Sunday, July 27, 2014

Marvels: Avengers #3

"The Avengers Meet Sub-Mariner" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman
(January 1964)

So far, The Avengers has managed to avoid settling into a "business as usual" routine. It's one of the most exciting things about this book. Exciting as it is, the formula has set in on Fantastic Four and you know more or less the way an issue is going to go. The Avengers has managed, in the first two issues, to feel epic, and I love that about it. I kind of dread it becoming a regular monthly book. Right now, I like that appearing only every two months makes it special. You need a reason for Marvel's mightiest to band together. Loki riling up the Hulk was a reason. The Space Phantom was a reason. And now, Hulk and Sub-Mariner teaming up is a reason.

In the previous issue, the Hulk was driven away when it became clear that the rest of the team (particularly Iron Man, jeez) were never going to trust or respect him. From panel one of this issue, Iron Man is practically demanding that the Avengers go out and find the Hulk, because "there's no telling what he'll do!" Tony seems like the kind of guy that's always up for rounding up certain groups into camps when a crisis breaks out. Iron Man sends an image projection of himself around New York, looking for help from the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the X-Men for help locating the Hulk.

The Teen Brigade also pick up the message, which sets Rick Jones on a search. It doesn't take long to find him; the Hulk has returned home to the desert. When Rick finds the Hulk, he's actually helping a farmer pull his jeep out of a lake. Rick takes Hulk to that old desert cave of theirs, where the Hulk can step on a platform and bathe himself in gamma radiation to turn back into Bruce Banner. Hulk is reluctant, but turns back and settles in for some sleep.

But then, something happens...

Though no one uses the word, this is the first time stress turns Banner into the Hulk. He makes the transformation and emerges, in Rick's estimation, "stronger than ever." He busts his way out of that steel-reinforced cave pretty easily, and stalks off into the desert.

Rick alerts the Avengers, and Iron Man just can't wait to get out to the southwest and start beating the shit out of the Hulk again. The other three make their way out, but Iron Man gets there first, and the Hulk isn't holding back at all. This is probably the best evidence to the reader of what Iron Man's Mark III armor can withstand, because the Hulk gets the drop on him with a massive fist. I mean, the best Ant-Man can do is use ants to slowly destabilize the ground under Hulk's feet, which really doesn't help much.

The fight is pretty great; for six pages, Iron Man, Thor, and then Giant-Man try to conquer the Hulk with no luck. The Hulk even throws a train car at them and makes them look incompetent.

Giant-Man, of course, looks the most incompetent.

Watching Giant-Man clumsily smack into stuff will never get old or unfunny, this I vow.

The Hulk manages to slip away and hide in the back of a gravel truck, then makes his way to the Gulf of Mexico and swims out into the Atlantic Ocean. He tires eventually, but is rescued by a passing ship. They let him aboard, where he recovers his strength. It's a refreshing change to see people showing the Hulk any kindness.

A small, rocky island catches the Hulk's eye, so he decides to make that his new home. Slipping off the ship, he swims ashore, only to find someone waiting for him.

We haven't seen Namor since Fantastic Four Annual #1, when his invasion of the surface was thwarted and his people abandoned him. Since then, he seems to have been trying to figure out how to get revenge on the surface-dwellers, and this is how he plans to do it: use the Hulk. They fight at first, but come to an understanding: the most powerful beings of the land and sea, they will drive humanity to its knees... and then, secretly, each one plans to eliminate the other when it's over.

Sub-Mariner takes the Hulk to Gibraltar and challenges the Avengers to a fight. The battle is joined readily; almost immediately, Namor takes out Iron Man with a blast of emery dust, which makes Iron Man's joints stiffen instantly. He just pitches forward, and Giant-Man has to let Thor do all the fighting so he can set up a pump to get the dust out of Tony's suit. Wow, the Iron Man armor never looked so useless. One second into battle and it's an expensive paperweight. When he does get back to the fight, a single punch from Namor damages the transistors that keep the shrapnel away from his heart, nearly crippling him.

All told, Iron Man is surprisingly ineffective in this fight. Namor's just that good.

Giant-Man may be tall, but Namor is much stronger--so far, Giant-Man's 12-foot height hasn't turned out to be much of an advantage for him or the Avengers. And Stan can't think of anything useful for the Wasp to do in the battle at all. Namor and Hulk begin things with a Howitzer shell, and Iron Man begs Thor not to smash it because "It won't affect us, but the explosion might injure the Wasp!" Jan then falls to a soundwave created by the Hulk hitting a rock wall, barely avoids getting trampled by her own teammates, and then just clings to Giant-Man's shoulder, where she's not seen again until the battle is over. Stan also has a tendency to refer to the Avengers as a trio... which I guess they are, if you don't take Jan into consideration at all. Jeez, why not just make her the Avengers' secretary and leave her at home, Stan?

That just leaves Thor doing all of the heavy lifting, literally. Namor is convinced that the key to battle is to get Thor's hammer away from him, and he's nearly right. Of course, neither Namor nor the Hulk can lift the hammer...

..but they come very close to having the hammer out of Thor's hands for sixty seconds. Imagine if he'd turned into Don Blake right there. Hulk probably would have just killed him. No more Thor to worry about.

It really does seem like the Hulk/Sub-Mariner team-up is going to emerge victorious, but then something happens. The Hulk has been so weakened by his attempts to wrest control of Thor's hammer that he turns into Bruce Banner. Banner, unnoticed and in a panic, runs for his life, leaving Namor to battle the Avengers.

Iron Man comes back with his big finishing move, which is to use his repulsor rays to pin Namor against a rock wall. Namor is still fighting, but has been away from the water long enough that his strength is ebbing. The force with which Iron Man is pushing Namor into the wall cracks the wall itself, and water begins to seep through the cracks... which drips on Namor and restores his strength. He breaks free, but the Avengers let him escape.

I'm not sure if this is really victory for the Avengers or not; feels more like a draw to me.

Stray notes:

:: This the first time we've seen Bruce Banner since Incredible Hulk #6, nearly a year ago, which is also the last time we saw the gamma platform. Do you suppose he's been Hulk this whole time? How traumatic.

:: Upon hearing the news that the Hulk is loose again, Hank and Jan immediately shrink and take a flying ant out to the American southwest. And, again, I am just mystified. How long does Stan Lee think it takes flying ants to cross several states and roughly 1500 miles? It would take a car about 30 hours to get there.

:: To get to the Hulk, Don Blake closes the office early so he can go change into Thor. When he announces his intention to close, Jane thinks to herself "Oh, Don, if only you didn't pamper yourself so! If only you were more rugged!" Ugh, Stan. The goddamn Hulk is running around angry, and you still can't bring yourself to skip Jane's constant admonition of Blake, can you? Even in the single panel in which she appears? It just devalues Jane as a character, alright? Stop. Just stop.

:: Also, no more of this:

Ugh, a thousand times, ugh. Women are either flirts or nags, I guess.

:: Iron Man says he doesn't want to kill the Sub-Mariner, he just wants to reason with him. I have yet to hear him say anything about reasoning with the Hulk, just saying.

:: Overworked Stan once again accidentally identifies Bruce Banner as Bob Banner. It's kind of funny, because he's Bruce in the first half of the issue, but Bob in the second. Welcome back, Bob.

This was a great issue, my favorite Avengers comic so far. I love it when the Hulk shows up, but the Avengers are done with the Hulk for now; it'll be a few months before we see him again in Fantastic Four #25.

But our next Marvels will take us to Fantastic Four #22, where the Marvel Universe's first-ever villain returns.

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