to the actions of the Fantastic Four several years earlier. They’ve been lying in wait all this time.
Given Carol’s military background, I had hoped she’d come off not as weak-willed as the other women featured in this comic the past eight years. I was disappointed in how she almost cowered when she asked Mar-Vell to not intimidate their captors.
The Skrulls depart momentarily to deal with the arriving Avengers. While gone, Mar-Vell escapes and uses his uni-beam weapon, along with stolen Skrull tech, to create an omni-wave projector and send a message to the Kree about the Skrulls being here on Earth. Mar-Vell also figures out that her fellow captive isn’t the real Carol Danvers, but Kl’rt: the Super Skrull. While they do battle, Kl’rt activates thrusters for his ship, which was hidden in the barn.
Goliath grows to skyscraper size to stop the ship. However, he suddenly starts to shrink. He hadn’t had the opportunity to take any Pym Particles recently. Thor saves him, but Clint is pissed off at feeling like a fifth wheel AGAIN. As the Skrulls escape with Mar-Vell, Pietro, and Wanda, Rick notes that this is probably the lowest point he’s ever seen the team at.
Issue 94 sees the Avengers coordinating intel with the Fantastic Four about the incident last issue.
Vision secretly stowed aboard the Skrull craft. Their next destination was the city of Attilan, home of the Inhumans. Before the Skrulls could launch their attack, Vision engaged them. Vizh and Super-Skrull were at a stalemate. However, Kl’rt wasn’t interested in fighting. He activated a superweapon, which rained down a nuclear-like energy upon Attilan, enough to topple mountains and melt ice caps. Fortunately, the energy barrier, which protects the great refuge, went up at the last moment. Vision then faced off once more against Kl’rt. His words were touching when he explained why fighting was useless; “I could accomplish nothing, save perhaps the death of one whom—I—.” Vision is starting to exhibit feelings for Wanda. Vision’s only option was to escape to warn the other Avengers of what has transpired.
Neal Adams draws the definitive Silver Age Vision. He feels wraith-like, yet more human simultaneously.
When Super Skrull and his party arrives back on the Skrull throne world, they are hit by shots from the Royal Palace. Kl’rt is still technically in exile, ordered by the Emperor himself. He even had a failsafe to ensnare Super Skrull if he ever returned.
The Emperor locks Wanda and Pietro into a holding chamber with other imprisoned species, making the two Avengers have to fight for their lives. The Emperor tries to barter the lives of the two Avengers if Mar-Vell gives the Skrulls the secret of Omni-Wave Projection. Having no alternative, Mar-Vell agrees and the Avengers are spared.
The story shifts back to Earth, within a secret facility, where Craddock is using a new alien detection device. His first test subjects, the three scientists that reported what happened in Alaska. The scientists begin to regret being so forthcoming with information on the Alaska incident.
Craddock also forces SHIELD’s hand and we see the first appearance of their Mandroids, agents in power armor that rivals the Iron Man suit. As their fight begins, Triton (of the Inhuman royal family) arrives on the scene.
Issue 95 continues the pitched battle against the Mandroids. Iron Man uses his power pods for precision strikes of electricity to disable them. Thor found it curious that Iron Man knew specifically where their enemies’ Achilles heel was and even brings up his concern, but Iron Man brushed it off.
Triton relays why he’s here. Tying into Amazing Adventures issues 5-8, the Inhuman royal family are all in search of an amnesiac Black Bolt, who is wandering the United States. His mind, tampered with by the new ruler of Attilan, Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus the Mad. Before Iron Man can state the team will help him, Vision immediately rejects this plan, pointing out that they have an interplanetary war to stop and fellow Avengers to rescue. Vision acquiesces to splitting into two teams. He almost shows guilt for sending the heavy hitters on the space mission, because he secretly loves Wanda.
YEEESH, Maximus had the gaudiest costume I’ve ever seen. I don’t remember him ever wearing that gold and red eyesore.
In San Francisco, a group of armed men chases Black Bolt into an abandoned building. Their purpose, as one of the pursuers so ineloquently put it, “We just wantcha to help us go on a lootin’ spree—same as you did them Blacks a while back.” Uggh. Mega cringe. Cap, Goliath, Rick Jones, and Triton arrive to assist him. Black Bolt, whose memories have returned, motions for the team to help him as they’re all needed back in Attilan.
We see a retelling of Black Bolt’s younger years. He overheard young Maximus speaking with a Kree soldier in private, making a deal that if the Inhumans assist the Kree when the time comes, Maximus would be handed the throne to rule over all of Earth. Black Bolt tried to run for help but was cornered. With no other options, Black Bolt was forced to use his deadly voice, which could level mountains, to down the escaping Kree ship. Doing so in such close proximity to his brother also damaged Maximus’ brain. Black Bolt has harbored that guilt ever since.
The reunited team converges on the dome surrounding Attilan. Nothing can penetrate the dome, not Iron Man’s repulsor blasts, Vision’s intangibility, or Thor’s mighty hammer. Only Black Bolt is able to collapse the dome and does so with a mere whisper. When he does, the Inhumans from within the dome all attack. Black Bolt adjusts the modulation of his whisper and it’s enough to snap everyone out of the mind control that they were under, courtesy of Maximus.
The Avengers, Black Bolt, and Triton storm the citadel. The Kree spy working with Maximus escapes, but with Rick Jones as a hostage.
The cover of issue 96 brings us the new design for the Avengers logo, the one we all know and love today.
The team is on an orbital platform, evidently run by SHIELD. Nick Fury offered them a long-range shuttle but had to pretend that he didn’t know they took it, otherwise he’d face consequences from H.W. Craddock’s commission.
The team enters hyperspace (not sure how they knew what direction they were to head in), but when they exit, they’re greeted by the Skrull armada. The Avengers take on the flagship of the fleet in separate attack pods. Iron Man did battle just in his armor. It would be several years before Stark has specialized armor for deep space.
As they tear into the flagship and order a surrender, the Skrull emperor comes on screen to let them know that they still hold Mar-Vell, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver hostage and that Mar-Vell is working on an Omni-Wave weapon. However, as one of the guards goes to grab Mar-Vell, he sees it’s a hologram. Mar-Vell duped the guards and frees the Maximoffs.
Vision, no longer able to hide his worry over Wanda, or his anger at the Skrulls holding them captive grabs one of the Skrulls and begins to beat him within an inch of his life, trying to get the location of the Skrull throne world. It took Thor and Iron Man to pull him off. The Avengers honoring Geneva Convention, even in an interstellar war, felt a bit truer than say, them murdering Skrulls left and right in more recent event stories.
