Welcome back to our continuing Avengers coverage!
Picking up where we left off, we start with Avengers #35 (December 1966, art by Don Heck) and, welcome aboard Roy Thomas, as the new writer of the team, taking over for Stan Lee. This is the beginning of a more advanced Avengers run, so we’ll be moving through a little more quickly, and taking advantage of the rich history of the team and how much more connected the Avengers universe becomes.
The team proceeded along as usual, finishing their battle against the Living Laser, and fighting the invading robots called the Ultroids (over the course of issues #36 and 37, until meeting up with a demi-god in Avengers #38 (March 1967) and this was a different demi-god than the mighty Thor, who had been a member!). Though, oddly enough, that’s where he got his start.
Yes, Hercules began his legendary journeys (for mighty Marvel) in Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 (1965, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), then the son of Zeus continued his battles with Thor in his own magazine for a time, as well as his own Olympian father, Zeus (himself no stranger to using lightning as a weapon, not unlike Thor), and the Olympian lord of the underworld, Pluto (as Hercules tried to take Hollywood and got into a bad contract that his friend Thor helped him out with…ironic, as Hercules wasn’t to be in the Thor movie, or the Avengers movie…), before becoming a guest of the Avengers after a battle with the Enchantress, who wasn’t above using strong men in attempts to defeat the team.
The Avengers kept this super-strong demi-god busy for a while (fighting the Hulk in Tales To Astonish #79, Fantastic Four foes like the Mad Thinker in #39, Sub-Mariner in #40, Diablo and the Dragon Man in #41 and 42, meeting Black Widow along the way, who was having commitment issues with Hawkeye and the Red Guardian – a Russian version of Captain America - and she didn’t join the Avengers at this time in #43 and 44, and a team of Avengers villains including former Avenger, the Swordsman, and the Enchantress and her two other strong men, Power Man and the Executioner, in their first Annual) before finally letting him join the team in Avengers #45 (October 1967, drawn by Don Heck, while facing the Super-Adaptoid, who had previously only menaced Captain America in Tales of Suspense). The team deals with Magneto in Avengers #47 and 49, and a few other problems as well.
Hercules didn’t stick around long, leaving soon after a confrontation with the titan Typhon in Avengers #50 (March 1968, drawn by John Buscema, and Typhon first appeared in Avengers #49, also by John, though not on the cover) …and disappeared for a while after that as well. Over the years, Hercules would wander back to the team (usually to fight an Olympian menace like Ares, Herc’s half-brother and the god of war) and leave the Avengers for a time, meet up with Thor and help the son of Odin, co-founded the Champions (with Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Angel and Iceman) to combat Pluto, and just be the great Greek almost-god that he was living the life in Hollywood, and even recently became strong enough to carry his own title, the Incredible Hercules! True, Hercules has had difficulties over the years, but he’s always fought back!
But, with Hercules leaving, the team needed a new member, and were lucky enough to find one in the acrobatic Black Panther. T’Challa started out in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), and he was the chieftain of the land of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation in Africa that controls the world’s supply of vibranium (a metal which absorbs vibrations). After testing himself against the FF, they aid him in his battle with Ulysses Klaw, the man who killed T’Chaka, the Panther’s father. T’Challa defeats Klaw, who returns as a being of sound thanks to his mechanical hand in Fantastic Four #56. (November 1966, by Lee and Kirby). After aiding the Fantastic Four and the Inhumans in a battle with the emotion-manipulating Psycho Man in Fantastic Four Annual #5, (November 1967, by Lee and Kirby) Black Panther goes to meet Captain America in Tales of Suspense #97-99 (1968) and Captain America #100 (April 1968, all by Lee and Kirby), as together, they battle the forces of Baron Zemo.
When the king and the super-soldier defeat the faux Zemo, Cap suggests that the Avengers take Black Panther as a member in Avengers #51 (April 1968, art by John Buscema) and T’Challa joins the team in Avengers #52 (May 1968, drawn by John Buscema) where the team needs the help against the Grim Reaper – a foe just introduced, but with ties to the Avengers’ past, he’s the brother of Simon Williams/Wonder Man (whom the Avengers haven’t dealt with since his “death” at the hands of the Masters of Evil), who holds the Avengers responsible for Wonder Man’s death. The Grim Reaper is the first of many villains that are introduced at this time that will come back to be a constant menace to the Avengers, no matter what their membership.
After a quick battle with the X-Men, the new Avengers face a new Masters of Evil in Avengers #54-55, that includes some of the original members like the Melter and Radioactive Man, plus Black Panther foe Klaw and Whirlwind (formerly the Giant-Man & Wasp foe, the Human Top, who changed his name to Whirlwind when he returned in Avengers #46 to combat Goliath), a new Black Knight (Dane Whitman, the nephew of Nathan Garrett of the original Masters of Evil, who died after sustaining injuries fighting Iron Man…and as the Avengers found out in Avengers #48, was not villainous) and mystery villain, the Crimson Cowl, who is really the robotic Ultron (making his first appearance in Avengers #54, July, 1968 drawn by John Buscema). Ultron is like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going!
