Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Bronze Age Civil War?

Redartz: greetings, one and all! This week brings the latest Marvel cinematic offering to our waiting eyes, "Captain America: Civil War". In honor of this event, we will today look at an earlier period of conflict between  Cap and his Civil War opponent, Iron Man; specifically, the arc involving Avengers 162-170. Plus, there'll  be a little poser afterwards for your consideration.

Jim Shooter was the Avengers' scribe during this period, and George Perez handled most of the artwork. Notable other illustrators included George Tuska (issue 163) and John Byrne (issues 165 and 166). Pablo Marcos was the inker for this run, I found him particularly effective over Tuska's pencils.

Reading this stack of books left me amazed at how much story was covered within the covers. There were plots and sub-plots which would extend all the way into the 180's! Foes included Ultron, Typhon, the Lethal Legion,  Count Nefaria and Korvac/Michael (this last storyline would run up to issue 177 by itself). Shooter was masterful at weaving many threads together, and packing a lot into a 17-page story. One of those threads is the subject we will look at today.

Throughout this arc, there was a fair amount of underlying tension among the Avengers. The Beast was having self-doubt issues and was frustrated by his seeming lack of contribution to the team's efforts. Wonder Man also had doubts (he questioned the usefulness of Hawkeye in one scene and was quickly chastised by Thor),  and struggled with fear of defeat. Iron Man was chairman, and his frequent absences were causing friction among the team as well (at this time his identity as Tony Stark was still unknown to the team). Captain America had recently lost his added strength (as told in Cap 218), a fact also unknown by the others. Hawkeye was still in the west, and Thor's inconsistent appearances were also a source of concern. Against the backdrop of all this, some tempers were beginning to fray.
We begin in issue 162, with the Avengers facing Ultron. In attempting to stop Ultron, Iron Man held the robot's intended bride (the newly-created Jocasta) and threatened to destroy her. His bluff worked, and Ultron left. But that action didn't sit well with the Black Panther, and when T'challa tried to bring it up, Iron Man brusquely stifled him...

Issue 163 was largely a fill-in, but a major plot point was the Beast's being held captive , forcing Iron Man to perform  Typhon's intended attack upon Hercules and the Champions. Again, the Beast was left questioning his actual value to the team.

This led directly into issue 164, when things start getting uglier. Opening this story, Tony Stark, Hank Pym and the Panther are analyzing Wonder Man.They do a great job of ignoring Hank McCoy's attempts to contribute, and the Beast leaves in a huff.


Shortly thereafter the Lethal Legion attack, forcing the Avengers into battle outside the mansion. The fight isn't pretty, the Wasp and Panther are both put out of action. The Scarlet Witch manages to stop the Legion, who then promptly escape. Tchalla blames himself, when Captain America tells him not to worry: the whole team has been underperforming lately.

Back at the mansion, a meeting is held, and Iron Man's absence as leader brings sharp comments form Wanda and Cap. Said meeting was abruptly interrupted by the returning Legion, however.


By 165, Count Nefaria has appeared, taking over for his flunkies (the now-defeated Lethal Legion). The Avengers are still short-handed, the Vision injured, Hawkeye still gone and no Thor or Iron Man. Nefaria is giving the team a rough go, dropping a building on them.  At this point Iron Man shows up, and tries to get the team to back off while he attacks. This causes Yellowjacket and Cap to question whether the team is actually functioning as such, and Wanda tells Stark to "Lead us...or step down"

In issue 166, Thor suddenly appears and joins the battle against Nefaria. Wanda lets him know she's had enough of his last-minute appearances. After the fight is over, Iron Man also takes Thor to task for his absences. This brings a scathing response from Cap, telling him "this team has hit bottom while you've been our leader in absentia". Yellowjacket steps in, though, and postpones the 'discussion'. By the way, apologies for the drastic difference in appearance of that page; all other pages are scans from the original books while the page from 166 comes to us via Comixology (lacking that issue in the longbox...).

Issue 167 opens with Nick Fury summoning the Avengers' aid in space, where a huge ship has appeared (containing the Guardians of the Galaxy, incidentally) , seemingly destined to collide with and wreck the SHIELD satellite. Iron Man is on board the satellite with Fury as Tony Stark, and so is delayed in joining the team. This holds up the mission, and when he arrives Cap reads him the riot act. Tony tells him to "shut up and get into the ship".

