Monday, September 9, 2013
The Mighty Marvel Try-Out Book: Avengers 71
Avengers #71 (December 1969)
Roy Thomas-Sal Buscema/Sam Grainger
Doug: Karen and I thought it would be fun to do another series of "Marvel Firsts", although this one's sort of a do-it-ourselves. Of the books we're going to review during the rest of September, only Marvel Spotlight #5 is actually contained in the Marvel Firsts: the 1970's series of trade paperbacks (again -- get these if you haven't already!). It's interesting because we are certainly featuring characters (and one team - today) that were big in the '70's; however, three of our heroes perhaps enjoyed their greatest popularity in the 1990's. So, let's get on with it and check out Roy Thomas' first dabbling with... the Invaders!
Karen: Much like how Roy would do a "preview" of the Defenders with his "Titans Three" issues of Sub-Mariner, where he teamed Namor with the Hulk and the Silver Surfer, this issue shows how long the idea for the Invaders must have been bumping around in his fair-haired noggin. Thank goodness it finally came to be in 1975.
Doug: We open in Garrett Castle, where Dane Whitman (better known to us as the Black Knight) descends a set of stone steps to the Brazier of Truth. He has a torch in hand, and needs to light it so that he can get the answers to pressing questions. Sir Percy of Scandia, the original Black Knight, is summoned in a sort of weird seance. Sir Percy bids Dane listen, and shows him what has gone before. The Grandmaster and Kang the Conqueror have engaged in a contest of champions for the fate of the Earth. Kang chose as his warriors his enemies, the Avengers. To combat Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Grandmaster created a team known as the Squadron Sinister. Hyperion, Nighthawk, Dr. Spectrum, and the Whizzer battled the Avengers across the globe. But the Black Knight interrupted the battle between Goliath (nee Hawkeye) and the Whizzer in the streets of London. This wild card, in the eyes of the Grandmaster, negated the game and so another scenario for sport was crafted. But Kang's heart was not in the battle, only in the outcome. For what he really hoped to gain was a way to restore full life to the comatose Ravonna, his true love. Now that the Knight knew these details, he felt better equipped to further assist his heroic allies.
Karen: It's funny, I tend to think of the Knight as being a very basic hero with minimal abilities, but he's got this whole magical background, what with communing with the spirit of his ancestor. This was drawn well, just as you'd expect. Kang's pining for Ravonna also reminds me, in a different away, of Dr. Doom's softer side, where he was always trying to save the soul of his dead mother. Just another effort by Lee, Thomas, etc. to add depth to their villains I suppose.
Doug: Cut to the 41st Century,where Kang and the Grandmaster await the beginning of their "endgame". Kang monitors his latest team of champions, consisting of the Vision, Yellowjacket, and the Black Panther. These Avengers have been dropped through the timestream and have landed in 1941 Nazi-occupied Paris. They approach German guards and despatch them handily. However, the tension mounts and then explodes as fireballs scatter the Avengers. Emerging through a hole in time and space step Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, and the Original Human Torch! And what's worse -- they think they're fighting emissaries of the Nazis! So it's game on in war torn France, as "Okay, Axis -- Here We Come!" meets "Avengers Assemble!"
Karen: I love that bottom panel with the two trios squaring off. I'm sure they chose to use Cap's triangular shield to differentiate him from the modern day Cap, but I think he only used that in his first issue. That's probably been retconned a dozen times over by now. In any case, it works. Subby also has slightly different trunks than we're used to- they're not scaled, and they're darker, with green highlights.
Doug: Back in Garrett Castle, the Black Knight knows he cannot go into the past to assist his friends in Paris -- no, instead he must find a way to go into the future. Dane Whitman is one with his ebony blade -- yet it was in the hands of the Avenger Goliath when the Grandmaster transported the Avengers to the 41st Century. With the help of Sir Percy, the Knight concentrates and through just a little medieval magic emerges two millennia (and then some!) into the future. As fate would have it, Whitman arrives in the very chamber the Avengers are being held in some sort of mental stasis -- and his blade is on the floor right in front of the unconscious Goliath! Suddenly Kang's guards burst in, but the Black Knight makes short work of them. Now in possession of the ebony blade, and hearing a damsel in distress, the Black Knight cleaves a wall of the chamber to reveal Janet van Dyne Pym -- the Winsome Wasp!
Karen: This reminds me of the much-more drawn out sequence during Under Siege when Dane was captured and couldn't summon the sword to him. I hadn't realized before reading these two books that he could utilize the sword this way, as a sort of transportation method. It's interesting that he goes crashing through a wall to find Jan, as he'd develop an attraction to her later on. But what's up with that ugly checkered outfit she has on? That has to be one of the least appealing suits we've seen her in.
Doug: To Paris we're returned, and match-ups have been drawn: Cap squares off against the Panther, which is cool since T'Challa had replaced Cap on the Avengers' active roster just about 20 issues prior. YJ and Subby duke it out, and in the best match-up -- physically and certainly symbolically -- the Vision tangles with the Torch. The Avengers are reluctant to go all out, which is interesting as I think I'd put my money on the WWII heroes in the battle. But as you might guess, the lesser-powered Avengers use guile and surprise to gain the upper hand, never harming their 1940's counterparts. Hank and T'Challa finally decide that in order to win and solve the Kang problem, they have to truly defeat Cap and company. They concoct a plan that the "Invaders" never see coming -- the intangible Vision flies low and then accelerates through the WWII boys, partially solidifying as he does. We all know what that does...
