Tuesday, October 19, 2010

82: The Avengers #1

The Avengers #1
July 2, 1963

  • In what seems a culmination of the last two years of storytelling, the Avengers are born! And the comic itself proclaims: "The first of a star-studded series of book-length super-epics featuring some of Earth's greatest super-heroes!" The wording there ("book-length") is notable; Thor, Iron Man, and the team of Ant-Man & the Wasp all have half-length strips, while the Hulk had his book cancelled last year - so none of these characters currently had full stories of their own. And since Stan had noticed the enthusiastic reader response any time one character guest-starred in the comic of another, putting several of Marvel's new creations together in one mag was a no-brainer!

    For the first time, the call is heard - and answered....

  • On to the story! The trickster god Loki, out for revenge against Thor as usual, hits upon a cunning scheme: By making the Hulk look as if he tried to destroy a passing train, Loki hopes to lure Thor into battle with the monster. And sure enough, when this near-disaster makes the paper, Rick Jones and his Teen Brigade send out a cry for help to the Fantastic Four via ham radio. The FF miss the call, but it's soon picked up by Thor's human guise of Don Blake, as well as Hank Pym, Janet Van Dyne, and Tony Stark. And the chase is on!

    When the Hulk stomps around half-naked, his book gets cancelled.
    When he dresses like a clown, they give him a team.  Go figure!

  • The Hulk quickly hides out from the heroes by posing as a robotic "strong man" in a circus, though you'd think he might not trust such a place, given his previous encounter with one. It also might seem unusual to the modern reader to see the Hulk engaging in such subterfuge at all, rather than simply running or fighting. However, after all the rapid changes to his character in the six issues of his series, he seems to have settled into the antisocial but still intelligent persona he started out with; "dumb Hulk" won't be the character's norm for a while yet. Meanwhile, when Thor heads off to Asgard to track Loki down, we're treated with a significantly deeper look at the heavenly home of the gods than anything we've seen in Journey into Mystery so far, including our first glimpse of Asgardian trolls. Fortunately, these are things Stan & Jack would start to delve into much, much more - starting, in fact, with JIM's very next issue.

    The story's scope is epic enough to rate not only cameos from Odin and the FF, but also
    such radically different atmospheres as the gloom of an Asgardian swamp.

  • That said, the Avengers' debut isn't all sunshine and cookies, because - and, look, I hate having to say it, but - the treatment of Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp, is simply atrocious. The first worrying sign you might have noticed is that, of the five founding Avengers, the Wasp is the only one who doesn't merit cover billing. Then, when Thor takes off after the Hulk halfway through, Iron Man allays any fears by telling the Teen Brigade that he & Ant-Man are on the case. And throughout the adventure, Janet does little but moon over the "dreamy" Thor for the entire book. Between this and the unflattering treatment of Sue Storm, the constant, casual sexism on display from Stan Lee is distressing, and impossible to avoid. And I know, I know: It was a different time, and both Stan and these comics were products of that time. But it doesn't make it any less unfortunate, or any less grating, and I look forward to that becoming a dwindling presence as time goes on. But in the meantime - hey, at least the Wasp gets to name the group! (Even if the name does kind of comes out of nowhere....)

    The team is formed!  And it's such a fantastic lineup, I'll bet the roster
    stays exactly like this for a bajillion years.  Or - maybe not...?