Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!
Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man) #45-49; Tales to Astonish (starring Ant-Man) #47-51; Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch) #113-119; Fantastic Four #19-24; Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #97-104; Avengers #2-4; years spanned: 1963-4.
Iron Man finally gets a supporting cast in Tales of Suspense #45, where we meet Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan (Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau in the movies). He ditches his clunky original armor for a more recognizable design in TOS #48.
Ant-Man becomes Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish #49.
The X-Men were introduced in their own series, which we’re not covering here, but they make their first guest appearance when they meet Iron Man in TOS #49.
Though he first appeared in the World War II–era Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Nick Fury makes his first modern-day appearance in Fantastic Four #21, where we learn he now works for the CIA.
The Lady Sif first appears in a flashback story of Thor’s youth in Journey Into Mystery #102, although she’s nothing more than a damsel in distress with zero lines of dialogue. Sif the warrior, like we see in the movies, is yet to come.
The Invisible Girl gains a more useful power—invisible force fields—in FF #22, and unless I missed it earlier, the Thing first utters his famous catchphrase, “It’s clobberin’ time!” in FF #23. The intended target of clobberin’ is Dr. Doom, and the Thing, still relatively inexperienced at clobberin’, swings and misses.
Captain America joins the modern world in Avengers #4. However, earlier, the character had a “tryout” in Strange Tales #114, though that was a villain in disguise messing with the Human Torch (an gauging reader interest in the dormant World War II character).
Notable new villains include Rama Tut in FF #19, the Crimson Dynamo in TOS #46, the Molecule Man in FF #20, the Human Top (later Whirlwind) in TTA #50, Mr. Hyde (who Kyle Maclachlan plays in Agents of SHIELD) in JIM #99, and the Enchantress, the first recurring female villain, in JIM #103.
RIP For Now
In Avengers #4, we learn that Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s teen sidekick, apparently did not survive World War II.
How Captain America grieves: He notices that Rick Jones, former sidekick of the Hulk, looks almost exactly like Bucky. “I was wasting time—mourning him—but you’ve suddenly made me realize that life goes on! In a way, Bucky can still live again!”
No pressure, Rick.
The Status Is Not Quo
–Happy has a crush on Pepper. Pepper has a crush on Tony. Tony still has to worry about plugging himself into the wall every so often to stay alive, so serious dating is off the table. Also, there’s a running gag of sorts where Happy has been hired as Tony Stark’s chauffeur but he never actually drives him anywhere. Instead, Happy spends his work days sexually harassing Pepper the secretary.
–Hank Pym decides to expand his repertoire by literally expanding into Giant-Man, as he figures out how to enlarge himself to twelve feet tall. He does not think to ask the Wasp if she might enjoy the option of becoming a giant herself. Then again, he still hasn’t realized he could give himself wings like he did her.
Their method of size-changing gets an update. Instead of spraying themselves with gas as they were doing, they now pop pills swallow color-coded capsules that will immediately bring them to the desired size.
Yeah, they basically take drugs that alter their perception of the world. And this stuff works fast.
–Not one for long-term commitments, the Hulk quits the Avengers in #2, and Captain America, having nothing better to do after twenty years in a block of ice being worshipped by Eskimos, joins in #4. Cap’s reintroduction to the modern world comes courtesy of the Namor the Sub-Mariner, who angrily and obliviously hurls the ice into warmer water, where the Avengers discover him. Cap and Namor fought together in World War II, but neither recognizes the other in their battle here (though Cap does vaguely recall the name).
The Avengers don’t do much avenging…or basic super-heroic day-saving, it seems. In their first issue, they thwart Loki’s scheme to get revenge on Thor. In their second, the Space Phantom tries to turn the Avengers against each other to clear the path for a future alien invasion. They spend the third issue trying to track down their former teammate, the Hulk, who has joined forces with Namor. The duo’s first goal—defeat the Avengers, a mission Namor continues into #4. The Avengers also cameo in JIM #101 to check in on Thor.
So at most, the Avengers are serving as targets to distract forces that could later have threatened humanity. Otherwise, they’ve yet to directly do that whole “saving the world” thing.
—TOS #46 is a fine bit of Cold War propaganda:
“I was certain that he’d believe it…because he knows how treacherous all communists are!” Iron Man thinks after he deceives the Crimson Dynamo into believing his Soviet leader is going to betray him.
“Thank you, Iron Man! You saved my life! I realize now that my scientific genius has been at the service of a savage, double-dealing system!” the Crimson Dynamo says after having just been lied to by the very man he’s thanking.
Tony Stark then hires the Crimson Dynamo.
Not that I disagree with Tony, of course, but the lack of subtlety sure is something special.