Cap is obviously still ticked; when they enter the mystery ship he proceeds to issue orders to the team, catching leader Iron Man off guard.
 Thor later tells IM not to let it trouble him, but Stark worries to himself that things are getting dangerously personal.

Things come to a head in 168, Cap and Iron Man sniping at each other on the way back to Earth. Upon returning to Avengers Mansion, the team finds agent Peter Gyrich waiting for them, having gained easy entrance to the headquarters. Gyrich blasts the team for it's lack of security, and even Wanda notes Cap's displeasure. Iron Man attempts to reassure Jarvis that Gyrich's entry wasn't the butler's fault, saying "it's nobody's fault". That does it for Cap: he lays into Iron Man for faulty leadership, even calling him a "low life mercenary".

He slugs the Golden Avenger, and the two square off. Thor holds Tony back, and Wanda separates the two. She then rakes Cap over for his own lack of effective contribution. Cap stalks off, and IM apologizes to the embarrassed Guardians (who had been uncomfortable witnesses to the whole display).

Finally, in 170, the tensions are resolved. Cap is grumpily exercising, and not having any of the Beast's small talk. Iron Man enters, stating that he wishes to say a few things. Cap figures he is about to get an earful about his own inadequacies. Instead, Tony apologizes, for his failings, and offers to step down as leader. They open up to each other about their mutual concerns, and Cap sums it up : "You lead, I'll follow".  

That's a lot of drama for a storyline covered in a few panels and scattered pages over 8 issues. Each member of the team was involved at some point, and the conflict over Iron Man's leadership manifested itself both in dialogue and in the action. Some of these stories qualify as classics, and the story and artwork were excellent throughout.  Jim Shooter did a fine job balancing Iron Man's frustration at being preoccupied with Cap's building resentment over IM and his own lack of effectiveness. And true to the characters, they resolved the fight with discussion and mutual trust. I must say reading up for this post was a pleasure; this title was definitely enjoying a high point creatively.

Which brings us to this question : how might this storyline have worked out differently? It featured Shooter and Perez both at the top of their games. If , say, Steve Englehart or John Byrne plotted this arc ,what might have been the result? Would the two teammates still have buried the hatchet, or might a wider conflict have broken out? Would it have held up if expanded and presented as a stand-alone series (such as Civil War)? Do they even read as the same characters about to square off on the big screen? Your thoughts, please...


Humanbelly said...

Five stars, Redartz-- excellent, excellent post.

This subplot (one of many, as you pointed out-!) is soooo much easier to follow now, when it can be consumed in a sitting or two, than it was when the book was actually coming out once a month. The writing was often subtler and more nuanced than such a slow installment rate could fully support. I.e.-- the medium wasn't quite strong enough to support the fine work it was presenting, y'know? It took me awhile at the time to catch onto the whole Thor-pops-up-from-nowhere angle, 'cause you'd just lose track of things like that with the passage of time, f'rinstance.

This may have been one of the most successful Superheroes-as-real-people-in-the-workplace efforts out there, I think. In a situation where no one is delighted with how things are running, really, but they're still coming to work, 'cause the job's important. My biggest problem at the time was with how Shooter was writing Cap. This was so far-flung from the level-headed, straight-talking, problem-solving Captain America that was practically a given in absolutely every situation that he was almost unrecognizable to me. Cap resorting to back-biting? Cap losing his temper during an argument over duty/responsibility and throwing the first punch?? Even given that he'd lost his short-lived foray into super-strengthdom, Cap was never the type to exhibit this sort of mental imbal-- oh wait. If one goes back to Cap's first year or so in the Avengers, there's PLENTY o' precedent for Steve's struggling to keep the pins in his mental hinges. It did finally occur to me that consistent characterization doesn't mean a character behaves the same way ALL OF THE TIME, but rather that they exist within a broader range of possible behaviors, and that sometimes they'll be at their best, and sometimes at their worst. (I.M. telling to Cap to "shut up", for example-- geeze, not a tactic you'll find in many good-management handbooks. . . )

The test? If we took the superheroics out of the equation, would this drama still hold up? And I think, yes, it most definitely would.

HB (reminded of why I love(d) comics so much!)

Anonymous said...

