Let’s start the party.
So here’s how this is going to work: see those numbers after the review series title in the header? The first number represents each ‘volume.’ I’m dividing up the Avengers comics by decade—1 means 1960s, 2 means 1970s, etc. (I’m going by cover dates, not the dates they were actually available.) The second number represents how many parts into the volume I am, and it’ll reset at the start of each new volume. I’ll try to review one to three comics per post, depending on the length of the comics and how much I have to say about them. For example, Avengers #200 will probably get its own post because it is longer than the average comic and also it is an unholy abomination. Mostly that last part.
Anyway! Without further ado, I bring you the very first issue of The Avengers—and of Avengerous Tales.
The Avengers debuted in 1963 and was drawn by—you guessed it—Jack Kirby and written by—you guessed it—Stan Lee. Well, maybe. There’s actually debate about how much writing Lee really did on any given issue of any given series he was credited for during this period, but I have zero interest in entering that debate right now.
Our very first issue opens in Asgard, home of the Norse gods. Specifically, we’re on the Isle of Silence, where Loki has been imprisoned for being, well, Loki. To be honest, I’ve never really liked Marvel’s portrayal of our mischief god-in-residence. In the original myths, Loki is more Chaotic Neutral than anything else, whereas in the comics, he’s just another villain, doing evil things because he is evil. He’s not nearly as interesting as the mythological version, who is just as likely to help giants kidnap a goddess as he is to rescue a mortal boy from a troll for no apparent reason other than just because. Hiddleston and some of the more recent comics (Young Avengers, Loki: Agent of Asgard) have since made the character more interesting/sympathetic, but for now, we’re stuck with the card-carrying villain version.
Loki is lonely in his prison and wants his bro to come back home and play with him (or he wants to kill him, I forget which). He uses his powers of “thought projection” to spy on Earth like a creeper. The fact that his thought projection manifests itself as a pair of giant eyeballs in the sky does not help. He finds Dr. Donald Blake, Thor’s mortal identity, but playing with Blake doesn’t appeal to Loki, so he devises a plan to convince Blake to transform into Thor.
But what menace can possibly be serious enough to accomplish that task? The Hulk, of course, who is currently bouncing around the American southwest. Loki creates the illusion of dynamite on a nearby railroad trestle, which causes Hulk to destroy the trestle in his attempt to grab the dynamite.
The Hulk proves to be more resourceful than Loki counted on and uses a boulder to plug up the hole in the tracks. But beyond saving the train and its passengers, that doesn’t really matter: the Hulk was spotted and the public panics, blaming him for the near-disaster. It’s not long before Rick Jones—most of you probably know him as “that moron Bruce Banner had to save from getting gamma ray’d only to end up gamma ray’d himself”—gets wind of all this. Rick is the only person who knows that the Hulk is not a bad guy, so he immediately goes to get help from his own Teen Brigade, “a group of youthful radio ham enthusiasts.”
Okay, first of all, it’s ‘ham radio,’ not ‘radio ham,’ which sounds like a losing entry in a meat sculpting contest. Second, was ham radio really that popular with teenagers back in the sixties? Not only does it show up here, but when Teen Titans debuted a couple years later, they used radio to receive distress calls from teenagers too. Is that just what the young’uns did before texting was invented?
The Teen Brigade radios the Fantastic Four for assistance but Loki, who’s been watching all of this from his giant sky eyes, intercepts their radio signal and switches its frequency so that Dr. Blake, who JUST HAPPENS to be listening to the radio, gets the message instead. Because apparently Loki can do that. You’re just making up powers as you go along, aren’t you?
Blake, naturally, transforms into the Thor, but he wasn’t the only one to receive the Teen Brigade’s fateful message…
Iron Man also hears the broadcast, and all four heroes converge on the Teen Brigade, much to Loki’s annoyance. Wanting Thor all to himself, Loki lures him away from the others with an illusion of the Hulk. When the illusion disappears, however, Thor realizes Loki has been punking them all along and hightails it back to Asgard, undoubtedly to dish out another ineffectual punishment.
At this point, you might well be wondering what has happened to the real Hulk. The answer is obvious: he’s taken refuge as a circus act, where the other performers think he’s a super-strong robot who likes traumatizing the animals.
One of Ant-Man’s ants reports back to him (and you thought Aquaman’s powers were stupid*), and Ant-Man tells his six-legged friends to try to trap the Hulk. If you think trying to trap the Hulk anywhere is a bad idea, you are correct. Both ant-built traps fail, because THEY’RE ANTS. SERIOUSLY.
Naturally, the audience thinks this is all part of the show, because fictional audiences are dumb like that. To further prove their gullibility, the second the Hulk wipes off his clown make-up, they suddenly realize that he was not, in fact, a robot and is, in fact, the Hulk. It’s not even like it was full-face make-up—it only covered his lips and eyes!
