Saturday, May 24, 2014

Marvels: Avengers #2

"The Space Phantom" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman
(November 1963)

I don't know if it's actually supposed to be the point of the issue, but it turns out that without a strong threat like Loki to battle, the Avengers will just turn on each other. Too many strong personalities in the room, perhaps? Or when all of these guys get together, do they just kind of... turn into assholes?

It starts right on the splash page, with haughty Thor making a disdainful comment about the Hulk's "repulsive" clothes. The tension is already there. Iron Man and Thor clearly don't care for the Hulk at all, and I'm not altogether sure that Iron Man even likes Thor: he keeps calling him "long hair" like a real capitalist square. Hilariously, the point of this meeting is for the Avengers to "get to know each other."

Meanwhile, in comes this issue's villain: the Space Phantom.

I love the design of the Space Phantom. Another one of Kirby's John Carradine types. He's here to destroy the Avengers, even though they can't really have much of a reputation yet and barely exist as a team. Let's just go with it. He has the ability to imitate the form of any Earthling, but since "two identical bodies cannot co-exist," he has to send the original version into limbo. Somehow, he knows that Tony Stark is Iron Man and that the Avengers are meeting right now in Stark's mansion, so he just copies a body and heads over there, walking right in because apparently one of the richest industrialists in the world who seems to be the constant target of communist agents doesn't feel he needs security.

The Hulk checks out the intruder, only for the Space Phantom to swap bodies, copying the Hulk and sending the real Hulk into limbo. Now he can infiltrate the Avengers as their most powerful member. Now the Phantom-Hulk just starts picking fights with Iron Man and Thor. The thing is, it's not that hard. They already don't trust Hulk--Thor even seems to have a tendency to order him around. That's the real point here; all of the tension and paranoia and uncertainty of this venture has been directed at the team member who was already the least trusted. So when the Hulk starts to push people around, no one thinks, whoa, the Hulk's acting weird. They just think he's a savage brute that can't be controlled. (And remember, the Avengers were founded because Loki made it look like the Hulk was on a rampage, so it's just that much easier for them to believe it.)

As the Phantom-Hulk stalks out, a wrench is thrown into his plans: Rick Jones. Finally catching up with the Hulk, Rick tries to convince him to come back to his desert lab, but the Phantom-Hulk drops Rick out in the middle of nowhere, menaces him with the truth (Hulk is in limbo), and then decides to speed up his plan. The Phantom-Hulk finds a Stark Industries plant and destroys a missile gun, baiting Iron Man to face him. It works like a charm; Iron Man is quick to distrust the Hulk. So quick that even the Space Phantom can't believe how easy it is to play off of.

Still Iron Man is stronger than the Space Phantom anticipated (he uses the suit to send an electrical charge through Phantom-Hulk), so the Space Phantom swaps the Hulk's body for a nearby wasp, which leaves Iron Man fighting the actual Hulk. The fight only barely gets broken up by Giant-Man (he and the Wasp are called in by Rick Jones' Teen Brigade), but it's telling that Iron Man warns Giant-Man that "Hulk's had this coming for a long time." This team is falling apart at the seams.

The Wasp is attacked by the actual wasp that Space Phantom is mimicking, and he uses her fear impulses to lure in Giant-Man, then copies his body (sending the real Giant-Man to limbo), and gets right back to wrecking things. The Wasp and the Hulk even see what happened, but Space Phantom doesn't care anymore. He and the Hulk, inside a Stark Industries factory, just start throwing vehicles and lab equipment at each other. Iron Man gets caught in the crossfire, and the Space Phantom copies him this time, but the Hulk and Giant-Man immediately know what's going on.

The Wasp, meanwhile, decides to find Thor so he can settle this battle. I guess Dr. Don Blake is Thor's emergency contact or whatever, so she goes to Blake's office, he secretly turns into Thor, and they rush in to save the day. Phantom-Iron Man is making short work of the Hulk and Giant-Man with his attached air jet discs. One nice detail is that the Wasp plays an integral role in the victory: she finds a way into the jet discs, finds the main control cables, and simply rips them out. Phantom-Iron Man is able to use his magnetic repulsor to deflect Thor's hammer, but he's powerless against the torrential rainstorm that Thor conjures up. The sudden, heavy rain rusts Iron Man's armor into uselessness. (Which seems to be a serious design flaw that Tony should work on, really.) Phantom-Iron Man is frozen still.

The Space Phantom has another move to play, though: he tries to copy Thor's body. But he can't! Because Thor is a god, not a human! I guess! It comes out of nowhere, but it works. And because Space Phantom has opened the limbo portal, he goes into limbo instead, and everyone's fine.

Well, everyone but the Hulk. Stinging at how easy it was for everyone to believe he was the evil one.

Poor Hulk! One issue as an Avenger and he is done. Will the Hulk ever find a place where he won't have to be feared and hated? It certainly won't be as an Avenger.

Stray observations:

:: Stan and Jack are clearly still overworked here. Jack's art feels rushed, especially compared to that great first issue, and there aren't many great poses or establishing panels. He even draws the Hulk with three toes instead of his usual five. Stan, meanwhile, mistakenly says that the Hulk's secret identity is Don Blake instead of Bruce Banner. It's pretty easy to imagine Stan not getting much sleep during this time period. He is writing a lot of books, and all the books he's not writing, he's plotting.

:: The Avengers still don't know the identities of their teammates, but Ant-Man and the Wasp both appear to the rest in their natural forms, which is something that heretofore seemed to be something of a no-no. There's really no point pretending to be naturally ant-sized anymore, since Hank Pym comes to the first meeting as Ant-Man, then grows to his natural human size, and then spends the rest of the issue as Giant-Man.

:: I remember reading once that Stan Lee had a hierarchy of powers set down, listing who was the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe. At the top of the list was Thor, since he was a god. So it makes a lot of sense that the Wasp would think to bring Thor into the battle in order to win.

:: Speaking of Thor, I'm starting to see some of the evolution of his more flowery speak, with lines like "On to the factory of Stark!"

:: Speaking of the Wasp... even in the face of battle, she's only got one thing on her mind.

Jan, no.

Jan, stop.

Please, Jan.

Jan, come on, staaaaaaahp.

God damn it, Jan.

Despite the burnt-out feeling that's evident but not overwhelming, this is a great issue. The Avengers should always feel epic; there should always be something that justifies the teaming of these heroes, and this issue is epic, indeed. I also like that this issue gives each member of the team something to do, some way to contribute, to show why they're each an essential component of the Avengers.

Of course, then they use that to force out the Hulk, but... well, the Hulk's not done with the Avengers just yet.

Next Marvels: Let's go back to the alphabetical listing we've been on and look at Amazing Spider-Man #6 and another classic Spidey villain!

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