Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: Even an Avenger Can(‘t) Die

Avengers #11-15 are an odd set of issues. The last five to feature the first iteration of the team (before a shuffle happens in #16), they mostly feature few one offs with various villains, most of whom will come back but none of whom are particularly memorable at this point. On the other hand, Wasp gets to do things! Sort of. Sometimes.

One note/correction to earlier recap posts – Kang the Conquerer and Immortus are the same person, sort of. Or, Immortus is Kang’s alternate future self. Both are the same character as Rama-Tut from Fantastic Four #19 and also the same character as Iron Lad of the first team of Young Avengers. Comics are fun and trying to make sense of continuity is an exercise in futility. I will continue to try to do it anyway!

Kicking things off in Avengers #11, which introduces the first of what are to become many, many guest appearances of Spider-Man. He has to start appearing in every book at some point, right? As far as I can tell, this is one of the first series where Peter Parker guest stars in a book other than his own.

The biggest shocker revealed in this opening is the “death” of Tony Stark. In Tales of Suspense, Iron Man is trapped inside his suit, unable to leave for fear of dying. Since no one knows that Iron Man and Tony Stark are the same person, Tony Stark is presumed dead (and Iron Man, kidnapped by the Mandarin, is missing). The Avengers suspend their operations to observe a period of mourning – but of course, our best friend and continuity nightmare Kang the Conquerer is watching from a distance.

He muses, helpfully out loud, that he plans to send someone to defeat the Avengers (why not go himself? perhaps fear of that meddling Teenage Brigade) but he actually, a rarity for Silver Age villains, seems to have learned from others’ mistakes. Mentioning the example of Simon Williams (Wonder Man), who betrayed Zemo at the last second, Kang decides that the best way to ensure a totally loyal servant is to build a robot using his super advanced robot machine. A robot of Spider-Man. Obviously.

Robot Spider-Man promptly approaches the Avengers and asks to join their semi-august company; however, since this is exactly the same tactic that Simon Williams used, he offers information on Iron Man’s whereabouts, claiming that he was kidnapped by Zemo and his cohorts. This would be a good plan except, again, it’s exactly the same thing that Wonder Man did. It’s lucky that the Avengers don’t seem to notice the similarities, and blithely prance off after the Spider-Robot to retrieve their missing teammate.

The fight itself isn’t terribly interesting – all the Avengers are handily defeated by a combination of Spider-Robot’s skillz and, Kang helpfully informs us, a special Avenger-weakening gas. So it’s not really their fault they went down so fast. However, we do learn that Hank can apparently now control Jan’s size by “thinking her smaller” which is a) new, and b) weird.

What is more exciting is the fact that Jan actually gets to attack Spider-Man and show some spunk in battle! She also gets to actually use her Wasp’s Sting, instead of mentioning it in a context where she is completely helpless. Of course she still gets beaten, but given that everyone else does too it feels a little less “oh, this again” than it has otherwise.

Though what wouldn’t I give for Wasp defeating Kang all by herself. Yes, please.

Anyway, the Avengers are saved in the nick of time by the real Spider-Man showing up and dealing with Spider-Robot. Iron Man has emerged from hiding after defeating the Mandarin, too, so the gang’s all back together! Just in time to make fun of Ant Man for getting a warning from ants.

That is the start of the next issue. Hank is warned by the ants that some funny business is going on, and literally everyone mocks him for it. Which is fair: “the ants told me that there’s some sinister doings afoot” does not make for the most convincing of warnings.

Also, Iron Man is on roller skates now. (They’re “transistor powered” roller skates, which I guess makes them cool.)

Having been dismissed by his friends, Hank flounces off to go do his own investigating, whereupon he learns that what is happening is Mole Man arranging for a world takeover from Subterranea by means of a device that will…cause the globe to spin very fast, thus killing everyone on top of the planet except for him and his Moloids, who are shielded safely under the earth. Mole Man is also joined by an extremely minor villain called the Red Ghost, a Soviet scientist usually accompanied by his genetically modified Super-Apes.

