Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man) #50-58; Tales to Astonish (starring Giant-Man and Wasp) #52, 53, 59; Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch) #120-124; Fantastic Four #25-30; Avengers #5-7; Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #105-109; year: 1964.
The Black Widow joins the Marvel Comics Universe as a foe of Iron Man in Tales of Suspense #52, and Hawkeye gets seduced into helping her out when we meet him in TOS #57.
The Mandarin begins menacing mankind in TOS #50. Movie fans will never see him coming…primarily because he’s basically a different character with the same name.
In Avengers #6, Baron Zemo, an old Nazi foe of Captain America, forms the original Masters of Evil (Black Knight, who had fought Giant-Man and the Wasp; the Melter, who had fought Iron Man; and Radioactive Man, who had fought Thor—such balance).
The Fantastic Four and Avengers meet for the first time in Fantastic Four #26, where they bond while fighting the Hulk after first fighting over who gets to fight the Hulk.
Future Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver have been introduced in X-Men as reluctant members of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but they first appear in this corner of the Marvel Universe when they cameo in Journey Into Mystery #109. Dr. Strange, who has been appearing in own series (which we’re also not covering) in Strange Tales, begins guest-starring elsewhere in FF #27.
–Black Widow is a villain from Soviet Russia, without any hint of future heroism—nor any fighting skills. In her first appearance, Natasha and her partner, Boris (yes, really), are charged with killing Tony Stark and ex-commie Crimson Dynamo. The Dynamo sacrifices himself stopping Boris, and the Black Widow slips away, only to brazenly return to Stark’s office in the following issue.
“I feel so ashamed…to think I once tried to harm you!” she sobs to Tony.
“There, there! I don’t make a practice of harboring grudges,” Tony responds, right before showing her the dangerous gravity gun he accidentally built, which she promptly steals.
Granted, he figured she was up to no good—he’s just cocky and underestimates her.
“Boris is finished! I’ll let the Black Widow go! After all…she is just a woman…and a lovely one at that!” he thinks in a flashback to the previous issue’s events.
And that’s basically Black Widow’s super-power—beauty that makes men stupid. And all in the service of Mother Russia.
–Hawkeye is originally a marksman act at Coney Island, going only by “Hawkeye,” no identification as Clint Barton yet. And when Iron Man swoops into action to save people from a failing ride, Hawkeye gets jealous at being upstaged.
The first words we ever hear out of Hawkeye, in a thought bubble: “I’m the greatest marksman the world has ever known! And yet, they ignore me!!”
Then, having nothing else going on in his life, Hawkeye spends the night fashioning himself a costume and trick arrows to become a costumed adventurer. A botched attempt at stopping a robbery gets him framed for the job, but the Black Widow coincidentally drives up and helps him get away from the police. He immediately falls in love with her and fights Iron Man on her behalf.
“I’ll beat him somehow! I can’t fail the gorgeous Black Widow!”
Hawkeye does not think with his head.
And that’s how two future Avengers begin their comic book careers—a commie criminal and her lovesick, attention-starved lapdog.
–Giant-Man is able to control Wasp’s size remotely. That’s creepy.
I cannot see Scarlett Johannson playing the evil, very Russian Black Widow, alias Madame Natasha. Nor can I see anyone in the cast of Iron Man 3 playing the original Mandarin, who’s very comic booky with his ten rings that are each a different weapon, martial arts acumen, and huge castle of doom. It’s not that these actors couldn’t pull it off. The characters are just so different from what we’re used to, it would be disorienting.
But for some reason, I can see Jeremy Renner playing the old lovelorn, super-jealous Hawkeye.
–The Mandarin is introduced as “the most feared oriental of all time!” He’s from Red China, of course, but in a shocking twist, he’s not actually a communist. He’s in this world-domination gig purely for himself. Way to stick it to the commies, Mandarin.
–Rocky and Bullwinkle, apparently.
–Absent-minded inventors: Not only does Tony Stark create a functional gravity gun and not realize how he did it, Reed Richards develops a cure for the Thing’s rocky appearance without realizing how he pulled it off—and yet he somehow was certain it would have worked, if only the Thing hadn’t deliberately smashed it.
–Absent-minded Stan Lee: Bruce Banner inexplicably becomes Bob Banner in Fantastic Four #25. But the mistake is consistent throughout—he’s called “Bob Banner” several times. And it’s a mistake Stan Lee remembered, as in a later appearance, Hulks alter ego is identified as Dr. Robert Bruce Banner.
–Secret identities: Though this old trope isn’t much of a thing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, back in the day the Avengers took the concept seriously. The team had a hard and fast rule about honoring each other’s secrets and not prying into each other’s personal lives. However, they all seemed to know that to contact Thor, you contact Don Blake, to contact Iron Man, you contact Tony Stark…
Fantastic Four #25 – Featuring the greatest fight thus far. The Hulk is rampaging. The Human Torch and the Invisible Girl don’t have the raw strength to hold their own against him. Mr. Fantastic is out of commission with a mysterious flu. The Avengers haven’t arrived on the scene yet. That leaves the Thing as the only person in the city with any prayer of taking down the Hulk—but as strong as the Thing is, he’s seriously out of his weight class here. But that doesn’t stop him from giving the Hulk everything he’s got, and…it’s not enough. After a lengthy battle, the Hulk beats him, then leaves to look for the Avengers. And the issue ends with the Thing pulling himself up to get ready for the next round. It’s the superhero as the underdog, a tale of perseverance.
Journey Into Mystery #106 – Featuring the moment where Thor becomes cool. Late in the issue, Mr. Hyde knocks Thor’s hammer out of his grip, claiming he could beat the thunder god if it’s just them, no Asgardian weapons. Thor, who will revert to mortal Don Blake in sixty seconds if he doesn’t grab his hammer, is about to reach for Mjolnir, but then he decides, screw it, I can take this chump down within a minute. The fight begins, and Thor keeps track of the ticking clock. It takes nearly the full minute, but Thor defeats his foe, reclaims his hammer, and gets on with his day.
I’m really ready to be done with these solo Human Torch stories in Strange Tales.
The Quotable Marvel
“Almost every city has a Giant-Man and Wasp fan club!” –the Porcupine, TTA #53, because who among us hasn’t been in a Giant-Man and Wasp fan club at some point or another?
“In a way, I pity her! All that beauty outside…but inside…nothing!” –Tony Stark, dissing the Black Widow in TOS #52.
“Now for my first strike against democracy!” –Black Widow, TOS #53. Picture Scarlett Johannson saying that in a Russian accent.
“Other girls get flowers, candy, jewelry! I get a flying ant!” –Wasp, Journey Into Mystery #105, summarizing her and Hank Pym’s dysfunctional relationship so perfectly.
“And now I’ll show you why it’s so vitally important to eat the right foods and get plenty of exercise and eight hours of sleep!” –Captain America, giving an acrobatic demonstration to teenagers in Avengers #5, neglecting to inform them that they also need to do drugs that will turn them into super-soldiers.
“You mocked free men! You boasted of your contempt for liberty!!” –Captain America, Avengers #6. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry…
“She can’t die!! She has to be mine!! She’s the only woman I’ve ever loved!!” –Hawkeye the pathetic, TOS #57.
To Be Continued…
The Hulk and Captain America get their own solo series! Giant-Man and the Wasp still have theirs, but it looks like Marvel Unlimited hasn’t uploaded these issues, so I guess we’ll have to settle for just seeing them in the Avengers. Sorry to disappoint their numerous fan clubs in almost every city.
Next installment will be in three weeks so I can power through a greater chunk of the ‘60s.