Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!
Fantastic Four #39-43, Annual #3; Journey Into Mystery #114-123; Tales to Astonish (starring Giant-Man & Wasp and the Hulk) #60-74; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury & SHIELD) #136-144; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #66-76; Avengers #15-24; years: 1964-66.
Thor is the first to fight the Absorbing Man (we saw a little of him in early season two of Agents of SHIELD) in Journey Into Mystery #114. He also takes on the Destroyer (that robot-like Asgardian weapon from the first movie) in JIM #118. In a flashback story in JIM #119, the Warriors Three first appear (Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg, who also all appear in the movies—Thor’s Asgardian warrior friends who aren’t Sif).
Captain America has his first battle with Batroc the Leaper (seen in far less cartoonish form at the beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier) in Tales of Suspense #75. In the same issue, he meets Agent 13, a young woman we’ll later learn is Sharon Carter, the sister of Peggy Carter who we know well from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (The familial relationship will change as World War II grows more distant.)
For the sake of democracy, Iron Man tackles evil commie the Titanium Man for the first time in TOS #69.
Jasper Sitwell, another familiar face from the cinematic universe, joins SHIELD in Strange Tales #144, though here he’s young, idealistic, and obnoxious.
Future Avenger the Swordsman first appears in Avengers #19. He’s in the bad guy camp at this point, but the seeds of future heroism are planted.
R.I.P. For Now
Captain America’s Nazi foe, Baron Zemo, the guy who killed his WWII sidekick Bucky Barnes, dies in battle in Avengers #15. Cap doesn’t lose any sleep over this.
In the next issue of Avengers, Hawkeye reports that the Black Widow has been killed by communists for trying to desert them. Nevertheless, I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Madame Natasha…
Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, and the Wasp are out (amicably), leaving only Captain America to lead newcomers Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch.
The Status Is Not Quo
–The Hulk can’t seem to settle on a status quo. For the first time, the traditional “dumb Hulk” persona emerges, where he’s always referring to himself in the third person and is portrayed as being generally mindless…at least until Bruce Banner is accidentally shot in the head, which soon results in Banner being trapped in Hulk’s body with his own mind, unable to switch back without the bullet killing him (a more extreme version of Iron Man’s situation, basically), at least until the villainous Leader saves his life and coerces the Hulk to join forces with him.
“Then together, you and I…the only two green-skinned humans on Earth…can rule the world!” For a supposed genius, the Leader sure is fixated on skin color.
Major Talbot has become a recurring antagonist for Banner and the Hulk, one with more potential than the standard villains. Talbot is portrayed as a good man with rather understandable concerns about the presence of a super-strong brainless monster around a military base. He tends to jump to wrong conclusions about Banner, but Banner tends to disappear without a word on a regular basis, so can you blame the guy? Also, Talbot serves as a romantic rival for the affections of Betty Ross. However, Betty has yet to develop a personality (Banner gets two; she gets zero).
–Captain America has no life outside the Avengers, and he’s not content with that. So he writes a query letter to Nick Fury at SHIELD: “Dear Col. Fury, You won’t remember me, but we met in combat during the war! I’m anxious to get back into harness again, and I’ve heard that you are engaged in important counter-espionage for the army…” Because, yeah, that’s the sort of thing you casually hear while out and about. Maybe he overheard something from Tony Stark while living in the guy’s mansion…which brings us to out next point…
–Tony Stark is the most important man in the Marvel Universe. The Avengers meet at Stark’s mansion (and the new ones live there). Stark provides them with equipment and funding, even after Iron Man leaves the team. Stark employs a butler for them. (Yes, the Avengers are made possible by a benevolent capitalist. Take that, Communism!) Also, Stark is the top weapons designer for SHIELD and has played key roles in several issues of that series, so far never with his Iron Man armor. And let’s not forget, he also runs his own company and engages in all those solo Iron Man adventures. How he has time to pine away for Pepper Potts, I’ll never—oh, right, he still has to plug himself into the wall and wait to recharge.
–Changing most of the Avengers’ lineup changes the feel of the whole book.
The original team was a group of friendly professionals. They conducted meetings in accordance with Roberts’ Rules of Order, would take turns serving as chairman, and got along splendidly with each other, even while respecting each other’s secret identities.
In the new group, Captain America is fully in charge, but Hawkeye and Quicksilver (more so the former) think they’d be better leaders. Hawkeye in particular is always giving Cap a hard time, and the nagging eventually wears him down to the point where Cap quits (only to return when the other three get in trouble the next issue).
Actual Captain American quote: “I’ve played straight man to you jokers long enough! You can get yourselves another clown! Now that our names are cleared, I’m kissin’ you off—!” Picture Chris Evans saying that. Go on.
To be fair to Cap, trying to mold a trio of ex-cons into superheroes can’t be easy work. Yes, three-quarters of this Avengers team previously served the Dark Side—Hawkeye had been seduced by Black Widow, and Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch had felt they owed their lives and therefore their allegiance to Magneto.