Cool post, Redartz. It's been a long time since I read these, so I don't have much to say. I think this "team tension" ended up being overshadowed by the Korvac Saga, but it's good character work by Shooter.

As for how things might be different with other writers, that's hard to say. Englehart might have brought the conflict into the foreground and made it part of the main storyline, maybe even splintering the team (at least that seemed to be a theme in Englehart's later writing). Byrne...I don't know, he might've jettisoned Cap and Tony and focused on some of the "lesser" characters, like Wanda or Beast. I always liked Beast as an Avenger, so the more page time he got, the better, as far as I'm concerned!

Mike Wilson

Martinex1 said...

I really enjoyed this post Redartz. This is by far my favorite eras of the Avengers and 164 is probably my favorite single issue for a myriad of reasons. Looking back at it, I was most impressed by the levels of characterization that played in the background. I feel that other creators, rather than letting it simmer, would have escalated those more subtle conflicts to the main event. Surely in today's comic styles the workplace battles for leadership would have been headlining cover material. I like the entirety of it, Cap's frustration in things not being handled his way, Iron Man recognizing to a degree it is his fault and responsibility but wielding his authority when needed, Scarlet Witch trying to mitigate while clearly understanding both sides.

HB made some great points about Cap. But what is funny is that in a way this is my perfect Cap. His impatience with lack of leadership and in his opinion not taking a life and death job seriously is at the core of what I think about Cap's sense of responsibility. He feels the team has gotten a bit lax, unfocused, and sloppy. His blood was boiling because in the midst of what he considered Tony's lack of attention people were at risk.

But my favorite thing is that after months of simmering, it was resolved in relatively short and satisfactory order. It was about understanding, recognizing differences, strengths, and vulnerabilities. It strengthened the team. The issues with the Beast fitting in, struggling with his appearance, his lack of self-worth, hiding behind humor, and ultimately finding friendship and family in the Avengers was just as satisfying.

I wonder how thought out this was ahead of time or if the creators threw in filler character moments and it just blossomed correctly. Either way it really worked in my opinion.

For your challenge, I think Englehart would have had Mantis and the plant Swordsman somehow involved, probably with "this one" kicking Cap and creating some kind of elixer to soothe them both. Byrne would have had it escalate because Scarlet Witch would not be able to intervene because secretly she is working with Immortus while simultaneously trying to fix her toaster husband.

All in all, nice way to kick off the week Redartz.

Redartz said...

Live update from the convention floor:
Thanks, guys, for the wonderful comments so far! Coming to you from the Indiana Con; just met Jim Shooter! A great gentleman to talk to, very generous with his attention. He added a couple comments for our topic today:
Regarding the cover to Avengers 161, he grinningly commented "George, ants have six legs. George likes to add detail."
He also mentioned that Perez provided a lot of input in the story, that there was a great deal of interplay. He mentioned the scene with Jocasta at the convent- George's doing...
I asked him if he had a favorite character from that period, and he answered simply that the Avengers were his fave...

Humanbelly said...

Shooter's comment about Perez is rather revealing, there, Redartz. In interviews, George always comes across as having a wonderful, personal, parental connection to the characters that he draws-- he's very invested in them as people. And it would totally fit that he'd be the fellow cultivating a lot of these more personal, inner-life threads. . . or at the very least fleshing them out fully from the germs of discussed ideas.

Redartz! Go back and ask Jim what he thinks the balance was! Sort of like the John/Paul who-wrote-what? discussion!


Martinex1 said...

Redartz that is so cool. I wish I could have made it to Indiana. Knowing Jim Shooter is there just ices it. He is one of my all time favorite writers because of this Avengers run. I've never met him and would like to tell him I appreciate the depth of characterization and overlapping plot developments. A really strong era for Marvel in my opinion. I think George Perez is on site too. Cheers.

Edo Bosnar said...

Great post, Redartz; that's an interesting subsidiary story-line during an excellent run of Avengers. Like others here, I am quite fond of Shooter's first tenure as the chief writer on the series. And yes, I like the sort of "office politics" aspect he added to the storytelling. (Also, how cool that you got to meet him, and it's so awesome that he took a little time to chat with you.)
As for your question, I'm guessing Englehart probably would have ran with the whole conflict between the two characters, although it's been so long since I've read any of his Avengers stories that I won't venture to guess the direction it would have taken. As for Byrne, I honestly think he would have had the two bury the hatchet rather quickly. He always seemed to have this thing about "proper characterization," and I'm sure he would have depicted Cap differently - more like he was in his run on the Cap title with Roger Stern.