The Skrull ship fires a rocket with a hyperspace weapon that will turn Earth into a smoldering crater. Clint, who is manning one of the ships, pursues after it, being of more use there than in a fistfight with no more Pym Particles. Clint boards the rocket, only to find four armed Skrulls…and him without weapons or powers.
Rick Jones is brought to the Kree homeworld of Hala, before a disappointed Ronan, who was expecting a more superhuman hostage. Rick swiftly grabs an energy staff from one of his guards and fires it at Ronan. Not only did it have no effect, but Ronan smacks Rick across the room for good measure. I don’t know why, but in that moment, I envisioned Ronan yelling “CHARLIE MURPHY!!!” Ronan explains that Earth is at a strategic staging point between the Kree and Skrull empires, so it must be taken or destroyed. Rick again tries to escape and gets blasted. Ronan cannot understand the futility of his actions, since he will be the only survivor of his species. I gained a newfound respect for Rick when he responded with this line; Y-yeah, I’m lucky, all right…’cause that means that someday, someway, I’m definitely gonna kill you, creep. And the only way you’re gonna lessen those odds, buddy, is to waste me NOW!” Dude has grapefruits, I’ll give him that.
Rick is locked away in the same prison that now houses the former ruler of the Kree, the Supreme Intelligence. He explains that even with his mental powers weakened, he reached across the cosmos to nudge H. Warren Craddock to hound the Avengers, he implanted the dream-like memories in Rick’s head and he influenced the Kree soldier in Attilan to abduct Rick. He states that Rick is integral to this entire conflict. Unfortunately, to get him to realize his true potential, the Intelligence teleported Rick away and back into the Negative Zone, right at Annihilus’ front door.
Regular series artist, John Buscema, returns to illustrate the finale to this saga.
Just as Annihilus grabs Rick by the throat, going for the kill, a bolt of concentrated psionic energy comes from Rick’s mind. He sends Annihilus hurtling across the stars. He’s temporarily safe but still stranded in the Negative Zone.
Mar-Vell used the Omni-Wave to contact Rick and he believes that is what sent Rick to the Negative Zone. Mar-Vell destroys it, realizing that it’s too dangerous to allow the Skrulls to have possession of it.
Rick escapes through a portal, only to return to the Supreme Intelligence, but now Ronan is onto them. The Intelligence tells Rick that he has unlocked the potential of humankind that it may possess one day. To protect them, the Intelligence has Rick create mental projections of the heroes he read about in comics as a youth, Captain America, Namor, the original Human Torch, the Blazing Skull, the Golden Age Vision, etc. Controlling these heroes proved a great strain on Rick’s mind and he was only able to hold it for a couple of minutes. With the Kree forces regrouping, Rick concentrated and unleashed an incalculable wave of psionic energy, one powerful enough to freeze every Kree in the facility like statues and, through mental contact with Mar-Vell, every Skrull engaged in battle as well.
Rick releases another bolt, across the galaxy, to Earth. He reveals that H. Warren Craddock was a Skrull all along. The same mob in which he whipped into a frenzy beat him to death, which was poetic justice.
The Supreme Intelligence explains to Rick that both the Kree and the Skrull have hit the zenith of their species and will not evolve any further, whereas Earth has nearly limitless potential. As he further explains this, Rick passes out. The strain on Jones’ mind was too much and he laid in critical condition. When the Avengers arrive, Mar-Vell is given the option to save him…by once again merging with Rick. Not seeing any other alternatives, he agrees to do it.
The Supreme Intelligence, now at full power again, returns the team home
Upon arriving home, the team is greeted by Nick Fury. He lets them know that the real H. Warren Craddock was imprisoned and the Skrull impersonating him had done so for months.
The Avengers notice that all of them were transported back to Earth…all except for Clint Barton, who is missing in action.
Upon reflection, while I do really like the story, a few minor tweaks here and there could’ve made this the definitive epic for the franchise and for Marvel in general. The Kree and Skrulls actually doing battle in minor skirmishes could have visualized the hate between the two species more so than just talking about their feud. Little hints about Wanda and Vision’s feelings for each other were a bit too subtle in previous issues and needed to be a bit more apparent for the emotional stakes to have had more weight. Less time spent on ancillary plot points (the search for Black Bolt, the battle with the Mandroids, and maybe Ant-Man’s journey into the Vision being done elsewhere) could have freed up so much more room to tell the actual “War” side of things. Most importantly, Rick is featured in the main Avengers book (instead of just in Captain Marvel’s book or The Incredible Hulk) in the 12-18 months leading up to the Kree-Skrull War could have made his near-sacrifice towards the end of the story resonate with readers more.
As we return to our regularly scheduled programming in the coming months, we’ll see familiar faces return to the book, new (and questionable) costume choices, more Barry Windsor-Smith awesomeness, and a milestone that unites every person who had been an Avenger up to that point. Until next time, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!
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 theAvengers 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!
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 #57 to #71!
‘Tis that time once again. I continue to expound on my re-reading of every issue of The Avengers from the beginning. In these issues, we see drastic character shifts, bringing out deeper turmoil within several members of the team, new and old. Additionally, we step into the world of hard sci-fi, the occult, and the cosmic. Moreover, the presence of the big three and the other Avengers, weave in and out of the book depending on what’s going on elsewhere in the Marvel universe. Finally, several hands guided the look of the visuals in noteworthy ways during these issues. Let’s explore this leg of the journey.
Throughout these issues, we see that the Avengers are incredibly flawed individuals, who have to fight inner demons almost regularly.
Issue 57 marks the first appearance of the synthezoid Vision, who startles Jan in her apartment. Hank arrives back at the scene with Vision unconscious. He’s brought to Avengers mansion where he then attacks the team and states that he has to kill them. I’ve always loved Vision’s power set. His solar energy blasts and ability to change his density, from ghost-like intangibility to diamond hardness, is one of the more unique power sets within Marvel. Vision randomly stops attacking and states that he can’t remember why he went after them in the first place. It was all a ruse for Ultron to lure the team to his base for him to kill them all. Vision’s poignant line of “I have human thoughts…human memories! Why, Ultron-5? Who…or what…am I?” leads me to believe that the Wonder Man brain engrams concept was intended from inception and not an idea that came along much later. Hank Pym seems to have no memory of the robotic menace. He starts putting together the pieces of why he can’t remember his own android project that he was working on a few short months earlier. Hank uses a device to jog his memory. The flashbacks show his hair being red instead of blonde, possibly a coloring error. He remembers that he created a crude robotic life form. Its first words take this from sci-fi nearly into horror territory; “No need to plug me in, Daddy. I’m alive…just like you.” It then attacked Hank and, using a post-hypnotic suggestion, made Hank forget the entire thing.
