Category Archives: Avenging the Fantastic

Avenging The Fantastic, Part 13: The Black Widow Goes Solo (Briefly)!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #94-104; Avengers #73-83; Captain America #121-133, Captain America and the Falcon #134; Iron Man #21-32; Incredible Hulk #125-134; Thor #172-181; Amazing Adventures (starring Black Widow) #1-4; years: 1970-71

The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Yellowjacket and Wasp are out so Hank Pym can do science for the government, but Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are back, thus filling the Avengers’ quota of unhealthy relationships. And then the Vision abruptly leaves shortly later…and returns almost immediately.

Iron_Man_Vol_1_21The Best of This Bunch – Iron Man #21-22

Archie Goodwin’s solid run on Iron Man continues with a tale of Tony Stark trying to quit his superhero life…and realizing he can’t. The story features tropes that have become too commonplace these days—a replacement for the hero, a replacement for an old villain, and the death of a romantic interest. But these tropes were fresher in 1970 and, in this particular instance, well-handled.

Iron-willed boxer and all-around decent guy Eddie March makes for a likeable potential Iron Man, though he has a medical condition of his own that cuts his super-heroic career short. Surprisingly, he survives the tale, but Janice Cord’s death comes out of nowhere.

Janice had been portrayed as a potential girlfriend for Tony Stark for the past twenty issues or so. Now, after an experimental medical procedure leaves Tony Stark’s heart healthy enough for daily life but not necessarily superhero life, he decides to pursue a normal relationship and pass the Iron Man armor onto a worthy successor. Continue reading

Avenging The Fantastic, Part 12: Meet the Falcon…And His Falcon!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Avengers #64-72; Fantastic Four #82-93; Thor #160-171; Incredible Hulk #116-124; Captain America #114-119; Captain Marvel #15-19; Iron Man #15-20; years: 1969-70.

Avengers_Vol_1_71The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor are back in action…at least part of the time. And the Black Knight becomes an official Avenger though not an active one, as he resides in England, which would be quite the commute.

The Dawn of the ‘70s

As this read-through finally hits the 1970s, and after we’ve all been subjected to the super-serious monstrosity known as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, let’s appreciate how nice and innocent these old comics are. True, they are infected with the prejudices of their era (i.e. no shortage of sexism), but otherwise they depict many fine role models for the children who were reading them back in the day. These characters always try to do the right thing and make their world a better place. In the Marvel Comics Universe, superheroes err, but they tend to find their way back on track.

In DC’s rush to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and establish a different tone from the MCU, they’ve given us a Superman who’s not very heroic and a Batman who’s willing to indirectly kill criminals, and that’s a loss for today’s kids. Adults can enjoy superheroes, too (as I certainly do), but we shouldn’t take the classics away from children.

These comics, for all their faults, depict superheroes as originally intended, in colorful, action-packed stories that excite the imagination and encourage us to be the best that we can be. But enough with the soapbox—on to the comics!

Thor_Vol_1_168The History of Galactus – Thor #160-161, 168-169

Some stories can only be told in the comic book medium—stories such as a big world-eating guy fighting a sentient planet. Galactus squares off against Ego the Living Planet, with Thor and others caught in the middle, and it’s epic indeed. Totally ridiculous, yes, and no other medium could do it justice, but it works wonderfully as an action-packed comic.

The fight puts Galactus on Odin’s radar, so shortly later he sends Thor to find and battle Galactus. But since we’ve just had a world-shattering Galactus fight, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby give us something different—the origin of Galactus. Turns out, Galactus is tired of fighting, and he just wants to tell Thor how he came to be. Why now and why to Thor? Because he’s Galactus, and his prodigious mind is such that we cannot comprehend, so don’t question anything that seems convenient or coincidental.

Anyway, Galactus is the sole survivor of his planet, Taa. Weird radiation happened. The Watcher observed it all and was tempted to stop this destructive being from coming into existence, but ultimately the Watcher takes his watching seriously. So if countless planets need to get eaten, fine, so long as the Watcher never interferes. Again, it would probably make sense to minds less mortal than ours. Continue reading

Avenging The Fantastic, Part 11: Behold … The Vision!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Captain America #106-113; Iron Man #5-14; Avengers #57-63; Fantastic Four #80-81, Annual #6; Captain Marvel #6-14; Incredible Hulk #104-115, Annual #1; years: 1968-69.

Avengers_Vol_1_57The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

The Vision joins! More on that below.

