Tuesday, January 1, 2013

182: The Avengers #8

The Avengers #8  
July 9, 1964
  • Introducing Kang the Conqueror! In time he will go on to be one of the Avengers' greatest single villains, and quite possibly their primary archenemy. The Masters of Evil are certainly tops when it comes to team vs. team, and Ultron will arguably become their most fearsome returning baddie with a personal connection to our heroes literally built-in - but that won't occur for another four years. So Kang's arrival here is important, as the brand-new villains introduced thus far have included Lava Men (just a recooked version of the Mole Man's Moloids), shape-changing goofy-faced dude The Space Phantom, and ... Broccolli-head. In other words, we're rather overdue for somebody truly fearsome. Fortunately, you can tell from the outset that he's destined to be a classic: Groovy, alliterative name? Check! Impressively arresting visual design? Check! Now if he just happens to have any interesting abilities or an unusual back story, we may have something!

    Wh... Why on Earth do they have THOR on tech duty?!

  • Stan & Jack may have suspected that this villain had real potential. Rather than introducing him to our heroes with a humdrum arrival on the scene as per usual, the Avengers first hear that something is amiss via an emergency Pentagon alert regarding an approaching UFO. Once it lands, the hatchway doesn't immediately open, but instead sits immobile: Watching. Waiting. After an hour, it's been surrounded by the national security forces, and only after a nozzle protrudes from within to dispose of the army tanks does its master step out to greet the Earth in suitably dramatic fashion. The scenario is more than a little reminiscent of Klaatu's arrival in The Day the Earth Stood Still, to the extent that I wondered if Stan was deliberately cribbing ... but that film came out in 1951 - 13 years before! (Did movies get second releases back then, as much as a decade later?) Still, it is worth pondering from whence the Kang concept came. Sure, the idea of time travel had been popularized as far back as H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, and we've already seen the trope used by Stan himself in the past couple of years, via Dr. Doom's time machine, Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, and Pharaoh Rama-Tut. Speaking of which...

    As the Avengers meet Kang, Janet's "characterization" continues.
  • When Kang begins to divulge his back story to the Avengers, we're shocked to discover that his mystery identity alluded to on the cover is that of Rama-Tut! (In actuality, the readers are more shocked than the Avengers, who have likely never heard of the Pharaoh in question.) We'd last seen Rama-Tut in the pages of The Fantastic Four Annual #2, which just came out the previous week. That's actually pretty cool, and with hindsight makes Tut's appearance there, and the question as to whether he might be the past or future incarnation of another villain - which at the time seemed entirely unnecessary - to suddenly make a strange kind of sense. Whether intentional or a bit of genius improvisation, it almost seems like Stan has had a plan all along! So how did Rama-Tut become Kang then? Well, after dropping Doom off in the 20th century, the Pharaoh headed off towards his own time in the 30th. But due to a mysterious glitch, he overshot his mark by 1000 years and instead landed in the 40th century - which he soon conquered entirely and made his home. (Though that does bring another question to mind: Why the change from the 30th century to the 40th? Did Stan notice the setting of DC's Legion of Superheroes, and decide to leave the 30th to them?)

    Kang conquers.
  • In record time, the male Avengers find themselves captured, and the only ones left to free them are the Wasp, Rick Jones and the Teen Brigade! It's honestly a bit mystifying seeing the Teen Brigade get the spotlight as much as they do; they've appeared in nearly every issue, been instrumental in the team's formation, and their increased involvement here even ranks a shout-out on the cover. Stan clearly seems to think they're a concept the readers might respond to, perhaps in the same vein as Joe Simon & Jack Kirby's 1940s DC creation The Newsboy Legion - and yet, unlike the Newsboys, Stan consistently forgets to give any of the Brigade special talents, or unique traits, or even recurring names - anything that would make them actual characters, and not just the barest sketch of a concept. Still, despite their admittedly coglike sameness, they're nevertheless resourceful enough to break the Avengers out of captivity ... which is honestly more excitement than the Wasp gets, whose contribution is limited to flying to Hank Pym's lab to fetch his shiny new Stark-designed raygun, then flying back. Stan's heart is in the right place, but his execution is still lacking. Ah well: In another couple of years, the Teen Brigade will have faded into obscurity, while future decades will see Janet Van Dyne become a strong, rich and complexly-layered heroine. All she needed, really, was ... time.

    Thanks, Rick Jones!
    Now let's grab some RandomTeens.