Issue 59 heralds the debut of Yellowjacket; a very arrogant costumed hero, who can fly and fire electric stingers. He busts up a group of thieves and rubs the police the wrong way when they round up the thieves. Later in the story, to prove to the Avengers how badass he is, he sneaks into the mansion undetected and ties up Jarvis, right under their noses. He overhears them talk about Hank being late. He then says “I know he won’t show because I polished him off”. This makes Jan faint. The sooner that Jan is written by Roger Stern, the better. Yellowjacket tells the story of how he snuck into Hank’s lab and they fought (even though today, we know that Yellowjacket was another costumed identity of Hank’s). This happening so soon after Ultron tinkering with Hank’s memories, it’s hard to say the incidents are not related. Jan is…wait for it…abducted by Yellowjacket and they flee. At his hideout, Yellowjacket pretty much forces himself on Jan until something in him flips and he stops. Once the Avengers find them, Jan stops the team from attacking him. She lets them know that she intends to marry him. Jan really is an awful human being for keeping the Avengers in the dark about who Yellowjacket truly was until after the wedding. She lied about Hank AND took advantage of someone who was clearly having a mental breakdown. It served them right that the Circus of Crime attacked during the wedding.
Issue 62 is the official transitioning of the title to “The Mighty Avengers”. It also sees the team brought to the innermost sanctum of Wakanda for the first time by the Black Panther. Nonetheless, they stumble into an attempted coup by temporary chieftain and apparent friend of T’Challa’s, turned rival, M’Baku: the Man-Ape. I’ve never been fond of a Black character dressed up in a literal monkey suit. Thank goodness the Black Panther movie redeemed that character in my eyes. M’Baku used a weird elixir to render the team unconscious. I don’t know how that would even have worked on Vision. Panther is challenged by M’Baku for the throne and by ancient tribal law, T’Challa must answer the challenge. The fight was intense. Every time T’Challa gained the upper hand, M’Baku would combine his raw inhuman strength with dirty heel tactics that would make Ric Flair blush. The Avengers awaken from their slumber (Hawkeye sans pants thanks to a coloring error. Or was it?) and intercept them. In the end, M’Baku was crushed by his own death trap that he laid out for the Panther.
In issue 63, Nick Fury asks the Avengers to assist Black Widow, who was on an undercover assignment in the Caribbean but has gone dark. Hawkeye is becoming quite grating with the constant picking fights for no reason and non-stop “I wonder where Natasha is” pondering. Panther, who is the chairperson this month, feels with the incident earlier where Hawkeye’s bowstring snapped at the worst possible time, plus him being so distracted by Natasha’s welfare, that he may be a liability in the field so he’s asked to stay behind. Widow sends a message to Hawkeye that she’s really trapped somewhere in New York. Clint decides to abscond with Hank’s new and improved Pym Particle formula and an experimental new costume. He becomes the new Goliath. I had to chuckle at Hawkeye testing experimental drugs while he delivers the line “And this serum of his will never replace the Coke break.” On a more serious note, Clint never showed any self-esteem issues prior to Roy Thomas’ run. On the contrary, going back through Thomas’ issues, it was seeded ever so subtly throughout. Widow was abducted by one of Hank’s more annoying foes, the mad scientist known as Egghead (working in concert with the Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker). Egghead is the one who sent the false message from Fury, sending the Avengers off on a wild goose chase. When Hawkeye arrives, they are greeted by the newest creation of the three geniuses, a gargantuan android monster. Of course, in the creature’s hand is a captive Black Widow, screaming for help. It’s 1969 and this is still occurring. #FacePalm. The frustration of Natasha vacillating between dark character with a past that will cross lines that the Avengers won’t to get the job done and helpless damsel in distress is wearing thin. Hawkeye’s brawn kept the creature at bay long enough for his skill (and tactics learned from Captain America and from Hank) to prove enough to outwit and defeat the creature.
While these dramatic elements played out on the small stage, the larger canvas used as backdrop shifted in fascinating ways.
Issue 61 features a guest appearance by the Master of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Strange. This was 1969 and during this period Stephen wore a mask, which I found peculiar. He and Black Knight were on an adventure in Dr. Strange issue 178, battling the Sons of Satannish. One of the villains attempted to blast Strange, but Dane jumped in front of the blast, putting him into a coma. Strange was forced to perform surgery on Dane, shaky hands at all. Luckily, it was a success. The team split up to stop the menace of the curse of fire and ice. T’Challa and Vision took off in an early model Quinjet, the first one to appear in the book. The curse actually turned out to be the frost Giant, Ymir, rampaging through the outskirts of Wakanda and the fire demon, Surtur, destroying Antarctica. While the Avengers kept their epic foes from causing too much collateral damage, Strange was finally able to concoct a spell, displacing them and forcing the two entities to strike each other, then they simply vanished.
Issue 66 is the first time we see adamantium in a Marvel comic book. The Avengers, including the returned Thor and Iron Man, are brought in by SHIELD to help test its durability. Iron Man’s secret identity is still unbeknownst to the team. Vision fell victim to a subroutine that was planted in his brain, a subroutine with orders to recreate Ultron. He steals the adamantium, then attacks his teammates. He creates Ultron-6, who is damn near invincible. Thor was quite the tactician and leader. He was great at this in solo or team settings back then. This runs contradictory to modern times, where Thor is nearly unmatched as a tactician and warrior in solo settings, but in team books he seems to get slammed around by the newest villain du jour, just to show how dangerous they are. Hank devises a plan, requiring some borrowed vibranium from the Black Panther, who was on leave to help repel an invasion in Wakanda. It also required going to the U.N., disguised as MacClain to bait their enemy. Ultron used a device tried to read “MacClain’s” mind, to learn the secrets of adamantium. However, Hank also had himself hypnotized to only have one phrase repeated in his mind, “Thou shalt not kill”. A convoluted plan, but one that worked and short-circuited Ultron. Nevertheless, a failsafe kicked in, activating a nuclear device within Ultron. The vibranium Hank asked for was formed into a dome to contain Ultron and the blast.
