Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!
Avengers #64-72; Fantastic Four #82-93; Thor #160-171; Incredible Hulk #116-124; Captain America #114-119; Captain Marvel #15-19; Iron Man #15-20; years: 1969-70.
Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor are back in action…at least part of the time. And the Black Knight becomes an official Avenger though not an active one, as he resides in England, which would be quite the commute.
The Dawn of the ‘70s
As this read-through finally hits the 1970s, and after we’ve all been subjected to the super-serious monstrosity known as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, let’s appreciate how nice and innocent these old comics are. True, they are infected with the prejudices of their era (i.e. no shortage of sexism), but otherwise they depict many fine role models for the children who were reading them back in the day. These characters always try to do the right thing and make their world a better place. In the Marvel Comics Universe, superheroes err, but they tend to find their way back on track.
In DC’s rush to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and establish a different tone from the MCU, they’ve given us a Superman who’s not very heroic and a Batman who’s willing to indirectly kill criminals, and that’s a loss for today’s kids. Adults can enjoy superheroes, too (as I certainly do), but we shouldn’t take the classics away from children.
These comics, for all their faults, depict superheroes as originally intended, in colorful, action-packed stories that excite the imagination and encourage us to be the best that we can be. But enough with the soapbox—on to the comics!
Some stories can only be told in the comic book medium—stories such as a big world-eating guy fighting a sentient planet. Galactus squares off against Ego the Living Planet, with Thor and others caught in the middle, and it’s epic indeed. Totally ridiculous, yes, and no other medium could do it justice, but it works wonderfully as an action-packed comic.
The fight puts Galactus on Odin’s radar, so shortly later he sends Thor to find and battle Galactus. But since we’ve just had a world-shattering Galactus fight, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby give us something different—the origin of Galactus. Turns out, Galactus is tired of fighting, and he just wants to tell Thor how he came to be. Why now and why to Thor? Because he’s Galactus, and his prodigious mind is such that we cannot comprehend, so don’t question anything that seems convenient or coincidental.
Anyway, Galactus is the sole survivor of his planet, Taa. Weird radiation happened. The Watcher observed it all and was tempted to stop this destructive being from coming into existence, but ultimately the Watcher takes his watching seriously. So if countless planets need to get eaten, fine, so long as the Watcher never interferes. Again, it would probably make sense to minds less mortal than ours.
And once Galactus tells his tales, Odin abruptly recalls Thor, and sadly no Thor vs. Galactus duel occurs. Maybe later? We shall see. But some credit is due for attempting to make Galactus an actual character rather than a force of nature. It wasn’t essential, as Galactus has always been a different sort of threat from your standard Doctor Doom or Loki, but we’ll see if it pays off in a later story. That’s how comic work best—plant some seeds without a concrete game plan, and a few years later realize the potential…hopefully.
With the help of the Fantastic Four, Bruce Banner takes control of his Hulkish transformations and figures out how to retain his intellect while big and green. But understandably, he wants to leave the Hulk behind and lead a normal life with Betty Ross. He pops the question, and they enjoy peaceful moments and get as far as their wedding ceremony. In typical Marvel fashion, however, super-villains intrude. The Leader and Rhino strike at their wedding and force Banner’s transformation into the savage Hulk, undoing all progress made…and before the “I do’s,” no less. And General Ross gets seriously wounded in the scuffle, so a Hulk battle results in an actual consequences, which is a nice change of pace (though perhaps not for the general).
Far from perfect, but a definite improvement. Credit goes to new writer Roy Thomas, as well as artist Herb Trimpe for loosening up the layouts a bit. More credit would go to them if they worked on making Betty an actual character rather than a goal.
In the film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cap meets Sam Wilson a.k.a. the Falcon during a pleasant jog in Washington, D.C. In the comics, Cap meets Sam on a small island while the former is trapped in the Red Skull’s body. Sam doesn’t even realize he’s met Cap until #119. So, slight differences there.
Comics Falcon has an actual falcon for a sidekick. The bird’s name is Redwing (you may have noticed a machine of the same name in Captain America: Civil War), and they share a special, inexplicable bond that allows Redwing to do Falcon’s bidding. At this point, the Falcon merely has his bird and some fighting skills Captain America taught him in a crash course. His wings will come later. And he is officially Marvel’s first African American superhero (the Black Panther isn’t American).
“Me? A costumed clown? Don’t put me on, man!” –Sam Wilson, Captain America #117
Side note: Cap also spent #116 stuck in the Skull’s body, and he spent the whole issue being chased by the authorities and Avengers. Only after all that does he realize, hey, the Skull’s red skull is just a mask! Just take it off, and he’s unrecognizable! Silly Cap…not realizing you’re wearing a mask for a whole issue!
Captain Marvel Reborn! – Captain Marvel #17-18
So if you’ve got an unlikeable alien superhero and an annoying perennial teen sidekick, what do you with them? How do you solve a couple of problems like Captain Marvel and Rick Jones? Easy—combine them into the same person! Sort of.