You mean that giant green super-strong guy with the bad haircut who looked exactly like the Hulk WAS THE HULK?! He truly is a master of disguise!
Hulk basically says screw it at this point and makes a break for it with Iron Man in pursuit. Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Thor asks Odin’s permission to go knock Loki down a peg or two.
“But Father, is it not a parent’s duty to keep watch over his children and help them settle their disputes?”
“NOBODY QUESTIONS ODIN ALLFATHER!”
Thor makes it past all of the traps Loki set on the island. Again, he has way more free time than one should generally allot the god of mischief, Odin. Also, I’m glossing over this part—and a lot of other parts—because this comic is unbelievably dense for just twenty-four pages. There’s probably enough material here for two or three comics, so there’s constant action and the story moves very quickly. If I tried to cover everything in detail, we’d be here a while.
Defeated, Loki tries to jump off a cliff to escape Thor—which seems a little extreme, but nobody ever said Loki was the god of sound reasoning—who just magnetizes his hammer through whatever the magical equivalent of technobabble is and uses it to pull Loki to him. I guess Loki had a metal belt on or ate a handful of tacks or something before Thor showed up.
Back on Earth, Iron Man has chased the Hulk all the way to a Detroit factory, where they proceed to tear the place apart. Iron Man even pulls the old “I’m trying to HELP YOU” bit while throwing tires at Hulk. Granted, the tires just bounce off, but how is attacking him supposed to convince him you want to help?
Thor returns to Earth with Loki in tow, explaining how this was all just a big misunderstanding. Loki, however, turns himself radioactive in a bid to convince Hulk and Iron Man to leave him and Thor to duke it out alone. Just in the nick of time, Ant-Man’s ants open a conveniently placed trapdoor that drops Loki into a conveniently placed lead-lined chamber. Thor says this was in place so radioactive waste could be dumped safely before being dumped (presumably unsafely) into the ocean.
Um. They’re at an automobile factory in Detroit. Why would they dump radioactive materials in an auto factory? Is this some sort of dig at Detroit or something? I thought Detroit was still doing okay in the ‘60s. This makes no sense.
Whatever. Loki is defeated, Ant-Man realizes how much good all of these heroes (plus Hulk) can do together and suggests they team up, and they do. And here’s a little trivia for you: the Wasp is the one who came up with the name Avengers. I’m just pointing that out because it’s pretty much the only useful thing she does in this comic for the next twenty years. You just wish I was kidding.
Hell, she’s not even considered a real Avenger yet—just look at the team’s individual portraits in the upper left hand corners of the covers. No Wasp. It’s like the original version of the Gilligan’s Island theme where they ended with “and the rest” even though there’s only two people left, but in this case “and the rest” includes just one person, which makes it even sadder. Wasp does show up in the corner by Issue Three, which only goes to prove they could have fit her in from the start and just didn’t feel like it.
Next up, Issue Two, and we already have a minor change to the Avengers line-up. In Tales to Astonish #49—an extremely silly story about an alien who erases people into other dimensions—Ant-Man gained the ability to grow large as well as tiny, so he’s Ant-Man when he shrinks and Giant-Man when he grows. He can still talk to ants though. I know you were worried about that.
We begin in Tony Stark’s library in the very first Avengers meeting, where Thor and the Hulk get things off to a rousing start by insulting each other.
(To be fair to the Hulk, Thor started it by calling his clothes “repulsive.”)
(To be fair to Thor, Hulk could probably benefit from an appearance on a makeover show.)
(If the Hulk ever appeared on a makeover show, I might actually watch one.)
Meanwhile, just above Earth’s atmosphere…
Sadly, that hilarious and anachronistic crossover is not to be (though you would totally read it, don’t lie to me) Our mysterious visitor is actually the Space Phantom, a purple-skinned alien with the power to shapeshift into anyone while sending whoever it was he replaced into limbo. He’s come to Earth to defeat the Avengers to clear the way for a full-scale invasion.
The Space Phantom takes over some random guy on the street and apparently just waltzes right into Tony’s mansion. Because it’s not like a millionaire and engineering genius would lock the door or have any sort of security beyond the table/security camera gizmo that alerts them to the Phantom menace. The next time I walk past a rich guy’s house—which I totally do all the time—I’m going to try waltzing right in and see what happens!
The Hulk storms off to deal with the intruder alone, but the Space Phantom is quick to take on his appearance, thereby banishing the real Hulk to limbo. He then proceeds to act like an even bigger jerk than Hulk was, insulting the other Avengers and even taking a few potshots at Iron Man before storming out of the mansion to trash a city street. For some reason, none of the Avengers follows him or tries to stop him, but Rick Jones just magically happens to be there to talk him down. What is he even doing in New York? He’s from New Mexico!