Yeah, comics villains. Not all of them are very majestic.

Mole Man is, like Kang, another “previously, in the Fantastic Four” supervillain, formerly known as Harvey Rupert Elder, who fell into Subterranea while trying to prove his Hollow Earth theory and became ruler of the Moloids, as one does when one falls into a subterranean kingdom. The Moloids, and many of the other Subterranean races, are creations of an alien race known as the Deviants, opponents of their counterparts the Eternals, all of whom are created by Jack Kirby and none of which is particularly relevant at this point.

Meanwhile, back on the surface, Wasp finally gets to be acting chairman of the week! This issue actually shows Wasp doing a fair amount, for early issues – upon realizing that Hank was right and there is indeed some funny business happening, she uses the “image projector” to learn the identity of their attacker, and when the Avengers assault Subterranea to defeat the Mole Man and the Red Ghost, she actually gets to take out at least one Subterranean servant. It’s a bit sad that that is an improvement, but there you are. Ah, Silver Age. Sometimes great, but not to your women.

Wasp frees the trapped Hank, who promptly shrinks to ant size and disables the aggressively spinning gyroscope, foiling the plans of the two villains. As far as world domination plans go, “world spinning gyroscope” is actually one of the weirder ones, so far. At some point, I should really make a list of “improbable world destroying devices from comics”, but it would probably be too long and I would really rather not do that to myself.

The next issue introduces a slightly more menacing Avengers villain by the name of Count Luchino Nefaria, whose path they cross while thwarting some fur thieves. Earth’s mightiest heroes, ladies and gentleman. Count Nefaria, who is currently leading the Maggia criminal organization, does not take to this well, and immediately devises a plan to deal with these pesky hero types.

Nefaria, it should be noted, will become a recurring villain, and one who becomes both more powerful and further and further from his criminal kingpin origins over time. For the moment, however, the first step in Nefaria’s nefarious (sorry) plan is to move his entire castle to New Jersey and invite the Avengers to a charity ball.

The Avengers are appropriately lured, apparently not warned by the oddly portentous name of their host (seriously, no one seems to make the “Nefaria-nefarious” connection here, but perhaps that is too much to expect in a world where someone has the last name “von Doom”). They are promptly escorted to separate rooms, where Nefaria traps them in “time transcender beams” that make time appear to stop. Then he makes copies of the Avengers, who promptly go to the Pentagon and try to overthrow the U.S. Government. Naturally.

The U.S. Government sadly declares war on the Avengers, because this doesn’t seem weird or suspicious at all, I guess? This is relatively early Marvel Universe – maybe later they’d be more wise to the possibility of clones/Skrulls/evil alternate universe counterparts. The ever intrepid Teen Brigade is a little more suspicious and makes a valiant attempt at investigating the mystery, only to be promptly captured by Maggia goons.

Meanwhile, the Avengers are released and attacked by the military, but manage to escape to a secret base, where they find out that they have apparently been attempting a coup. It is not entirely clear what has become of the duplicate Avengers – maybe they’ve gone on vacation? Either way, they don’t turn up in this issue again. They quickly work out that someone impersonated them while they were at Count Nefaria’s castle, and huh that seems weird. 

The rest of the issue is fairly anticlimactic – Steve gets to rescue the Teen Brigade on his own, and they free the Avengers after they’re paralyzed by Nefaria’s nefarious (sorry) traps. There really doesn’t seem to be much point to the aforementioned traps, unless maybe Kirby was tired of drawing all the characters for a little while? Who knows. At any rate, Count Nefaria and his lackeys are defeated, of course, and he is going to be deported back to Italy, where he will never be a problem again until Iron Man fights him five months later. This is all fine, except oh yeah. Wasp got hit by a bullet in the fighting. Off-panel.

