Thursday, February 19, 2015

Avengers History 102

We’re back with more Avengers history! The charter members were covered before, and this time, we look at the first Avenger addition…Captain America, and the rest of his kooky quartet (Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver…and a little more as well)!

You’ve seen comics advertise themselves as being the story after which you’ve read it, nothing will be the same….but, with Avengers #4 (March 1964), this was most definitely the case. The founding Avengers were looking for the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner (due to events in Avengers #3, covered last time), and Namor himself, while fleeing the team…stumbled across a frozen man worshiped by Eskimos, and freed the ice statue to land in warmer waters…to be found by the Avengers! That man was the hero of World War II…Steve Rogers, a.k.a Captain America!

A Hero Returns

After a little confusion, as he had been in the ice flow since April of 1945, Cap was welcomed by the team (who he saved from an alien menace, with some help from Rick Jones), and became a team member in this story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This issue (along with Fantastic Four #4, which reintroduced the Sub-Mariner, added the Timely Comics/Atlas Comics history to the young Marvel Comics…though this would not be explored until later…but, we’ll touch on it a little as it affects the Avengers).

Captain America (along with his partner Bucky, and seemingly eternal foe, the Red Skull), all premiered in Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, where Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes began their fight against the evil Axis of World War II. Steve Rogers had been a young man not quite fit enough to serve in the armed forces, but volunteered for an experimental Super-Soldier Serum with Dr. Erskine that would allow him to be the epitome of the fighting soldier. Cap, along with young Bucky, became an elite force fighting the enemy (Cap getting his round Vibranium-Adamantium shield soon after this first appearance, then meeting up with the original android Human Torch and his young partner, Toro and the aquatic Sub-Mariner and others to fight the Nazi menace; and these Invaders were successful).

But, because you ask…why didn’t the Sub-Mariner recognize Cap? And, wasn’t there a Captain America around after World War II? Well, that’s a little advanced, but the Invaders didn’t really come into existence until the 1970s with stories set in World War II, facing foes like the vampiric Baron Blood and the Super-Axis, and the lack of memories was later explained by Sub-Mariner’s massive memory loss that had him homeless for a time until found by the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch and the trauma of Steve Rogers awakening, and those later Timely Comics were explained away as being different people being Captain America and Bucky (who also worked with the Human Torch, Toro and the Sub-Mariner, as well as the Whizzer and Miss America in the All-Winners Squad)…even though Steve Rogers and James Barnes disappeared, the President decided the USA still needed a Captain America and Bucky, and so recruited replacements, a theme that would be explored many times as well).

Avengers #4 also introduced one of Captain America’s most vile villains, Baron Zemo, but we didn’t see him until Avengers #6 (Zemo was the man responsible for the rocket launch that ended up getting Cap caught in the ice…and, to all the world, the death of Bucky; and he had an earlier WWII appearance in Sgt. Fury #8, both dated July 1964). Cap had to deal with others from the World War II era as well…both friends and foes, over the years, including the various members of the homefront heroes – the Liberty Legion (older Timely characters whose 1940s adventures together were started in the 1970s), Nick Fury and the rest of his Howling Commandos (WWII characters whose combat classics started in 1963, and Nick Fury took control of the counter-terrorist group S.H.I.E.L.D. in Strange Tales) , and villains like Baron Von Strucker, the Hate-Monger and Arnim Zola, as well as Third Reich inspired menaces such as Hydra and A.I.M., proving that, even though Captain America had cooled his heels for a time, evil was still active!

