Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Avengers 1.5 to 8 (10/63 to 9/64)

The Man and King tell
How time and tide threaten peace.
Seeds of distrust bloom.

Ant-Man/Giant-Man; Henry "Hank" Pym
Captain America; Steve Rogers
Hulk; Bruce Banner
Iron Man; Tony Stark
Thor; Dr. Donald Blake
Wasp; Janet Van Dyne

Honorary Member:
Rick Jones

Featured Allies/Enemies:
Namor; Namor McKenzie

               Upon rereading these tales from 1963 and 1964, I was struck with the feel of the stories and how different they were from today's. Events came at a rapid-fire and frenetic pace. The tone was that of kids making up adventures on a playground. I could certainly see kids yelling things like, “Aha! I have my invincible force field,” “I create a space warp to another dimension,” “Ah, but now my gloves are magnetic,” “I escape you with my shrinking pill,” or the old favorite, “I turn the floor to lava.” All that stuff happens in these early stories, even the lava floor. And the Hulk is the surly kid who no one really wants to play with. I think Iron Man’s mother forced him to invite Hulk along, and he always seems to show up to try to upstage everyone else and make them feel bad. Between the power of “science” and Thor’s mystic hammer, new abilities and tactics appear out of nowhere, especially that darn hammer, which can do just about anything the story requires. Ah, well, the power of fiction is that it only has to make just enough sense to keep things moving without the neck-breaking plot twists becoming too distracting. My neck may be too old for this.
                I was likewise set to point out that the stories in this section come from two molds. One is the heroes end up fighting each other, and the other is an invading force must be stopped. I’d like to cry foul, but if you look Marvel Comics' last few major-event crossovers, they include Avengers vs. X-Men, World War Hulk, and Civil War (heroes fight each other) and Secret Invasion and Siege. (heroes try to stop an invasion.) So, ahem, never mind. Most of these issues end with a blurb making vague promises about the next issue’s wonderful adventure, but with no specifics. I hazard the guess that Stan had no idea what was coming in the next issue. At this point, the Avengers was bimonthly, so that gave him two months to figure it out.
                Fans of the film may wonder where are Hawkeye and the Black Widow? Who are Ant-Man and Wasp? As for the former, those characters had not been invented yet, but they appear as Iron Man villains in his series during this first year of the Avengers. They will appear as Avengers later, and in the case of Black Widow, much, much later. As for Ant-Man, Marvel has planned an Ant-Man film in the next slate of Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and I’d be surprised if Janet Van Dyne didn’t appear, even if she doesn’t suit up as the Wasp. We’ll have to see.
                Speaking of Wasp, I was struck as well by her treatment in these early tales. When I started reading in the eighties, she was a full-fledged, ass-kicking, take-charge member of the team. Here, she serves only as a sidekick to Ant-Man, then Giant-Man. There were only three Marvel heroines at this time, and both Wasp and Invisible Woman are cut from the same mold, younger ladies who bear crushes on older, intellectual types. Hmm. I wonder whose fantasy is at play here? In this series, Wasp is almost a second thought in the battle. She serves only as a distraction, buzzing around villains’ heads while the boys get into position for some righteous flexing of their might. She exhibits bravery, but her teammates always look at her as outclassed in their confrontations and needing protection. Several times, she has to comment on the looks of men in the story and how good-looking they are, whether it be Thor, a seeming civilian walking into their headquarters, or even the fully armored Kang in issue 8, who she bets “…is not bad-looking under that silly headgear he’s wearing.” I find myself impatient for Jan to toughen up a bit.