Weird cosmic stuff happens to Captain Marvel, trapping him in the Negative Zone (the place Reed Richards discovered a while back). So the powers-that-be lure Rick Jones to these things called nega-bands. Now, Rick has been having a rough time lately. He had a brief stint trying to succeed the late Bucky Barnes as Captain America’s sidekick, but then Cap inexplicably rebuffs him. Well, not inexplicably—the explanation is that the Red Skull had taken up residence in Cap’s body and didn’t want a meddling teenager around. But Rick just figures Cap has become a jerk, so he runs off on his own. Ever the impressionable sidekick, though, he’s susceptible to being lured toward alien armbands.
By donning the nega-bands and slamming them together, he switches places with Captain Marvel. CM gets to play superhero on Earth, and Rick is shunted to the Negative Zone, where he gets to float around with a bunch of debris. Slam them together again, and they switch again. In either form, these two fellows can communicate with each other. It’s similar, though not identical, to DC’s Firestorm, who has appeared and currently appears on the CW’s Flash and Legends of Tomorrow TV series. Firestorm is two very different dudes inhabiting the same form and sharing a telepathic link. This iteration of Captain Marvel predates Firestorm, but it also loosely resembles the very first Captain Marvel introduced by Fawcett Comics in the 1940s (and later acquired by DC). That “Shazam” version of Captain Marvel also features an ordinary kid who gets to transform into an adult superhero.
With #18, after one last stint as damsel in distress, future Captain Marvel Carol Danvers leaves as a regular supporting character, so I’ll quit this title. Frankly, it’s not holding my attention. But to leave it on a positive note, legendary comics artist Gil Kane takes over the penciling duties and his dynamic layouts truly do elevate the quality.
Iron Man takes on a classic sci-fi trope—the invention rising up to replace the inventor. In an earlier issue, he had made use of a Life Model Decoy (LMD) to help preserve his secret identity, but a freak accident causes the robot to come to life…and this time, it possesses the ambition to become Tony Stark and Iron Man in the eyes of the world. It has his exact looks, all his knowledge, and none of his heart troubles, and it easily convinces people that the real Stark is actually the imposter. In order to get his life back, Stark has to resort to working with new villain Madame Masque.
We’ve previously met Madame Masque as Whitney Frost (recently seen in season two of Agent Carter), but now her face is hideously scarred, so she hides behind a mask, Doctor Doom–style. But unlike that of Doctor Doom, her heart is capable of melting under the charms of one Anthony Stark. And he’s attracted to her. It’s all very Batman/Catwoman, but with a heart condition and catastrophic skin damage—the Marvel way!
These two issues culminate in an Iron Man vs. Iron Man battle, with Tony donning his original, less sophisticated armor to fight the tireless LMD. And the victory is not without a cost.
At long last, Iron Man’s solo series starts getting engaging, thanks to Archie Goodwin—the late, great comics writer who’s just beginning to realize his potential in this early stage of his career.
Not quite, but they do fight a group of DC Comics analogues called the Squadron Sinister—Hyperion (Superman), Nighthawk (Batman), Dr. Spectrum (Green Lantern), and the Whizzer (Flash).
Kang and some new immortal being called the Grand-Master set up a contest of champions, with the fate of the world naturally in the balance. The plot is merely an excuse for the action. Issue #70 pits Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and Goliath against the faux Justice League, and #71 pits Black Panther, Yellowjacket, and Vision against Marvel’s most popular 1940s heroes in 1940—Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and the original Human Torch.
Utterly brainless, and it’s not character-driven like Captain America: Civil War is, but it has a certain old-school charm to it and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
–In Avengers #64, Egghead destroys a small Midwestern town…but only after he gives the residents fair warning to evacuate. Super-villains were so much nicer back in the day, weren’t they?
–In the same issue, Hawkeye (now the second Goliath) finally gets a real name. Two-bit criminal Barney Barton comes to the Avengers’ aid, and after the guest star’s sudden but inevitable death, we learn his brother is Hawkeye, a.k.a. Clint Barton.
–“…And to help me choose a name for you! The more I think about it, the more confused I grow! But Reed is so good at things like this!” –Sue Richards, positively befuddled at the prospect of naming her own son.
–“The welfare of my people is ever closest to my heart! What a pity that I am so often forced to save you from yourselves! … No one knows what is best for you…except your mighty sovereign…Doctor Doom!” –Doctor Doom, FF #84. And he believes it, too. Marvel’s portrayal of women may have been lacking, but the writers had a firm grasp of egocentric dictators.
–“Every girl can be domestic, Johnny…when it matters!” –Sue Richards, FF #88. Yeah, women were not the company’s strong suit.
–In Captain America #114, Cap insists that his girlfriend Sharon Carter quit SHIELD…because it’s too dangerous for her! Sometimes it’s like Cap never left the 1940s. But credit where due: Sharon does not yield to his demands. (Movie Cap never insisted Peggy Carter return to civilian life. Movie Cap is the better man, it seems.)
–The super-metal adamantium is introduced in Avengers #66. Today, this indestructible substance is most commonly associated with Wolverine, as the stuff coats and protects his bones, but Wolverine’s introduction is still years off at this point. Originally, Ultron built himself a new robotic body composed entirely of adamantium, making him an indestructible nemesis for the Avengers. So Ultron wore it first, but who wore it better?
To Be Continued…
The Black Widow gets her own series for like two whole seconds! Well, she shares a title with the Inhumans, but it’s her own half of the book!