Otherwise, the membership stays relatively stable in this set, aside from a couple of identity adjustments. Hank Pym, already on his third superhero persona in less than a decade of stories, switches out his Goliath identity for a fourth persona, Yellowjacket. Maybe this one will stick for a few weeks. Meanwhile, Hawkeye realizes the flaw in being an archer superhero—if your bowstring breaks, you’re kind of useless—so he uses Pym’s growth serum to become the new Goliath.

visionavengers13The Best of This Bunch – Avengers #57-58

As the Vision arrives, The Avengers finally starts getting good. The Vision is the team’s first recruit who didn’t first appear in another book…unless you count Wonder Man’s one-issue stint way back in #9. Artist John Buscema creates a memorable appearance and suitably moody atmosphere while writer Roy Thomas crafts a compelling backstory that gives the Avengers their very own family tree of sorts.

The Vision is what they call a synthezoid, a being who is basically human-like but composed of synthetic parts. He was created by Ultron to attack the Avengers, and Ultron was created by Hank Pym, because what biochemist doesn’t dabble in robotics? (Scientists don’t specialize in the Marvel Universe—they all know all the science.) Ultron implanted the brainwave patterns of the late Wonder Man into the Vision’s artificial mind. Those brainwaves were conveniently lying around because the original Avengers decided to record the dying man’s brains way back when…because that’s a thing you do? Sure.

So, for those keeping score, Pym is the “father” of Ultron, who Oedipally wants to kill him. Ultron created his own “son” in the Vision. The Wasp, as Pym’s girlfriend, winds up as the mother figure here. Wonder Man, who will be back again someday, is sort of the Vision’s “brother.” This tree shall grow as time goes on.

In the Avengers: Age of Ultron film, however, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create Ultron and the Vision. That makes more sense. On the other hand, creating Ultron is the most interesting thing comic book Hank Pym has done so far, and as we’ll see, the guilt will give him some internal conflict (too much, actually). Continue reading

Avenging The Fantastic, Part 10: The Machinations of Ultron Begin!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #92-99; Captain America #100-105; Iron Man and Sub-Mariner (just the Iron Man story) #1; Iron Man #1-4; Avengers #51-56, Annual #2; Marvel Superheroes (Captain Marvel) #12-13, (Medusa of the Inhumans) #15; Captain Marvel #1-5; Fantastic Four #74-79; Incredible Hulk #103; Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1-3; years spanned: 1967-68.

a52_bpThe Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Captain America can’t return to the team quite yet, but he invites the Black Panther to join in his place. And when the first black Avenger shows up at the mansion, the police promptly arrest him for the murder of the Avengers. It’s all very awkward. But he saves the Avengers from new villain the Grim Reaper (brother of the late Wonder Man and bent on vengeance), and all is well. That leaves us with a lineup of Hawkeye, Goliath, Wasp, and the Black Panther – a formidable but still low-powered bunch.

That Didn’t Take Long – Tales of Suspense #96 (Captain America)

Remember how Captain America quit last time? Made a big fuss, revealed his secret identity to the world and everything? Yeah, well, Cap decides never mind…all in the span of ten pages, because some imposter Caps get themselves in trouble and he has to leap into action to bail them out.

As I said last time, 60s comics burn through plot fast.

“You can’t give up bein’ Captain America…’cause you are Captain America. It’d be easier to turn yer back on Steve Rogers!” –Nick Fury

“I…think you’re…right…Fury! I realize now…a man can’t ever stop being…something that he was born to be!” –Steve Rogers (channeling William Shatner, apparently) Continue reading

Avenging The Fantastic, Part 9: The Secret Origin of Dr. Don Blake!

And we’re back—in a bold new direction! (Well, technically not bold, but 60s Marvel and hyperbole do go hand in hand.) As the Marvel Comics Universe continues to evolve, so must this column. I’m playing around with the format a bit, but one thing remains the same: We’re continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #56-73; Thor #141-159; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #92-101; Incredible Hulk #102; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury and SHIELD) #150-168; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #89-95; Avengers #36-50; years spanned: 1967-68.

A confession

Lifelong Marvel fan though I am, I must confess I’ve entered into a bit of a slog here. By this point, Marvel has grown confident in its house style. The books have hit a comfortable rhythm, which was no doubt great for young fans at the time, but it doesn’t hold up so well against modern adult sensibilities. Dialogue is over-written. Captions explain more than they need to. And while everything is still brimming with wonderful imagination, it doesn’t feel as special as it did when most of the characters were making their debuts. And that makes perfect sense—these books weren’t built for long, multi-year narratives. They were disposable entertainment kids would get into for a few years before moving on to other hobbies.