Issue 69 shows the team going to visit Tony Stark, who’s in a coma at the hospital due to the events of Iron Man issue 19. Thor and Captain America also return to check on him. Underneath Tony’s bed, Jan finds what she believes to be a doll. She tosses it in the trash, but the impact causes it to grow. This is Kang’s automaton known as the Growing Man, who grows larger and more powerful with each impact delivered to it. Once they figure out who it is, Thor stops the team from further attacking it. He knows what it is due to their confrontation back in Thor issue 140. Once again, Thor shows that he’s nearly Captain America’s equal from a strategic standpoint. Growing Man abducts the comatose Stark and flees with him. Tony and the other Avengers (even Black Panther who was in distant Wakanda) were whisked away to the future. Kang brought them there because his love, Princess Ravonna, was also comatose and on the brink of death. He bargained for a way to save her life with the newly debuting Grandmaster, one of the powerful cosmic Elders of the Universe. He offered Kang a deal, a game of sorts, where if the conqueror were victorious, Ravonna’s life would be spared. If he lost, Earth would be erased from existence. Kang brought the Avengers to help him against the Grandmaster. The Avengers agree to help, so Kang returns Stark back to his time and to the hospital. The number of times that Kang has fought with the Avengers, as much as against them, I don’t see how anyone could give any other opponent the top Avengers villain slot but Kang. Issues 70-71 show that Kang used the Avengers as his “chess pieces” in this game. The Grandmaster created duplicates of a super hero team from an alternate Earth and dubbed them the Squadron Sinister. They would predate the heroes they were based on by about a year or two. Iron Man returns to aid his fellow Avengers, somehow fully healed. During the battle, I kept hearing the character voices in my head, Phil Lamarr as Doctor Spectrum, Tim Daly as Hyperion, Kevin Conroy as Nighthawk, and Michael Rosenbaum as the Whizzer. It was my hope that, had there ever been a season three of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, that the Squadron Supreme would’ve been voiced by the animated Justice League cast. Cap’s battle with the cunning Nighthawk was interesting, as was Iron Man’s outsmarting of Doctor Spectrum. I eagerly awaited the smackdown that Thor versus Hyperion would provide, until the weird ending. Once again, Mjolnir has a new power every issue. This time, Thor had his hammer spin around Hyperion at lightning speed and Mjolnir reversed the atomic process that birthed Hyperion and gave him his powers. Goliath and Whizzer’s fight was in London, where the Black Knight took notice and interfered, causing both combatants to be whisked away to the future, leaving Black Knight befuddled and without his Ebony Sword that Goliath swiped from him to stop him from interfering.
In issue 71, Black Knight uses a mystic cauldron to speak to his ancestor, the first Black Knight, who relays the info about Kang and the Grandmaster. Somehow when he concentrates, Dane is pulled across time and space to reunite with his missing blade. WTF? While the first Avengers squad fought the analogues for the top heroes of the Distinguished Competition, Yellowjacket, Black Panther and Vision were taken back in time to World War II where they faced the Allied heroes of WWII, The Invaders (The android Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and a younger Captain America). I wasn’t aware that the concept of The Invaders was a retcon until now. The only importance of Jan in all of this was to be rescued by Black Knight…Ugggh. The team outsmarted the Invaders. Yet Grandmaster said the first battle was a stalemate, even though the Avengers won 3 of the 4 battles? I didn’t get that. Dane freed the rest of the team and they all converged on Kang, willing to call a truce if Kang just sends them back to their time. Kang double crosses them and asks for the power over life and death to kill the Avengers AND resurrect Ravonna. Grandmaster tells him that wasn’t the deal. It’s either power of life to revive Ravonna, or the power of death to eliminate the Avengers. From Kang’s own mouth, “Then Ravonna must wait…wait until my own genius can resurrect her. For I choose the power of DEATH TO THE AVENGERS!” What. A. Dick. When Kang attacks them with awesome cosmic power, Black Knight remains unaffected because he’s not an Avenger. He strikes Kang, as he does all opponents, with the flat of his blade…which gets very tiresome. I understand these are kids books, but for Pete’s sake. I now see why he was given his energy sword in the 90s. Grandmaster returns the Avengers to their own time. The team all agrees unanimously that the Black Knight should be added to their ranks. He agrees to join, but on a reserve basis, as he’s needed in London.
This is not a team of soulless automatons, not even the Vision. Many of them have lives and responsibilities outside of the Avengers. I appreciate the big three of Captain America, Iron Man and Thor not being in the book all the time, as it seemed there was more care put into making sure events in the books lined up back then. Nowadays, it doesn’t seem like that’s done and post-2012 Avengers film, some permutation of the big three must be in the book at all times. It is very refreshing to take a look back at this era.
There were only a few instances of artistic adjustments this go round. Issues 66-67 feature pencils from the iconic Barry Windsor-Smith. While he was obviously channeling Kirby here, his layouts and unique design choices made him stand out like very few artists of the time did. Page 13 of issue 66 had the most inventive splash page and interspersed panels I’ve seen since starting this re-read. Conversely, issue 68 featured the great Sal Buscema on art duties. The acting and facial expressions were as detailed and emotive as his older brother, John’s, if not, more so.
When next we meet, we shall discuss old rivals that return, new relationships that develop and dramatic seeds planted earlier that bloom in the final stretch before the first major event story for Earth’s mightiest heroes, the Kree-Skrull War. Until next time, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!
Guest contributor Eugene Selassie is back with the second part of his retrospective of Marvel‘s The Avengers. He started at the beginning covering the first sixteen issues. He’s back discussing issues #36 to #56!
In this third installment of my deep dive, reading every single issue of The Avengers from the beginning, what we know as staples of Avengers lore are introduced in these issues. Some of these staples greatly enhance the reading experience, while others detracted more than I remembered them to. Legendary writer and artist team of Roy Thomas and John Buscema begin their iconic run on the title. Many new heroes, that would go on to become perennial mainstays of the roster, make their first appearance in the book during these issues. Past relationships and connections come back to haunt a few of the protagonists. Story elements that played out in classic Avengers stories decades later are seeded in these issues. Continuity becomes a double-edged sword during this run, potentially splitting the audience into “love it” or “hate it” camps.
Roy Thomas took over as writer with issue #36. With the constant in-fighting (now between Goliath and Hawkeye over Clint’s insistence that Black Widow be granted membership status) and the hyperbole used in the narration (ex: “Thus it is that, less than sixty seconds later, twin engines of a highly complex design burst into ear-shattering life and zoom with blinding, supersonic speed into the sub-stratosphere, as all passengers fervently hope they will not be too late!”) meant that the transition in scripting from Stan Lee to Roy Thomas was as smooth as possible. Issue #41 heralded the debut of the legendary John Buscema as penciler. His layouts were a bit splashier than what we’ve previously seen. Nevertheless, with George Bell remaining as the inker, making the characters look roughly the same, the transition from Don Heck to John Buscema was not too jarring. Fill in issues by Don Heck were still welcome, as was a one-off by George Tuska, whose level of intricate detail was only rivaled years later by George Perez.
