Thursday, December 23, 2010

97: The Avengers #2

The Avengers #2
September 3, 1963

  • It would be a bold and risky move to introduce multiple changes to a comic in its second issue, just after the team has debuted. After all, conventional wisdom says that readers should have time to acclimate to a status quo before you start changing it - and let's not forget that frantic, frenzied changes doomed one title already. But Stan apparently has no use for conventional wisdom, because this issue highlights Hank Pym's new identity of Giant-Man! I suppose that's one of the necessary risks of doing a book which features characters with their own titles: major changes in those titles must then be acknowledged. All perfectly normal, if you're going to do that sort of thing. But what is unusual is to also debut the new feature of a character in this, the secondary book - such as when Jack Kirby shows us a cutaway of Giant Man's ant-communication circuitry, no longer encased in a bulky silver helmet as before, but wafer-thin and affixed to the inside of his mask.

    Watch out, Tony!  The Hulk be spoilin' for a fight.

  • Do the changes stop there? They certainly do not ... for at the end of this issue, the Hulk leaves the team! Think about that: One of the founding members has left, after their first official outing. It must have been positively shocking! Was this Stan's intent all along? Or did he really change his mind that quickly? Did Stan suddenly realize that making the Hulk into a team player diluted the power of his metaphor as the ultimate loner? Or did the character, on second thought, seem too limited as a sullen, angry brute (unlike the Fantastic Four's cranky-but-more-evenly-tempered Thing)? Or did Stan, perhaps, realize that there was even more untapped potential in the character than he'd first suspected, and perhaps he needed to rethink giving the Hulk his own feature again, sometime down the line...?

    The Hulk as portrayed in this issue seems more sullen and confused than anything else.
    Also, the angular design of the Space Phantom gives him a creepy and alien feel.

  • Meanwhile, the villain for this piece is the Space Phantom. On the surface, he seems all too familiar, as he's yet another alien scout spearheading yet another alien invasion, in yet another allegory for American fears of the Communist threat. But it has to be said that in this case the analogy is more successful than usual, because the Space Phantom operates by stealing someone's identity and then infiltrating their life. In other words: Look around you! The invader could be anyone!

    This was truly one of Stan's strengths: the ability to juxtapose action & suspense with
    perspectives that were unexpected, and often ridiculous.

  • Additionally, this issue sees the Avengers get the headquarters they'll operate from for most of their existence, as Iron Man provides them with a mansion owned by Tony Stark. Pretty nice, that! (Though it's not yet called Avengers Mansion, and their famed and beloved butler won't show up for another year.) Also, take note of the "thou" in Thor's speech during this issue, marking what I believe to be the first appearance of his famed faux-Shakespearean dialogue - something that Stan could sometimes pull off, other writers often couldn't, and which yet remained rooted to the character until just a couple years ago.

    Surprisingly, Stan's dialogue implies that the Hulk was quite a sensitive soul,
    and all he really wanted was some friends.  Not that he's done with the Avengers, oh no...