Ward Hill Terry said...

I'm another fan of this particular run, mostly because that was when I was first a regular buyer of The Avengers. Thanks for the focus on the Cap/IM story, Redartz. I would have been tempted to start a few issues earlier with IM's inaction regarding the Vision/Wonder Man conflict. Shooter was very carefully laying out reasons for characters' behaviors and the inter-team conflicts that would be the result of those behaviors. For me, as one who was not reading Iron Man or Captain America, this defined those characters, especially IM's real attempts at being reasonable and level-headed. I have no fondness for Jocasta as a character or for the Michael/Korvac finale, but I love this run of stories and sub-plots! One more thing! In the samples provided by Redartz, which Avenger is the most logical, reasoned, long-game player? Yellowjacket. Even with the inconclusive follow-up to the recent Ant-Man breakdown, here is the Hank Pym that I prefer. In this arc Thor is unpredictable, IM is unreliable, Cap is moody, Vision is removed, Jan and Wanda do not prefer to be assertive. Hank Pym is the Avenger you can count on.

Martinex1 said...

I joked above about Englehart and Byrne, but Edo makes a great point. John Byrne was always respectful of the characters and their motivations. His later work while writing the Avengers was quite good. I liked the Acts of Vengeance.plot and the characterizations within. Also his run writing Iron Man was a very good representation of Stark as well.

Another good subplot of the issues Redartz highlights is Wonder Man battling his fear of dying, his acceptance of his ionic makeup, his dealings with the Vision and the Beast.

Unknown said...

Intriguing post, Redartz. Very interesting interpretation of the internecine strife amongst the Avengers. I'll have to dig out those classic "Nefaria Supreme," "Bride of Ultron," and "Korvac Saga" issues and peruse them again thoroughly. Iron Man's arrogant attitude is grating enough to wear down even the professional Cap't America's patience. Plus, that George Perez artwork is stellar--can't go wrong with Perez's pencils.

Thomas F.

The Prowler said...

It was a good solid run. I'm missing four issues in that run, 163, 169, and 172. Wait a minute, that's three. Hold on, I need to go redo my taxes..........

IMO, Cap just seemed wrong during that run. I know it had to fit the story, but it was just wrong. When he ran to the hole and got in Wanda's way just seemed way to rookie for a Master of Combat Judo, a man well steeped in strategy and tactics.

The panel where Beast scoops up the barbell that Steve had been struggling to curl and makes the point about putting it away has always been a favorite. As for Hank, McCoy, not Pym, being in that august of company, strong but not IM or Thor or Wonder Man or Vision strong, smart, but not wicked smart like IM or Pym, it might seem that all he has left is his bouncing. That would hit anyone where they lived.

I did like the scene/panel where Cap jumps off the building to get in front of Jocasta and stop the other Avengers from preventing her leaving.

Hey, was this run in with the Count where they all catch the ball and throw it into the water? Am I remembering that right?

What would Byrne have done? Hmmmm..... Wanda would have a pony tail. The Wasp would have a returned to a classic costume. Oh, and there would be some reason to bring back the "classic" quinjet.........

(Johnny and Jenny had a crazy dream
See their pictures in a magazine
Every little boy needs a girl
Pop goes the world

Jenny and Johnny getting smart, it seemed
Make more money on a movie screen
Every little nest needs a bird
Pop goes the world).

P.S. still with the hatred of Windows 10.......

Redartz said...

Sorry I'm late getting back to everyone; had a long drive home from the con...
HB- sadly, I couldn't get back to follow up with Jim Shooter. I spent over 90 min. in line trying to see George Perez, unfortunately in vain. But Jim left no doubt about the great input George had, and his smile showed how much he valued it.

Martinex- yes, it was a pleasure to meet and chat with Shooter. And I made a point to thank him for providing us with such a great read, and complimented him on the story and the artwork as well...

Ward Hill Terry- quite right; one could start the discussion several issues prior. It really struck me, researching and rereading this series for the first time in decades. just how good it was, and how intricate the plot threads were weaving. And good point about Hank Pym; he did seem the voice of reason!

