Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Marvels: Avengers #1

"The Coming of the Avengers!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(September 1963)

The Avengers is really where the rest of the Marvel Universe finally starts to take shape. I think that right now, in 1963, Marvel has two excellent books--Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man--and a whole bunch of short stories of varying quality. The short amount of space that various creative teams get to spend on each character has made it hard to really find those characters, so we've really had to make do with variations on the concept of each character. That's led to stories of varying degrees of quality, and I think none have suffered from this more than Thor and Iron Man.

But now, with a full-length team book, this is where each of these characters will really start to develop and take shape. Now, these characters get to play off of one another and find their own dynamic, and this shared universe can really start to grow.

I'm going to just go through the entire story here, so this will be a longer entry.

We begin with Loki, who has been exiled to the Isle of Silence after that whole business with the UN back in Journey Into Mystery #94. He can't leave Asgard, but he can use his magic. Doesn't it seem kind of pointless holding him prisoner if he can still do mischief? And, of course, all he wants is his revenge on Thor.

Loki turns to Earth and sets his eyes on the Hulk, bounding through the desert. The Hulk will now be the instrument of Loki's revenge. He uses his magic to make Hulk see a bomb on a set of train tracks, right at a bridge. Hulk, attempting to grab the bomb that isn't there, lands so hard that he punches through the tracks, destroying the bridge. And--wouldn't you know it?--a train is about to hit the destruction. Hulk holds up the ruined tracks long enough for the train to pass safely, saving the lives of everyone on board. But, of course, everyone on board thinks they were attacked by the Hulk, and once again, the Hulk is misunderstood. Poor Hulk.

Rick Jones sees a newspaper report about the incident and believes the Hulk must be innocent, so he and the Teen Brigade send out a radio message to the Fantastic Four for help. Loki doesn't care about the Fantastic Four--he wants Thor, so he diverts the message so that Donald Blake will hear it and spring into action as Thor. However, unplanned by the God of Mischief, the message is also intercepted separately by Hank Pym and Tony Stark, so Ant-Man and the Wasp fly out to meet the Teen Brigade, followed by Iron Man.

The Teen Brigade is amazed to have all of these heroes in one place, but Loki only wants Thor, so he projects a mental image of the Hulk, drawing Thor outside. It only takes Thor a moment to realize the Hulk isn't real and haul back to Asgard to confront Loki--exactly what Loki wants. But Thor seems to have run off without telling anyone else what was going on, so Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp continue their search for the Hulk.

Say, where is the Hulk?

He's with a circus, pretending to be a super-powerful giant robot, as you do. Actually, I kind of love this. The Hulk, misunderstood, does what a lot of sad kids wanted to do: run away and join the circus. Ah, Hulk. I get you. I so get you.

Well, an ant sees the Hulk at the circus and narcs on him to Ant-Man, so it's time to stop this guy from juggling animals. As usual, rather than just approach the Hulk and talk to him, they attack. Ant-Man has his ants weaken the ground beneath Hulk. This pattern never works, but they keep trying it: they attack Hulk, and then they try to get the Hulk to stop and be reasonable. Ant-Man and the Wasp do it, then Iron Man does it, and of course the Hulk tries to run away. He actually twists in midair and punches Iron Man so hard that he breaks Iron Man's propulsion battery just so that Iron Man will stop chasing him. Jeez, guys.

Meanwhile, in Asgard, Thor gains Odin's permission to cross the Sea of Mists to the Isle of Silence and confront Loki. He knows that Loki will have set traps, and Thor's journey is fraught with peril: he braves tangleroots, a volcano, and a troll to get to Loki. Honestly, as glad as I am to see the Hulk again, this is the best stuff in the issue. I always want to see more and more of Asgard, and this is some really great stuff. Kirby's art here is fantastic; I love it when he gets weird.

Thor fights a bunch of Loki's mental projections of himself, until Thor knocks the real Loki over a cliff. Loki is holding on for dear life and decides to let himself fall rather than let Thor get the better of him. Thor counters by rubbing his enchanted hammer on the ground, absorbing the magnetic currents from the nearby volcano, and uses his hammer as a magnet to pull Loki to him. Hey, it's magic, it does whatever people say it does.

Back on Earth, Iron Man has followed Hulk into a car factory in Detroit, where the fighting continues. Iron Man shows off his strength by shaping a steel rod into a giant grapple, and then pins Hulk to a wall with it. The Hulk is so powerful that the impact of being pinned knocks the wall over. It's at this moment that Thor returns to Earth with Loki to explain why they're all really fighting and that the Hulk is innocent.

