Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!
Fantastic Four #31-38, Annual #2; Journey Into Mystery #110-113, Annual #1; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #60-64; Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch and Thing) #125-134, (starring Nick Fury) #135; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America in separate stories) #59-65; Avengers #8-14; years: 1964-65.
The Avengers battle time-travelling villain Kang for the first time in their #8, though technically the character already debuted as Rama Tut over in Fantastic Four. Then they meet Immortus in #10, who we’ll later learn is another version of Kang from a different point in time (pesky time-travel shenanigans).
Future Avenger Wonder Man is introduced in Avengers #9, though he’s not entirely a good guy yet. Then they meet Count Nefaria in #13, and with a name like that, you know he’ll always be a bad guy.
Thor is the first to utter the famous catchphrase “Avengers Assemble!” in #10, uniting the team against the Masters of Evil.
We meet Sue and Johnny Storm’s father in FF #31. (He’ll be in the upcoming movie, but it looks like he’ll be an entirely different character than the disgraced surgeon who appears here.)
The Fantastic Four first encounter the Frightful Four in #36. The group includes previously established villains the Wizard, Sandman, and Paste-Pot-Pete (now Trapster) and new character Medusa, who is the first of the Inhumans we meet, though she’s not yet identified as such.
SHIELD debuts and recruits Nick Fury in Strange Tales #135, where we’re introduced to SHIELD staples such as the Helicarrier, life-model decoys (LMDs), a flying car, and recurring enemies Hydra.
Avengers’ mansion butler Edwin Jarvis first appears in Captain America’s story in Tales of Suspense #59. Like his television counterpart in Agent Carter, he’s in the employ of a Stark, but unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no computer is named after the guy.
Golden Age villain Red Skull is reintroduced in TOS #65, though it is a World War II flashback story, so he hasn’t yet appeared in “modern” continuity by this point.
Norse and Greek mythology cross over when Thor accidentally visits Olympus in Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 and gets into a wee little misunderstanding with Hercules (another future Avenger).
The Hulk’s new solo series in Tales to Astonish features several notable first appearances, including Major Talbot (Adrian Pasdar’s character in the Agents of SHIELD TV series) in #61 and the villainous Leader in #62.
R.I.P. For Now
Wonder Man does not survive his first appearance. But we haven’t seen the last of him! (Don’t expect to see him in the movies, though. It’s possible, but I suspect Warner Bros. would object to another “Wonder” character floating around Hollywood.)
Dr. Storm, the Invisible Girl and Human Torch’s father, makes it to a second appearance in FF #32, at which point he’s killed by the alien Skrulls. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he ever rises from the dead—a rarity in the Marvel Universe.
The Status Is Not Quo
–How stubborn is Tony Stark? When his health takes a turn for the worse, forcing him to spend entire days within his full Iron Man suit, he demonstrates an unhealthy commitment to the whole secret identity thing. His employees, particularly Pepper and Happy, are immediately suspicious about the notion of Tony disappearing suddenly and leaving Iron Man—his bodyguard—in charge of the company, which leads to the authorities suspecting that Iron Man has kidnapped or even killed Stark. And once that’s cleared up, the Mandarin blows up Stark’s home when everyone believes him to be confined to bedrest inside. Rather than telling his closest friends, “Hey, I’m not dead! Don’t mourn me!” Iron Man keeps up the act long enough to resolve his health issue (or at least get it back to its usual level of precariousness) and appear in public as Stark again. So yeah—not like Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony “I am Iron Man” Stark.
–Along those lines, Tony lies about having a fiancé so Pepper will stop pining away for him, even though he secretly loves her himself. Nevertheless, he feels she’s be better off with Happy and tries to coax along their relationship. Because he knows what’s best for his secretary’s love life, obviously.
–The Black Widow gets a proper costume in Tales of Suspense #64, as well as some new tricks, such as being able to adhere to walls and swing from building to building on a special nylon line—so basically a cheap imitation of Spider-Man, almost, but no Widow Sense or teen angst. Hawkeye remains obsessed with her.
–For the first time, it’s established that the Hulk’s mood is what triggers his transformation. But it works both ways—when the Hulk experiences too much stress, he risks reverting to Bruce Banner.
–Dr. Doom gets fleshed out in FF Annual #2. We learn about his gypsy heritage, get a look at his college days when he was a classmate of Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, and we and the FF discover that Doom is the monarch of the small nation of Latveria.
–Reed Richards and Sue Storm take their relationship to the next level. And in 1960s comics, “next level” means going straight from professing their feelings to each to getting engaged between two issues.
–Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have begun trying to pull away from Magneto and stop being bad guys. They seek out advice from the Fantastic Four in Strange Tales #128, but the buffoonery of the Thing and Human Torch results in a pointless fight that merely chases the twins away and back to Magneto for a little bit longer.
–After a lackluster first few issues, Captain America’s feature in TOS becomes a flashback series set in World War II, co-starring sidekick Bucky Barnes. Still nothing extraordinary, but it gives it a unique feel compared to other titles out at this point.