Prowl- I checked back into those issues, and saw nothing about a ball. Does seem familiar, but it's too much for my sporadic memory...

Enjoying all your comments about the different approaches others might have had. I rather think Edo put it well, about Byrne and his attention to character.

Thanks to everyone for your excellent comments! Working on this post was a 'labor of love'; and today's con was just icing on the cake. It all reminds me why I so LOVE comics!

Doug said...

Prowler --

I think you're referring to the end of Avengers #159, where the team defeats Graviton. In the scene that may have inspired the climactic struggle in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Graviton lifted an entire city into the sky. When it fell, and I cannot recall the details, it was condensed into this huge ball. If memory serves, and again -- it may not, Thor, Iron Man, Wonder Man, and the Vision caught it and hurled it out to sea.

Avengers #160 featured the Grim Reaper and Wonder Man and the Vision on trial. Then with #161 the "Bride of Ultron" story began.

Agreed with many who have said this was a high point in the Avengers book. From the crossover with Super-Villain Team-Up through the Korvac Saga, the book was as good as anything else on sale. It may be my personal "golden age" for the title.

Kudos to Redartz for a great post and for stimulating today's conversation. Thanks!


pfgavigan said...


Oh, man. I had completely forgotten the tensions that Shooter and Perez had introduced into the Avengers during their run. A lot of it may seem cliche today after a thousand and one writers and artists turned internal dysfunction into a standard plot device, but at the time it was fairly unique.

Yeah, I agree that it can seem jarring for Captain America to be acting OOC, but I can allow this as I've never met anyone capable of being 100 percent consistent 100 percent of the time. The Beast sense of inadequacy bothered me more at the time, but I can see how group dynamics could shuffle him to the sideline.

Pretty good stuff Maynard.

In regards to the MCU conflict between Iron Man and Captain America, I think it can come down to Tony Stark's inability to recognize a basic truth. When he said to Steve during their Loki induced confrontation during The Avengers "Everything special about you came out of a bottle.", I believe he was telling the truth as he saw it. He thinks it the serum induced abilities that allowed Rogers to become Captain America. He never knew that it was Rogers' own character and beliefs, the fact that Rogers was 'a good man,' as Erskine repeatedly stated, that allowed a super-soldier to become something more than a hyper-advanced killing machine.

Good job Redartz and thanks for the convention tidbits, share more of your experiences with us if you can.



Anonymous said...

I'll echo the previous comments in saying that this is a great post.
Friction and disharmony are the essence of drama, so I thought it was a great arc, and the Perez pencils speak for themselves. A pleasure to look at these pages again, without going down the stone steps into my crypt with torch in hand to dig up my old comics. (I think there are bats down there.)
I notice the Prowler is still among us. I might remind him that quoting Men Without Hats lyrics is technically illegal in this country, punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both. My sister is a lawyer.

Redartz said...

Doug-I fully agree with you on the high quality of the Avengers during that period. At the time, it was my favorite title, even beating out my beloved Amazing Spiderman and the X-Men.

PFG- a final con update: It was disappointing not to meet Perez, but Jim was great. Also met Marv Wolfman and June Bridgman ( artist and co-creator of "Power Pack" with Louise Simonson). Spoke with Mark Ward and praised him for his work on the new Archie title (which is very enjoyable). Big highlight of the day was getting a sketch of the Thing from Ron Wilson. He too was quite gracious.
Had fun watching some cosplay, and picked up a few back issues ( including one of those scarce "Sugar and Spike" issues, and several other goodies. A great day, made even better by all today's kind responses...

Redartz said...

That should be "Mark Waid" above; rassafrassin' autocorrect...

pfgavigan said...


Redartz . . . you picked up some Sugar and Spike!! Score.

Maybe someday we can do a column about the great books that came to an end during the Bronze Age. Humor titles disappeared from the Big Two and both companies were poorer for it.



Edo Bosnar said...

Holy cow! You also met Wolfman, Bridgeman, Waid and got a sketch from Ron Wilson?! Jeez, that would have taken away quite a bit of the sting of missing out on Perez for me...

Redartz said...

PFG- great idea for a future post; actually two; Bronze Age endings and humor books...

Edo- yes, my disappointment was eased greatly. I'll have a bit more to say about all that soon, "stay tuned for further developments"...

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