Thursday, July 02, 2015

Marvels: Avengers #6

"The Mighty Avengers Meet the Masters of Evil!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Chic Stone
(July 1964)

This issue introduces another major villain to the Marvel Universe: Baron Zemo. Although he's first appearing here, he's given an origin that ties him into Captain America's story. The idea is that Zemo was Hitler's greatest scientist, but he kept a hood over his head so that no one could ever identify him. He was working on a powerful adhesive--called, appropriately, Adhesive-X--when Captain America raided his lab and the adhesive got all over Zemo, permanently bonding the hood to his face. Baron Zemo was able to escape and get his revenge, by launching the very drone plane that killed Bucky and, so he's thought for nearly 20 years, Captain America.

Zemo isn't happy, then, to read that Captain America is back in action.

He's living in a remote South American jungle, where he's ruling a small village of natives. A pilot brings him supplies, including the newspaper, which is how Zemo learns of Captain America's reappearance. He vows to finish the job this time.

But Captain America is in the mood for revenge, too. Still missing Bucky, he swears "on my oath as an Avenger" to punish the man responsible for Bucky's death.

It's Zemo who strikes first, gathering a force he calls the Masters of Evil. I'll be honest: he's not exactly picking from the A-list of supervillains available. The Black Knight is a neat villain, but the Melter? The only good thing about the Melter is that he melted that old golden suit that Iron Man used to wear, forcing him into a much neater set of armor. And the friggin' Radioactive Man? Talk about lame. Also, didn't Thor destroy Radioactive Man by literally throwing him into China, where he blew up like a nuclear bomb? I mean, he did, but I guess we're not counting it? Okay. Okay.

Anyway, Zemo's plan is to terrorize New York by spraying Adhesive-X everywhere and then having his "Masters" of Evil fight the heroes that already defeated them before, so great plan. The Black Knight fights Giant-Man and the Wasp, the Melter fights Iron Man, and Radioactive Man fights Thor, and as is becoming the formula in The Avengers, the team gets their asses handed to them. They retreat and try to come up with a way to dissolve Adhesive-X.

Now... okay, I consider Baron Zemo to be a big player in the Marvel Universe, but are we sure he's some kind of genius? Was he truly Hitler's greatest scientist? I only ask because when he shows up and the Masters of Evil have let the Avengers slip through their fingers, Radioactive Man wonders aloud if the Avengers can find a solution to Adhesive-X, and Baron Zemo, who has spent two decades with this stuff all over his face, immediately thinks "A solution for Adhesive-X!! I never thought of that!" I mean... this is a guy who was keeping up with scientific journals in the hopes that someone, somewhere would come up with some kind of super-solvent, and he never took this possibility into consideration?

If he was really that smart, he would've just staged some kind of lab accident that spilled Adhesive-X everywhere and then let the Avengers handle that, and then steal some of the solvent from them and then just walked around the streets of Miami like all of the other escaped Nazis.

And by the way, the Avengers don't even have to experiment with the stuff. They just make a call to a prison and hey, what do you know, someone did create a powerful enough solvent to dilute Adhesive-X, and it was mother-scratchin' Paste-Pot Pete. Seriously. Paste-Pot Pete. And he tells them where it is in return for shaving some time off his prison sentence. That's all it took.

I feel like if your superweapon can be dismantled by a villain as exceedingly lame as Paste-Pot Pete, it's not really that great a weapon. Seriously. Guy dresses like a Flemish house painter in the 1580s. Sorry, Hitler's Greatest Scientist, Jan Brueghel the Elder just stumbled upon the flaw in your superglue. Zemo even does the whole "This will make me the most powerful man on Earth!" shtick that's already so cliche in the Marvel Universe. I'm starting to think Zemo's just a one-trick pony in fancy dress.

