Half a year into the new line-up, and the Avengers were more fractured than ever. Team meetings were as contentious as dinners with the Ewings on Dallas.
But Cap’s Kooky Quartet was up against more than internal dissention. From the start, there had been unease over the new team’s lack of raw power compared to the classic Avengers. As Hawkeye, with uncharacteristic introspexion, observed at their first press conference, “Right now the crowds are with us! But without Thor, Giant-Man, and Iron Man, do we have enough strength to justify their confidence?”
He wasn’t the only one to worry about that. The last bit of advice Iron Man had given to the new Assemblers was to find the Hulk and bring him back into the fold. “Despite all your skills,” said the Golden Avenger, “awesome strength such as his could be your greatest asset!” This was one of the few threads that Stan Lee continued from the old Avengers. Ever since the Jade Giant quit the group after its second adventure, the Avengers’ efforts to convince him to return had been a recurring concern. Beginning in The Avengers # 3, this sub-plot wended its way through various other titles, such as Fantastic Four and Tales to Astonish. More than once, the heroes caught up with the Emerald Behemoth, only to have him angrily reject them every time. But his former teammates wouldn't take the hint.
Ever the company man, Captain America had made the repatriation of the Hulk the first mission of the new team, back in The Avengers # 17 (Jun., 1965). That part of the case turned out to be a flop---they never even found the Hulk, let alone talk him into returning to the team---and it left them ripe to an attack by the Mole Man, a second-tier bad guy who persuaded himself that he could whip a group of Avengers that lacked the might of Thor or Iron Man. But, under the direction of Captain America, the rookie Avengers came together as a team and sent the Mole Man packing. Cap was satisfied that teamwork would compensate for the absence of the raw power of the old Avengers.
Unfortunately, the villains didn’t see it that way, and relatively weaker Avengers became magnets for several attempts by first-rank Marvel evildoers to show how bad they were by adding “Destroyed the Avengers” to their résumés. In due time, the new Assemblers would be forced to prove themselves against the likes of the Mandarin, Kang the Conqueror, and Doctor Doom, who figured the foursome would be a pushover. More than at any other time in the group’s history, the majority of Avengers’ adventures came from defending themselves from enemy attacks.
It added to the pressure put upon Captain America, as leader of the Avengers. Under the nearly constant besiegement of super-villains, there was little downtime for a breather and the already conflicted feelings of the heroes were rubbed raw. It was everything Cap could do to hold the team together. When the clever manipulations of the Enchantress and Power Man turned the public against the Avengers, in issues # 21-2 (Sep. and Nov., 1965), Hawkeye and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch had had enough. They walked out, and as far as a fed-up Cap was concerned, it was good riddance.
Without their official status as Avengers, Hawkeye and the others found themselves unable to make a go of things. Meanwhile, Cap took on Power Man and the Enchantress solo. Through a ruse, he got close enough to the two villains to obtain evidence of their duplicity, but got caught in the act. For a time, the Star-Spangled Avenger held his own against his more-powerful foes. Ultimately, though, they had his back to the wall---when, almost despite themselves, his three ex-colleagues rushed to the rescue. With the villains defeated and the Avengers back in the public’s good graces, Hawkeye, Pietro, and Wanda---realising that it was Cap’s refusal to give up that had turned the tide---returned to the team.
Captain America, however, was not in a forgiving or forgetting mood. The fair-weather fidelity of his three teammates was the last straw. “I’ve played straight man to you jokers long enough!” he told them. “Now that your names are cleared, I’m kissing you off---!”
And he meant it.
As Captain America quit the Avengers and set off to establish his own life, both as the red-white-and-blue hero and as Steve Rogers (as we all know, not the last time he would try that), the remaining trio of Avengers did some self-searching. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch realised that, despite all he had suffered from their constant bickering and insults, Cap had moulded them into a team. They regretted the way they had treated Cap. They grew up a little.
Hawkeye, however, refused to back down. Cap was gone, and as far as the bow-slinger was concerned, he could stay gone. And he was a little surprised that Pietro and Wanda didn’t see it that way, as well.
In short order, it became obvious, even to the bull-headed Hawkeye, that without Captain America, the Avengers had lost their anchor. In issue # 23 (Dec., 1965), when Quicksilver, the Witch, and Hawkeye are captured by Kang the Conqueror and transported to the 40th century, they find themselves struggling. But they manage to hold their own, relying on the combat lessons taught to them by Cap. Even Hawkeye, much to his annoyance, finds himself thinking “WWCD”---“What would Cap do?"