Avengers Vol 1 1.5

Avengers 1 1/2
The Death Trap of Dr. Doom
December, 1999
Written by Roger Stern
Art by Bruce Timm

In 1999, this special issue was produced to tell a story that occurred between Avengers issues 1 and 2. The Avengers have announced their formation to the world, and Dr. Doom isn’t happy about it, so he lures them into an aircraft fortress to dispose of them. The Avengers triumph and destroy the airship.
(Hulk rips off Dr. Doom’s head.)
Iron Man: “Whew. For a second, I thought--! How’d you know that was a robot?”
Hulk: “Robot?”
  • Spider-Man cameos in this issue. He will later go on to be an Avengers member, but he hadn’t yet in 1999.
  • The story features the Avengers’ butler, Edwin Jarvis, for the first time in continuity.       
  • Writer Roger Stern wrote the Avengers title for long run in the eighties.
  • The cover teases that a new hero joins the team, but it’s really just Ant-Man in his new identity as Giant-Man. In the original Avengers 2, he just shows up as Giant-Man at the beginning of the story without much explanation.
  • Artist Bruce Timm tried to emulate the Kirby style of the sixties. He is best known for his work as a producer on  Batman: The Animated Series and subsequent other cartoon series featuring DC characters and has won multiple Daytime Emmys.
  • The issue has spoof advertisements and a letter column as if it were printed in 1963. One fan letter is from a 2-year-old Kurt Busiek, asking why Batman isn’t on the team. Kurt Busiek was the writer on Avengers in 1999. He would later go on to write Avengers/JLA in 2003, which featured both the Avengers and Batman.

Avengers Vol 1 2

Avengers 2
The Avengers Battle the Space Phantom
November, 1963
Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby

An extraterrestrial known as the Space Phantom plans a test to see if his race should invade Earth, and the Avengers are the test. His ability is to make himself into a copy of any being, and while he does, that being is banished to Limbo. He manages to infiltrate the team as the Hulk, but then becomes a small insect, returning the Hulk from Limbo to face the consequences of the Space Phantom's evil actions, and the Avengers fight the Hulk once again.  The Space Phantom replaces other Avengers in turn. When he tries to duplicate Thor, his power fails to copy a god, and the Space Phantom is sent to Limbo himself. The Hulk, after hearing the Avengers' comments when they fought him, decides to quit the team.
Iron Man: “You’re right! We’re making fools of ourselves! We’re acting like kids!” 
    • The Marvel Universe uses the term Limbo to describe many different places, but this will prove to be the same Limbo inhabited by Avengers villain Immortus later on and where Rom sends his Dire Wraith enemies.
    • People familiar with the Hulk from the films might be surprised at him in this series. At this point in his career, he has the speech and temperament of an angry teenager with a chip on his shoulder.
    • Henry Pym changed his identity from Ant-Man  to Giant-Man in his own series. He shows up to the Avengers meeting in his new outfit, but Thor still calls him Ant-Man at first.
    • This is the first time Tony Stark's Manhattan mansion appears as headquarters for the team. (Not including the issue 1 1/2 that hadn't been conceived of yet.)
    • Giant-Man, Iron Man, and Wasp appear briefly in Untold Tales of Spider-Man 3 looking to track down an at-large Sandman, but they don’t have any luck. Later chronologies place it after the events of Avengers 2. Ironically, Sandman will later become an Avengers member when he decides to be a hero.
    • After this issue, Bruce Banner, Don Blake, Giant-Man, and Wasp appear in Tales of Suspense (1959) 49 when the X-Men try to contact the Avengers for help. They are all busy, so Iron Man deals with one of the X-Men's members, Angel, who is temporarily out of his mind. 
    • Space Phantom's claims of an alien race invading are later revealed as lies. His true mission was to break up the team. At least he got Hulk to leave, so partial win!
Avengers Vol 1 3.jpg

Avengers 3
The Avengers meet Sub-Mariner!
January, 1964
Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby

 After the Hulk leapt off at the end of the last issue, the Avengers worry he may do something rash, so they attempt to track him down. Rick Jones finds him in the American Southwest. The Avengers engage Hulk in battle, but the Hulk escapes and make his way to the Atlantic, where he comes across Namor the Sub-Mariner on a deserted island. They form an uneasy alliance and challenge the Avengers to battle on Gibraltar. The Hulk reverts to Bruce Banner and slips away, and the outnumbered Namor retreats.

