March 3, 1964
- Following the monumental FF/Hulk/Avengers brawl in Fantastic Four #25 & 26, the Avengers finally get a bit of a break in the action. It may be just a few moments of down time, but it does feel very nearly like the first time since they began! After all, in #1 the team came together, and #2 saw the Hulk leave their ranks after their very first case as a group. The third issue came out of the Hulk's immediately subsequent desire for revenge, while The Avengers' discovery of Captain America occurred on their way home from that battle - which led into their appearance in FF, which leads right back here. Whew! By the end of this tale, it really does feel like we've finally reached the culmination of a single story that's been in progress ever since the very first issue.
This opening scene refers to destruction that didn't even occur in their own book!
A few years earlier, this would have been unthinkable.
- And Stan & Jack use that period of down time well. In particular, they deliver a larger glimpse of who we're presently most interested in: Captain America. We've seen the other members during quieter moments in their own titles, but the only time we've seen Cap apart from the Avengers thus far was upon his initial return, as he wandered New York City and wondered at the many changes wrought in his absence. So, faced with another brief space between world-shaking crises, what does Cap decide to do? He gathers together Rick Jones and his Teen Brigade, and teaches them the basics of acrobatics and fighting fitness. In just a few panels, Stan & Jack give us an understanding of Steve Rogers that would have felt completely in-character to anyone who had read his stories the first time around, or even those of us who have read his adventures in the last several decades: Given any opportunity, Cap's first instinct is to teach, to lead - and inspire. And with both the Teen Brigade and the readers, he succeeds!
The heavy hints at Rick Jones being a new Bucky for Cap continue.
- So, since the initial character arc of the Hulk vs. the Avengers has finally wrapped (and not even in their own title!), it does seem a bit strange to find the green brute still turning up in these page. We might wonder: What's going on here? What's Stan's game? The most straightforward theory - besides just making it up as they go, of course - might find a clue in the fact that the Hulk has now guest-starred in more issues than his original comic lasted. Stan clearly saw the untapped potential in this character, and was perhaps keeping him in the public eye until he could grant the misunderstood monster his own regular feature once again. (Not much longer now!) In any case, after this unbroken string of appearances, the Hulk won't be seen again in these pages for several years to come.
Just Stan's way of reminding you who that big green guy really is.
- This time out, though, the Hulk isn't the threat: It's the Lava Men. Yes, building on the Lava Man story from Journey into Mystery #97, we've now got a whole race of molten, underground dwellers. After all, one of the advantages to having a super-team composed mostly of characters who have their own solo adventures is that the villains of those individual characters are now fair game for all. (Recall that the Avengers were first brought together by Loki.) And while the Lava Men could have been bland, cookie-cutter bad guys, as seen here they've relatively complex motivations. The Lava Man who had previously faced Thor is the lone voice of dissent, surely showing a capacity to reflect and learn generally uncharacteristic of most baddies, and while the others are certainly endangering the surface world, they're clearly not evil - they're just trying to survive.
Impressively, Stan avoids the common mistake of making all members of a group
act as one unified mob. And dig that witch doctor's crazy look!