Phantom Hulk drags Rick to an open field in order to fulfill his need to monologue about the success of his evil scheme (seriously, that is the exact and only reason he gives for kidnapping Rick), then bounds off to steal Tony Stark’s latest invention: an anti-missile missile gun.
Two things should be running through your head right about now.
The first is probably a big question mark, since Tony gave up building weapons after getting kidnapped and nearly killed overseas, didn’t he? Well, yes and no. The idea that Tony’s kidnapping made him realize the immorality of war profiteering is a relatively new one perpetuated by the recent films. In comic book continuity, Stark Industries continued to build weapons for many years after Tony became Iron Man; they finally stopped in the 1970s, much to SHIELD’s everlasting displeasure, but that’s another story.
The second thing is that “anti-missile missile gun” is about the stupidest name for a weapon you’ve ever seen, perhaps second only to “burp gun.” And if you were wondering if it looks as dumb as it sounds, here’s your answer.
Someone or other calls Tony to tell him of the robbery. Tony is alone when he gets the call so I guess… the Avengers just ended the meeting when the Hulk ran off…? You’d think they’d stick together and try to get him back, but considering what Iron Man says to Phantom Hulk after Tony “sends” him to investigate the theft—“I always thought we had made a mistake allowing you to join the Avengers!”—they probably don’t know each other well enough yet to care about the each other’s wellbeing.
Wait no, that’s stupid. One, the Hulk is unpredictable. As superheroes, it is their self-appointed duty to keep people safe, so they should have gone after him anyway. Two, YOU ARE A TEAM NOW. If you want this little clambake to work out, put some effort into it! Do some team-building exercises. Talk about your hobbies. Do a puzzle. Have a tailgate party. Just make sure everybody roots for the same team as the Hulk…
Iron Man gives Hulk a mild electric shock, which spooks the Space Phantom into becoming a nearby insect. This drops a confused and annoyed Hulk into the middle of the battle, where he continues to fight with Iron Man. Rick Jones, meanwhile, has located a local member of his “nationwide” Teen Brigade and borrows the kid’s radio to call for assistance. He explains the whole mess to Giant-Man, who (along with Wasp) breaks up the fight between Iron Man and Hulk.
Either way, she’s right and is promptly attacked by Phantom Bug. Giant-Man tracks her down to Tony Stark’s factory—even though I thought the Wasp was right behind him a second ago; how did they get so far away so quickly?—where Phantom Bug becomes Phantom Giant-Man. The Wasp and the Hulk witness his change, however, and while the latter makes himself useful kicking the crud out of him, the Wasp flees to get big strong manly Thor for help. What kind of superhero are you, woman?! Wait, I think I answered my own question.
By the time Thor shows up, Phantom Giant-Man has become Phantom Iron Man and has the Hulk and Giant-Man on the ropes. Thor defeats his foe in a manner that you absolutely have to see to believe.
The Space Phantom is defeated when he tries to impersonate Thor, but apparently his powers don’t work on Asgardians, so instead of sending Thor to limbo, he accidentally sends himself. Even though the Avengers have triumphed, this little escapade has made Hulk realize just how much the others hate and fear him. He quits the group, leaping into the sunset while the Avengers gossip about how much they don’t like him.
The series so far is GLORIOUSLY cracktastic. At least half the plot points depend on coincidence and luck, the dialogue is hilariously overdramatic (that was pretty typical for the era, though it must be said, Lee took the art form to new heights), and the artwork is a dynamic joy. However, the characters are pretty straightforward and not very interesting. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and Wasp is a girl. No complexity whatsoever. Well, except with the Hulk—all he wants is to be left alone, and he certainly doesn’t want to be a villain, but circumstances keep conspiring to push him into a role he keeps trying to avoid. It’s almost Oedipal: dude tries to avoid his fate only to find himself smack dab in the middle of it before he realizes what happened. He’s easily the most interesting character here, so naturally, he’s the first to go.
To be fair, some of the others start to develop personalities by the second issue, if you can count “bullying Hulk” as a personality trait. It does make them seem less one-dimensional, more prone to human faults, I suppose. I prefer to think of everyone as a blank slate, ready and waiting for future writers to add on to and elaborate upon until they are fully realized characters.
That’s about all I have to say for now. I can’t guarantee that I’ll post regularly, and I know this is a huge task I’ve set for myself, but I’m going to do my best to keep at it until it’s all done.
To read Avengerous Tales 1.2, go here!
Images from Avengers #1 and Avengers #2
*I in no way, shape or form think Aquaman’s powers are stupid. Anyone who can create a literal sharknado if you annoy him is not to be trifled with.