What hath The Baron wrought?
With his "Baron Re-Reads the JSA" thread, he has inspired us all. Currently John Dunbar is writing a "Dunbar Re-Reads Thor" thread, which calls out for an accompanying "Avengers" thread, at least while Thor is part of that team. So here goes:
"The Coming of The Avengers!"
Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by Jack Kirby
Inked by Dick Ayers
Lettered by Sam Rosen
What They're Up To: Ant-Man and The Wasp fight Trago, "The Man with the Magic Trumpet!", in Tales to Astonish #47. Iron Man stars in "The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost!" in Tales of Suspense #45. Thor battles the guy who will become Maha Yogi in "Mad Merlin!" in Journey into Mystery #96.
Synopsis: The story opens on the Isle of Silence in Asgard, where an exiled Loki plots revenge on Thor for his recent defeats at The Thunderer's hand (see Dunbar Re-Reads Thor). By means of "thought projection" Loki peeks in on Thor's civilian identity, Don Blake, doing good on Earth. But defeating Blake would be a "hollow victory" and only defeating Thor will make Loki happy. So he scours the Earth for a threat to force the Thunder God to respond -- and discovers the Hulk. "A huge human figure ... flying through the air! How is that possible?"
Determining that the figure is the Hulk -- apparently Loki keeps up with current events, and recognizes ol' Greenskin -- the Asgardian projects an illusion of TNT on a railroad track, so that the Hulk will accidentally destroy the track and be blamed for a train wreck. This "diabolical scheme" -- yes, Loki calls it that -- works, because even though the Hulk manages to save the train, word goes out that the Hulk is on a rampage.
Rick Jones, Hulk sidekick and leader of The Teen Brigade (formed in Incredible Hulk #6, May 63), decides that "if the Hulk is innocent, he needs help, fast! And if he's guilty, it'll take more than an army to stop 'im!" The solution: Call the Fantastic Four! But Loki diverts the call -- so that it comes out of Don Blake's radio! "Strange," muses Blake. "Sounds like a call for Thor!"
Of course it is! All radio messages that begin "Calling the Fantastic Four" are a call for Thor!
But others have received the message, too, probably because Loki is the God of Evil, not the God of Paying Attention to Detail. Ant-Man and the Wasp have somehow heard it, and Tony "Iron Man" Stark happened to be on the right frequency. The Fantastic Four actually got the message, too -- they're busy, but Reed says his "calculations" say the Teen Brigade will have company soon.
Mighty smart guy, that Reed Richards, because Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man and Wasp show up at Teen Brigade HQ. "It would seem the gang's all here, eh, lads?" quips that the ever-urbane Tony Stark. But while everybody's doing "Wassup!" Loki projects another illusion in Thor's field of vision, of the Hulk bounding by. Thor gives chase, and when he determines it's an illusion, sees his half-brother's yellow-gauntleted hand in the matter. He hies himself off to Asgard, to give Loki such a noogie.
Undeterred by Thor's disappearance, Iron Man says they'll carry on, and Ant-Man's ants report an incredibly strong guy at a nearby circus. It's the Hulk, dressed as a clown! (Let me repeat that: It's the Hulk, dressed as a clown!) The circus owners think he's an incredibly powerful robot that they just happened to stumble across, because ... well, we can only assume they are as dumb as a bag of hammers.
Ant-Man attacks! He has ants dig a hole that the Hulk falls into! Oh, the indignity! He has ants drop a barrel on the Hulk! Oh,the irritation! Then The Wasp attacks, by flying around Hulk in an annoying fashion! Oh, the humanity! But Hulk prevails, by smashing, except for The Wasp, whom he defeats with a fireplace bellows, which happens to be lying there at the circus. (Well, he can't just smash a girl, can he? It's 1963!)
And in defense of The Wasp's battle tactics, she was actually trying to draw Hulk under a net, that Ant-Man's ants have set up. And it works, in that the Hulk gets under the net, and runs into it while trying to leap away. Of course, it barely slows him down, but hey, it's Ant-Man! What do you want, repulsor rays?
Speaking which, now it's Iron Man's turn! So the Hulk hits him in the chest! And then ... OK, then Iron Man falls down. "Can't go after him until I repair my battery," thinks Iron Man. But as the Hulk flees, Iron Man pleads with him, "Hulk ... wait! I want to help you! You can't remain a fugitive forever! Come back!!"
This is called foreshadowing.
Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Thor pleads with Odin to let him have a little chinwag with Loki. Odin approves but says he cannot interfere, as he loves both his sons equally. (Honestly, he may be the All-Father, but he'll never win Parent of the Year.) Anyway, so be it!
Thor takes a dragon-prowed skiff -- he IS a Viking, after all -- to the Isle of Silence. Loki attacks with animated trees, which Thor buzzes through by spinning his hammer like a buzzsaw. Loki attacks with "volcanic gas globules," which Thor avoids by diving underwater. He whips up a waterspout to carry him to Loki, and he throws his hammer, which Loki deflects by freezing the air. But then Loki springs his REAL trap: Trolls! The "Silent Ones" for whom the island is named! One grabs Thor, and Loki crows that nothing can break the grip of a troll -- it the troll that gave rise to the "Old Man of the Sea" legend of Sinbad fame!
But as Thor is dragged underground, he pounds the handle of his hammer on the ground, summoning lightning, which blinds the underground-living troll. Loki uses multiple images to fool the Thunder God, who blows them all away by spinning his hammer. Then he uses his hammer to soak up "the magnetic currents that give life to the trolls below!' Which somehow magnetizes Loki to his hammer, and off they go to Earth, because Loki "has much to atone for!"
Meanwhile, Iron Man has chased Hulk to an auto factory -- I had no idea Detroit had a suburb in the Southwest, but whatever -- and throws tires at the Hulk. The Hulk fashions a metal bow and arrow, but Iron Man catches the arrow and turns it into a big grapple, and pins the Hulk! But the Hulk pushes through the wall! "I never expected that!" exclaims Iron Man, who evidently has not been paying attention.
But just as the Invincible One and the Incredible One are squaring off for another round -- Stark has decided the Hulk is too dangerous to run around loose -- Thor arrives with Loki, and rats his half-brother out. "Let me at 'im!" roars the Hulk, but Loki has one more ace up his sleeve -- he turns radioactive! (Which shouldn't bother the Hulk, but it does!)
Fortunately, Ant-Man orders some ants to open a convenient trap door under Loki, who slides down a convenient tunnel into a convenient lead-lined tank! Thor helpfully explains "This is where the trucks that carry radioactive wastes from atomic tests dump their loads for eventual disposal in the ocean!"
There are only four panels left, but you know what happens next. Ant-Man and Wasp suggest they team up in a regular fashion, and everybody decides that's a swell idea, even the Hulk, who is "sick of bein' hunted and hounded!" Hey, maybe Iron Man's speech did some good! Oh, and The Wasp suggests the name Avengers, even though it doesn't make much sense (who are they avenging?), but nobody argues with the cute chick, and a legend is born.
My ranking: 9/10.
OK, I admit that synopsis probably took longer to read than the comic book did. But I wanted to mention every salient element in this book, surely among the most important in the series, if not Marvel history.
There's a story going around that Avengers came to be because Bill Everett was really late on Daredevil #1, which was supposed to come out on Sep 63 instead. That apparently is true! It seems to arise from this Spring.Me post by Marvel uber-editor Tom Brevoort:
"Martin Goodman, Marvel's publisher at the time, was famous for flooding the market with anything that worked. So in early 1963, after the first bunch of Marvel super hero releases started to hit, he told Stan, 'Give me another Spider-Man and another Fantastic Four.' In other words, new characters who were very much like those characters, and would appeal to the same audience. So two books were started: X-Men, which was the Fantastic Four-style book (and even says so on the first two covers) with a team of heroes in identical blue costumes fighting a guy who resembles Doctor Doom on the cover; and Daredevil, which was the Spider-Man book (and says so on the first cover as well), the quippy urban adventurer. Now, Stan was smart enough to do more with these characters and concepts that simply knocking off his earlier characters, but that's where they started. But Bill Everett, with whom Stan co-created Daredevil, had both a day job and a drinking problem. And so production on DAREDEVIL #1 fell way behind. In those days, you booked print time way ahead of time -- and if your book wasn't ready, you paid for the printing time anyway. So it was vital to get something to press on time. But Bill Everett was a favorite of Martin Goodman, stemming back to the '40s when he created the Sub-Mariner. Regardless, there was suddenly a hole in the schedule, with no book where a book should be. In trying to solve this problem, Stan hit on the notion of doing a strip that brought all of the heroes together JLA style -- that would be a book that wouldn't require any ramp-up time, because the characters (and even the villain) all existed already. So he and Jack Kirby brainstormed the first issue, Kirby drew it up hastily, Dick Ayers inked it in what looks like no time flat, and it came out the same month as X-MEN #1. (DAREDEVIL #1 followed around six months later -- with Steve Ditko pitching in to help finish it up, and with a different artist on it beginning with #2.)"