P.S: the next issue is called “Even Avengers Can Die.” You know who doesn’t die? An Avenger. Yeah, spoiler, Wasp survives. The one good thing I can manage to say about this one issue plotline (which is as long as it lasts) is that it’s only sort of fridging because no particular man is motivated by her injury, and while Hank does do a lot of yelling and angsting the plot is legitimately about trying to save her rather than revenge or whatever. So that’s…sort of better? Maybe.

Otherwise, there’s just a lot of weird in this issue. This is the first issue where the ending carries directly into the plot of the next issue. Straight from Nefaria’s place, the Avengers rush to the hospital, where they learn that the bullet punctured Jan’s lung and she has 48 hours to live, which seems like a long time if they can’t actually fix the damage (which apparently they can’t) but what do I know about science.

It turns out that Dr. Svenson from Norway, familiar to Thor’s alter ego Donald Blake, is an expert in lung restoration (is that something people are experts in?) so Thor goes and kidnaps a surgeon, like you do. Except oh, it turns out that the surgeon is an alien who promptly dies after his human mask is peeled off, and this leads into a whole weird plot where the Avengers find Dr. Svenson among some aliens known as Kallusians who came to Earth as refugees and kidnapped a lung surgeon to help them survive Earth’s atmosphere, because if you are good at one kind of lung science I guess you’re good at every kind of lung science? Or did he just operate on every alien individually?

The most interesting things about this plot is the fact that Mjolnir apparently has magic surgeon detecting properties, and that there is such a thing as Tony Stark’s anti-freeze pills, which are not actually made out of antifreeze.

Oh, also the fact that the Watcher makes an appearance at the end of the issue as the Kallusians leave Earth to fight their war off in space. The Watcher (later Uatu) who first appeared in Fantastic Four (getting a theme here?) comes from a species of aliens (the Watchers) dedicated to watching and chronicling major events across the universe. In later comics they show up at pivotal dramatic moments to mark the moment when shit gets really real. This is actually kind of an anticlimactic appearance for him, and we’ll just have to basically take his word about the fate of the world being averted by “one dying girl”, which is the closest to a pivotal role that Jan’s gotten so far.

The next issue, curiously enough, is almost entirely about Captain America, despite being nominally an Avengers title, and features the (temporary) closing of the Masters of Evil plot. Zemo is back, accompanied by his racist caricatures of South American natives and still determined to kill Captain America.

Steve, meanwhile, keeps his shield in an artist’s portfolio, because of course he does. This is important.

While mailing a letter to Nick Fury (the white one) he sees our old friends Enchantress and Executioner and attempts to follow them, but is thwarted. Elsewhere, Rick Jones is kidnapped by Zemo in order to lure Cap after them. Wasp manages to sneak aboard the ship, apparently recovered from her near death experience and getting to do things! Black Knight and Melter make another appearance to fight everybody else while Steve, once again, ends up going after Zemo alone. Go Steve, team player.

There is something vaguely poignant about Steve’s protectiveness of Rick Jones and the connection to his guilt over Bucky’s death (his kid sidekick in 616, for those of you familiar with the character from the MCU), or might be if I cared about Rick Jones at all. (I don’t.)

Captain America confronts Zemo in the jungle, freeing Rick. He blinds Zemo through the power of justice, leading to his being crushed in a rock fall and thus providing plausible deniability about Steve having killed anyone, because in this day and age Superheroes Don’t Kill People. But Zemo is safely dead, and will definitely stay that way forever. Really.

On the whole, the Silver Age issues feel a little disjointed – less serialized than linked by the same cast of characters. While one-offs can be fun, and I’d love to see more self-contained stories in the comics of today, overall I find I prefer multi-issue arcs with more space for the story to breathe and more of a sense of continuity. And speaking of continuity…

Next Up: New lineup! The Avengers see their first major roster change, and the era of Cap’s Kooky Quartet arrives.

 

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