Under ‘Silver-Age Avengers Tenures’ for $50, the answer is . . . . “This hero left the Avengers only five issues after being made a member.”
The clock is ticking, folks. Anybody want to take a stab at it?
Whenever comic-book fans gather together, either in person or on line, they love to compare preferences, and certain topics can be counted on to arise. The infamous “who can beat whom” arguments. Or matters of taste, such as “yellow oval or no oval?” And sooner or later, someone will ask everyone to list his favourite line-up of the Justice League or the Avengers or some other group.
Everybody knows how rooted I am in the Silver Age, so my chosen line-ups rarely hold any surprises. You aren’t going to see any Rocket Reds or Tigras or Wildfires on any of my lists. For example, my Avengers roll call of preference is
The Scarlet Witch (I don’t care for magic-type powered heroes and her hex power is close enough, but you can’t have Pietro without Wanda; it just isn’t done.)
The Wasp (I like the Wasp even less than Wanda; Jan adds next to nothing to the team, but as with Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, if you have Goliath, you have to have the Wasp.)
Hercules might be the one eye-opener. What, no Thor? True, the Thunder God has a certain appeal for me, but it is largely wrapped up in the nature of his dual-persona secret identity, the Thor-Doctor Blake thing. I always find heroes with civilian identities that are separate beings intriguing. But the intricacies of that relationship were more found in his own series, not in the Avengers. Beyond that, I found Thor a bit too high-handed and in love with his own nobility.
Hercules, on the other hand, was the kind of guy that I would be---were I good-looking, loaded with muscles, immune to harm, and immortal to boot. Honest, courageous, and possessing a strong sense of duty. When it was time to work, I would work, but when it was time to play, I would play. And I would make sure there was plenty of time to play. I always loved the scenes in The Avengers when an off-duty Hercules would go clubbing, guzzling suds and collecting babes on both arms.
And just in case somebody needs a house to fall on him, “Who is Hercules?” is, of course, the correct question to the Comic Book Jeopardy! answer above. It was a curious quirk in Roy Thomas’ Avengers plotting that, even though he made Hercules one of the main players for most of 1967, by the time ol’ Herc actually got his Avengers membership card, he was on his way out the door and, actually, participated in only one more mission with the Assemblers after that.
Going back a bit, the Lion of Olympus was introduced into the Marvel universe in “When Titans Clash!”, from Journey Into Mystery King Size Annual # 1 (1965). When Thor accidentally stumbles across the entrance to Olympus, he encounters Hercules, and in the Typical Marvel Manner, they fight. It’s a hell of a donnybrook too, lasting for ten full pages, kicked off when the two gods meet at opposite ends of a bridge and each refuses to give way for the other, suggesting that a more appropriate story title might have been “When Egos Clash!”
Under that bone-brained rationale demonstrated by most comic-book brawlers, their mutual attempt to clobber each other results in a firm friendship, and Hercules would pop up a few more times in later Thor adventures. This established the background for the Prince of Power’s first appearance with the Avengers.
In The Avengers # 38 (Mar., 1967), Herc, never the brightest bulb in the marquee, is duped by the Enchantress into drinking a bewitched potion which puts him under her thrall. She intends to use the Olympian demi-god as her instrument of revenge against Thor, and dispatches him to Earth with orders to pound the Thunder God into paste. With his memory befogged, Herc doesn’t remember that his father Zeus, grand high poobah of the Greek gods, has declared the Earth off-limits.
In due time, Hercules makes his way to the Avengers Mansion and begins to tear it apart in his search for Thor. Unfortunately for the heroes present, Herc attacks during a time when the Thunder God is not an active Avenger, and the brainwashed bruiser smites them all mightily. Only when Hawkeye, by sheer luck, fires an exploding sulphur arrow Herc’s way is the spell broken and the battle ended.
The Lion of Olympus barely has time to mutter a “Sorry about that, mortals,” when daddy Zeus materialises and, ticked off over Herc breaking curfew, exiles him to Earth for one year. Figuring that a super-strong immortal might be a handy fellow to have around, the Avengers, as soon as their heads stop ringing, offer to put him up in the mansion.
As it developed, it didn’t take long for Hercules to earn his keep. In the very next issue, the Mad Thinker, assisted by a trio of super-powered henchmen, ambushes the Avengers individually. Then he brings the defeated heroes back to the Avengers Mansion and straps them into a death trap constructed out of their own equipment. Unfortunately, their Olympian house guest happens to be out at the time, for this story contains the first of the occasional scenes showing Hercules out on the town. Using the alias of “Mr. Powers” and wearing a fashionable Brooks Brothers suit and tie, Herc is holding court in the Happy Islands, “a brand-new nightclub in mid-town Manhattan.”