But that’s just story-wise. Art-wise, however…

steranko-tidal-wave

A broader palette

Jack Kirby dominated the art scene in the beginning and helped launch most of these characters. As this is a visual medium, Kirby deserves as much credit as Stan Lee for introducing these characters the right way. He had a kinetic, larger-than-life style that particularly suited the Fantastic Four and Thor, which he continued to illustrate in this batch of issues.

But other notable artists had begun emerging with their own distinct styles that suited the books they were assigned to. Continue reading

Avenging the Fantastic, Part 8: Enter the Black Panther!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Tales_of_Suspense_Vol_1_80Books Read

Fantastic Four #52-55; Thor #131-140; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #80-91; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury & SHIELD) #146-149; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #79-88; The Avengers #30-35; years: 1966-67.

Fantastic Firsts

Captain America’s arch-foe the Red Skull arrives in the modern era (relative to World War II, anyway) in Tales of Suspense #79, and the story also introduces the Cosmic Cube—known to Marvel Cinematic Universe viewers as the Tesseract.

Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_52Marvel gets its first black superhero, the Black Panther, ruler of the African nation Wakanda, in Fantastic Four #52, and the next issue introduces his foe, Ulysses Klaw, who was seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The super-metal vibranium also debuts.

Sif is reintroduced as a skilled warrior, more along the lines of her movie counterpart (though comics Sif is Heimdall’s little sister), in Thor #136.

Future superhero (and future Goliath) Bill Foster first appears as Hank Pym’s lab assistant in Avengers #32.

The Abomination, the monstrous villain of The Incredible Hulk movie, gets his first exposure of gamma radiation in Tales to Astonish #90.

And several other recurring villains debut in this group of issues: the Super-Adaptoid, the Serpent Society, Ego the Living Planet, and the Living Laser, as well as neither-villain-nor-hero the High Evolutionary.

We also experience the first crossover between titles, as Iron Man’s battle against the Sub-Mariner directly continues from Tales of Suspense #80 into Tales to Astonish #82. And thus a trend began, one that has never ended to this very day.

The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch abruptly take a break to fix their inexplicably diminishing powers—the effects of which we never see in action, but I suppose someone had to prevent the Avengers from having a stable lineup for more than a few issues. This also allows Goliath to be repeatedly referred to as the most powerful Avenger—even though he has no power aside from being ten feet tall. The team must really miss Thor and Iron Man. Continue reading

Avenging the Fantastic, Part 7: The Fantastic Four Explore!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #44-51; Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #124, 125; Thor (Hey, look, he got promoted!) #126-130; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #75-79; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury & SHIELD) #145; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #73-78; The Avengers #25-29; year: 1966.

7533-2045-8308-1-fantastic-fourFantastic Firsts

The Inhumans debut in Fantastic Four #45. Viewers of the Agents of SHIELD TV series have met this hidden, ancient society of super-powered people—but not the comic universe’s main cast of Inhumans, who I suspect are being saved for the upcoming movie, which is slated for 2019. In the comics, we’ve already met Medusa, but in #44 we meet Gorgon and in #45 we meet the rest: Crystal (introduced as a potential love interest for the Human Torch), Black Bolt, Karnak, Triton, and dog Lockjaw. In #47, we meet their nemesis, Maximus.

panel_ff045aImmediately after that adventure, Galactus develops his first craving for the Earth in FF #48, during which the Silver Surfer debuts, initially as the herald of the world-devourer. Yes, this is where the second Fantastic Four movie, Rise of the Silver Surfer, draws its inspiration, but ignore that film and read these instead.

And then, because the FF are on such a roll here, Mr. Fantastic visits the Negative Zone for the first time in #51.

Peggy Carter, the character Hayley Atwell has made famous in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, debuts in a flashback Captain America tale in Tales of Suspense #77, though she is never identified by name.

Many of the Olympus gods debut in Thor #129, including Ares, who will join the Avengers a long, long time from this point.

The Collector (Benicio Del Toro in Guardians of the Galaxy) first fights the Avengers in #28 as a pretty basic villain who uses his vast collection as weapons (using magic beans to summon giants to fight Giant-Man, for example).

Rest In—oh, never mind

The Black Widow, briefly presumed dead, is back in action—but brainwashed this time so she’ll remain loyal to those wicked Soviets. Hawkeye remains stupidly obsessed with her, and the fact that this hasn’t killed him yet is miraculous.

