In the span of twenty pages, Stan Lee had almost totally repopulated the Avengers Mansion. Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man and the Wasp were gone, leaving Captain America in charge of three former rogues who had been inducted as Avengers with less effort than it had taken me to scrounge up two Ovaltine seals and a dime to join Captain Midnight’s Secret Squadron.
As discussed last time, filling up the cast with characters which had no parent series of their own opened up a wealth of dramatic possibilities. You would think that the three new Assemblers, all former second-string super-villains turning over a new leaf, would be on the best behaviours, nothing but “Yes, sir”, “No, sir”, and “How high, sir?” But it didn’t work out that way.
The first inkling of dissention didn’t even wait until the landmark events of The Avengers # 16 were over and done with. Even as the new Avengers walk out to face the press, Hawkeye the Marksman is already questioning how things are done. “Strange that Captain America, who seems to possess no noticeable super-power, should be chosen as our leader,” he thinks, ignoring that fact that archery skill isn’t what you’d call a “super-power”, either.
The real bitching kicks in with The Avengers # 17 (Jun., 1965). The first meeting of the new Avengers is filled with more hidden duplicity than a Borgia family reunion.
As Captain America conducts business, Hawkeye shows silent resentment. “Does he really expect someone as young and powerful as Hawkeye to take orders from a relic of World War II like himself?”
Quicksilver has his own agenda, too. “I must be patient,” he reflects. “With my great speed, it is only a matter of time before Quicksilver replaces Captain America as leader of this group!”
Nor is Rick Jones a happy camper. “It isn’t fair! Those three Johnny-come-latelies are now official members . . . and Cap still won’t let me be a full-fledged uniformed Avenger!”
Cap’s no dummy, though. He’s well aware that there is dissention in the ranks, and the instant that Hawkeye opens his mouth to protest the Star-Spangled Avenger’s leadership, Cap cuts him off with a sharp dressing-down. The Scarlet Witch supports Cap, and that shuts everybody up for the time being.
In fact, Wanda is taken with Captain America’s forcefulness, which is no surprise. Since her days with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, she was always easily dominated by stronger personalities, either Magneto’s or her brother, Quicksilver’s. (Under Cap’s leadership---and Stan Lee’s subtle handling---she will eventually grow out of her wallflower status.)
Cap doesn’t pick up any popularity points, either, when he insists on putting the new members through a training session (something he would do regularly). Despite their grousing, the rookies perform well, even when the practice session suddenly turns into a genuine crisis (something else that would occur regularly). But it is Captain America who takes the point, and for the first time, the others see the Living Legend of World War II in action. They are left open-mouthed at Cap’s display of strength and reflexes, and even the loutish Hawkeye realises that he was lucky that Cap didn’t smack him down with his shield the first time the bowman opened his mouth.
This leads to the new Avengers’ first mission as a team, against the Mole Man. The eager, but unseasoned newbies respond to Captain America’s leadership, and they triumph in their baptism of fire. In the glow of victory, “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” are all happy to be on the team and pleasant to each other.
For now. You see, if this were a DC comic, that would be the end of the squabbling and they would be one happy family, like the ever-smiling Justice League. But that’s not how Stan Lee did things. At Marvel, no pot was left unstirred.
The bickering returned in the next issue, and over the next two or three, settled into a pattern. Captain America would put the team through its paces, brooking no insubordination. Hawkeye would respond with insults and accusations. And while the Star-Spangled Avenger was trying to rein in the loudmouthed archer, Quicksilver would subtly egg them on out of one side of his mouth, and out of the other side, claim that Cap’s inability to control Hawkeye made him a failure as a leader. Then Pietro would slyly suggest this made him more suitable to lead the Avengers.
As for the Scarlet Witch, her wishy-washy nature made her flip-flop more than a politician’s campaign speeches. Usually, she supported Captain America---until Cap, who was on to Pietro’s manipulations, put the fleet-footed mutant in his place. Then, Wanda would leap to her brother’s defence, joining the “Impeach Cap!” chorus.
The only time the four of them were halfway civil was while in action. Forced to accept the fact that Captain America did know what he was doing, they followed orders, but not without an occasional verbal pot-shot. Hawkeye still bristled at being bossed around, but when they were up against it, he did what he was told. So, there wasn’t an outright mutiny. At least, not yet.
