Monday, June 7, 2010

Giant-Size June!! G-S Avengers #1

 Giant-Size Avengers #1 (August 1974)
"Nuklo -- The Invader That Time Forgot!"
Roy Thomas-Rich Buckler/Dan Adkins

Karen: Welcome all, to our first installment of what we affectionately call 'Giant-Size June'! We'll be looking at four of Marvel's Giant-Size books this month, all first issues of particular titles. To get us going, we'll start here with Giant-Size Avengers # 1.

Karen: First I have to say, I loved the Giant-Size books. Whether they called them Giant-Size, King-Size Specials, or Annuals, oversized comics were always a treat. Somehow by virtue of page count alone, they seemed special -although frankly, many had pedestrian writing and/or art. Some were stuffed with reprints as well. But perhaps it was also the fact that these books typically came out around summer time that made them so special. In any case, I was a sucker for these books (and the Treasury editions, which were really giant-size).
Doug: You are so right -- any book in that large format was just a treat. For the most part I didn't care for the reprints that eventually swallowed up the coolness factor -- I was more in favor of the "book-length story!!" that was often advertised. It seemed that the reprints came either from the Golden Age or from the very early Silver Age; I've long argued that in regard to the foundational years of the Marvel Universe, most of the titles seemed to hit their stride in the second or even third year of publication. For the most part, you can have that early stuff!
Karen: I think that's pretty common not only with comics, but TV shows, musicians - you have to work on mastering your craft. I'll say for sure that I find the first ten issues or so of X-Men completely unreadable.

Karen: There's a little bit of a story behind
Giant-Size Avengers #1. Apparently, even though Steve Englehart was the writer of the regular Avengers title at the time, editor Roy Thomas, who had been the long-time Avengers scribe preceding Englehart, felt strongly that he wanted to do this first giant-size issue. Englehart wasn't happy with that decision, but then, Roy was the boss! So instead of getting a story that would feed into Englehart's current Avengers storyline, we get this standalone tale that takes us back to Marvel's Golden Age.

Doug: Yeah, this was a problem on a couple of fronts. First off, while Roy was, at the time, the dean of Avengers scribes, this particular line-up was the one Englehart had made his own. So to that degree Roy was cooking in someone else's kitchen (one need only read the clumsy dialogue coming forth from Mantis to see what I mean). And you're right about it being self-serving. I think we all know about writers and their pet characters... Shoot, in current Avengering, we've had a steady diet of Bendis' fave characters. But Roy -- Roy didn't give us a pet character. No -- he gave us a pet era! But it sure worked out OK at Marvel and even later at DC.

Karen: I have to comment on the art. The issue is drawn by Rich Buckler and 'embellished' by Dan Adkins. Buckler is at the height of his 'Kirby-Clone' stage here and frankly, it's distracting. Every single facial expression just screams Kirby, as well as the huge hands and fists, the posing, etc. It's quite jarring to be reading a 1974 comic by someone other than Kirby but seeing Kirby art. I'm glad he eventually developed his own style - which I thought was quite good.

Doug: Allow me to simplify: the art in this book is ugly. It's ugly. I commented to Karen offline, friends, that this art was as shocking as if one had peeled back the lovely Johnny Romita cover only to find Don Heck lurking beneath. And you're right about Buckler later -- those two mini-series he did in the late 1980's where he told the origins and histories of the Sub-Mariner and the Original Human Torch were just great. Beautiful stuff.

Karen: Although I have always enjoyed Roy's work, there doesn't seem to be a lot to this story. The Avengers encounter the Whizzer, a World War II era hero, who it turns out has a gigantic son, Nuklo, who is a walking nuclear bomb. Nuklo has been kept in stasis for two decades and emerges from his capsule as a huge glowing man, although one with the mind of an infant. He somehow splits into three beings and the Avengers split into teams -Cap and Iron Man, Thor and Mantis, and the Vision goes solo - to nab him. Eventually he is re-integrated and disabled.

Doug: I don't get why, in Avengers #153 (cover dated November 1976), Gerry Conway basically used the same plot in the regular mag. Avengers #153 would continue into Avengers Annual #6, which was originally scheduled to be released as Giant-Size Avengers #6. Of course, Conway was also the editor on Avengers then, so he could do whatever he wanted. Lot of that going around, I guess!
Doug: The main story in this book was OK. As we've hinted, it had its problems. Maybe I was dense or not paying close enough attention, but the whole 3-in-1 thing got by me until the climax. I felt Mantis had lost her voice, and Iron Man had one line, a dig actually, directed at Cap that seemed more appropriate for today's characters than 35 years ago. And the whole "hex sphere" thing just continued in that long line of undefined powers for Wanda.

Karen: Probably more interesting than the main story was the subplot, which revealed that the Whizzer, and his deceased wife, Miss America, were the actual parents of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. It made a teeny bit of sense, seeing as how Quicksilver and the Whizzer shared the same powers. It also gave Marvel what I believe would have been its first legacy characters. It was one of Thomas' early steps towards integrating the World War II and 1950s stories into a unified Marvel universe. We also get mention of the All Winners Squad, and the info that the Cap and Bucky on that 1950s team were actually the second men to bear those names. This was another tie-in, as Englehart had just done a story in Captain America that featured the commie-chasing Cap of the 50s. Thomas has always loved to bring everything together!
Doug: I wholeheartedly agree with you -- this was the most fun part of the book. The Whizzer went from being somewhat weird and out of place at the beginning of the story to a very sentimental character by the end. You've encapsulized my general emotions, but I did want to add one of those little "Marvel time" problems: When it was stated that Nuklo had been in the stasis tube for 25 years, and that he is the older brother of Wanda and Pietro, that would make the twins, what, 22 or so at this time? Just curious to me -- I'd have had them a few years older, I guess.

