Thursday, March 31, 2011

125: The Avengers #4

The Avengers #4
January 3, 1964

  • So here it is: The return of Captain America, in what may be the second most important comic in the Silver Age of Marvel (deferring only to Fantastic Four #1). After Namor fled the Avengers at the end of the last issue, he happens upon a group of Eskimos worshipping a frozen figure encased in a block of ice. Eager to lash out, Namor yells a lot and angrily throws the object of their attentions to the sea. Reaching warmer climes, the block of ice melts, and the figure is picked up by the Avengers in their ocean craft, homeward bound.

    Witness one of the most famous moments in Marvel history.

  • As alluded to in an opening caption, Captain America was first created and drawn by Jack Kirby (alongside Joe Simon) in 1941, and Stan Lee's first writing in a comic was a 2-page text story from Captain America Comics #3 - so, as they say, the circle is complete! Stan had teased Cap's return a few months back in Strange Tales #114, in which Torch baddie The Acrobat posed as a returned Captain America. At the end of the tale, Stan told the readership to let Marvel know if they wanted Cap back for real - and respond they did!

    Imagine how shocked he might feel had he returned today!

  • Apart from the singular prospect of reviving a truly iconic character in a new age (something which had been attempted once before in 1953, but failed to take hold), why else might Stan have thought this a good idea? What else, he might have asked, could Cap have to offer the book? Well, although the Avengers were a great assemblage of many of Marvel's solo heroes, and they both worked and clashed in a way similar to the Fantastic Four, they didn't have any obvious leader like the FF did in the person of Reed Richards. But Captain America, by simple virtue of his legend and strength of character, would surely be looked up to by all, making him a natural choice. With this one change, the Avengers could change from a somewhat random collection of heroes into an inspiring and actual team.

    This scene never occurred in the original Captain America comics;
    it's something Stan Lee grafted on specifically for his return.

  • But Stan wasn't content to return the character unchanged. No, Stan had the genius to bring what could have been a stodgy, straightforward figure as a layered character in the new Marvel mold: complex and flawed. Specifically, by revealing that Cap had Rip Van Winkled his way from the end of World War II to the current day - two decades' worth - Stan could cast Steve Rogers as both a beloved war hero and a fish-out-of-water, lost and confused by the modern 1960s world he saw around him. And if that weren't enough, by deciding that Bucky had been killed during their last WWII adventure, Stan gifted Cap with a bit of pathos and tragedy to haunt him from the past.

    All this, and Rick Jones too!  Stan certainly made sure you got your money's worth.