I waited with bated breath to see new members, one by one, added to the ranks of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes:
Black Widow accompanies the team, in issues #36-37, to rescue Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver from an alien threat, the Ultroids, near their village in the Balkans. Natasha turns out to be the ace up the heroes’ sleeve that they desperately needed. The Avengers, sticking to their moral code, prevented them from doing what was necessary to defeat Ixar. On the contrary, Black Widow had no such compunctions. Days after this adventure, as Widow rushes to Avengers mansion for a meeting to discuss her membership, she is abducted. However, it is not by enemies. Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD recruits her for a secret mission overseas, a mission that must remain secret from even Hawkeye and the other Avengers. When Widow recovers in the hospital after this mission and explains how the government lied about her husband’s death and duped her into training (even though they did the same thing to him), there was no mention of the infamous “Red Room” training that we know in the modern age.
Hercules makes his Avengers debut in issue #38. The Prince of Power is locked in combat against the God of War, Ares, due to events from Thor issue #129. The Enchantress shows up to convince them to squash their beef and offers alcoholic beverages to both. In reality, she’s working with Ares. Hercules’ drink is spiked with a love potion, making him do Amora’s bidding. Ares gets to tell Zeus of this forbidden passion, making Hercules a pariah in Olympus, while Enchantress gets to use her unwitting slave against the Avengers. During their fight, the potion wears off and Hercules helps the team fend off the Asgardian and Olympian. Due to the perceived forbidden affair, Hercules is then banished from his home in Olympus. The Avengers take him in as less of a member and more of a house guest who helps them whenever he deems fit.
Edwin Jarvis, the butler of the Stark family and for the Avengers, makes his first Avengers appearance in issue #38. He’s not given much of a personality until further down the road in issue #54, where he hides a deadly secret from the Avengers; he’s sold the new mansion security specs to the Crimson Cowl in exchange for a large sum of money he desperately needed. Cowl, of course, reneges on the deal.
The Sub-Mariner returns in issue #40. A nuclear sub tests weapons near his kingdom, which Namor doesn’t take too kindly to. He attacks the island base from where it came from, only to encounter the Avengers. Page 15…Hercules vs. Namor…HOLY $#I^! These two beat the stuffing out of each other. I am surprised that there wasn’t a giant crater left in their wake.
Dane Whitman, nephew of Nathan Garrett, the villainous Black Knight, debuts in issue #47. Garrett met his end against Iron Man in Tales of Suspense #73. Dane seeks to atone for his uncle’s evil actions and decides to use the science and nom de guerre of his uncle, to do good with it as the new Black Knight. He seeks out the Avengers for an alliance. Conversely, they mistake him for his uncle and get into a brawl.
Black Panther makes a cameo, alongside Captain America (who quit the team several issues earlier) in issue #51, where Steve requests they consider T’Challa for membership. Issue #52 features the Black Panther entering Avengers mansion for the first time, in a story where he finds what appear to be the bodies of Hank, Jan, and Clint. He’s arrested by SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell and is hauled off into police custody. I don’t know if Roy Thomas understood how tone-deaf it was to see the imagery of the first Black superhero to be featured in the Avengers comic being shackled in the back of a squad car. Of course, T’Challa escapes so he can investigate what occurred.
Several extended relationships are given more space to develop in these issues.
Issue #43 is the first appearance of the Soviet super-soldier known as Red Guardian, who happens to be the Black Widow’s ex-husband. When Clint finds out, he grows cold and emotionless for the first time in this series. This is the second time a villain is brought into the book that Hawkeye has an obvious grudge with, but their sole motive is to prove they can best Captain America, making the rest of the Avengers look “lesser than”.
Concurrent with this story is the arc of Tales of Suspense where Steve meets and falls for SHIELD Agent 13, aka Sharon Carter. It’s also where he’s contemplating giving up being Captain America, which didn’t quite sit well with me. I know Marvel was all about heroes with feet of clay, especially back then, but this was akin to Clark Kent no longer wanting to be Superman. I had no clue that Steve was a fan of Tolkien or fantasy novels in general, so it was cool to see that side of him.
Hercules travels to Olympus to beseech his father, Zeus, to reconsider his exile. However, the Prince of Power finds the fabled land completely deserted. In issue #49, Hercules discovers that it is the dreaded ancient Titan known as Typhon who was responsible for what happened to the Olympians. By destroying the sacred Temple of the Promethean Flame, the immortals of Olympus just vanished. After confronting the Titan, Hercules finds himself banished to the same limbo that his people were banished to. Issue #50 sees Hank, Jan, and Clint search for Hercules, who has reunited with the Olympians. Zeus is able to send him back to Earth due to the magic holding them there not having as strong of a hold on the Prince of Power because he’s half-mortal. The team does their best to slow down Typhon, but the dude is a ten-foot-tall demigod with a battle axe that shoots lightning. Once Hercules arrives, he and Typhon have the grudge match of the ages. Whatever unidentified landmass in the Mediterranean where they brawled had to have been reduced by half. In the end, Hercules defeated him using not just brawn, but tactics taught by Captain America. He returns with Typhon to Olympus, bidding farewell to the Avengers for the time being. This leaves the roster to just Hank, Jan, and Clint…not the most powerhouse line up they’ve had.
Issues #47-49 feature Magneto, who was exiled to a planetoid far from the Earth in X-Men #18. This is indubitably pre-Chris Claremont Magneto. He’s not a sympathetic Holocaust survivor trying to prevent the same thing from happening to mutant kind. He is cranky, megalomaniacal, and vengeful. And he is quite abusive to his lackey, Toad. I completely forgot that neither Magneto nor Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch knew they were related in those early years. Magneto demands the UN for his own nation for mutants. When they refuse and he lashes out at one of the representatives with a microphone as a weapon, Hawkeye saves him, and the most fun, yet clunky, dialogue followed; “A diamond-tipped arrow…from out of nowhere…smashing the microphone. But who?” I love superhero comics. Hawkeye landing a kick right to Magneto’s face made me think that this is likely the only time that has ever happened. The crux of Magneto’s plan was to cause one of the guard’s aim to go off wildly and accidentally shoot Wanda in the head (grazing her temple) just so it would send Pietro into a rage against the guards and the Avengers. Yeah, the “Magneto was right” crowd may want to tone it down a bit after this.
I found myself enthralled by the number of story elements that were just the nugget of an idea that played out on a larger scale some years, even decades later:
Long before the Kree-Skrull War, you could tell that both Stan Lee and Roy Thomas had the idea percolating, of a war between two alien empires with Earth caught in the middle. The Ultroids made the second time that something like this was hinted at.