The coming of Ultron…leads into the induction of the next two Avengers, and their creation as well, which the team deals with after getting a little more information on Cap’s past and how he came to be frozen in Avengers #56, (September 1968, art by John Buscema) and dealing with the time-travelling Scarlet Centurion (yes, he’s an alternate Kang too and comes back as a menace to another alternate world) and alternate versions the early Avengers in Avengers Annual #2 (1968). This is an early example of the Avengers traveling to alternate dimensions and through time…something they will continue to do, even recruiting from those places…and time is something that will reveal more about the next Avenger as well.
The Vision, a synthozoid (synthetic android) who can control his own density and fires a solar beam through a jewel on his forehead, meets the team in his first appearance of Avengers #57 (October 1968 art by John Buscema), and after a quick fight with the Avengers, reveals that Ultron built him to destroy them, but instead he helps the group to defeat Ultron.
Vision joins the team in Avengers #58, (November 1968, drawn by John Buscema), where it is revealed that the Vision possesses the brain patterns of the supposedly dead Wonder Man (given to him by the evil Ultron), and that Hank Pym is the creator of Ultron! (Not the least of the secrets concerning the Vision, Wonder Man and Ultron, but the ones available to the Avengers at this time…).
The team plans to confront Goliath, but has to deal with Yellowjacket in Avengers #59, (December 1968, art by John Buscema) and Yellowjacket claims to have killed Goliath, and wants to be a member of the Avengers. Strangely, the team accepts this, and the Wasp even marries Yellowjacket in Avengers #60 (all the while fighting the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime in January 1969 drawn by John Buscema)! Janet does this because she knows Yellowjacket is Hank Pym (aka Goliath)! Hank explains away his temporary insanity (and it is later revealed that the team was playing along with Hank to help him…still, when he returns to the team after a honeymoon with the Wasp, he keeps the identity of the Yellowjacket, which foreshadows the many identity problems that Hank Pym will have in the future. And, some of the guests at the wedding who would be Avengers in the future made their first appearance in the Avengers title, including the Inhuman elemental Crystal, man without fear Daredevil and sorcerer supreme Dr. Strange (who also sticks around to help the newer Black Knight…but more on him in a bit).
Change is afoot, as Hawkeye deals with a broken bowstring by adopting the identity of Goliath to save the Black Widow from the Puppet Master, Mad Thinker and old Ant-Man/Giant-Man foe, Egghead in Avengers #63, (April 1969, art by Gene Colan) where Clint Barton also keeps this new look and power as the new giant on the Avengers, but still has to deal with old problems (like the Swordsman, Ultron and Kang) as well as new (like the alien gaming Grandmaster and his distinguished creations, the Squadron Sinister – a team of villains composed of oddly familiar looking people – a strong flying alien Hyperion, speedster Whizzer and power-beam welding Dr. Spectrum and a dark knighted Nighthawk) who fight the Avengers over the period of Avengers #69-70, both drawn by Sal Buscema.
With the problems of knights and swords, the Avengers take a new recruit as well, making the new Black Knight (Dane Whitman) an Avenger in Avengers #71. But, a little history on the Black Knight…Nathan Garrett was the Black Knight who was a Giant-Man foe in the Masters of Evil, and then, after a confrontation with Iron Man, had been fatally wounded. Garrett let his nephew know a little of the history of the Black Knight, and Dane tried to help the Avengers against Magneto, first as himself in Avengers #47, (December, 1967, art by John Buscema) then taking on the identity of the Black Knight in Avengers #48 (January 1968, art by George Tuska). Even if the Avengers knew Dane wasn’t a villain like his uncle, the world didn’t, and the Crimson Cowl tried to recruit him to his new Masters of Evil, which Dane helped to defeat as the Black Knight.
It is later revealed that the Black Knight is a long, noble tradition dating back through a lineage to the 12th century, defending the land against invaders, and after an encounter with the ghost of Sir Percy of Scandia (the original Black Knight, in Marvel Super-Heroes #17, November, 1968 by Roy Thomas and Howard Purcell), he proved worthy to draw the Ebony Blade (his own version of Excalibur) and gained that as a weapon, whose enchantments allowed him to help the Avengers (and Dr. Strange) in Avengers #61 (February 1969, art by John Buscema) against Asgardian villains Surtur and Ymir, and returned to aid the team in the battle of Kang and the Grandmaster, and led to the team taking him on in Avengers #71 (December, 1969, art by Sal Buscema, and, is it ironic that the team ends up in World War II again, and meets an early Captain America, the android Human Torch and Sub-Mariner, right when they are forming the Invaders? Cap deals with the Black Panther as they’ve met before though not yet, and Yellowjacket might be angry with Sub-Mariner since Namor took his Giant-Man spot in Tales To Astonish, but what is the relationship between Vision and the Human Torch?).
