Avengers #19 (August 1965)
"The Coming of... The Swordsman!"
Stan Lee-Don Heck/Dick Ayers
Doug: Today I'm going to let you in on a bit of history -- this is the first comic book I remember getting. I received it as a gift. My memory is really murky -- I cannot recall who gave it to me or where I was. I know my family was visiting another family, and they had a daughter who was maybe a year or so older than me; she gave me the book -- ask me to tell you her name and we'll both be disappointed. This must have been in 1971 or 1972, as I know it was before my family moved to Milwaukee in the summer between my 1st and 2nd grade years. So I suppose that's not very good history after all, is it(?), especially since the copy I own is not the one I was given over 40 years ago! But I hope that sort of introspection will inspire our readers to not only comment on today's story, but to share similar remembrances of first comics past. The cover image above is from my copy, which is certainly not my original -- this is an upgraded replacement. The back cover is a light tan instead of bright white, but you can see that the front is really nice. All corners are sharp and the spine is pretty tight -- too tight, to be honest. Can you make out that it's stapled off-center? See the staple running through the Pop Art box, rather than lined up on the spine as a saddle-stitched magazine should be? Oh, and yes -- it does have that lovely smell of almost-50-year old newsprint. Man, I took a big sniff when I removed the book from its protective sleeve!
Doug: We open with the Swordsman swinging by a rope affixed to his waist, sword extended. He thinks to himself that with an Avengers ID card, he can do anything! On the very next page, Wanda sits in repose while Pietro fidgets, wanting action. As if on cue, the intruder alarm sounds, and Pietro jets away to investigate. Finding the Swordsman in one of the Mansion's control rooms, Pietro attacks. He finds that the Swordsman is no slouch, and that his blade is especially dangerous -- and as seemingly versatile as Captain America's shield. Wanda enters and launches one of her mysterious hexes -- unfortunately, while it throws the Swordsman off-balance, it also causes Quicksilver to trip and stumble into some of the computer banks. The Swordsman, sensing that Pietro is about to launch some defensive device, hurls his sword into the equipment, where it sticks. Pietro then launches a flurry of punches, but the Swordsman falls and feigns defeat. He tells the young mutants that he wants to join them. As Wanda and her brother stand with mouths agape, the Swordsman maneuvers himself over to his blade, where he withdraws it from the wall and smites Pietro with the flat side. Felled, his sister comes to his aid with a hex that pulls chunks of metal from the wall and knocks the Swordsman unconscious. At that point, Captain America enters to see what all the ruckus is about. As Wanda relates the events of the fracas, Cap runs the Swordsman's name through their security computers. They find that he is one of the most notorious rogues in Europe.
Doug: Upon Cap's revelation, we see a sword flash, and the lights go out. Coming right up on the back-up generators, the Swordsman is nowhere to be found. Wanda and Pietro say they could capture him in a flash; Cap tells them to go ahead, that they've been craving action. I thought this was a little strange, as my view of Cap in these days was as a protective father figure, even in spite of all the hassle he always got from Pietro and Hawkeye. But he tells them to go, and then heads back to the gym. While putting himself through a rigorous work-out, he thinks to himself that he's agitated with Nick Fury for not answering his letter of request to join SHIELD. Just then, Hawkeye enters the gym and makes his typical smart aleck greeting. Cap tells him that he'd missed some excitement, from a guy named the Swordsman. Hawkeye recoils, telling Cap that's the one guy he used to fear! At Cap's urging, Hawkeye then narrates what would be his origin for years to come -- and since Stan Lee is the scripter of this tale, you just know it involves a circus! A teenaged Hawkeye was an apprentice to the circus's main attraction -- the Swordsman! However, the Swordsman was crooked, and when Hawkeye caught his mentor stealing the gate receipts, their falling-out was immediate. Seeking to run away, the Swordsman instead trailed his protege and cornered him on the high wire. Hawkeye turned to fight, but the Swordsman was too talented, and ruthless. He slashed the tightrope with his blade, and for his purposes Hawkeye had died that day. But the rope had somehow broken his fall, and the Swordsman had no idea that the Hawkeye in the Avengers had been his former partner.