To add insult to injury, the Teen Brigade gets one over on this guy; Rick Jones and his pals replace the tanks of Adhesive-X with the solvent, so that when the Black Knight flies over New York to give it a second coat, he instead frees everyone who's been stuck. Then the Avengers simply trade villains, so Thor easily defeats the Black Knight, Giant-Man and Iron Man put the Radioactive Man out of action, and... well, actually Iron Man also beats the Melter just by maneuvering him so that he melts a fire hydrant that disables the melting beam.

The stage is cleared for the best part of the issue: hand-to-hand combat between Captain America and Baron Zemo.

I think World War II vets Stan & Jack were pretty happy to reintroduce Captain America into a new generation of comic books. And here it's interesting to see Cap get passionate about his ideals without coming across too much like a mouthpiece. It plays great in context. We'll see how that goes in the future.

(Great art in the fight scene, too; Jack Kirby draws clear action with strong poses, but you can feel every inch of exertion and anger just from the expressions of the characters and Chic Stone's details as inker. Fantastic team.)

In the end, Baron Zemo is able to escape, but his container of solvent has been replaced by a container of tear gas, and his escape copter goes down. It seems to be a given that the authorities will just scoop up Zemo from his crash site, but he'll be menacing the Avengers again next issue.

Stray observations:

:: "Caution!" the opening blurb warns. "Don't tear this magazine or wrinkle the pages or get food stains on it! We have a hunch you'll want to save it as a collector's item for a long, long time!" Good advice; the current value of this issue is around $1,400.

:: This issue upgrades Captain America's shield: Tony Stark has made Cap a wrist gauntlet with magnets in it so that his shield--now containing some kind of transistorized doo-whacky--will return to Cap after he throws it. They did something like this in the recent Age of Ultron movie, too.

:: Cap and Giant-Man get stuck to the ground when Adhesive-X is in play; Iron Man's solution is to back up a tow truck, have the two heroes hold onto the tow chains, and drive off with them like they're water-skiing. I love it when old comics are earnestly cheesy.

:: Overworked Stan accidentally calls Rick Jones "Rick Brown" in this issue.

:: Iron Man defeats Radioactive Man with lead foil and a balloon.

Master of Evil.

:: "Giant-Man! Where did you come from??" "The stork brought me!"

:: In the Special Announcements section, Stan announces that The Avengers is now a monthly title. I have mixed feelings about that, honestly. I liked it as a bi-monthly, where the Avengers were facing truly powerful threats like the Hulk and Namor and the Lava Men. It seems like if you're going to have a team mainly comprised of characters who are the lead in their own books, you have to give them threats large enough to justify the team-up. This is why The Avengers has never really been one of my favorite comics, and why revisiting the first five issues was so much fun. The stories were momentous, and I wonder if now we're going to have a bunch of filler villains just so these guys can all hang out together in a clubhouse.

This issue just barely skirted that. I know I made fun of the lame villain team-up and Baron Zemo's silly plan, but I did enjoy this issue overall. Captain America is clearly the real star of the book now, and his fight with Zemo made it all worth it. But how soon are they going to notice that Cap is the real lead and the other heroes aren't quite as interesting as him and are basically just the supporting cast now. (When does the new team come in? The second year? I can't remember.)

I'll be patient, of course, but I hope this book doesn't become as tired as X-Men is right now.

Speaking of...

Next Marvels: X-Men vs. the Fantastic Four!


Roger Owen Green said...

I must say I LOVE how you write these reviews as though the books are just coming out: "I'll be patient, of course, but I hope this book doesn't become as tired as X-Men is right now."

SamuraiFrog said...

Ha, yeah. It's mainly because I haven't read some of these or haven't in a long time and remembered them a little better than they deserve. I forgot how tedious early X-Men can be, for example. And I've never read any of these issues of Strange Tales or Tales of Suspense or Sgt. Fury. We're getting towards the end of what I remember of Avengers, and I think that I may have read almost nothing from the second half of the sixties except for Amazing Spider-Man and Silver Surfer, come to think of it...