Cap and the Avengers didn’t have much of a break, as the team headed over to help the Fantastic Four against the Hulk in Fantastic Four #25 & 26 (April & May 1964, by Lee & Kirby), then came back to their own title for Avengers #5 (May 1964) to fight the Lava Men, a race that lived under the Earth whom Thor had fought before. And, the individual team members still continued to face menaces on their own in their own titles, and other events continued to transpire across the Marvel Universe as well which would change the lives of the Avengers…

Then, Cap’s foe, Baron Heinrich Zemo returned in Avengers #6 (July 1964), and changed the course of Avengers history, bringing with him Iron Man foe-the Melter, Thor villain-the Radioactive Man and Giant-Man menace-the Black Knight, assembled as the Masters of Evil! This team would add on more members, starting with Avengers #7 (August 1964), when Asgardians Enchantress and the Executioner joined. This team continued to menace the Avengers, resulting in the creation of Wonder Man (a future Avenger, and the first member to be introduced in the Avengers) in Avengers #9 (October 1964), working with time-traveling villain Immortus in Avengers #10 (November 1964), and Captain America finally ending Baron Zemo’s life (though Zemo had brought about his own end in the jungles of South America, as Cap would have brought him to justice) in Avengers #15 (April 1965).

The Avengers also faced other foes, starting in September 1964, with the time-traveling Kang in Avengers #8 (another time traveller? And, this one was once Rama-Tut, who faced the Fantastic Four, who decided on an armored identity after meeting Dr. Doom…surely his history couldn’t get more complex…he couldn’t be related to Immortus or a member of the Fantastic Four, could he?), who returned for Avengers #11 (December 1964); Fantastic Four foes Red Ghost and the Mole Man in Avengers #12 (January 1965); head of the Maggia family of organized crime Count Nefaria in Avengers #13 (February 1965); and the alien Kallusians in Avengers #14 (March 1965). With the events of Avengers #15…the team was getting exhausted (as was the behind the scenes team, artist Jack Kirby had not been doing all the issue, Don Heck was sometimes the artist)…and ready for new members, as the members began to battle each other on occasion!

Cap's Kooky Quartet

More new members came with Avengers #16 (May 1965) in what was the biggest Avengers membership shake-up of the time. Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man and the Wasp all wanted to get back to their own lives (and titles…though sadly, Giant-Man and the Wasp weren’t to have Tales To Astonish as a home for much longer…), and the team added new members…Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye?

But…weren’t they all villains?

And, how would this team do against the level of threats the Avengers usually face?
Well, the answers are coming….first, though a few answers about of this team’s past!

Amazing Archer

First up is the amazing archer, Hawkeye. Hawkeye first slung his bow in Tales of Suspense #57 (in September, 1964, and, with Black Widow making her first Avengers appearance in Avengers #16, but still not joining…mostly because she was injured, and taken away, leaving Hawkeye on his own). Clint Barton had learned his trade in the circus, and wanted to be a hero, but a misunderstanding helped him miss the mark…and branded him a villain for a time, battling Iron Man under the manipulations of the Black Widow, whom he fell in love with (herself caught in a web of intrigue that would take her years to escape…with some help from Nick Fury and the Avengers!).

Still, after crossing paths with the armored Avenger (and a certain wall-crawler as well) and a little help from the Avengers’ butler, Edwin Jarvis, Hawkeye became the second new member of the Avengers, having his crimes cleared! (How ironic, since later, Hawkeye, on a break from the Avengers, worked with the Defenders, who were composed of the Hulk, Silver Surfer and Sub-Mariner – who were thought of menaces; and later, as leader of the Thunderbolts, a team whose members also tried to get past troubled pasts!). Hawkeye would leave the team to strike out on his own over the years, change to other identities, but always returned, and even led their California team, the West Coast Avengers, for a time.

Merry Mutants

Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch started in X-Men #4 (March 1964, by Lee & Kirby…and, do you see four as an important number to this creative duo?) as members of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (along with the bestial Toad and aloof Mastermind). The brother and sister were mutants on the run (easier for him, with his speed powers, but not as easier for her, with a vague “hex-power” that altered probability…and an affinity for magic).