Iron Man: “No, Thor! It won’t affect us, but the explosion may injure the Wasp! Let me handle it!”
  • Namor is often portrayed as a villain, but he will later become a member of the Avengers.
  • While searching for the Hulk, Iron Man interrupts a training session of the X-Men, whose member Beast will later become an Avenger.
  • The Hulk and Sub-Mariner will often be linked together. They will share billing in the comic series, Tales to Astonish, from 1965 to 1968, as neither had their own series at the time. They will also be founding members of the Defenders in 1971 with Dr. Strange.
  • Congratulations to Wasp, who is finally in the corner box on the cover. The Hulk will continue to have his face there as well, even though he is no longer a member.
  • What If? (1977) 3 features events from this issue with a twist. The story is "What If the Avengers Had Never Been?" In this alternate universe, later called Earth-776, the team broke up after Avengers 2. When Hulk and Namor team up, Iron Man builds powered armor for Ant-Man, Wasp, and Rick Jones to help him, even though they aren't Avengers. They can't use their armor effectively, so Iron Man goes to fight the two enemies alone. The other heroes eventually join Iron Man, but Iron Man is killed in the battle

Avengers Vol 1 4.jpg

Avengers 4
Captain America Joins…the Avengers!
March, 1964
Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby

After Namor fled the battle, he came upon Eskimoes around a strange figure frozen in arctic ice. In a fit of rage, he smashes the figure free and hurls it into the ocean. The Avengers are returning from Gibraltor in their Stark Enterprises submarine and come across the same figure, which turns out to be the frozen body of Captain America, who had been missing for almost 20 years. Upon reviving him, they return to New York. A strange reporter freezes the Avengers in place with a ray gun. A confused Captain America is found by Rick Jones, and using the Teen Brigade of New York and the power of shortwave radio, they locate the strange man, who is revealed to be a disguised alien. The alien's ship had crashlanded in the ocean, and Namor tasked him with stopping the Avengers if he wished to free his ship and return to space. The Avengers offer to help the alien after being unfrozen, which brings them into conflict with Namor and a unit of Atlantean soliders. Justice prevails, and the alien pilots his starship away from Earth. After seeing Captain America's fighting prowess, they offer him membership in the Avengers.

Policeman: “And all these years—all of us—your fans—all your admirers—we thought you were dead! But you’ve come back—just when the world has need of such a man—just like fate planned it this way! Forgive me, Cap, willya? I-I seem to have something in my eye!”

  • Jack Kirby was one of the original creators of Captain America, and according to this issue, Stan Lee's first comic script in the forties was a Captain America script.
  • Both Captain America and Namor had comic book adventures in the forties, but they had since ceased publication. In the Marvel Universe, they had many previous adventures together as allies, but on their revival in the sixties, they both suffered from partial amnesia and didn't remember.
  • Captain America did remember his last adventure toward the end of World War II, where his sidekick Bucky was thought dead after a battle with Baron Heinrich Zemo. This didn't reference an old comic. It was created from scratch for this issue.
  • Comic books are infamous for killing characters and bringing them back to life later. A common joke for many years was, "Well, they'll never bring back Bucky," with fans thinking it would be highly unlikely. They were wrong. The character was revealed to have survived all along, but not until over 40 years later. Bucky will become an Avengers member and temporarily take the identity of Captain America as well.
  • Over in X-Men 4 this month, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, soon to be Avengers, make their debut.
  • This issue was voted by fans as the 69th best Marvel comic from the first 75 years of Marvel's publication.

Captain America - Sentinel of Liberty 6.jpg

Captain America Sentinel of Liberty 5 and 6
Old Soldier/Iron Will
January/February, 1999
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Ron Garney

This two-part story features only Iron Man and Captain America soon after the events of Avengers 4. Iron Man is having second thoughts about including someone on the team who he considers to be a simple costumed acrobat.  They come across marauding alien robots that are able to hypnotize their victims. The heroes destroy most of the robots, but Iron Man is hypnotized and forced to fight Captain America. Captain America gains the advantage, so a robot steps in and tries to hypnotize Cap as well. His is will is too strong, and he destroys the last robot himself. A humbled Iron Man accepts that the Captain is worthy of his respect.

Iron Man: “Listen…about how our little dust-up turned out…I’d be lying if I said I weren’t a little…embarrassed that you…”
Captain America: “Won? Forget it.”