–Giant-Man (formerly Ant-Man) and the Wasp’s adventures are no more. Their series in Tales to Astonish has been replaced by a Namor the Sub-Mariner feature (which I’m not covering), and thank goodness. Their series never developed a distinct hook or visual style to set it apart. Hank Pym is, frankly, a pretty boring guy at this point who would have been more at home in the era’s DC Comics, where superheroes were still working on developing distinct personalities. The Wasp, on the other hand, did bring personality to the table, but too much of her page time was wasted on flirting with Pym.
The writers tweaked Giant-Man’s powers to try to make him more interesting—near the end, he lost his ability to shrink, but was able to grow larger than before. But, to show how sloppy things were getting, in the final story, Giant-Man and the Wasp escape the villain’s trap by…Giant-Man shrinking to Ant-Man size, without one word about how he got his shrinking powers back, even though a huge fuss was made about the loss the previous issue.
There are several reasons why the Marvel Cinematic Universe made the right call using the Scott Lang version of Ant-Man in the movie with Pym already retired, and we’ll get into those over time, but for now, the early to mid-1960s show us that Hank Pym comes from pretty weak origins. The guy’s arch-nemesis called himself the Human Top, for goodness sake, and wasn’t played for laughs.
Glimpses of potential were seen earlier whenever the series would embrace the silliness of the shrinking concept (Ant-Man vs. an ant-eater, for example), which was lost when he started growing as well, and the Wasp had a somewhat promising introduction before her main motivation devolved into her relationship with Pym, which mostly progressed off-panel.
As a series star, Ant-Man/Giant-Man was the misfire of Marvel’s 1960s resurgence (not counting the Human Torch, who was introduced for the Fantastic Four and then spun off into solo adventures, whereas Ant-Man was conceived as a solo star who happened to join the Avengers later).
–Thor in the Vietnam War! He flies into it by accident, but even an Asgardian god prince knows right away that communists are evil. Also, Iron Man’s battle with the Titanium Man, which spans three issues, is presented in-story as a pre-arranged, televised propaganda piece (well, the U.S. and Russia are each hoping it will be propaganda to serve their side). So basically, Stan Lee and company are still shamelessly teaching their young readers that the communists are the bad guys—which they are; this is not a complaint, merely an observation that it continues to be a regular occurrence in this era.
TOS #74: “I don’t care if he’s Soupy Sales…” ST #142: “Well, it sure as heck ain’t Soupy Sales!” ST #144: “Who were ya expecting??? Soupy Sales??” ST #144
The second two quotes were from Nick Fury (and a quick peek ahead shows they’re not his last Soupy references). Nick Fury = closet Soupy Sales fan? Now I want Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury to reference Soupy Sales.
Fantastic Four #39-40: The FF have lost their powers, and Doctor Doom strikes! Fortunately, Daredevil is around to help them through it. The resolution to their power outage situation is convenient, but the action is great.
Journey Into Mystery #118-119: Loki manipulates events to unleash the Destroyer against Thor, but he forgets that the Destroyer, which was created by Odin himself, is powerful enough to kill Thor. Then he realizes if Thor gets killed and Loki is implicated, he could very well pay for the crime with his own life. This puts Loki in the awkward, and more dramatically interesting, position of struggling to help Thor remotely from Asgard—even from a prison cell after he tries and fails to wake Odin from the Odinsleep—while Thor fights for his life against a more powerful foe on Earth. Two layers of tension for the price of one!
This honor goes to Giant-Man and the Wasp’s final string of issues. No wonder Marvel Unlimited didn’t bother adding these until the movie came out.
The Quotable Marvel
“My enchanted uru hammer begins to tingle!” –Thor, JIM #114, somehow confusing his hammer’s abilities with Spider-Man’s.
“None may disturb Odin while he takes his imperial bath!” –Odin, while bathing in JIM #116. He should have called it the Odinbath.
“Let go of my arm, Sue! This is no time to go feminine and romantic on me! I’ve got things to do!” –Mr. Fantastic, ever the charmer, in FF #41.
“Murdock, something’s happened! As our lawyer, would you tell the guests there will be a slight delay?” –Mr. Fantastic, right before his wedding, in FF Annual #3.
“She’ll never swallow a story like this! I’ll have to think of something clever…like, I had a flat tire!” –Tony Stark, genius, in TOS #68
“Quicksilver touches what he pleases!” –Quicksilver, Avengers #19. I’m shocked movie Quicksilver never said this. Shocked.
“Take away your crummy speed, and what have ya got?” –Hawkeye to Quicksilver, Avengers #20, a line that, perhaps coincidentally, was repurposed for different characters in the first Avengers movie, but the comic book is sorely lacking in Robert Downey Jr. quips.
To Be Continued…
To rinse out the taste of the critically panned new Fantastic Four movie, we’re entering the creative peak of 1960s FF. The Inhumans! Galactus! The Silver Surfer! And, meanwhile, over in Cap’s series, Peggy Carter!