Saturday, August 20, 2011

Finding Silver Well Past Bronze: Avengers 1 1/2

Avengers #1 1/2 (October 1999)
"The Death-Trap of Doctor Doom!"
Roger Stern-Bruce Timm

Doug: Here's an issue that turned up in the comments section of one of our posts some months ago. I wish I could recall specifically where the comment was made; it runs in my mind it was in an Open Forum on what is canon in comics. At any rate, Karen and I both liked this issue over a decade ago, and with all of the attention being paid the Avengers cartoon and upcoming film this seemed like as good a time as any to have a look.

Karen: I loved this issue when I first saw it, and still do. If nothing else, it makes you wish there'd been more stories with the Hulk as an Avenger.

Doug: First off, Bruce Timm just does a phenomenal job of emulating Jack Kirby. His style dovetails nicely with the King's, right from the cover image. And how about the editing team? From the Silver Age goodness of that cover to the send-ups of 1960's advertisements throughout the book, this was $2.50 well spent back in the day!

Karen: You can tell a lot of love went into making this book.

Doug: As the numbering suggests, this story (a done-in-one, natch) takes place between the origin of the team in #1 and the first break-up of the team in #2. I think the creators, and some fans alike, felt that the immediate departure of the Hulk, accompanied by the switch by Henry Pym from Ant-Man to Giant-Man, left a big hole in Avengers history. So we pick this one up as the media gets hold of the news that this team has formed. Scribe Roger Stern shows us the reactions of local New Yorkers as well as those other super-powered denizens of the Marvel Universe: the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. It's a really nice touch, and is a real throwback to simpler times, when the MU was in its infancy. While the FF are for the most part interested in the Avengers as allies, Spidey just wants a job. Funny stuff.

Karen: Both Stern and Timm did a wonderful job capturing the feel of that era. All of the cameos had the perfect tone.

Doug: Once the real plot gets rolling, we find Major Bowman of the National Security Council dropping by Tony Stark's mansion to ask assistance of this new band of heroes. Jarvis shows him in, and explains that the mansion's staff has been reduced by 75% due to the presence of the volatile Hulk. There are a couple of nice scenes in the midst of this of Janet being Janet and Thor and Hulk arguing over the Hulk's attire. Classic, smiley vignettes. The Major has come to report that there are concerns about Dr. Doom; Hank explains that he helped the FF defeat Doom and Doom's no easy foe. His "flying fortress" had been impounded, but that's where our trouble begins: in the midst of the briefing, the Major gets word that the ship has shaken free of its hangar and is heading out over the Atlantic!

Karen: The interactions here between the founding members are priceless. I especially enjoyed the Hulk and Thor butting heads over everything, including Hulk's shorts, and the Wasp flirting with Thor - and asking Iron Man if Tony Stark is as dreamy as he looks on TV! The tie-ins and footnotes to existing comics were appreciated.

Doug: Scrambling into a waiting "jet copter", the Avengers and the Major pursue. What's interesting about this scene is the fact that it's the Hulk who urges the team to action; of course he just wants to get his hands on Doom, but given that this was the pre-"dumb Hulk" era it was strange to see him in somewhat of a leadership role. In a big reveal (literally), Bruce Timm gives us a full-page shot of Doom's airship, which is as big as Noah's Ark! Suddenly the copter and Thor (who was flying on his own power) are caught in a grappling ray and pulled toward the larger ship. As everyone panics, the Hulk leaps out of the copter and smashes through the hull of Doom's fortress. Once inside, he insults Thor who has joined him. It's great dialogue! Thor rebukes the Hulk's brashness, but Iron Man explains that maybe it was the right move. Only halfway through the story, it's pretty obvious who the star of this team could have been.

Karen: Reading this again, I was very much struck by the similarities between this version of Hulk and the early Wolverine, whom we recently covered in our X-Men reviews. Both are the loose cannons of their respective teams, which imbues them with a quality of danger and excitement. Later on, Hawkeye would sort of fulfill this role -but more as a thorn in the side of Cap than a real problem for the team.

Doug: In keeping with early Silver Age sexism, Hank tells Jan to stay behind and protect the Major. The problem is, however, that the Major is a double-agent, working for Doom! He fires a gas gun at the Wasp -- one Avenger down. On Doom's ship, the Hulk enters a chamber that is shiny like glass. The Hulk is sealed within and recognizes that he's in a teflon room and can get no traction. That he cusses in the old comic strip style ($#@) made me smile. Thor is beset by what I would best describe as some black Ditko-spheres.

