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for Sunday, July 11, 2004

Avengers 3

My first Marvels.

I bought but two Marvel super-hero titles dated January, 1964. My trips to the drug store were still infrequent...and I'm guessing my spending money wasn't stretching as far as it once did. At 12, I was deemed old enough to go to Saturday afternoon matinees at a nearby theater with my friends. At the time, that seemed a pretty fair trade-off.

I bought AVENGERS #3 because the cover heralded what was sure to be an epic battle: "The Hulk and Sub-Mariner Vs. The Avengers." I didn't know the Avengers and I only knew the Hulk from a pin-up page in my treasured FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1. But, Namor, on the other hand, had absolutely wowed me in the lead story of that same annual. He was a hero *and* a villain, a concept which fascinated me greatly. I'd seen enough of the world - and schoolyard bullies whose vicious behavior was somehow legitimized by their popularity or parents' standing in our parish - to know there was more grey to life than black or white.

Jack Kirby (pencils) and Paul Reinman (inks) did the cover and the interior art on "The Avengers Meet...Sub-Mariner!" Editor Stan Lee was the writer. They had me from the arrow-shaped blurb on the title splash. Pointing at Namor, it read: "He doesn't come in till page 15...but when he does...WOW!!"

Marvel Comics wasn't a brand-name to me back then, but their books were gaining my loyalty. I liked FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL, so I bought comics featuring the characters who had appeared in that issue. The annual begat regular monthly issues of FANTASTIC FOUR and STRANGE TALES and AVENGERS...and AVENGERS #3 begat a round of purchases like you wouldn't believe.

AVENGERS #3 was as much of a mind-blower to me as that first FF annual had been. It started with the Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man, and the Wasp) talking about what had happened at the end of their previous issue. I'd seen the occasional continued story in ACTION COMICS, but this seemed more immediate and more realistic to me.

Over the next two pages, Iron Man attempts to recruit the FF, Spider-Man, and the X-Men to search for the Hulk. It's clear that he knows them and they know him. Indeed, he even mentioned to the X-Men that the Angel owes him a favor for their previous meeting. This was a far more close-knit group of super-heroes than even the Justice League. I made mental notes to look for comics featuring Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the individual Avengers.

The Avengers struck me as a more rough-and-tumble group than the JLA. I couldn't see them sitting around a table reading their fan mail. They were all about the action. Their pre-Namor battle with the Hulk was electrifying in its choreography.

Then came the highly-touted page 15.

Namor was one angry guy! He blamed humanity for the loss of his kingdom and wanted payback. Tracking the equally angry Hulk, he went a few rounds with Bruce Banner's unlikeable persona. Namor impressed the Hulk with his toughness. They agreed to team up and bring the "puny humans" they both hated to their knees. It was a match built on extreme petulance; neither trusted the other and each planned to end their alliance as soon as their shared goal was reached. "Smashing" and "destroyed" were their anticipated methods of terminating their working relationship.

Since Stan and Jack were up to page 18, there was no time for the intricate planning preferred by DC Comics villains. Namor and the Hulk simply called the Avengers and challenged them to a fight. Iron Man took their call, Thor talked some trash, the Wasp flirted with Thor, Giant-Man picked up the Wasp by her costume and dangled her several feet above the ground, chiding her for her immaturity. I loved every panel of it.

The battle itself was like a tag-team wrestling match, ending only when the Hulk unexpectedly changed back into Banner. This was such a landmark battle in the Marvel Age of Comics that, a year or so later, Stan and Jack devoted an entire Thor story to an extended version of the Thor/Hulk slugfest that only ran a couple of panels in this issue. Sometimes the stories were too big for the physical limitations of page count and page size with which Stan, Jack, and the rest of the Marvel crew had to contend.

AVENGERS #3 was my first issue of the title. I wouldn't miss an issue for the next thirty years.

Strange Tales 116

I had seen the Human Torch and the Thing "squabble" in two out of the three issues of FANTASTIC FOUR I'd read, but *this* cover by Kirby and inker George Roussos never left any doubt that it was the real deal...even though the background figure of the Puppet Master and the cover copy made it clear than at least one of them was not controlling his own actions.

"In the Clutches of the Puppet Master" was pencilled by my pal Dick Ayers, inked by Roussos, and written by Stan the Editor Man. It might not have been a major Marvel milestone, but I enjoyed it. There was something about these Marvels.

Doctor Strange had the back-up spot, as he would throughout the Human Torch/Thing/Nick Fury run of STRANGE TALES. "Return to the Nightmare World" (written by Stan, drawn by Steve Ditko, likely plotted by both) introduced me to the truly scary Nightmare...who was much cooler than Baron Mordo. There was something about that Ditko guy, too, though he wouldn't become one of my favorite artists until I saw his Spider-Man work and figured out he was the same artist who had drawn the better issues of GORGO and KONGA over at longstanding also-ran Charlton Comics. Like Kirby, Ditko would become an artist whose comics I would buy no matter what he was drawing and who was publishing it.

Making a quick visit to MIKE'S AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS, a wonderful online resources located at... looks like DC Comics actually got a nice chunk of money from me or my parents with its January-dated issues. I'm exploring the dim reaches of my memory to determine if I really did get these comics when they came out or in later trades. Come back tomorrow and I'll share my conclusions with you.

Tony Isabella

<< 07/10/2004 | 07/11/2004 | 07/12/2004 >>

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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