Magneto blackmailing the United Nations into giving him his own nation was something done three decades later in an X-men storyline titled “The Magneto War”.
Issues 54-55 bring us a new Masters of Evil, comprised of the Klaw, the Melter, Radioactive Man, Whirlwind and the new Black Knight. They’re all working for the mysterious Crimson Cowl. However, they don’t know that this Black Knight is not Nathan Garrett, but his nephew, Dane Whitman. Dane goes undercover with the group to gather intel that he can bring to the Avengers. The mission of this new incarnation of the villain group, to storm Avengers mansion and capture the team. I never knew the Masters of Evil attacked the Avengers in their home, long before the classic Siege of Avengers Mansion during Roger Stern’s run.
I am a person that loves continuity, when used the right way. When Thor or Iron Man have to leave the team due to events in their own book that month, I loved it. Realistically, the characters cannot be everywhere all the time. That era was much better with not having characters guest starring in six different books the same month “just because”. However, when a character pops into a book, carrying over from a story in another book, it gets a bit frustrating keeping up with. While the Hercules story carrying over from The Mighty Thor was explained thoroughly, Nick Fury’s subplot from Strange Tales, where he’s essentially on house arrest, Cap leaving the team due to being duped in Tales of Suspense by Swordsman and Power Man into believing Bucky was still alive, and the most egregious one, the X-men versus Magneto fight that carried over into an Avengers comic, were not given the necessary flashbacks to really flesh out these elements. In the case of the X-men one, it would’ve helped tremendously if they just made it an actual crossover with the parts 1 and 2 posted on the covers of those respective issues.
My apologies for the gargantuan length of this post, in the future, I will do my best to make sure the articles aren’t covering twenty issues worth of content. Speaking of content, when we reconvene again, we discuss several debuts (Vision, Yellowjacket, and a guest appearance by Doctor Strange) along with trips into the sci-fi, the cosmic, and even the occult. Until next time, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!
Guest contributor Eugene Selassie is back with the second part of his retrospective of Marvel‘s The Avengers. He started at the beginning covering the first sixteen issues. He’s back discussing issues #17 to #35!
We continue my biweekly recap of my deep dive, reading every single issue of The Avengers from the beginning. In the second half of the Stan Lee era of the book, we see more of a focus on the personalities and the private concerns of each Avenger. We also notice a shift in the power levels of the villains they face to complement the more grounded roster. The political thriller vibe of some of the arcs, predating The Ultimates by about 35 years, was welcome…but the racial caricatures were not. Several allies and Avengers mainstays debuted around this time. Finally, these issues really hit home how much a different inker can completely change an art style.
The first few issues of the “kooky quartet” era established the dynamics of the team rather quickly:
Captain America was now unquestionably the one in charge. Steve Rogers exuded even more confidence in action than in previous Avengers stories, if that’s even possible. Complex team strategy and tactics are now on full display with this roster, which was a treat. On the contrary, Cap’s constant brooding while alone at the mansion sometimes felt a bit off-putting. So did the fact that he took on a mission that could’ve caused an international incident, just to look good for SHIELD recruitment (issue 18). When Steve quit the team at the end of issue 22, it could have led to the end of the Avengers, if not for Kang’s subsequent attack, which brought the team back together. Cap was a bit of a dick at times. It felt justified when he was dishing it back out to Hawkeye. Conversely, demanding that Hank Pym prove he’s the real Giant-Man, even though Hank explained that there have been health concerns and the strain of changing size could kill him, went a bit overboard. Equally perplexing was insulting Hank to snap him out of his funk, but from what I’m discovering, that was a common storytelling device at Marvel during the Silver age.
Hawkeye was the wild card of the bunch. The action man archer trying to repent from Tales of Suspense #57 up through Avengers #16 is gone and the cocky Clint Barton that we all know and love is present. I laughed heartily because Clint’s luggage wasn’t even unpacked yet before he started mouthing off to Cap. Around issue 25 is where we start to see Clint at least being self-aware that he’s a jerk and gives Cap too much crap…yet he does nothing to actually correct this. He and Cap bickered like an old married couple.
While the Scarlet Witch was written not as ineffectively as Jan was in these early issues, Wanda Maximoff is still treated the way all women were written in that era. She pined for Steve 50% of the time. Also, her being a brunette back then really threw me for a loop. Her powers were not as dangerously unpredictable as they would later be written as.
Quicksilver’s personality is the furthest from modern renditions. Pietro Maximoff is not quite a pompous ass yet. The one trait that does carry over to modern times is him being overprotective of his sister, Wanda. His personality, for the most part, is just him shouting “don’t talk to my sister that way!”. One minor facet that I never knew existed was both Maximoffs having a fondness for show business. Pietro, especially, took a liking to daredevils and high wire acts in the circus. In battle, he was quite effective, although he used the “tie people up in cloaks/curtains/blankets shtick as his offense…a lot.
While the team still took on “foes that no single hero could withstand” in several of these stories, there was a noticeable pulling back of the power levels of foes to coincide with the lesser powered roster.
The Swordsman appears in issues 19-20. This is where we get our first glimpses into Hawkeye’s past as Swordsman’s protégé and Clint getting pulled into a life of crime due to his mentor’s actions
Power Man (Erik Josten) in issues 21-22 makes three times (along with Wonder Man and Swordsman) in less than two years that the “villain pretending to be a hero” shtick was used against the Avengers.
The Keeper of the Flame (issue #31) was a change of pace in that we hadn’t seen any sort of cult leader in the book as of yet. Their eternal flame was powered by cobalt. Cobalt is treated like plutonium in this issue in that they treated it like it could destroy the entire planet. The Avengers figured both sides of this ancient conflict over ownership of the flame pose equal danger to the globe, so they snuffed out the flame. This felt like the “ending of Rocky IV” level of tone-deaf in the slightest and “violating the Prime Directive” at the worst.
In issue 32, the hate group, known as the Sons of the Serpent, shows up and viciously attacks a random Latinx bystander. One would think that the concept would feel dated…the last few years have proven that, sadly, they’re still relevant.