Karen: I laughed when I saw Hulk's cussing. That was a nice touch. I was surprised to see this Hulk call the room "elliptical." I know he's not as dumb as later versions but that still seemed a bit high-brow for him.

Doug: Doom watches from a monitor room, and gloats to himself that the globes were designed to take down the entire FF. At that moment, Iron Man arrives, but with his boot jets in whisper mode (ha!). It was funny to see IM flying in the clunky golden armor. Of course, it's not Doom that he approaches, but a Doombot who quickly begins to siphon the energy from IM. There's a nice nod to the days when IM's chestplate kept him alive. We then cut to Ant-Man, who has found the real Major Bowman, all trussed up. Seems the Major was captured long before his doppelganger met the Avengers. Suddenly, the faux Major appears on a vid-screen; in one of the worst examples of a character peeling off a rubber mask, the figure removes the fake face to reveal the armored mask of Doom beneath!

Karen: We've seen a lot of amazing rubber masks here at BAB, but that one has got to the most unbelievable!

Doug: It beginning to look like curtains for our heroes. Thor will be sent to another dimension, Iron Man is virtually powerless, the Hulk bounces around his cell like a pinball, and the Wasp is enclosed in a small glass sphere. Now, we see Doom pump deadly gas into the chamber holding Ant-Man and Major Bowman. But ol' Hank has something up his sleeve. Removing his Ant-Man helmet and popping a pill while urging the Major to stand back, it's Giant-Man who saves the day! What a cool surprise -- even though we've known about this for decades, it was just a neat execution of the concept and felt fresh. Now Hank's on the loose, and rescues the Hulk, then Thor. The Avengers are re-assembling! They find Iron Man, and Thor brings the lightning in a desperate effort to re-charge the Golden Avenger; it works.

Karen: That reveal of Pym's new power/identity gave me a thrill too. That was very well executed. I also got a kick out of the motion-sick Hulk.

Doug: So the boys move on Doom, who is about to go on live television to proclaim his victory. Mjolnir guts that short. A brief fracas ensues, with Doom escaping. The Hulk pursues, and in a very funny panel rips the good Doctor's head off. Iron Man asks him how he knew it was a Doombot. The Hulk just looks at the head and mutters, "Robot?" Suddenly the airship starts to descend rapidly. Finding an escape pod, everyone argues over who should get in it. Finally the Hulk's heard enough, grabs Major Bowman and launches the thing. Then the heavyweights bust a hole in the hull of the ship and exit, Avengers-style! It's pretty dramatic.

Karen: Lots of exciting action here. The scene with the robot was hilarious. Hulk is very take-charge here. That splash page of the heroes flying out of the exploding ship is awesome.

Doug: Safely ashore on Long Island, the team watches Doom's craft plunge into the sea. The Wasp explains how she had radioed information to Hank from her spot in Doom's control room, so that he was able to locate the rest of the team. The team muses if they'll see Doom again, and of course we cut to the obligatory panel of the mad Latverian monarch some miles away entering into biding-time mode. The last panel of the issue expresses how our heroes have passed their baptism of fire against Marveldom's greatest menace, but will be shaken to their very core in their next adventure... against the Space Phantom!

Karen: Typical '60s Marvel wrap-up! I loved this from cover to cover. Makes me wish this team had done a few more such tales.

Doug: I had a blast re-reading this. It was just plain fun. Part of that may lay in the fact that it was intended to be just that -- a light-hearted homage to a simpler time. But I have to give a huge tip-of-the-hat to the creators of this story for crafting a tale that fits seamlessly between Avengers #'s 1 and 2 with no silly agenda. This was an "untold tale" worthy of having been told the first time 'round. Success!


Redartz said...

This looks to have been a lot of fun! Of course, I also love both Roger Stern and Bruce Timm. I'll have to scare up a copy of this; thanks for bringing it up!

Inkstained Wretch said...

Wow, I didn't even know this existed. Thanks for showcasing it!

I like the fact that they kept the Hulk true to early Silver Age roots. Reading the first volume of the Essential Avengers really reminds you how different the original version of the Hulk was from the Herb Trimpe-era creature we know so well.

dbutler16 said...