Karen: The displays of fighting skills and agility between Cap and the Panther are exciting. There's nothing like watching two combatants whose main gifts are their athleticism. YJ and Namor seems like a terrible mismatch, as Subby has it all over YJ in raw power (watch him punch through a brick wall!) but YJ has some tricks up his sleeve -namely insects, and lots of them.The critters annoy Subby so much he flies off to find the nearest body of water, buying YJ a brief respite. The Vision and Torch match-up makes my head spin - are they different beings who've shared the same body? Is this the future 'Torch' returned to face himself, or is it more like his ancestor? It also seems appropriate that T'Challa is the one who takes the initiative and comes up with the plan to win. Why in the world didn't we see him leading the Avengers at some point?
Doug: Meanwhile, in the future Kang immediately claims victory, but the Grandmaster says "not so fast"-- the first match involving the Squadron Sinister had ended in a stalemate due to the interference of the Black Knight. So Kang cannot claim a full victory -- the Grandmaster instead makes him this offer: Kang can be the master of life or death. Pick one -- save the life of his beloved Ravonna, or kill the Avengers. And wouldn't you know that at that very instant the Avengers enter... and they aren't happy. But Captain America makes Kang a startling offer -- send the Avengers back to their own time and all will be forgiven. Yeah, right -- that's not exactly how guys like Kang operate. He thinks momentarily about Ravonna, and then like any egomaniac, assumes that he will himself eventually find a way to save her. So it is the power of death that he chooses!
Karen: Kang was so close to choosing life for Ravonna -but his utter hatred of the Avengers wouldn't let him do it. And you're right about the egotism -again, all very Doom-like.
Doug: We've said it 1000 times before around here -- if you're a super-baddie, and you're going to off your main enemy, JUST DO IT!! What's all the cat-and-mouse business? You guessed it -- Kang toys with Cap and the Panther, and even Thor. Then he puts a hurtin' on the whole team, dropping them where they stand -- on the very edge of death! But what he didn't count on was that the Black Knight... isn't an Avenger! Kang's beside himself, and the Knight takes advantage of his confusion. One home run swing of the flat side (natch) of the ebony blade, and Kang's down. The Knight asks how he was able to do it so easily, and the Grandmaster explains that Kang had mastery only over the Avengers -- so the Knight was not under that "plan". As Kang lay there moaning and groaning, the Grandmaster just decides to leave, sending the Avengers back to 1969 as he goes.
Karen: I know, realistically it makes no sense, other than the idea that they want their enemies to suffer so they can gloat. When you're dealing with enormous egos like this, and not common thugs, perhaps it can be forgiven. Besides, it's more exciting than a bullet to the brain. I liked how Panther and Cap charged in, and Thor protested that he should be in the vanguard! These Avengers were not short on bravery. The whole 'flat-of-my-blade' thing is tiresome but it's the problem you accept when you decide to use a sword-wielding hero in a modern super-hero setting. Unless you're fighting monsters or other non-human creatures you're stuck with non-lethal solutions, and it's somehow just less satisfactory. Although I can't complain about the Knight's look -always thought he was a groovy-looking guy.
Doug: Conan never needed no stinkin' flat of his blade. Anyway, back in our "present", the team shares relief that their ordeal is over. They also heap gratitude on their longtime ally, the Black Knight. T'Challa suggests it first, and Thor runs with it -- the Black Knight is offered, and accepts, membership in the Avengers! And then we get one of the iconic images of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, as Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger treat us to a pretty nifty pin-up to close the issue.
Karen: It's a happy ending, with a gorgeous pin-up. Those were the days, huh? Besides the heroes pictured (nine altogether), we still had Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch floating in and out of the roster. Basically eleven Avengers, not counting Hulk, who I wouldn't at this point, nor Swordsman (although both would show up for Avengers #100), nor Wonder Man, who was still considered to be dead. I really like the idea of the Avengers being the elite super-hero group, with a limited roster. I wouldn't have minded seeing it stay within about 20 heroes total. Today more characters are Avengers than aren't. We've got Secret Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, Double-Secret Probation Avengers.... it just goes on and on until there's nothing special about being an Avenger. Give me one team, and one team only. Like this one.
Doug: I loved this story! I generally like Avengers tales where Kang the Conqueror is involved, and this one really didn't disappoint. A huge kudo to Roy Thomas for his scripting of the battle between "the Invaders" and the team that was sent to 1941 Paris. It's been well-documented that the Golden Age comic books were heavily influential on a young Thomas, and he really shows his love by virtually reproducing the sort of dialogue we'd have seen way back when. I also want to dote on the art -- those of us who loved Sal Buscema's tenure on Captain America, that would come a few years hence, get a nice taste of what that would look like. Karen and I were privileged to receive a comment from Sam Grainger's daughter on the BAB last week, and I'll toss additional kudos his way for the inking of Sal in this story -- top-notch stuff. This is just a really solid issue from that peak on which you look down one side at the Silver Age, and the other toward the Bronze Age. Oh yeah -- and Spider-Man and Wolverine aren't ever going to be Avengers in my Marvel Universe!