This period also is the starting point for several familiar faces in the annals of Avengers history, to make their appearance. It was good to see Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne again (issues 26-28). Hank now refers to himself as Goliath. A fun fact I never knew is that Wanda designed and created his blue and yellow Goliath costume. Jan seemed much less flighty, but within the span of six issues she was captured and imprisoned three times, then is knocked out cold after falling out of a tree, ugggh. Hank’s size-changing has caused health concerns and at one point, he gets stuck at ten feet tall, with no way to shrink or grow without fatal results. To assist him in research towards a cure, Tony Stark refers him to one of the most brilliant bio-chemists on the planet, Bill Foster, who would one day become Goliath. Foster was attacked just down the block from Pym’s house by the Serpents in issue 32. Pym went into a full-on rage and canceled all experiments so he could make sure the Avengers made the Serpents a top priority. Not saying there’s anything wrong with Pym, more so than any of the other Avengers, taking umbrage with racially motivated hate crimes and wanting to plant his foot up the asses of those responsible, but I was surprised how “woke” he was. To get more intel on the Serpents, Steve reached out to Nick Fury. Having not read anything with the O.G. Fury in almost a decade I realized how much I missed him. This also marked his first appearance in an Avengers comic. Of course a barber shop is a front for a SHIELD base. This felt oddly on point for a 60s spy organization. Unbeknownst to the Serpents, one of their recruitment meetings has been infiltrated by the Black Widow. It would seem that her road to redemption began here. What also began here was an unsavory pattern.
Issue 18 saw the team go toe-to-toe with the mammoth cyborg dictator known as the Commissar…a bad East Asian stereotype. Issues 32 and 33 revealed that the mastermind behind the Sons of the Serpent was actually a Communist General…who was a bad East Asian stereotype. Issues 34 and 35 revealed that Living Laser had hired himself out to those looking to stage a coup in the fake Latin American country of Costa Verde. Guess what, they were bad Mexican stereotypes. I had to facepalm at a lot of this. I’m hoping that there’s not too much more casual racism masked as patriotism in these early years because that will severely hamper my reading experience.
One thing that stood out more than anything was the different inkers that worked with artist Don Heck. In all of my years of reading comics, I’ve never seen an art style change so drastically with the changing of an inker on a book, until now. The legendary Wally Wood brought a level of intricate detail to the layouts yet unseen during Heck’s run. Shifting to John Romita inks was fun as he was a master of highlighting the character’s acting and emotion. Frankie Ray’s inks were not as detailed as Wally Wood’s but still got the point of Heck’s pencils across, which were probably in their purest form here. The style then drastically shifted when Frank Giacoia did the inks, giving the book an almost “romance comic” vibe. All of these craftsmen were highly talented. I just never knew an inker alone could change the look of a comic to this degree.
I’m very excited to get to the next leg of this journey, the Roy Thomas era of the book. It’s here where new members of the team begin coming in fast and furiously. Hope you’ll return for the coming of Hercules, Black Panther and several others. Until next time, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!
After an introduction, guest columnist Gene Selassie dives into classic Avengers comics starting from the beginning!
This article kicks off what will be a biweekly recap of my deep dive, reading every single issue of The Avengers from the beginning. These earliest issues of the series highlight the unique personalities, which would differ greatly to how they were written in the modern age. They also lay the groundwork for the types of stories and level of threats the Avengers will become known to face. Additionally, while continuity gaffes and quirky story elements aren’t what I would call ‘plentiful’, there are enough of them that they become noticeable at a certain point. Finally, even though Jack Kirby and Don Heck were both exceptional artists, each brought a unique skill set to the book. Let’s take look at the opening stretch of this journey.
One of the first things that I noticed is that the character development was kept to a minimum in these early issues. I can only surmise that, not unlike the formula that modern writers would use (ex: Grant Morrison on his critically acclaimed JLA run), the fact that all of the characters were featured in solo adventures elsewhere meant that other books were where we got the character development. This team book is for the larger than life threats that no single hero could withstand.
During this run of the “founders”, the characters kept their secret identities to themselves, which made sense since there wasn’t sufficient time for them to forge bonds and trust to that degree.
Iron Man functions like technical support since he’s known as just an “employee” of Tony Stark at this point. At times, we get the impression that he is the team leader. In reality, each member gets the spotlight as ‘chairperson’ and is essentially in command that given month. The most we get out of him, from a personality standpoint, is the constant mention of his transistor/repulsor tech issues and that if he runs out of power, the shrapnel lodged near his heart will kill him.
Thor is the magic-based muscle of the team. Since his alter ego of physician Doctor Don Blake is still in play at this time, there’s not that much of a “stranger in a strange land” vibe to him. His speech patterns haven’t ventured into the Shakespearean as of yet. Much like Iron Man, Thor was primarily defined by the fact that, if he was separated from his hammer for more than sixty seconds, he’d revert back to Don Blake.
The Hulk was more of a surly and cranky giant, ready to fight at the drop of a hat than a monster with the mind of a child that he later became most known for. Whatever triggered Bruce Banner’s transformation into the emerald behemoth at this time was not explained. He also didn’t disappear after issue 3 as many would believe. Hulk was more of a presence throughout that first year of the book than I remembered.
Ant-Man/Giant Man was the resident super-scientist. He also felt like a two-fisted pulp action hero back in these early years. This dichotomy may have been just happenstance. Or, it could have been an early seed of Hank Pym’s mental illness.
Wasp was “the woman” of any early Marvel comic, as we also see with the Enchantress and the Scarlet Witch later on. Janet Van Dyne never gets much deeper than “attraction to male compatriot” and “likes to have fun”. She wasn’t given much to do and had to be rescued often. That being said, there were times of ingenuity on the fly that would be the core of her much stronger characterization later on (during Roger Stern’s run).
Rick Jones is every teen sidekick of the era. He doesn’t show much personality, but he has unwavering loyalty to the Hulk (to whom he’s indebted for saving his life) and later Captain America. While his Teen Brigade can come off as hokey, because they avoided many of the modern clichés of teen angst/ineptitude/etc, they came across as competent and welcome allies of the Avengers.
Captain America is the one man without crazy superpowers. In spite of this, Steve Rogers never hesitated to leap into battle to protect his fellow teammates or the world. He was a bit happier to jump into a fight than I recollected. Fans who started reading in the 80s-90s or who met Steve through the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be a tad befuddled. His depression over Bucky’s death (still fresh in his mind due to it happening right before he went on ice), without a doubt, was the catalyst. I don’t use the word “trauma” lightly. This guy goes into murder rage whenever Zemo (the one responsible for Bucky’s death) is involved. A perplexing trait of Steve’s is his vacillating from overprotective to complete jerk when it comes to Rick Jones.