Pietro and Wanda Maximoff were gypsy orphans, saved from an angry mob by Magneto, and forced to join his Brotherhood against their wishes. The mutant twins fought the X-Men and others (and their own teammates) while struggling to find a place in a world that feared them, lacking any parental support (and, oh, how complicated their past was!). After the alien Stranger took Magneto out of the picture and the Brotherhood disbanded for a time, they were looking for a home…one that they thought the Avengers, who had just inducted Hawkeye, could provide! (and, boy, did the twins future get complicated, finding out their real parentage, as well as a marriage to an android for Wanda, and one to an Inhuman for Pietro! It seems there is no escaping family…).

The other Avengers then left the team…Thor, to fight the Absorbing Man and be involved in a trial of the gods against his brother, Loki, in Journey Into Mystery #114-116, Iron Man to face Avengers’ foe, Count Nefaria, in Tales of Suspense #67, and Giant-Man and the Wasp to face the Hidden Man in Tales To Astonish #67 (though their schedule would free up soon!).

Avengers Get Busy

The new team tried to bring the Hulk back in Avengers #17 (in June 1965, with little success, he was busy in Tales To Astonish #69, fighting the Leader and reclaiming Rick Jones as his partner, and, ironically, this was the last issue of the Giant-Man and Wasp feature as well), and instead the team faced the Minotaur, then faced Major Hoy and the Commissar in Avengers #18 (July 1965), and tried for a new member…the Swordsman (after pretty much everyone mentioned above attended the wedding of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl in Fantastic Four Annual #3).

Swinging Swords

Swordsman (Jacques DuQuesne) arrived to take a shot at the Avengers (inspired by Hawkeye to don a heroic persona, as it was revealed that Swordsman was responsible for trouble at the circus Clint Barton had worked at, and Jacques had helped trained the archer…though not in archery). The sword-welding rouge first appeared in in Avengers #19 (August 1965), and joined the team briefly in Avengers #20 (September 1965) as a plot of the Mandarin’s to kill the team. Ironically, Jacques decided not to go though with the plan, but like Hawkeye, had been accused of the wrong-doing…and thus had to escape the team in disgrace, coming back to face the team and its members as a villain again and again with his trick sword that the Mandarin had provided him (as his history with the Avengers isn’t over yet!).

The Enchantress returned to face the team, bringing a new strongman, Power Man (Erik Josten, a former henchman who had been created by the same process Zemo used to create Wonder Man…and has no relation to future Avenger Luke Cage…who eventually takes his name, but Erik returns the favor and takes an Avenger’s!). Power Man premiered with Avengers #21 (in October 1965, and, worked with the Hulk foes, the Circus of Crime, in Avengers #22, November 1965). Kang faces the group in Avengers #23-24 (December 1965-January 1966), and that leads into a battle with Dr. Doom in Avengers #25 (February 1966), tying into the events of the rest of the Marvel Universe and establishing the Avengers as a force to be reckoned with, proving the worth of the new group!

The Wasp returned to the title in Avengers #26 (in March 1966, with Namor foe, Attuma, and Human Torch foe, the Beetle), and her friend Hank Pym followed along (both from the Sub-Mariner stories from Tales To Astonish #77 and #78 of 1966), changing his name from Giant-Man to Goliath, as they both rejoined the team in Avengers #28 (for May, 1966, just in time to face the new menace of the Collector, while the former Avengers kept busy in their own titles). The Collector, as well as Attuma and the Beetle, would return, separately, to cause trouble for the team….

Power Man returns with the Swordsman and Black Widow in June of 1966 with Avengers #29, and the team faces the Keeper of the Flame in Avengers #30-31 (July-August 1966), and then the villainous group of the Sons of the Serpent (as well as Hank Pym’s old friend, Bill Foster) in Avengers #32-33 (September-October 1966), deals with Spider-Man trying to be a member by sending him to check on the Hulk (but not joining yet in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #3)...

...and with Avengers #34, cover-dated November 1966, faced the new villain of the Living Laser (who can manipulate light) and bids farewell to writer Stan Lee, as, starting with Avengers #35 (December, 1966), Roy Thomas takes on the writing duties.

With that, I’ll bid you farewell for a time, until we can pick up with more Avengers history!

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