·         The Television series The Avengers starring Agents Steed and Mrs. Peel, aired from 1961 to 1969. It was more popular in the UK and Ireland, where the recent Avengers film had to be titled Avengers Assemble to make it clear it wasn't about the secret agents. Mark Waid wrote a comic series about Steed and Mrs. Peel in 2012.

Avengers Vol 1 5.jpg

Avengers 5
The Invasion of the Lava Men
May, 1964
Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby

       Strange sounds vibrate through the country and cause objects to explode. The Avengers discover the cause is in the Southwest deserts of the United States, where a hill is sprouting out of the earth. Before the local military and their advisor, Bruce Banner, are able to deal with it, the Avengers arrive. A subterranean race called the Lava Men is behind this so-called “Living Rock,” and do battle with the Avengers. The Lava Men suspect this unnatural rock will explode on the surface, killing all the humans and leaving the land open for them to conquer. During the melee, Thor reverts to his Dr. Donald Blake persona on accident, and Bruce Banner is stressed out to become the Hulk, now the only one with enough power to destroy the rock. The Avengers goad the Hulk to strike the exact spot needed to do so, and the threat is ended.

Dr. Donald Blake: “Now, Jane…would you love me as much if I were fat and gluttonous?”

Teen Brigade member: “Wait’ll I tell my dad that I actually touched your hammer!”

·         Rick Jones is given a cover credit in this issue, showing his intended role as Captain America’s sidekick, and he does take part in the battle.
·         General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross appears in this issue. He recently served as an Avenger in his Red Hulk persona.
·         Thor had battled Molto the Lava Man in his own series previous to this. This battle featured the whole tribe of them. This is one of the many secret races that seem to populate every nook and cranny of the Marvel Earth.
·         Between this issue and the last, Wasp changed her outfit into a new style. She will become well-known for her constant fashion updates, but this is the first in this series.
·         The top of the title page first has the text “The Mighty Avengers.” This will in future become the title that appears on the cover and its own spin-off series by that name.
·         This issue features the first letter column, “All About the Avengers.”
·         The Black Widow premiered as a villain in Tales of Suspense 52 in April, before this issue.

Avengers Vol 1 6.jpg

Avengers 6
Meet the Masters of Evil
July, 1964
Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby

       Captain America states he really wants revenge for the death of Bucky at the hands of Baron Zemo, and this issue shows that Baron Heinrich Zemo is still alive and ruling a group of tribesmen in the middle of the Amazon. Zemo likewise wants to destroy Captain America and the Avengers, so he gathers a group of villains together as the Masters of Evil. The Masters use the Baron’s insidious Adhesive X to terrorize the city and glue several Avengers to the pavement. The Avengers retreat, but can’t free themselves from the section of street they took with them. Wasp suggests they contact another imprisoned villain, Paste Pot Pete, for his knowledge of adhesives and solvents. Pete gives them a powerful solvent, which the team manages to switch for Baron Zemo’s Adhesive X canister with the help of the sneaky Teen Brigade, and the Masters fall in battle to the Avengers one by one.

(after having a mask stuck to his face permanently for 20 years)
Baron Heinrich Zemo: “A solution for Adhesive X!! I never thought of that!”

·         The Masters of Evil become a recurring villain group that attacks the Avengers throughout their history, but its membership is ever-changing. Most recently, this is the title used for the group of super-villains residing in the nation of Bagalia, which number over 100.
·         The Baron Zemo here is Heinrich Zemo, who was active during World War II. In the current Marvel stories, Baron Zemo is his son, Helmut Zemo.
·         The Black Knight who appears here is Nathan Garrett. He is the uncle of Dane Whitman, who will later become the heroic Black Knight using his uncle’s research and equipment and join the Avengers.
·         The Radioactive Man has more recently been a member of the Thunderbolts team of reformed/coerced villains, which sometimes fights alongside or against the Avengers, depending on the situation. He is a Chinese citizen.
·         Baron Zemo’s pilot in this issue, Franz Gruber, will later impersonate Baron Zemo in a failed plot to invade the nation of Wakanda in Tales of Suspense (1959) 98.
·         Joss Whedon, director and screenwriter of the Avengers films, was born in June, 1964, between this and the last issue.
·         This issue is referenced in Marvels (1994) 2. Photographer Phil Sheldon sees Captain America and Iron Man making their way across the city and comes across citizens that were glued by the Adhesive X. He then gets photos of the battle and a front-page photo of Giant-Man striding between two buildings. A version of that last photo is the cover of the Marvels trade paperback collection.

