Monday, November 28, 2011

157: The Avengers #6

The Avengers #6
May 5, 1964

  • Introducing the Masters of Evil! Just as the Avengers were Marvel's first team assembled from pre-existing heroes, so too are the M.O.E. Marvel's first team of (mostly) pre-existing villains. And it's a pretty inspired thought! After all, since just about every hero on the Avengers has his own comic - why not take a villain from each and put them all together? Wham - instant crisis!

    Baron Zemo in the Jungle.

  • Of course, the exception to this formula is their leader, Baron Zemo, since Captain America doesn't have his own mag - not yet anyway - and thus currently has no enemies to call upon. (The obvious choice might have been to bring back the Red Skull, who appeared in Cap's first issue back in 1940, but maybe Stan hadn't yet thought of that - or if he did, realized that the return of Cap's first supervillain should require its own story, when the time was right.) In any case, the solution that Stan hit upon was to create a brand-new villain, but one retrofitted into Captain America's past. In fact, it's made clear that Zemo is the bad guy they were fighting when Cap lost Bucky, right before he went into the deep freeze! And with his hand revealed in that tragic back story, an archenemy is instantly born.

    The villains return.

  • Still, if there's one complaint we can voice about this new team of villainy, it's that it does seem thrown together somewhat at random. I mean, the Melter as the foe for Iron Man? Fine. Melting is about as opposite of hard iron as you can get, so he's conceptually a great foil. But the Black Knight fought Giant-Man and the Wasp just the once, and will only be really remembered in later decades, when at all, for his connection to the later Avenger by the same name. And the Radioactive Man - while a fine baddie, I suppose, and certainly emblematic of the nuclear terror of the times - isn't intrinsically a "Thor villain", in the same way that, say, Loki is. Fortunately, later incarnations of the team would be a bit more appropriately matched!

    Only in the Silver Age, y'all!

  • Finally, a note on the new villain, Zemo. We get a bit of his origin, set twenty years earlier in World War II, when he was supposedly so hated a figure that he had to wear a hood everywhere he went. (Although you'd think he might have chosen a color less conspicuous, no?) But a chance conflict with Captain America accidentally smashed a nearby container of Zemo's dastardly new superglue - Adhesive X - and the hood has been stuck on his face ever since. As origin stories go, it's not bad - somewhat reminiscent of Superboy's accidental baldifying of a teenage Lex Luthor, maybe - but c'mon, glue? That was going to be the secret weapon to win the war? I was at that point musing, and thinking how funny it would be if they ever showed a connection between Baron Zemo, and that other gluemeister, Paste-Pot Pete ... and so was caught completely off-guard when I turned the page and saw, to my astonishment, that they DID! As someone the Avengers phone up to help them defeat Zemo's special adhesive, yes, but still: Two villains, one a war criminal and the other a petty thief, yet both of them connected ... by glue.

    This has to have been the most welcome surprise cameo in all of 1964!