But Loki makes himself radioactive and threatens to fight all three of them. But just then, Ant-Man and the Wasp finally show up, and some ants activate a trapdoor that sends Loki down a chute and into a lead-lined tank. Ant-Man closes the door, capturing Loki, and the day is won. And then everyone decides to form a team and call themselves the Avengers.

And Marvel history is made.

Stray observations:

:: I love the effect of Loki watching the Earth.

I don't know if it's intentional or not, but I love how the lines make it look like reality itself is bending just so Loki can look through it.

:: Stan, through Loki, reminds the audience again that the Hulk is not flying, he's taking giant leaps.

:: We haven't seen the Hulk since Incredible Hulk #6 back in March. I'd love to know what's been happening to the Hulk since then. When we last saw Bruce Banner, he was still bathing himself in gamma radiation to change into the Hulk, and even though the Hulk and Banner were closer to one being--the Hulk then had Banner's intelligence but the Hulk's anger--it was still a volatile situation. I wonder when he became the Hulk again? How long has he been the Hulk now? There's a bit of an implication that Rick Jones hasn't seen the Hulk in some time. I wonder how they got separated?

:: Ant-Man arranges for flying ants to carry he and the Wasp out to the Southwest; Jan huffs that she can use her own wings, but Hank doesn't want her to get tired, since they're traveling thousands of miles. I need Neil DeGrasse Tyson to get back to me about the velocity of flying ants. How long would it take them to travel from New York City to New Mexico? Once again, what is even the point of being Ant-Man? They could probably travel faster by train. Or they could borrow the Fantastic Four's pogo plane. Anything, really, other than shrinking down to insect size and gradually flying their way out there. Oy, guys, just... jeez, Ant-Man. And they were finally making it work in Tales to Astonish...

:: Iron Man also takes forever getting to the Southwest; he uses his solar batteries to glide so he doesn't use up the power on his transistor rockets. Can you imagine? I feel like Thor could've gotten there and wrapped all this up by the time Ant-Man, Wasp and Iron Man straggle in. No wonder Hulk took a job with the circus; it was probably a week or more before everyone got out there.

Speaking of Iron Man, boy am I glad that Jack Kirby isn't the artist on his main stories anymore.

That's what I was talking about in my entry for Tales of Suspense #44; he looks huge, clumsy, and unwieldy, whereas Don Heck is great about making the armor look like more supple and flexible. Plus, half the time Jack Kirby makes him look like he has this creepy smile... I can't wait until Iron Man gets new armor. (We're about four months out from that.)

:: The first thing the Wasp says on arriving is how handsome Thor is. Come on, Stan.

:: Another version of Odin, and a cool one, at that.

I keep pointing out to my wife how Odin looks different in every story, while Thor always wears the same outfit. Later, the Asgardians will generally stick to the same looks, but they still haven't been settled on. I like my wife's explanation, though: "Well, Odin's a clotheshorse. He's King of Asgard, after all, he's got to dazzle."

:: Loki says the legend of the Old Man of the Sea was inspired by the trolls of the Isle of Silence. I remember Stan joking in a letters page that the Old Man of the Sea was a visitor from the planet Poppup. Not that dad jokes are canon, it's just something I remembered.

:: Thor says that the room where Loki gets trapped in the tank is "where the trucks which carry radioactive wastes from atomic tests dump their loads for eventual disposal in the ocean." In 2014, that sounds horrifyingly careless of us. How could anyone say that now in so matter-of-fact a manner? *brrr*

:: The Wasp, as the team's girl, doesn't contribute much, which is the same problem Stan's having with Sue Storm over in Fantastic Four. She does actually face the Hulk back in the circus ring for three panels, and she gives the Avengers their name, but for the first few issues, she doesn't even feel like a full team member. It's a step down from what she's been doing in Tales to Astonish, where she makes significant contributions to her partnership with Ant-Man.

In a way, The Avengers is the backbone of the Marvel Universe, giving an interaction and a dynamism and a lot of development to the solo characters who only appear in short stories. It's a way of taking these characters who don't get deeply explored in their usual 13 pages and seeing how they bounce off of one another, and it's not always going to be easy, but it is always going to be entertaining.

Next Marvels: the Sub-Mariner returns! Oh, boy, does he return! Be here for Fantastic Four Annual #1!


bliss_infinte said...

Every time I read Hulk's line in that last panel I always thing of Mr. T. Oh, if only Stan had written "I pity the fool who tries to beat us!"

SamuraiFrog said...

I know! He was only one word off, dang it!

Boy, there was a time when I was 5 and my favorite characters on TV were the Hulk and BA Baracus...