Avengers_Vol_1_28The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Retirement didn’t take for Giant-Man and the Wasp, so they’re back on the team—only now Giant-Man is calling himself Goliath, because Hank Pym needed a third superhero identity in the course of five of our years (starting with Ant-Man, for those just tuning in). Fortunately, the Scarlet Witch took the liberty of sewing a new costume for this man she hardly knows.

The Status is Not Quo

–In the Marvel Universe, secret identities are not forever. Happy Hogan learns that his boss Tony Stark is Iron Man. Thor finally says to Hel with his father’s wishes and tells his beloved Jane Foster that he and Dr. Donald Blake are one and the same (though Dr. Blake has been showing up less and less lately). Goliath and the Wasp reveal their true names to the new Avengers. And Rick Jones, thinking his buddy the Bruce Banner has died, blabs the secret of the Hulk to everyone. Clearly Rick hasn’t been a comic book character long enough at this point to have learned the big rule: No body, no fatality. Heck, even if there is a body, there might not be a fatality.

–Peggy Carter, however, has no idea who Captain America really is. Continue reading

Avenging the Fantastic, Part 6: Avengers Reassemble!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Journey_in_to_mystery118-00Books Read

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.

Fantastic Firsts

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).

talessuspense76Captain 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…

Avengers_Vol_1_16The Revolving Door of Avengers’ Mansion

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. Continue reading

Avenging the Fantastic, Part 5: Nick Fury Joins S.H.I.E.L.D.!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #31-38, Annual #2; Journey Into Mystery #110-113, Annual #1; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #60-64; Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch and Thing) #125-134, (starring Nick Fury) #135; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America in separate stories) #59-65; Avengers #8-14; years: 1964-65.

ST 135_ce_HKFantastic Firsts

Lots!

The Avengers battle time-travelling villain Kang for the first time in their #8, though technically the character already debuted as Rama Tut over in Fantastic Four. Then they meet Immortus in #10, who we’ll later learn is another version of Kang from a different point in time (pesky time-travel shenanigans).

Future Avenger Wonder Man is introduced in Avengers #9, though he’s not entirely a good guy yet. Then they meet Count Nefaria in #13, and with a name like that, you know he’ll always be a bad guy.

Thor is the first to utter the famous catchphrase “Avengers Assemble!” in #10, uniting the team against the Masters of Evil.

We meet Sue and Johnny Storm’s father in FF #31. (He’ll be in the upcoming movie, but it looks like he’ll be an entirely different character than the disgraced surgeon who appears here.)

FF 36 MedusaThe Fantastic Four first encounter the Frightful Four in #36. The group includes previously established villains the Wizard, Sandman, and Paste-Pot-Pete (now Trapster) and new character Medusa, who is the first of the Inhumans we meet, though she’s not yet identified as such.

SHIELD debuts and recruits Nick Fury in Strange Tales #135, where we’re introduced to SHIELD staples such as the Helicarrier, life-model decoys (LMDs), a flying car, and recurring enemies Hydra.

Avengers’ mansion butler Edwin Jarvis first appears in Captain America’s story in Tales of Suspense #59. Like his television counterpart in Agent Carter, he’s in the employ of a Stark, but unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no computer is named after the guy.

Golden Age villain Red Skull is reintroduced in TOS #65, though it is a World War II flashback story, so he hasn’t yet appeared in “modern” continuity by this point.

Norse and Greek mythology cross over when Thor accidentally visits Olympus in Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 and gets into a wee little misunderstanding with Hercules (another future Avenger).

The Hulk’s new solo series in Tales to Astonish features several notable first appearances, including Major Talbot (Adrian Pasdar’s character in the Agents of SHIELD TV series) in #61 and the villainous Leader in #62.

R.I.P. For Now

Wonder Man does not survive his first appearance. But we haven’t seen the last of him! (Don’t expect to see him in the movies, though. It’s possible, but I suspect Warner Bros. would object to another “Wonder” character floating around Hollywood.)

Dr. Storm, the Invisible Girl and Human Torch’s father, makes it to a second appearance in FF #32, at which point he’s killed by the alien Skrulls. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he ever rises from the dead—a rarity in the Marvel Universe. Continue reading

Avenging the Fantastic, Part 4: The Black Widow Strikes!

2678806-talesofsuspense50Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

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.

Fantastic Firsts

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.

Tales_of_Suspense_Vol_1_52The Status Is Not Quo

–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. Continue reading