Strategy and team tactics were sprinkled in every now and then. The teamwork really began to shine in the latter Masters of Evil issues (9, 15-16) and Cap’s dialogue felt truer than ever in one poignant scene; Captain America: “Feel my grip, Zemo. It’s the grip of a FREE MAN! Look into my eyes, tyrant. They’re the eyes of a man who would die for liberty! The world must never again make the fatal error of mistaking compassion for weakness and while I live, it won’t!”. “Avengers Assemble” being shouted for the first time in issue 10 by the God of Thunder was awesome. Issue 12 was where we started truly seeing the dramatic tension between team members as Hank’s warnings about something being amiss underground were dismissed (the threat turned out to be the Mole Man). The seeds of potential mistrust of the power the team has were planted in issue 13. Count Nefaria, while holding the real Avengers captive, sent hard light projected duplicate Avengers to a meeting at the Pentagon, where they ordered a full surrender of the government. Of course, the real Avengers had to deal with the fallout from this. I had no idea that the team took on the United States military that early in their run. The culmination of the battle saw an Avenger get mortally wounded by a stray bullet. I was left flabbergasted at the end of that story.
Albeit, the innate charisma of each of these characters hadn’t come into play as of yet, they provided plenty of thrills as they took on some of the toughest villains from around the Marvel Universe. I’ve heard it be stated that the Avengers never faced larger than life “widescreen” threats until the era of The Ultimates/New Avengers. That couldn’t be further from the truth as the first year and a half saw the team do battle against an Asgardian god, an alien that could take the form of whatever Avenger he wished, and pitted the team against each other in brawls that swept across New York, a Hulk/Namor team up, an Atlantean incursion, a unified front featuring the arch-nemesis of each of the Avengers, a warlord from the future, and so on and so forth. This book doesn’t get the credit it deserves for really placing them against “foes that no single superhero could withstand” from the very beginning. A few things of note as far as the villains were concerned:
Seeing the Hulk and Namor’s alliance (issue 3) and waiting for one to betray the other was hysterical.
Even in his first appearance in 1964, Kang the Conqueror, one of my favorite villains, went beast mode on the Avengers (issue 8).
Zemo and the Masters of Evil’s presence loomed heavily over the first year’s worth of stories.
As ridiculous as some of the early adventures were, there was also some sound logic. Count Nefaria (issue 13) never physically assaulted someone himself and always pulled strings from behind the scenes, trying his damndest to make sure that it was much more difficult to directly connect his crimes to him.
Issues 15-16 unquestionably felt like a “season finale”, with a final showdown against the Masters of Evil and Heinrich Zemo’s fate at the hands of Captain America.
On the one hand, the quirks of the writing made for an exciting read. On the other hand, said surprises led to some funny and sometimes head-scratching moments. While testing the newfound super strength and invulnerability of the reluctant villain, Wonder Man (issue 9), the Executioner, an Asgardian god, took out a revolver to shoot him. Hank Pym often had a sixth sense referred to as his “cybernetic sense” and I’m still waiting for an explanation of what that is. I’ve never seen the word “whirling” used in a comic as often as it is in these early issues (Thor’s whirling hammer, Cap’s whirling shield, Iron Man using his repulsors to place opponents in a perpetual “whirling” state). The most baffling aspect during that first year and a half was the handling of the Asgardians and their abilities. Thor’s powers and power levels would change at the drop of a hat. He’d walk away from being submerged in lava by the Lava Men (issue 5) without so much as a scratch, only for him to nearly get taken down by a stun beam from the Black Knight in the very next issue. His hammer, Mjolnir, can manipulate magnetic fields and at one point was even used as an alien detector (issue 14). The Enchantress showed a power that I didn’t even know she had…TIME TRAVEL. Furthermore, the plethora of “a product of its time” elements in these issues can be a bit much for younger readers not used to them. Women in these stories only cared about makeup and going out on the town. Natives of foreign non-white countries were subservient and unintelligent. Even random bits of dialogue could be cringe at times. Cap, along with Rick Jones, were trapped in the Amazon and Steve randomly shouts “A White Man—being attacked by a leopard! Too far for me to reach him in time!”
The visuals went through quite a metamorphosis midway through this era of the founders. The book started with “The King”, Jack Kirby, whose detailed layouts were made to not just be read, but absorbed. Then, along came Don Heck, who was less renowned for his detailed backgrounds and more known for his far above average character acting. The art change made for a hell of a transition between issues 8 and 9. Both had their strengths and weaknesses. Be that as it may, both crafted insanely entertaining visuals.
Overall, I feel like Steve Rogers did at the end of issue 16; a bit later to the party than those who were around from the very beginning, nevertheless, experienced enough to tackle the challenges that a new team brings. That new team (Cap, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver) will be the focus of part two of this Avengers retrospective. Until next time, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!
Guest contributor Gene Selassie kicks off a new feature as he re-reads the entire run of The Avengers from the beginning! Welcome to “An Avengers Retrospective“.
“The First of a Star-Studded Series of Book-Length Super-Epics featuring some of Earth’s Greatest Super Heroes” was splashed on the opening page of Avengers issue number one, which was released in September of 1963. A friend’s father owned the book and I was enamored by it when he showed us. Ten-year-old Gene was awestruck. At the time, I had only been reading Iron Man regularly. Due to the numerous Avengers guest appearances throughout the years, the door was cracked open for me to explore that team book. My first Avengers issue was purchased at the Big Top Flea Market in Tampa. The oldest issue that the vendor had for sale was issue #189, which was written by Steven Grant and Roger Stern and drawn by John Byrne. This was the issue that alluded to Falcon getting a spot on the Avengers due to Affirmative Action. Hawkeye being the one to lose his spot to Sam Wilson, well, to say that it didn’t sit well with him would be an understatement. Forthwith, Clint Barton started out on my shit list. However, staying with the book and subsequent spinoffs, I gained respect for Barton, who went on to become tied with Iron Man as my favorite Avenger.
In due time, after scouring back issue bins at comic book stores, several other Avengers became personal favorites: the star-spangled Avenger, Steve Rogers aka Captain America; the energy wielding former Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau aka Photon; scientist supreme, Hank Pym aka Ant-Man; protector of the universe, Wendell Vaughn aka Quasar; one of the first Avengers to have to balance super-heroing with being a single mother, Julia Carpenter aka Spider Woman II; another hero having to balance avenging and attending college, Miguel Santos aka Living Lightning. I could keep going all day long.
Many of my comic reading friends consider me to be the biggest Avengers fan of all time. While I’d be enamored to claim that title, I have many gaps or lapses in my run. Therefore, I decided to rectify this by doing a deep dive. Setting out to read every single issue of The Avengers may be easier in the age of Marvel Unlimited, comiXology, and Marvel Masterworks, but that doesn’t guarantee the availability of every single issue. The fun will be in tracking them down.
I will be doing a biweekly column, highlighting my progress and my findings. It is my hope that, through this journey, I can explore the peaks and valleys of the franchise and relay my unrequited love for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.