Thursday, May 3, 2012

How I Became An Avengers Fan

I have been an Avengers fan since the early 1970s.  I used to dream of a day when Marvel's most popular heroes would star in their own films.  The biggest wetdream of all was an Avengers movie--a near impossible dream as it seemed back then!  But today the film has finally arrived and from the reviews it looks to be freaking cool.

Avengers 102 1972 cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

This was my first Avengers comic, issue #102 from 1972, with the Vision taking front and center.  At this point I had probably been a Marvel fan for a few years, but always had stayed away from this supergroup.  When I was younger I preferred the early Justice League and Legion of Super-Heroes tales, a lot of good fun there, great for a kid.  You have to imagine when I bought this comic, I had no idea who the Vision was, no idea about Wonder Man or the relationship to the Grim Reaper.

So why did I buy this comic?  The X-Men made me do it.

X-Men 68 Sentinels Saga 1971 Kirby cover

X-Men #68 (from 1971) was a giant-sized reprint of one of their most important stories, the first clash with the mutant-hating Sentinels!  This issue and the next were so packed with plot and dynamic visuals, I must have re-read them 100 times.  The Sentinels, created by Bolivar Trask to protect humanity and detect mutants, gave the X-Men one of their toughest battles.  It ended with Trask dying to stop his creations.  It was tragic and almost Shakespearean.  I was floored.  Then a year later I read that the Sentinels would return in Avengers #102!

Avengers 102 Vision splash page

It was a great reason to jump onto a super-team book that seemed so foreign compared to the wholesome Justice League!  Just take a look at this great splash page by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott.  The Vision looks pretty alien walking down the dirty street at night, as a mugger lurks in the background.  The Vision, like Cyclops in the X-Men, was an introverted, brooding character, pining away for the girl he loved.  Unable to take a risk for love, like so many teenagers!

Avengers 102 Sentinels double page splash

A little while later we were treated to this awesome double page splash of the Sentinels rocketing out of the Sun's orbit.  Now keep in mind, at this point I had no idea about continuity--that this was a sequel to Roy Thomas and Neal Adams X-Men story where the robots had made their second appearance.  It was a cool visual to have the Sentinels coming out from the far side of the sun.

Avengers 102 Scarlet Witch

If that wasn't enough, the Avengers had the romance love triangle as well, between the Vision, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye.  This was my introduction to Wanda.  I love the silhouette that the artists used here.  To me, the Vision was Mr Avenger and Scarlet Witch was Ms Avenger. Despite all of her romantic problems, she needs to start worrying about the return of the Sentinels.

Avengers 102 Quicksilver

And then there was Wanda's brother, Quicksilver.  After the Avengers fail to stop the Sentinels and they take off with his sister, Pietro goes ballistic.  He backslaps Captain America and calls all of his teammates a bunch of losers!  I couldn't believe it.  This sort of thing never happened in the Justice League!  A lot of people hate Quicksilver and I can't understand why.  You put Quicksilver, Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlet Witch alongside the Big Three (Cap, Iron Man, Thor) and you have a team ripe with drama.

Avengers 103 1972 Sentinel cover by Buckler and Sinnott

The cover of Avengers #103 featured the team attacking a single Sentinel.  The Sentinels were tough to beat, since they could adapt and reconfigure themselves once they figured out the abilities of who they were facing.

Avengers 104 Sentinels battle

The battle itself didn't take place in earnest until the next issue, but it was a great one by 1972 standards.  The Vision played dead and then attacked them, felling three of the robots on his own while Thor and Iron Man did some damage, too. 

Avengers 103 Quicksilver and Trask

But in this issue, again Pietro is providing a good part of the drama.  Pietro located Larry Trask (the son of the inventor of the Sentinels) and raced off with him, towards a secret Sentinel base in Australia.  Unbeknown to Pietro, his Avengers buddies are already on the way.

Avengers 104 1972 cover by Buckler and Sinnott

The cover of Avengers #104 highlighted the Scarlet Witch's prominent role in this epic story.  She is facing down the Sentinels in order to protect her teammates.  This was the start of a new phase in her storyline, which would see her grow over time and acquire more control over her abilities.

Avengers 104 Quicksilver splash page

The splash page for this final part featured Quicksilver, racing off the plane towards Sentinel citadel in the Great Outback, with Larry Trask hanging on for dear life.  As any fan knows who read this story, it has a satisfying conclusion except for one nagging loose end--Pietro is left alone in the base, injured and possibly dying!  Something that I thought would have been addressed in an issue or two.  But it took longer, and worse, this was really Quicksilver's last major stint in the Avengers!  At least in the Bronze Age.  I was surprised, but the mystery behind this saga was revealed later in the Fantastic Four.

There you have it, after this fantastic trilogy, I was an Avenger fan for life.  Roy Thomas would leave along with Quicksilver, but Steve Englehart carried the torch and brought the series to even greater heights.  Buying back issues to catch up on Avengers history was a pursuit that would occupy me for the next few years.  Good times indeed, reading all the early Kirby/Buscema/Adams/Smith stories.  Nuff Said!

1 comment:

  1. Great post and familiar to me as I became an Avenger fan at a similar time. In the UK we had a weekly black and white Avengers book reprinting the stories from the Stan Lee and early Roy Thomas eras alongside the shiny colour American monthlies. Only trouble was the distribution was terrible and you could never guarantee finding the next issue, I had #103 but waited years to find #102 and #104. They were well worth the search.