–A city council passes an ordinance banning the Human Torch from flaming on in Strange Tales #119. That’s probably the most realistic thing to happen in any of these books thus far.
Thor, in his mortal identity of Dr. Donald Blake, yearns to reveal his true feelings to Jane, but he wants Odin’s approval first. Jane knows he likes her—like likes her likes her—but she thinks he’s too timid to express himself (and though she doesn’t know it, he is letting his father dictate his love life). So she quits and gets a job with another doctor.
“It’s too late for that now!” she says in JIM #97. “I waited—hoping you’d return—hoping you’d finally say what I’ve longed to hear—but, while the city was threatened by the Lava Man, you didn’t even care enough to find me—Doctor Andrews drove me to the suburbs—looked after me! A woman wants a man, Doctor Blake—not a timid mouse! And so, I’m leaving.”
Dr. Andrews then kicks a man when he’s down: “Don’t worry, Blake—you’ll find another nurse!”
And this might just be Marvel’s first cliffhanger. Jane returns to work for Dr. Blake in the next issue, and their poorly sketched attraction provides some forward momentum for the series after Odin expressly disapproves.
–Single-issue stories were the norm, but now we’re beginning to get into some two-parters, even though none of these cliffhangers end with the hero in immediate physical danger. They’re like in Tales to Astonish #50-51, where in the first part Giant-Man is unable to defeat the Human Top, and the issues ends with Pym training hard for round two.
–Each series had been mostly self-contained up until this group of issues as well. Prior to now, the Human Torch in his solo stories never referenced specific adventures from Fantastic Four, and after the first issue of Avengers, the team received no mention in any of the individual books. But that’s starting to change, and cameos are becoming a more regular thing. Avengers #3, for example, begins with Iron Man using an absurd invention to project his image to the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Spider-Man to ask them if they’ve seen the Hulk.
A caption at the beginning of TOS #49 reads, “The Angel and the X-Men appear in this story courtesy of the editors of ‘The X-Men’ magazine!” These days, the guest stars just show up—no courtesy necessary.
Journey Into Mystery #100-103 – Though the series has improved tremendously, the main storylines still don’t hold up as all-time classics. However, a back-up feature, Tales of Asgard, is pretty interesting, especially these installments that depict a young Thor accomplishing a series of special feats to earn his worthiness to wield his hammer. It’s got a very Once and Future King vibe, and the Jack Kirby art is perfect for it.
Fantastic Four #21 – The Hate-Monger, in the midst of spreading lots of hate, makes the FF hate each other. In the end, the Hate-Monger is unmasked, and we learn he’s really…Adolf Hitler?!? Or maybe a fake Hitler. But either way, the Hate-Monger looks exactly like Hitler—in case you didn’t know hate was bad.
Tales of Suspense #49 – The Angel nearly kills Iron Man. Yes, Angel would be the novice teenage X-Man who just has wings and nothing more, nearly finishing a genius in a suit of armor with all sorts of weapons. But in Iron Man’s defense, Angel was exposed to radiation that turned him evil, like radiation does. Several other stories in this go-around are technically worse, but this has got to be a low point in Iron Man’s career that he would never want to speak of again.
The Quotable Marvel
“All commies are chronically suspicious of each other!” –Iron Man, TOS #46, just in case the message hasn’t sunk in yet.
“Reed, what exactly are molecules?” –The Human Torch, FF #20, apparently too busy saving the world to attend school.
“Although he is lame and unglamorous, you’ll never be half the man he is.” –Jane Foster, JIM #98, taking down two men at once.
“Dr. Donald Blake! I have heard of him! He is the famous lame doctor!” –Calvin Zabo, the future Mr. Hyde, in JIM #99. That Dr. Blake sure does have a reputation.
“In fact, I have an urge to boast—brag of what I have done!” –the Space Phantom, Avengers #2, succumbing to a temptation all too common for villains.
“Help! Some strangely dressed menace has invaded the factory!” –some guy, TOS #48, pointing out a problem all too common in the Marvel Universe.
“You dared to ask me to make that female an immortal?” –Odin, JIM #100, saying what we’re all thinking.
“Editor’s Note: We sincerely suggest you save this issue! We feel you will treasure it in time to come!” –Avengers #4. They warned you.
“But what about—the Hulk? He’s sure to return some day…and when he finds out that Captain America has replaced him—will anything be able to stop him then??!” Rick Jones, Avengers #4, that time Captain America and the Hulk were part of the same sidekick triangle.
To Be Continued…
The Black Widow strikes! And she’s not an Avenger! The Mandarin makes his move, too, and he’s not an actor!