Doug: We switch to an office window in Washington, DC, where a couple of Hydra agents spy on the office of Col. Nick Fury. They see an envelope on Fury's desk, with a return address that says only "The Avengers". Using a ray gun, the baddies zap the envelope, causing it to disappear. However, it magically reappears across the street, right in their yellow-gloved hands! They open it, and see that it's Cap's request to join SHIELD! Actually disappointed in what they've found, they angrily crumple it and chuck it out the window. It lands at the feet of a passerby, who picks it up (raise your hand if you pick up papers that mysteriously drop from above and land at your feet). We then scene-switch to a "sleazy section of the sprawling city", and here's where Stan loses me geographically. The Hydra guys were in DC when they tossed the letter, yet the goons assembled when the letter comes up again are in NYC -- now we aren't told that the letter's holder (who looks an awful lot like Daily Bugle columnist Jacob Conover) was ever in DC, so the time and space issue is vexing. Anyway, the letter holder arranges a meeting with the Swordsman, who agrees to pay for the letter after he's trapped Captain America.
Doug: At the Mansion, Cap literally jumps for joy when he reads the "reply" from Nick Fury he's waited so long for. But his fellows aren't so giddy. In fact, Cap is immediately questioned by Quicksilver and Hawkeye as to his commitment to the Avengers. They argue, but the two youngsters quickly back down, each fancying himself as the team's next leader. Wanda picks up on this, and is wary. Later that night, Hawkeye's out on patrol and comes across a couple of punks up to know good. Hawkeye engages them and makes short work of their operation. But, one of the punks gets nervous and starts to talk -- knowing Hawkeye is an Avenger, he confesses to selling the Swordsman the letter, which in turn brought about the bogus letter sent to Cap! Hawkeye wraps up the operation with the cops, and then heads back to the Mansion. He actually gives some thought to not helping Winghead, but then thinks a little more valiantly about his status as an Avenger and hightails it back to Wanda and Pietro. Trouble is, Cap had left some time ago, and since the air had been a bit frosty between everyone, he'd not said where he was heading.
Doug: Cap enters a large warehouse and thinks that Fury must be crazy for using such a place as his office. Suddenly the Swordsman appears above him and goads Cap into a fight. Feeling like a fool for believing the phony letter, Cap launches his shield, which the Swordsman is able to parry and capture. Now "helpless", Cap takes to the shadows. Circling the Swordsman, Cap topples a bunch of empty cartons onto his enemy. Having created the diversion, Cap then swoops down to ground level and recovers his shield. The Swordsman attacks without mercy, stunned at how good Cap is. Back at the Mansion, Cap's teammates try frantically to reach him via different transmitter frequencies. Hawkeye and Quicksilver begin to get stressed at each other, when they remember to check the tracing beam that would signal to Cap's belt buckle. Connecting with the signal, the three hop in a car (Wha? No quinjet? Nope -- not yet!) and head across town.
Doug: Back at the warehouse, the battle continues. The Swordsman commandeers a forklift and begins to push all sort of crates and debris after Cap. Cap's able to evade most of the attacks, and even maneuvers himself to the cab of the vehicle. As he leans in for a couple of solid punches, the Swordsman sends the forklift careening into a large stack of crates, which fall onto Cap -- knocking him down, and out. Gloating, the Swordsman picks up his fallen adversary and enters an elevator. At that same time, the rest of the Avengers arrive at the building across the street. Pietro runs a reconnaissance while Hawkeye and Wanda make their way to the roof. Suddenly they see, across the street, that the Swordsman has a bound Captain America on a plank. With his sword in Cap's back, the Swordsman tells the team they have ten seconds to name the Swordsman their new leader -- or Cap gets it in the back, where the subsequent fall will most certainly kill him. As Cap shouts to his teammates to never surrender, Hawkeye actually says out loud that even though he wanted to be rid of Cap he never imagined it would be like this! Pietro says they have no choice but to take the Swordsman's deal; and then Cap falls off the plank! Or, does he jump? The three youngsters realize that he did it for them -- never surrender!
Doug: What a way to enter the world of comic books! At around this same time I also had a JLA-JSA crossover and a Disney digest full of comics and Disneyland photos. But this one stood out, and it still does. It was about two years later that I discovered the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon in reruns, and was able to relive this story in "action" -- I fell in love all over again. And hey -- what's not to like? These characters seemed like real people, the danger true, the emotions raw. There's action, intrigue, and human relationships aplenty. And a huge shout-out to the art team of Don Heck and Dick Ayers, both of whom I've maligned at times on this blog and our former Two Girls... blog. We've discussed around here whose art we see when thinking of our favorite heroes. Don Heck's Captain America is what comes to my mind first. I just love the way he draws the chain mail (although as a 6-year old I mistook those lines for feathers!) and I additionally really like the lighter blue of Cap's uniform. The cover is great as well, with the powerful Kirby-drawn Swordsman juxtaposed with the Heck-drawn floating heads. This is a very comfortable story for me. I don't know what ever happened to the first copy of Avengers #19 that I'd been given, but I always knew that I'd replace it some day with a nice copy -- and this is it.