Like all good writers, Stan Lee ensured that none of his principal characters came across as one-dimensional. While Hawkeye was clearly the biggest gadfly and the most disruptive member, there would be rare moments when he displayed true character. In The Avengers # 18 (Jul., 1965), the group intercepts a plea for help from the oppressed people of Communist-controlled Sin-Cong. When Captain America marshals the team to go to their aid, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch balk.
“I thought our purpose was to battle crime,” argues Pietro. “Why need we concern ourselves with international affairs?”
It’s Hawkeye who sets the siblings straight. “We’re supposed to avenge injustice, right? Well, when liberty’s threatened, justice goes down the drain! That’s it in a nutshell! But, if you two have somethin’ more important to do, ol’ Winghead and I can handle it alone!”
The climactic scene in “The Coming of the Swordsman”, from The Avengers # 19 (Aug., 1965), has Swordy holding a bound Captain America at bladepoint, threatening to shove him off the roof of a skyscraper, unless the other Avengers surrender. Regardless of their enmity for the Star-Spangled Avenger, Hawkeye and Wanda and Pietro unhesitatingly agree to become the Swordsman’s prisoners.
(In typical Captain America fashion, the Avengers’ leader prevents his teammates’ surrender by throwing himself off the roof, trusting that they will find some way to save him before he goes splat. Cap’s sacrifice and his faith in his fellow Avengers, despite their rancor towards him, leave the three super-heroes in awe.)
To this point, the Avengers’ discord had been limited to arguments and alpha-male posturing. Any real insurrection had been held in check by Captain America’s indomitable will and the other members’ initial insecurity in their new rôles as heroes. But with a respectable number of victories came confidence and the willingness to challenge Cap’s authority outright. Especially in the case of Hawkeye, whose ego had been inflated from the get-go. Arguments now started at the drop of a cowl and quickly exploded into physical confrontations. Nor was Captain America the sole target for hostility.
In The Avengers # 21 (Oct., 1965), Captain America rebukes Hawkeye for fixing a fuse in one of the sophisticated electronic devices lent to the Avengers by Tony Stark. The equipment is to be touched by Stark, only. Hawkeye offers up some choice words about both Cap and Stark. Cap tells Hawkeye that he is fed up with the archer’s swelled head and ill manners.
Hawkeye responds by drawing his bow and threatening to part Cap’s hair with an arrow. Bring it on, says Cap. But before the bowman can release his shaft, Quicksilver zips in and stays his wrist. Pietro also restrains Cap, criticising him for his lack of self-control. This begins a round-robin argument that very nearly explodes into an all-out donnybrook.
Hawkeye still wants to duke it out with Captain America, until a surprisingly assertive Scarlet Witch deflates him by pointing out that he is jealous of the Star-Spangled Avenger. Moreover, says Wanda, her brother Pietro would make a better leader than either Hawkeye or Cap. The short-tempered archer makes a pointed comment about the almost unhealthy dependence the two siblings have on each other.
Outraged, the Witch hurls a hex bolt, slamming Hawkeye off of his feet. She’s about to follow up with another hex when Cap grips her wrist and chastises her for possibly injuring her fellow Avenger. Quicksilver rushes at Captain America for daring to lay a hand on his sister . . . .
. . . And round and round it went. And when their next case results in both defeat and embarrassment for the team, their mutual antagonism reaches its crescendo and leaves them easy marks for a plot by the Enchantress and her new ally, Power Man, to discredit the Assemblers.
Hawkeye and Pietro and Wanda decide they have had enough of being Avengers. Which is fine with Cap; he has no use for quitters. Cap’s rejection sets off the brawl that’s been a long time coming. When the dust settles, Quicksilver, the Witch, and Hawkeye walk out.
The end of the Avengers? Of course not. But under Stan Lee’s astute handling of personalities, it sure seemed possible to the young fans reading those pages. The constant quarreling and sniping was unlike any other team of super-heroes that had ever seen print. Even the Fantastic Four had never been that vicious to each other.
Cap’s Kooky Quartet was about to reach a turning point, but believe it or not, this wasn’t it.