While the Avengers have been fighting for their lives, the Lion of Olympus has been downing tankards of ale brought to him by comely serving wenches. Luckily for our heroes, though, last call comes in time for Herc to return to the mansion and save their bacon before the Mad Thinker can pull the switch.
In The Avengers # 40 (May, 1967), Hercules tags along with the Avengers when they go up against the Sub-Mariner, who’s in one of his surface-people-are-no-damned-good moods, again. Herc and Namor ram heads and get to ooze testosterone all over the place. The muscle-bound Olympian also begins to develop an attraction for the Scarlet Witch, a plot development that never really went anywhere.
The next two issues of The Avengers feature an adventure against the villain Diablo, who has reanimated the monstrous Dragon Man. Hercules, brooding over his exile, pretty much sits out the first half, but snaps out of it in time to rescue the Wasp from the clutches of Dragon Man. It’s a titanic battle, but Herc wins out when he drops the android monstrosity into the mouth of an active volcano.
The story in The Avengers # 43 (Aug., 1967) finally turns attention toward a sub-plot which had been simmering for a few issues: the forced repatriation of Hawkeye’s lady love, the Black Widow, by her native Soviet Union. Two episodes provide looks at Hercules’ character. The opening sequence shows Captain America, who had returned to the team in the previous issue, calling the Avengers into the meeting room for a conference. Herc bristles at being ordered around by “a mere mortal”, and when Cap points out that he wasn’t even talking to the Olympian, since he isn’t an Avenger, the Prince of Power takes offence.
Like Thor, Hercules is loaded with arrogance, but while the Thunder God is able to keep his sense of superiority in check, it’s one of his Greek buddy’s most prominent traits. Angrily, he determines to teach the star-spangled war hero a lesson. Captain America dodges Hercules’ headlong charge and then, coolly, outmanuœvres the muscle-bound demi-god at every turn. Herc suddenly breaks off the fight, acknowledging Cap’s courage and fighting skill, and---you guessed it!---suddenly declares his undying friendship for the shield-slinging Avenger.
Later, Hawkeye slips away, heading for Russia to bring back the Black Widow all by his lonesome. Hercules learns of the archer’s love for the former Soviet spy and, inspired by his sense of the romantic, joins Hawkeye on his quest to rescue the lady. This marks the beginning of a friendship between the two hotheads (and they didn’t even have to punch each other out first!). It ends well, but only after Hawkeye and Hercules, and Captain America, as well, wind up in Communist hands.
After this, comes the epic battle against the Mandarin and five other super-villains, in “The Monstrous Master Plan of the Mandarin”, from The Avengers King-Size Annual # 1 (1967). Hercules is still a non-Avenger, but he's treated like one, getting his fair share of the action.
As I mentioned earlier, to this point, the Lion of Olympus had been a major player in all of the team’s adventures since he began his exile on Earth, despite the fact that he did not even have his own parking spot in the Avengers’ driveway. In “Blitzkrieg in Central Park”, from The Avengers # 45 (Oct., 1967), the Assemblers finally get around to acknowledging that and “proclaim the mighty Hercules to be a full-fledged Avenger . . . for the duration of his stay on Earth!”
The Super-Adaptoid shows up to disrupt the Avengers Day ceremony. The Avengers give him a good thumping, but as it turns out, Hercules’ Avengers membership proves to be a case of “better late than never”, because the Prince of Power will see action with the group only one more time in the Silver Age.
Hercules completely misses out on the major events of the next issue, when he and Hawkeye escort Wanda and Natasha out for a night on the town before the action begins.
The Avengers # 47 (Dec., 1967) kicks off a multi-part tale highlighting the return of the villainous mutant Magneto and, heightening the drama, sees the slow erosion of the current team of Avengers. Before it is over, Captain America, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch all leave the group and Goliath loses his power to grow to giant size.
Hercules is missing in action throughout. We learn that he has gone to Mount Olympus in hopes of persuading Zeus to lift his exile. When Herc arrives, he finds his ancestral home completely deserted, without even so much as a “gone to the movies” note left on the front door. During the Avengers’ battle with Magneto, there are two or three one-page scene-shifts back to Olympus, showing Hercules’ puzzlement over the mystery.
Not until The Avengers # 50 (Mar., 1968) does Hercules’ situation take centre stage. By now, we have discovered that Typhon, the last of the Titans, predecessors of the Greek gods, has banished the Olympians to the Land of the Shades. Typhon is even big and bad enough to smack down Hercules and ship him off to the Land of the Shades, too.