How about that? I've been reading Avengers for 51 years, and didn't know that until this month.
But even though it appears Avengers was thrown together at the last minute, I have to give it high marks for being a blisteringly paced action story that nevertheless worked in tons of exposition about the nascent Marvel Universe and a lot of personality bits.
* We see Rick Jones' loyalty to the Hulk.
* We see Wasp making flighty comments about everyone, from "dreamy" Thor to "hideous" Iron Man.
* We see Ant-Man being a tightass.
* We see Reed Richards being really smart.
* We see Thing be cranky, and Sue scold him.
* Loki could kill Blake any time, but wants to fight -- and beat -- Thor at full power.
Great fun! As to powers:
* Thor makes sure we know he can't fly, but instead follows Hulk " ... by hurling my mighty hammer and holding onto its unbreakable thong!"
* Thor using Mjolnir to gather magnetic currents is the New Hammer Power for this issue.
* We see Tony Stark lounging in his chestplate .. because he can't take it off. We also see that Iron Man can't battle if his "battery" is damaged. (Say, maybe this guy isn't really invincible!)
* We see Ant-Man's mode of travel, and a myriad use of ants. We did NOT see him at full size, which is odd, but I guess we'll more than make up for that next issue!
* No matter how hard Lee works at it, Ant-Man is fundamentally superfluous in this issue. His attacks are weak, and his strategies usually require tremendous coincidence to function, although they fail anyway. I'm guessing it was Lee struggling through this issue that made him re-think this whole Ant-Man business, resulting in Giant-Man (with the next issue).
* Iron Man may be strong, but he's really vulnerable. I mean, punch him in the chest and he goes down.
* In fact, none of them are a match for the Hulk, individually or together. That, like Ant-Man's uselessness, becomes apparent pretty early on, as all they're doing is slowing the Hulk down as he tries to run away. God help them if he turns to fight.
* It's conventional wisdom that Stan Lee thought the perfect number for a team was four, and this grouping of Avengers is pretty much four. Yes, there's The Wasp, but she's written as a flighty ornament -- at best, a distraction for the bad guy while the menfolk figure out a plan. This is really a four-man -- and I emphasize "man" -- team. This is before women's lib, after all, and is written by a guy who grew up in the '40s.
* We have never seen trolls like the ones here, or powers like the ones they exhibit here, and we never will again.
Now for some speculation.
Why these four guys? Well, for one thing, they were pretty much the bulk of the Marvel Universe in September, 1963. The X-Men came out the same month, so none of them were available, even if Stan was inclined to use one (which I doubt). Dr. Strange had debuted the month before, but in a throwaway five-pager in the back of Strange Tales -- not a world-beater yet. The presumed break-out star of the Fantastic Four already had a solo series, so the Human Torch (and the rest of his team) were out. Stan Lee has consistently said for 50 years that he was afraid to put Spider-Man in the Avengers, for fear it would ruin his cool "outsider" status -- and I believe him.
Outside of those characters, the only headliners left were Thor, Iron Man and Ant-Man.
So why the Hulk? Lee says in various books that it was to cause friction in the group, to put in a testy guy as a story launcher. That may be true. But I also think it was to give Hulk a regular spotlight after losing his book, because Lee had faith in him ... and because *I think* Lee was peeved that Martin Goodman had canceled Incredible Hulk to make room for a Two-Gun Kid revival. That last part is pure speculation on my part, but if I were Lee I'd have been peeved, and determined to make the Hulk a success. Your mileage may vary.
In summary, I give this book high marks because it is a great example of what was so cool about Marvel in the early '60s. Lots of action. Lots of personality. The story racing along so breathlessly that you don't have time to stop and notice the flaws. Plus, everybody not getting along. I mean, the bulk of the book is Hulk vs. the rest of the team! Can you imagine, for example, the Justice League forming because everyone ganged up on Martian Manhunter, while Superman fought solo with Lex Luthor on another planet? That sort of thing just wasn't done at Silver Age DC, but Lee & Kirby plowed through a dozen comic-book writer's "thou shalt nots" with this one issue, and it was great fun.
Then and now, Avengers #1 is a hoot!
Bob Layton did a much better job of capturing Hercules' personality, at least in keeping with Lee & Kirby's take, to a far greater extent than Roy Thomas did. Roy's version struck me as an entirely different character, just with the same name and costume.
He needs the beard. Just doesn't work without it.