Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!
Captain America #106-113; Iron Man #5-14; Avengers #57-63; Fantastic Four #80-81, Annual #6; Captain Marvel #6-14; Incredible Hulk #104-115, Annual #1; years: 1968-69.
The Vision joins! More on that below.
Otherwise, the membership stays relatively stable in this set, aside from a couple of identity adjustments. Hank Pym, already on his third superhero persona in less than a decade of stories, switches out his Goliath identity for a fourth persona, Yellowjacket. Maybe this one will stick for a few weeks. Meanwhile, Hawkeye realizes the flaw in being an archer superhero—if your bowstring breaks, you’re kind of useless—so he uses Pym’s growth serum to become the new Goliath.
As the Vision arrives, The Avengers finally starts getting good. The Vision is the team’s first recruit who didn’t first appear in another book…unless you count Wonder Man’s one-issue stint way back in #9. Artist John Buscema creates a memorable appearance and suitably moody atmosphere while writer Roy Thomas crafts a compelling backstory that gives the Avengers their very own family tree of sorts.
The Vision is what they call a synthezoid, a being who is basically human-like but composed of synthetic parts. He was created by Ultron to attack the Avengers, and Ultron was created by Hank Pym, because what biochemist doesn’t dabble in robotics? (Scientists don’t specialize in the Marvel Universe—they all know all the science.) Ultron implanted the brainwave patterns of the late Wonder Man into the Vision’s artificial mind. Those brainwaves were conveniently lying around because the original Avengers decided to record the dying man’s brains way back when…because that’s a thing you do? Sure.
So, for those keeping score, Pym is the “father” of Ultron, who Oedipally wants to kill him. Ultron created his own “son” in the Vision. The Wasp, as Pym’s girlfriend, winds up as the mother figure here. Wonder Man, who will be back again someday, is sort of the Vision’s “brother.” This tree shall grow as time goes on.
In the Avengers: Age of Ultron film, however, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create Ultron and the Vision. That makes more sense. On the other hand, creating Ultron is the most interesting thing comic book Hank Pym has done so far, and as we’ll see, the guilt will give him some internal conflict (too much, actually).
While we’re on the subject of familial relations…
Reed and Susan Richards are officially parents as of this issue. The Invisible Girl gives birth to their son, Franklin, though she’s (ahem!) invisible for most of the story. Since delivering a baby and sitting around a hospital waiting room hardly makes for a compelling comic, the bulk of the issue follows Reed, Johnny, and Ben as they travel to the Negative Zone. Sue’s irradiated blood is endangering her son’s life as well as her own, and Reed suspects a cure can be found in this other dimension.
Sue’s condition becomes national news, because the FF are the celebrity superheroes of the Marvel Universe. The hospital even holds a press conference: “Dr. Molinari, would you explain the matter of Mrs. Richards’ blood cells, please?” says a hospital official, patient confidentiality be damned.
The Fantastic, er, Three meet a new villain in the Negative Zone, one who will return many times to haunt them—Annhilus. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby have the whole “fun, imaginative, action-packed adventure” thing down to a science by this point. It’s no longer fresh, but they nail the formula.
The unfortunate and unavoidable side-effect of this pregnancy storyline is that it sidelines the Invisible Girl for a while. In the meantime, the Human Torch’s girlfriend, Crystal of the Inhumans, joins the team in #81, keeping the membership at the title-mandated four.
Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne have a really unhealthy relationship. A lab accident causes Goliath’s mind to splinter and create a new identity—Yellowjacket. And as Yellowjacket, he believes Pym/Goliath to be a separate person whom he killed.
So when Yellowjacket confronts the Avengers, brags about killing Pym, and kidnaps the Wasp…how does the Wasp react?
She decides to marry him. And they actually do get married while Pym is in this delusional Yellowjacket state. He snaps out of it following a kerfuffle with the Ringmaster and his circus gang, but still…Jan basically tricks Hank into marrying her while he’s suffering from a serious psychological condition.
Yeah, this marriage will work out great.
As insane as the plot points are, these two issues are entertaining. But they are insane.
And Jan apparently has no friends who aren’t superheroes. The Invisible Girl is her matron of honor, even though we’ve hardly seen them together. Must be a mostly off-panel friendship.
After the honeymoon, Pym decides to stick to his psychosis-created Yellowjacket identity. What else would you have the man do? Something healthy? Perish the thought.
Captain America #109 retells his origin, which is pretty closely followed in the beginning of the first Cap movie (though the film gives it more room to breathe).
Among the main differences, however, is Bucky Barnes. Movie Bucky is Steve Rogers’ childhood best friend who was always looking out for him. Comics Bucky is an orphaned teenager who gets “adopted” by the same base Private Rogers is stationed at.
And this brings us to the secondary difference. Comics Cap had a secret identity during World War II, so Steve Rogers pretended to be a bumbling private and constantly drove his sergeant crazy. (Why this was necessary remains unclear.) But Bucky barges into Steve’s tent while he’s changing into Captain America, and the kid insists on becoming his partner. Cap responds, “I guess I have no choice!” Because of course a grown man (extra grown, thanks to science) can’t just tell a kid, Um, no, that’s absurdly dangerous, and my secret identity is not worth your safety.