Then, finding it boring in Olympus with no-one to kick around, Typhon heads down to Earth and, for his first trick, takes on the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet. Drawn to the scene, the three remaining active Avengers---Hawkeye, the former Goliath, and the Wasp---tackle the renegade Titan. The diminished team finds itself quickly outclassed, and the heroes are lucky that they manage to stay alive. Fortunately, it’s right about then that Hercules reunites with his dad and the rest of the Olympian gods stranded in the shadowy realm. After comparing notes, Zeus expends the last of his power to send Herc to the Mediterranean island where his teammates are scrambling to save their hides.
Now facing a supremely hacked-off Lion of Olympus, Typhon has a real fight on his hands. Hawkeye and Goliath and the Wasp harass the Titan with a few minor distractions, but it is Hercules’ show all the way. Their battle pitches back and forth, laying waste to most of the local real estate. Hercules finally gets the upper hand against Typhon---by employing a tactic taught to him by that “mere mortal”, Captain America.
In short order, the Greek gods are back to revelling and carousing in Olympus, and Typhon has been cast into the Pit of Hades. In gratitude, Zeus offers his son the choice of remaining on Earth or returning to Olympus. Since Olympus has it all over the Happy Islands nightclub, Herc decides to go home. Even so, he has some second thoughts.
“In sooth, though I undertake a thousand, thousand quests,” the Prince of Power reflects, “though I try to drown my memories in the heady nectar of adventure, a part of Hercules shall ever be . . . an Avenger!”
Be that as it may, the Lion of Olympus never returned to his Avenging buddies for the remainder of the Silver Age. At least, not by where I demark its end, 1968. But it wasn’t very long after that until Hercules was seen, again. Ka-Zar # 1 (Aug., 1970), which was largely a reprint title, saw the inclusion of a new story, launching a plotline which saw Hercules back in dutch with Zeus for once more having sneaked off to visit Earth. Zeus dispatches his Huntsman to track down his son and bring him back by force.
In this opener, Herc is briefly reunited with his fellow Avengers. The conclusion of the story is left unresolved, serial fashion. At the time, I got the impression that Hercules’ flight from the Huntsman was intended to be a running saga that would unreel over various Marvel titles, much in the same way that Zatanna’s quest for her father crossed over several DC titles. However, when the next episode appeared, in Sub-Mariner # 29 (Sep., 1970), the storyline was wrapped up.
The presence of Hercules added a certain spark to the Avengers. He brought a raw power to the team that not even Goliath could provide. But more than that, his arrogance and hair-trigger temper made him a bit of a loose cannon. This led to several hero-versus-hero fights so endearing to Stan Lee.
Best of all, Herc was a fun guy. As written by Roy Thomas at the time, most of the Avengers were a pretty dour bunch. Hank Pym was wrapped up in his test tubes. Captain America was going though one of his frequent I-have-no-life-as-Steve-Rogers fugues. Hawkeye was generally peeved because the group would not make Natasha an Avenger, and Pietro and Wanda grew increasingly suspicious of anti-mutant sentiments.
But Hercules knew how to enjoy life. Even his exile on Earth never brought him down for very long, especially after discovering that we mere mortals had a few pleasures of our own. Tony Stark could have taken tips from him.
I'd have loved a good, long run by Ditko on Shade.
Generally I think you have an excellent point. Before his suicide Robert E. Howard talked about moving away from fantasy and toward regional historicals--even if he'd lived, we might not have gotten much more Conan.
Ronald Morgan said:
In 1970 Stan Lee noted on the Bulletin Page that Fantastic Four had become more popular recently because he and Jack Kirby had gone back to an earlier style. I've always thought Kirby's last year on the series was better than the year before, even though his art style was suddenly shifting back to pre-FF#1. Had Lee been telling him to change his style during the 60s and now that he was getting ready to leave he was ignoring him?
Stan and Jack had almost nine years for the FF. There was a series some time back based on the idea what if they had decided to end it with a big final year of stories. That would have made their series ten years. In real life, Reed and Ben would have been close to forty at the start and pushing fifty by the end, a good time to hang up the old costume.
Steve Ditko gave us three years of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, with the last several issues of each sort of coasting along, possibly because Ditko was wondering at the time if he was going to stay or leave, and he didn't want to start anything big and not finish it. Or was he ready by that point to move on from those characters to others already? Even if he had stayed, would he have said he wanted to leave Spider-Man to work on, say, Shade the Changing Man? Or drop Dr. Strange to work on the Creeper? In the 70s he showed he had a lot of characters he'd come up with that he'd planned to introduce at Charlton. Where did later Ditko characters like Shag and the Corrector end up?