Still, the Avengers return home to more foes, facing the Zodiac (a team of technology enhanced mobsters based on astrological signs) finding out that Nick Fury hadn’t been killed by Scorpio, and meeting up with the Kree Captain Marvel for the first time, as well as reencountering Rick Jones in Avengers #72 (January 1970, art by Sal Buscema). The team then meet an alternate world barbarian named of Arkon from Polemachus (premiering in Avengers #75, drawn by John Buscema for April 1970) who was seduced by the Enchantress, and she also took an interest in the Black Knight – whose Ebony Blade was cursed, making him more violent and prone to rage). The eventual end of this encounter with Arkon (in Avengers #84, January, 1971, art by John Buscema) left Black Knight without his blade for a time, so he left the team for a time.
A new group of villains came into being to face the Avengers but its members were old foes.
They were called the Lethal Legion, and they first attacked the Avengers with Avengers #78 (July, 1970, with art by Sal Buscema), and their roster included the Swordsman, Power Man, the Living Laser, the Grim Reaper, and the Man-Ape (a foe of the Black Panther, who first appeared in Avengers #62, March, 1969, with art by John Buscema).
The Avengers stopped them in Avengers #79 (August 1970, drawn by John Buscema).
With the help of Daredevil, they face the Zodiac again in Avengers #81-82.
The women get into the team-building act as the Valkyrie is introduced, and tries to form the Lady Liberators with the Wasp, the Scarlet Witch, the former Frightful Four member Inhuman Medusa, and still not Avenger Black Widow which all happens in Avengers #83 (December 1970, art by John Buscema). All this doesn’t happen as it’s a plot by the Enchantress, which leads to her fleeing to Arkon’s realm for a time.
With Avengers #85-86, we found out why the Squadron Sinister were so familiar…they were based on the Squadron Supreme…heroes from an alternate Earth that included the high-flying American Eagle, beam-welding Dr. Spectrum, their own archer named Hawkeye, his girl friend with a sonic cry Lady Lark, super-strong Hyperion, small scientist Tom Thumb, brooding dark crime-fighter Nighthawk and speedster the Whizzer. The team had to stop the evil Brain-Child from destroying their Earth. This sets the stage for a whole future of crisis between the Marvel Earth and the world of the Squadron Supreme, and also is where the Avengers will prepare for one of their larger battles….the Kree-Skrull War, after a brief meeting with the Hulk in Avengers #88 (that also featured future Avenger and partner to Captain America, the high-flying Falcon, in his first Avengers appearance).
Both races have been on Earth before, and battling each other through the cosmos, but things were beginning to heat up.
From Avengers #89-97, the heroes got between the warring races, trying to prevent the factions from destroying the Earth in their battles.
This fight ranged over the Earth, and involved not only the Avengers, but the Fantastic Four, Annihilus, the Inhumans, Carol Danvers (she who would be Ms. Marvel/Binary/Warbird), the Super-Skrull, Sentry #459, Ronan the Accuser, as well as Hank Pym briefly returning to his Ant-Man identity, and would only end with the Kree Supreme Intelligence working with Rick Jones on unleashing Earth’s heroic myths. This battle had many ramifications, leading to the formation of the Illuminati and Marvel’s Civil War (and is covered all too briefly but will be referred back to as needed). And, with all this, the war didn’t involved all the Avengers, but the god of war planned to rectify that.
Olympian Ares ended up with the Black Knight’s Ebony Blade, and pursued his grudge against Hercules with help from the Enchantress in Avengers #98-100 (with art by Barry Windsor-Smith), where all members of the Avengers team reunited for the first time since their earliest days, including the usual hold-outs of the Hulk and the Swordsman, and Goliath/Clint Barton goes back to being Hawkeye in a costume he thankfully doesn’t keep for long!
Sadly, things did not end well for the Black Knight, as he kept the interest of the Enchantress.
This larger team didn’t stay together, and the usual team stuck around, and a few members checked up on the Hulk.
After that, the Ant-Man and Wasp worked on their own for a while in Marvel Feature, facing familiar foes, like Egghead and Whirlwind, as well as Para-Man and Doctor Nemesis!
Then, a return of the Grim Reaper in Avengers #102, (August 1972, art by Rich Buckler) giving the Vision a choice involving his brother, Wonder Man, where he chose independence, and a battle with the Sentinels in Avengers #103-104, Roy Thomas ended his first run on the Avengers (with the Scarlet Witch facing the Sentinels in “This Is The Way The World Ends”), leaving behind quite a legacy of stories for future writers to pick up on.
And, that will end the current rundown of the Avengers roster and history, until we assemble again, where we can pick up with what Steve Englehart did to the Avengers…and beyond!