So Bucky Barnes becomes…Bucky Barnes in a mask. (Guess he didn’t need a secret identity? Then why the mask…?) And he eventually dies because he’s an ordinary teenager trying to keep up with Captain America.
This continuity gets cleaned up decades later so it actually makes sense—comic book sense, anyway.
By the way, in #110, Rick Jones, friend of the Hulk and former Avengers tagalong, dons Bucky’s old costume to become Cap’s new partner. In hindsight, knowing the details about Bucky’s background that are revealed much later, it’s really cruel of Cap to lead an ordinary, barely trained teenager to believe he has a shot at filling Bucky’s shoes. But only in hindsight. Bucky was an entirely different character back then as far as Stan Lee and company were concerned.
We learn who’s powerful enough to subdue the Hulk with one word—Black Bolt, the leader of the Inhumans. This oversized annual is better than most of the recent Hulk stories, and bringing Hulk to the Inhumans’ city makes for a nice change of pace…until the book falls into the usual patterns of people trying to manipulate the Hulk to suit their own agendas.
Still, it has a nice touch at the end—Black Bolt demonstrates kindness to the Hulk by inviting him to stay with the Inhumans…but Hulk, knowing the others would never accept him, rejects the offer and leaves. But he leaves with a smidgen of hope that maybe the world has more people like Black Bolt who could accept him as a true friend.
Captain Couldn’t-Be-Less-Fantastic – Captain Marvel #6-14
Captain Marvel gets boring pretty fast. Its main appeal to modern readers is seeing today’s Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers, in her formative stage.
Here’s the quality of hero we’re dealing with here:
Captain Marvel, in #8: “At last, I shall inquire into the former life of Dr. Walter Lawson—whose identity I have stolen—if one can steal anything from a dead man!” …Yes? Yes you can. Ever hear of heirs?
So Carol is in love with this paragon of ethics while justifiably suspicious about his stolen alter ego. Captain Mar-Vell’s Kree girlfriend, Una, observes—and fears—this attraction from a spaceship. Always a soap opera in the Marvel Universe.
Here’s another example of the perfect gentleman Carol has fallen for: “She tripped—hit her head on that tree! But—her unconscious condition gives me a chance to prepare myself for action!” –Captain Marvel, #10.
Iron Man briefly meets his future teammate for the first time in #14…and he blasts her with his repulsor rays, knocking her unconscious (a frequent occurrence in Carol’s pre-super days, apparently). Yeah, he was being mind-controlled by the Puppet Master, but still…not the best first impression a guy could make. But Carol’s bar seems to be pretty low at this point.
–Hey, Cap, if your psychiatrist is named “Dr. Faustus,” that might be a clue he’s evil. Though maybe Captain America doesn’t read classic British drama? (Captain America #106)
–“What’s that rovin’, red-skinned mass of muscle up to now?” –Johnny Storm, referring to his Native American friend Wyatt Wingfoot in cringeworthy fashion in Fantastic Four #80. Later in the issue, Johnny says, “But I’ll haveta leave Crystal! She’s gotta stay, in case Sue needs her!” Very good, Johnny—declare that your girlfriend needs to sit out on the upcoming adventure because she needs to watch over your pregnant sister, while not even your brother-in-law does any such thing, and don’t even ask the girl what she wants to do. At least Johnny has the excuse of being an inexperienced teenager, unlike the hopeless case that is Reed Richards.
And still later in the issue: “Flaming fireballs!” Are there any other?
FF #80 is justifiably not a classic.
–“Seems strange there hasn’t been some response from Janice Cord to the flowers I’ve been sending…” –Tony Stark, genius, in Iron Man #6, referring to the young woman whose father recently died as a result of the man’s obsessive hatred of Tony Stark.
–Whitney Frost begins doubting her position as head of the Maggia because she’s falling in love with SHIELD Agent Jasper Sitwell (who, to his credit, realizes she’s been using him for info). We also learn that Whitney is the daughter of the villainous Count Nefaria. And in Janice Cord, Iron Man falls for another woman who thinks Tony Stark is a coward—it’s like Pepper Potts all over again.
–Hulk, Incredible Hulk #113: “Betty Brant is there! She might be hurt!” Silly Hulk (and Stan Lee). Perhaps you mean Betty Ross and not Peter Parker’s first girlfriend?
—Incredible Hulk #115 has an interesting premise—the villainous Leader offers his aid to the U.S. Army to trap the Hulk…and he succeeds. But sometimes the enemy of your enemy is another enemy…and a greater threat.
–In Captain America #111-113, Cap fakes his own death to make his identity secret again. Would’ve been much easier to maybe not tell anyone in the first place, but okay. That’s what your rash decisions will get you, Cap.
–“The proud Wakanda do, indeed, dwell within a man-made jungle! No man—white or black—gains admittance to our land unless we desire it!” –Black Panther, Avengers #62. Well, at least he’s egalitarian with his border enforcement.
To Be Continued…
Coming up…Thor meets Galactus!