Now, the reason Kang teleported the trio of Assemblers to his own era---instead of, say, to the vacuum of outer space, where they would die from massive tissue damage caused by their vapourising bodily fluids---was to indenture the heroes as the vanguard of his marauding legions. But Kang’s plan, as with the proverbial recipe for rabbit stew, began with “first, catch the rabbit”, or in this case, plural. Despite the conqueror’s best efforts, Pietro, Wanda, and Hawkeye escape his clutches. On the other hand, the best the three Avengers can do is play defence; they are unable to organise themselves and take the fight to Kang.
Meanwhile, back in our own time, Steve Rogers learns of his former teammates’ disappearance and, with the help of one of Tony Stark’s handy gadgets, discovers that Kang is the culprit. As Captain America, he blusters Kang into bringing him to the 40th century, too. Once there, he reunites with the beleaguered Avengers. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are overjoyed to have the star-spangled champion back in their ranks. And even Hawkeye grudgingly admits Cap’s leadership is needed.
Cap wastes no time taking the offensive. Lacking the might of Thor or Iron Man to go toe-to-toe with Kang’s legions, the Avengers, under Cap’s direction, outmanœuvre them. And when developments lead the conqueror’s troops to mutiny, the heroes form a temporary alliance with Kang. Their collaboration ultimately restores Kang to power, but also gets the Avengers safely home to their own time.
The fight against Kang resulted in a noticeable shift in the dynamics amongst the quartet of Avengers. Quicksilver abandoned his efforts to usurp the leadership of the team for himself, accepting the fact that no-one was more suited for the job than Captain America. And Wanda was done vacillating; she was now squarely in Cap’s camp. Ever the malcontent, Hawkeye continued to provoke ol’ Winghead every chance he got. But now, he found that he had become the lone voice of rebellion.
Where before, the new Avengers had been Captain America attempting to hold together a team of antagonistic characters, now they were three loyalists and one gadfly. Increasingly, Hawkeye found himself marginalised for his contentious and irresponsible behaviour.
This became especially clear to the brash-mouthed archer in the opening scenes of The Avengers # 26 (Mar., 1966). As Cap briefs the group on new security devices installed by Tony Stark, Hawkeye blows off the lesson, mocking the Star-Spangled Avenger’s ultra-serious approach to the job. Instead of being supported by Pietro and Wanda, the bowman is surprised to find himself essentially smacked down by them both for his immaturity. (Later in the story, when his fellow members are imperiled by Attuma, and Hawkeye is unable to come to their aid because he wasn’t paying attention to Cap’s briefing, he is appropriately contrite for his earlier behaviour. But his contrition doesn’t last long.)
With three-fourths of the current membership being as chummy as the old Avengers ever were, the abrasive Hawkeye was left outside, looking in, for the most part. Even so, the bow-slinger felt no compunction to rein in his mouth, not while his place on the team was secure. When Captain America made a not-so-veiled threat to boot Hawkeye out of the club, the archer replied: “Bunk! You had Giant-Man---Thor---and Iron Man backin’ you up before! Now, you need all the help you can get---and we all know it! So don’t put me on, big man!”
Even at this late stage, the old bugaboo of the Kooky Quartet’s lack of overwhelming strength still gnawed at Cap and the others. It was Hawkeye’s licence to be a stand-alone jerk.
He didn’t have that card to play for very long, though.
As I mentioned ‘way back in part one, probably the strongest reason Stan Lee had for revamping the Avengers’ line-up back in issue # 16 was to populate the title with regular characters who had no other series to call home. It opened up the sub-plot possibilities. Personalities could be poked and prodded into situations without stepping on any parent-title formats. That’s why Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, and the Wasp got the heave-ho.
While the Thunder God and Shellhead were still headliners, Giant-Man and the Wasp’s feature in Tales to Astonish had ended with issue # 69 (Jul., 1965), almost before their names could be taken off their Avengers Mansion parking spots. They were free agents, now. After a year of trying to figure out what to do with them, Stan figured at least trotting them out for an Avengers story couldn’t hurt.
Thanks to that Mighty Marvel Continuity, “Smilin’ Stan” was able to segue the events of The Avengers # 26 from recent developments in Tales to Astonish # 77-8 (Mar. and Apr., 1966). Over in the Sub-Mariner series in TTA, Namor had squared off against a Navy research vessel drilling into the ocean bed; the resultant tremours had trashed Atlantis, thus raising Subby’s princely hackles. In charge of the drilling project: Doctor Henry Pym, accompanied by his girlfriend, Janet van Dyne. As faithful Marvelites knew, Pym and Jan were secretly Giant-Man and the Wasp, recently retired from super-heroing.
