And the race to review every Avengers #1 ever begins! Lee starts things off with a look at the beginning of it all.
Credits & Solicit Info:
The Avengers #1
Published by Marvel Comics
Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers
Letters by S. Rosen
Story: "The Coming of the Avengers"
The tenth of August 1963. A book unlike any other hit the stands and now some 600 issues and various teams and adjectives later, The Avengers are at the top of the charts again.
Stan Lee was a showman, so there is no point wondering whether or not he knew what he had stumbled onto. He would tell you that he knew exactly what he was doing. It’s just the way the godfather of alliteration operates.
Stan and Jack Kirby wanted to write a book that featured some of their biggest hitters. Makes sense, DC had debuted their own team of heavy hitters, the Justice League of America, in 1960. During the Golden Age, the Justice Society and All Star Comics had featured teams and done well. There is something to be said for having a book that has all of your big draws in one place. Especially when you are marketing the youth of America.
Of course, you need some kind of mechanism that would initiate a story for them to combine forces. In Avengers #1, that feat is accomplished through Loki desiring to battle Thor. He tricks the public into believing that the Hulk is on a Rampage. His buddy, Rick Jones, knows better and tries to contact the Fantastic Four. This doesn’t fit into Loki’s plans so he diverts the transmission to Donald Blake. Blake answers the call with a tap of his cane, but Ant-Man and Iron Man hear the radio signal as well and happenstance brings the Avengers together.
That is substantially different from “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes united against a common threat! On that day the Avengers were born – to fight foes that no single hero could withstand!” That’s the phrase that so often preambles the adventures of Thor and Iron Man and their assembled guest stars these days. And I guess you could argue that they united against a common foe – Loki. But it is certainly a romantic view of the origin at the very least.
The economy of having all your heroes in one book is matched by the action of the book. The majority is done in six panel or nine panel pages, maximizing the content of the book. The twenty-two story pages are never short on words either. Even the title page which is the only Splash page in the entire book has more words than the more recent issues of Cable. It is a different animal from the splash page spread laden book of today.
It’s just not the appearance of the pages that is different. The way the story is told is different. Lately, comics are plagued by street level threats. They are dangerous in a gritty grimy way rather than in some big abstract way – we see babies thrown from windows, teenagers eaten by their parents, or entire towns annihilated in a single calamity. Sure it makes the actions of the hero seem more needed or even mirrors the times, but it isn’t as fun either.
There is a sequence in this book where the Hulk is a Circus performer. That would never fly today and is even dubious in this book. (When it comes down to it, the Hulk sticks his head through a train track and a train operator recognizes him, but an entire big top tent full of people gleefully assumes he is some robot.) But when the action starts and lives are endangered, the entire crowd believes it is a part of the act and watches on raving about it being the greatest thing they have ever seen! A little nutty, sure. But without some need to show how tattered a fight makes them and keeping actual fisticuffs to a minimum, this is a book that can easily be handed to a youngster and you need not worry about warping his mind (and no, I don’t really care what Dr. Wertham would have to say to counter that).
And it isn’t the kind of tone that so many of today’s kids books have either. It’s not ridiculous to imagine an older reader enjoying this. Certainly it is not as heady as a Moore or Gaiman penned comic, but it’s no Marvel Super Hero Squad either. Of course, the nostalgia factor is high in someone older reading this particular book. Especially given the expense for a Masterworks presentation in full color versus the black and white of an Essential. It’s not a deep metatextual work… it is an action adventure story. Juvenile in its morality and themes, but not necessarily sophomoric in its execution.
That being said, it isn’t a tight book. It has widely been reported that comics were a much more collaborative venture in those days. Especially with Stan Lee, who might trust Jack Kirby to draw a fight between Thor and Hulk and then fill in the dialogue later.
There are signs of that working well. Stan Lee does a great job of explaining what is going on when Thor transforms from a squirrelly doctor into a mighty Norse god. There are fantastic explanations for how Iron Man and Ant-Man can communicate and an ever watchful eye on what the army of ants may have done. However, when Jan and Hank decide to project themselves into a conversation at the beginning of the book there is no reason given. Thor’s logic in determining that Loki is he bad guy is a straw man argument at best.
Be that as it may, there is no denying Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s ability to make a story exciting. You can pretty much hear the P.T. Barnum of comics reading the narrative boxes aloud. There are exclamations and exaggerated actions all over the place. Even something mundane like a radio transmission becomes a kinetic force in the panel. If nothing else, that character is missing from many comics these days.
There are other things that separate it from a modern comic as well. The portrayal of Jan as more worried about finding a suitable mate than with the dangers at hand or Hank’s presumptive disregard towards her. Sometimes, Lee is accused of being a bit of a misogynist, and I can’t speak as to that, I will say that the dynamics of Ant-Man and Wasp’s relationship closely approximates how my grandparents act towards each other. Either way, it is certainly as real as Bendis’s broken dialogue.
Kirby is a force to be reckoned with. He designed many of these characters so he would be the go to guy on a book like this. It is more than simple experience though. He handles the action and fights well. There are not confusing panels. There are a few times where things get a little odd look – the trolls being the most egregious, but it is remarkedly fluid and stylistically consistent.
In the final analysis of the book, it is no better or worse than a modern comic. It is mostly just different from its self contained nature to its ham fisted dialogue; it is a different book than the more recent ones with similar titles.
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