Karen: Of course, years later we would be told that Magneto was the true father of the twin mutant Avengers, and this actually (to my mind) made more sense than this story. However, I'm sorry to see the legacy aspect gone. That was kind of cool.
Karen: The remainder of the issue contains reprints of a 1940s Human Torch story, and a Wasp solo story that I'm guessing was from Tales to Astonish. Neither was too terribly exciting. But the issues of GSA to come would be great - Englehart would weave his storylines from the regular title into this one, and we would even get some gorgeous Dave Cockrum art. Now those were books I read over and over!


Fred W. Hill said...

Hi, Karen & Doug, I generally loved those King/Giant-Size mags too, although for whatever during each of those Kang storylines Englehart brought to a semi-conclusion in Giant-Size Avengers, I either couldn't find the issue, or, in the case of GSA #2, I didn't have enough money on me to buy when I did see it, at least not until much later when my young adult self bought them at a comics shop! Anyhow, I did get that first issue, and, yeah, both the writing & art struck me as odd. My first Avengers issue was 104, Thomas' last, and the reprint mag, Marvel Triple Action, was still in the Lee era, so although I was certainly familiar with Roy and knew about his long run on the Avengers, I didn't associate him with the title and by this time Englehart had made it very much his own and I loved his writing. As for Buckler, he did a far better job aping Adams on #104 than Kirby in this one. Buckler was capable of great work, such as in Deathlok, but his Kirbyisms and outright swipes were ridiculous and he stuck with them far too long.
As for the Whizzer, I almost felt a bit sorry for old Frank when it turned out Pietro & Wanda weren't really his kids after all, although it's interesting to note that Englehart didn't seem interested in following up his connection to Wanda at all. The poor ol' guy just whizzed away peared during the remainder of the Stainless One's run (ouch!).

Doug said...

Hi, Fred --

I don't think I've welcomed you yet, but that doesn't mean I'm not appreciating your comments -- keep it up!

You are spot-on with your comments about Buckler aping Neal Adams in Avengers 104. That work wasn't too far off from the mini-series I'd mentioned earlier. I don't know of another artist, excluding Herb Trimpe's "dynamic new style" that was thrust upon us around 1990 (wow -- no one should try to ape Rob Liefeld!) who went through such drastic departures in style. I suppose what Sal Buscema has done lately might qualify, but I'll mostly write that off to age. Buckler morphed many times in the prime of his career. I suppose at some point the "big expose" will be written that will explain all of that.

Until then...

I suppose we can assume that GS Avengers #1 was somewhat of a try-out for the Liberty Legion, who would turn up in Marvel Premiere #29 and hung around only for a short time. Sadly, Marvel's never promoted their WWII legacy as successfully as DC has.



Martin Gray said...

This one loved your review. He was destined to enjoy the back and forth commentary you mere mortals provided ...

... Gah, how anyone ever manages to write Mantis is beyond me.

I've great affection for the Nuklon story as it was the first lengthy Avengers tale I read in colour, reprinted in a UK Christmas (hardback) annual. I do prefer Whizzer and Miss America as the parents of Pietro and Wanda, though. It makes magneto less creepy, for one thing.

Karen said...

I know from things I've read that Englehart was pretty unhappy with Roy writing this first issue - I wonder if that is why he never explored the Wanda/Whizzer relationship? Kind of odd, since Englehart's forte was character development!

And hey, what does everyone think of that cover by Jazzy Johnny Romita? I thought it was fantastic!

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys,
Love your website. 2 things struck me: Karen I can't believe that in a comparison of Englehart and Thomas on Avengers, you said "Thomas has always loved to bring everything together." It's true, but... compared to Englehart? Really? In that run, he goes all the way back to Marvel Comics no 1 in 1939, gives origin stories for Mantis & Moondragon and ties the Vision all the way back to the original torch (explaining a cryptic comment from a Sentinel about 3 years earlier), explains the origins of the Kree, of the Kree/Skrull war, the blue area of the moon (unexplained since FF 13)and paves the way for the Phoenix dénouement, the Inhumans relocation, the wedding of the Vision & Wanda, the resurrection of Wonder Man, ties up some Kang issues, including Immortus, not heard from since no #10 or so, ties the Space Phantom from ish 2 into Immortus’s rule of Limbo ( ish 2 + ish 10), mops up the leftovers from his (tragically) undervalued Beast run in Am Adv’s, also picks up Patsy Walker, thereby surreally joining up Marvel’s ( well, Timely’s) romance & humour comics to the Marvel universe. And God knows how much else. Englehart is definitely the James Michener of the family. Roy who?

Secondly, agree about the Romita cover - reminds me of a couple of corkers that Gil Kane delivered for the Avengers in that run, but GK over JR SR for me, any day. Shame they more or less just used him for covers.
p.s. Wandering off topic for a moment, I reckon Patsy must have been in her 60’s when she married Damon H. I have to say, she was looking good on it !

Karen said...

Richard, my comment about Roy bringing things together was not to the detriment of Englehart, whose work I've been a big fan of for decades.Obviously both of them have written stories that try to link up disparate elements of the Marvel universe. In this case I was trying to emphasize how Roy, being a Golden Age fan, tried to give Marvel a legacy of heroes by tying the then-modern characters to those old Golden Age stories.

Glad you found our blog and I hope you continue to join in with the comments -


Matthew Bradley said...

I was, alas, a little late to the party for the heyday of the giant-size books, most of which I ended up buying as back issues in later years. But I always found them and the annuals (or, in the case of AVENGERS ANNUAL #6, both!) to be most satisfying when they tied in with the monthly mag's regular continuity. Interesting that so many great mid-'70s books (e.g., SVTU, INVADERS, the new X-MEN) actually debuted as giant-sizers.

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