The Sub-Mariner confronted Pym, but before the Atlantean prince could really cut loose, the villain Puppet Master took control of his mind and ordered him to fly to New York City. Fearing that Namor was in one of his “Death to surface people!” moods, Pym let Jan change to the Wasp and fly ahead to Manhattan to warn the Avengers.
The action in The Avengers # 26 kicks off when the Wasp, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, is captured by the undersea tyrant Attuma. Inadvertently, she has stumbled across the hidden location of Attuma’s “tidal-expander”, a device preparing to inundate the surface world with massive tsunamis. Jan manages to avoid her captor’s clutches and uses his own equipment to radio a mayday to the Avengers before escaping to the surface.
Captain America, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch rush off to the ocean coördinates transmitted by the Wasp. Hawkeye misses the boat, however. He’s off playing hooky, enjoying wine, showgirls, and song at an east-side nightclub. (Thus, setting up the situation in which the bowman’s immaturity is thrown back in his face---when he returns to the Avengers Mansion and realises that he can’t use the sophisticated devices to learn the whereabouts of his teammates because he wasn’t paying attention to Cap’s earlier lecture.)
The other three Avengers locate Attuma’s undersea hideout, but they have a time of it against the tyrant and his barbaric horde. Handicapped by the moisture-saturated, oxygen-poor atmosphere, the heroes falter and are taken prisoner. Fortunately, a desperate Hawkeye has found other means to find his fellow members and, borrowing transportation from the Fantastic Four, arrives in time to keep their heads from rolling under Attuma’s sword.
In full fighting form, the Assemblers destroy the tidal-expander and put paid to the threat of Attuma. It’s not Miller Time yet, though. Back on the surface, the Avengers discover that the Wasp is missing.
This opens the door for a very worried and mightily peeved Hank Pym to rejoin the team. He insists on joining the search for the missing Jan. But since the Avengers balk at the idea of taking orders from “Henry Pym, ordinary joe”, Hank is forced to reveal his secret identity to establish his bona fides. Taking on a new costume (sewn by Wanda “in case [Hank] ever did return”---honestly, somebody find that girl a date) and a new sobriquet---Goliath---Pym accompanies his fellow Avengers in their quest for the Wasp.
The search comes to a successful conclusion in The Avengers # 28 (May, 1966), when the Assemblers thwart the efforts of the alien Collector from adding Jan to his gallery of living treasures. A sub-plot involving new limitations on Hank Pym’s ability to grow to giant size carries over to the next issue, so even though it’s not said in so many words, it’s clear that Goliath and the Wasp have returned to the Avengers permanently.
Almost immediately, this has an impact on Hawkeye’s belligerence. With Hank and Jan back on the team, there is nothing to keep him from being kicked to the curb if he doesn’t play well with others. Out of force of habit, he continues to pick quarrels with Captain America, at first. But soon his insults come less often and with less vitriol, especially when Goliath begins to take exception to them, also.
The bow-slinger’s days as the Avengers’ resident agitator effectively end with their next adventure. When Soviet spy the Black Widow---and Hawkeye’s inamorata back when he was on the other side of the law---is brainwashed by the Red Chinese, she enlists Power Man and the Swordsman to destroy the Avengers. The heroes prevail, but the villains escape when Hawkeye, who can stop them with a single blast arrow, refuses to unleash the shaft, from fear of harming the Black Widow.
Hawkeye submits himself to Captain America for reproval. Even he thinks he has it coming. But, instead of a tongue-lashing, Cap sympathises with the archer’s torn heartstrings. “We’re all Avengers, yes,” Steve tells him, “but we’re also human beings, with feelings and emotions!”
“And that’s the guy I’ve been riding for months,” thinks Hawkeye. “I wish the ground would swallow me up right now!” While he will remain the team’s designated smart-ass, no longer will he be deliberately hurtful or actively undermine Cap’s authority.
It also brought to an end the era of Cap’s Kooky Quartet. Stan Lee had taken an idea from DC---that of a super-team composed of the company’s most popular super-heroes---and he had done well enough with that. But it wasn’t Marvel. So Stan upended the concept and made it a group of mostly second-stringers who didn’t sit around the council table grinning happily at each other at the end of every adventure. Instead, they fought with each other nearly as much as with evil masterminds.
That’s nothing new these days. But back in 1965, a DC fan who might have curiously picked up an issue of The Avengers would sure know that he wasn’t on Earth-One anymore.