It’s interesting to see a Nick Fury that’s experiencing the world of SHIELD for the first time. Movie Fury was introduced fully formed. The comic book version previously debuted as a World War II character in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, so he’s already highly skilled, just entering into a new experience and initially doubting he’s the right man for the job.
Movie fans might find it jarring to see a Caucasian Nick Fury. We’re still in the 1960s, remember. The important thing to note is that Fury’s awesomeness transcends skin color. Comic book Fury is awesome. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is perhaps a bit more awesome on account of his Samuel L. Jackson–ness, but both are great characters.
Another interesting point about SHIELD’s first appearance is that Tony Stark guest stars as an important associate of the organization, the head of the special weaponry section. But nothing in the issue even hints at his being Iron Man. Here, Tony Stark stands on his own without his alter ego, and he’s basically the one who convinces Fury to join (as opposed to Fury reaching out to Stark in the movies).
Racially, the Marvel Comics Universe has been overwhelmingly white so far, aside from Asian villains (pretty much all communists, except for the megalomaniacal Mandarin). But for the first time (unless I’ve missed something, which is highly possible), a black man appears in this group of series. In Tales of Suspense #61, Captain America rescues an old friend who’s a POW in Vietnam. This old friend happens to be black, and no fuss is made about that fact. He’s just a good soldier Cap is helping out of a bad situation. This character doesn’t recur, as far as I’m aware, but it’s a start in the right direction. (Before this, however, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos included a black man, Gabe Jones, as a regular member of the Howling Commandos.)
–It’s 1965, so…the Beatles, of course.
The Beatles guest star in Strange Tales #130. They don’t get any dialogue, just get to look goofy in drawn form. Crooks steal their payroll from a concert, and the Thing and Human Torch have to recover it. Later, the Thing wears a Beatles wig. I’m so glad Nick Fury’s series has replaced theirs.
–Women’s intuition—Stan Lee seems to view this as a special super-power possessed by all “females” (and nine times out of ten, he opts for calling women “females” rather than, you know, women.) Whether you’re Betty Ross or the Invisible Girl, if you’ve got the XX chromosomes, you can sense so much more than men can.
“And thus, possessed by an intuition which only females seem to have, Betty Ross suddenly realizes…” reads a caption in Tales to Astonish #62.
“Why does my woman’s intuition make me shudder at the sight of him?” the Invisible Girl thinks in FF #35.
Journey Into Mystery #113 – Thor finally defies his father’s wishes and reveals his identity to Jane Foster. Of course, Odin retaliates by trapping Thor in his mortal form of Don Blake, and Jane doesn’t believe him, allowing him to back away from the revelation after his powers return. Still, it’s a pretty big step for the era, and we get to see Don Blake’s resourcefulness without the godly powers of Thor.
Avengers #9 – Wonder Man has a nice little single-issue arc here. He begins as a recently convicted embezzler with a grudge against Tony Stark. The Masters of Evil (Baron Zemo, Enchantress, and the Executioner) recruit him and give him powers so he can join the Avengers with the intent of soon betraying them to the MOE. But after that betrayal, he becomes impressed by the Avengers’ heroism and in his final moments, becomes a hero himself.
Strange Tales #135 – Pretty solid introduction to SHIELD.
Looks like I’m going to have to pick on something other than Strange Tales next time. But I stick by my original assessment that these Human Torch stories were the closest thing Marvel had to a Saturday morning cartoon in its early ‘60s roster. While all these series are dated and flawed, this was consistently the weakest of the bunch. The other books at least strive for some depth, angst, or big ideas, but this one never acquired any sort of special spark to distinguish it.
The Quotable Marvel
“Starring the world’s strongest mortal, who dares to ask the burning question: ‘Can a man with green skin and a petulant personality find true happiness in today’s status-seeking society?’” –first-page caption in Tales to Astonish #60. If there’s a better way to kick off a Hulk series, I don’t know it.
“The trouble with girls is—they all act like females!” –Captain America, showing his true age in Tales of Suspense #59
“These tours of duty can be mighty lonely, especially to a man who thrives on action!” –Captain America, TOS #59. Well gee, Cap, maybe monitor duty could be less lonely if you adopted a more modern attitude about the females…Then again, it doesn’t seem to be hurting Reed Richards’ love life…
“Not a fool, Sue…merely a female! You couldn’t have reacted differently!” Reed Richards, Fantastic Four Annual #2.
“So, from now on, I’ll be known as…the Trapster! That’s a name with dignity…with drama to it!” –no, Paste-Pot-Pete, it’s not; in FF #38.
To Be Continued…
Next, the Avengers re-assemble with some ex-cons!
And, shocker of shockers, coinciding with the release of the Ant-Man movie, Marvel Unlimited has added some of the Giant-Man and Wasp stories that were omitted in the Tales to Astonish issues listed above, so I’ll go back and check those out, too.
All this and more in three weeks!