Avengers Vol 1 7.jpg

Avengers 7
Their Darkest Hour
August, 1964
Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby

       Enchantress and Executioner, both Asgardian enemies of Thor, are seen being banished to Earth. Baron Zemo has already escaped from custody, so the exiles seek him out for aid in battling Thor. While the Avengers are split up in their own pursuits, Zemo dupes Captain America into traveling to the Amazon alone for a confrontation while the Enchantress bewitches Thor with her magic and bids him to battle the other Avengers. The Baron retreats from his kingdom when Cap gets the better of him and flees to join his new allies. Captain America stows along in the aircraft and is reunited with the Avengers, who defeat the villains. Thor uses his hammer to create a space warp that traps their enemies in a random dimension.

(when Rick Jones dresses in Bucky’s old outfit)
Captain America: “Don’t ever call yourself my partner again! I lost my partner!! I’ll never forgive myself for letting it happen!! And I’ll never let it happen again!!”

(Thor flies off using his hammer.)
Rick Jones: “Looks like some guys’ll do anything to save plane fare—right, Cap?”
Captain America: “We mustn’t joke about such a man! We’re privileged to call him friend!”

·         This issue features the first Avengers Board of Inquiry for trying and punishing their members. Iron Man is censured for ignoring a call to battle because of events in his own series and suspended for a week.
·         When Enchantress and Executioner meet Zemo, he reveals that his two allies Radioactive Man and Melter are still in police custody. He totally fails to mention Black Knight at all. Ingrate.

Avengers Vol 1 8.jpg

Avengers 8
Kang the Conqueror
September, 1964
Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby

      The mysterious Kang arrives in a futuristic war vehicle, so the Pentagon calls in the Avengers to investigate. The Avengers fall before the 30th-century technology Kang wields, leaving only the Wasp and Rick Jones free. Kang gives the nations of the world his ultimatum that they must surrender to him. Rick musters his Teen Brigade, which break through the Army’s cordon and tell Kang they want to join his side. Kang praises their judgment and allows them onto his ship, where they proceed to distract Kang and free the Avengers. Meanwhile, the Wasp has dug out a weapon from Giant-Man’s lab which aids in defeating him, and Kang flees back to the future.

Kang: “Though your power is awesome, you Avengers have no more chance against me than a handful of muscular cavemen would have against a 20th-century soldier armed with nuclear weapons!”

·         Though this is the first appearance of him as Kang, he admits that he was formerly known as Rama-Tut, a villain from the Fantastic Four. The history of Kang is so filled with time travel, alternate identities, and Kangs from millions of alternate dimensions that he is one of the most frustrating, as well as dangerous, Marvel master villains. He is most likely a descendant of both Mr. Fantastic’s and Victor Von Doom’s families, who in the future intermarry.
·         Though he claims to come from the future, Kang actually comes from the 31st Century of an alternate Earth dimension that Marvel currently designates Earth-6311 because it first appeared in November of 1963 in Fantastic Four, i.e. ’63-11. “Main” Marvel Earth is Earth-616, in which the number 616 was made up by writer Alan Moore in Captain Britain. I’d theorize there was some reference to DC’s “egotistical” use of their universe as Earth One, so Moore probably chose a suitably larger and “humbler” number.
·         This is the first time that Wasp uses the nickname “High-Pockets” in Avengers to refer to Giant-Man. This goes on to be one of his most popular nicknames. Perhaps the Wasp’s interest in fashion caused her to comment on his pockets.
·         Hawkeye debuts in  Tales of Suspense 57 as an Iron Man villain this month. 


  1. Great reading! I've read each of them (well, the originals, not the "inserts" you've added) multiple times!

    1. Thanks for checking in, Ro-Mann. I'm looking forward to issue 30 through 100 since it'll be my first time even reading most of them.