I'd not even known about this issue, but it looks like a ton of fun and then some! I maybe have to look for it on ebay. A lot of action, humor, and fun references to the past. Plus, the art, especially the cover, is appropriately Kirby-esqu. This actually reminds me a bit of the Avengers:Earth's Mightiest Heroes series currently on the telly.

William said...

When I saw you were reviewing this comic, my reaction was OMG! I love that comic! Coincidently, I just pulled it out yesterday week to re-read (which I haven't gotten around to yet).

Then when Doug said that someone had mentioned this issue in a previous comments section, I was like, "Hey! That was me."

BTW Doug, the comment was made in the "Hulk Smash Puny Avengers: A Look at the Hulk's Brief Avengers Career" article from early in July of this year. Since it actually applies to this topic and covers a lot of my feelings about this comic, (and because I'm too lazy to write something new) here it is again…

"The Hulk was actually an Avenger for 3 issues (not 2), if you count the fairly recent "Avengers 1.5" comic by the great Roger Stern and Bruce Timm. It's one of my Top 10 favorite Avengers stories and one of my favorite comics overall. (I've always been a HUGE fan of Stern's writing and Timm's art). It is a super fun story and a must read. If you haven't read it, you owe it to yourself to do so.

I also believe it is considered to be an "official" issue that fits in between Avengers #1 and 2. In fact, on the "40 years of the Avengers" Comic Collection DVD, I was surprised and delighted to find "Avengers 1.5" on the disc right where it should be, between issues 1 and 2. So, at least as far as I'm concerned, the Hulk was an Avenger for 3 issues, not just 2.

BTW, Avengers 1.5 really illustrates how the Hulk could have actually worked for a while as a functioning member of the team. He was probably my favorite part of the issue, as he provides some truly great (and humorous) moments in the story."

To add to that, I thought you guys did a great job of covering this issue. There are so many great moments packed into this single comic. My favorite is probably when the Hulk pulls the Doom-bot's head off. "Robot?" That is just an instant classic. Oh how wish comics were still this much fun to read and look at. Oh well, at least we have our back issues.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go read this issue again. :)

Doug said...

Yes, William -- thanks for jogging my ever-fleeting memory! Your comment on Karen's Hulk essay was indeed the impetus for today's post.

I'm glad everyone liked it; and as William pointed out, if you are lucky enough to have the DVD-ROM or would part with the too-high secondary market prices to get it, this issue is indeed located right smack in 1963.

And dbutler, it is a story very reminiscent of today's Avengers cartoon. By the way, on the Avengers Assemble boards, I did see where one of the regular posters heard that the Vision will indeed be in the third season of the cartoon. Having loved almost everything that's happened so far, I'm sure they'll do a great job with him.


david_b said...

Love all the comments here.. Yes, I first saw it on the Avengers DVD and did decide to buy it today.. Can't really add more to all the comments thus far, in total agreement.

Yes, everyone.., sometimes 'You can go home again..'.

Fred W. Hill said...

Wow, count me among those who never saw this before but love it! Just based on the panels shown, the art & writing are a very good simulation of Lee/Kirby issues of that era and its fun to see the Hulk, with his brusque manners but still relatively intact intelligence, as an active member of the team. Quite a contrast to his tenure with the Defenders. And wisely, Stern avoids some of the sillier quirks of Lee & Kirby, such as having Ant Man & the Wasp grow to their regular size as the situation warrants rather than continuously remaining insect-sized even when it impedes communication or even endangers them.

dbutler16 said...

Doug, thanks for the info on the Avengers cartoon. That gives me something to look forward to. :-)

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I really like Bruce Timm's Kirby-esque art. If it were up to me the Avengers comic would continue forever like that. It's too bad Timm couldn't have done more issues with that style. It seemed like comics were fun again when I read this book. I pretty much have given up on comics thirty years ago. However I like the ones that pay homage to the 60's and 70's. A time when every book didn't have the so called "realism" of today's comics.

Anonymous said...

Nice review! This 1999 work seems inspired by Alan Moore's hilarious "1963" six-parter from 1993, where he had pastiches of Marvel characters like the Avengers (The Tomorrow Syndicate) , Fantastic Four (Miracles, Inc), Spider-Man (The Fury), Captain America (USA:Ultimate Secret Agent)and others. The ads and fake letters pages were all done in Silver Age style too but since it was a non-Marvel production the jokes were pretty biting.

Any plans for the BAB to review Moore's 1963 mini-series?

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