Having introduced comic readers to a whole host of colourful characters, in September of 1963 the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought together six of Earth’s mightiest heroes to form the Avengers. A super team like no other, with a constantly rotating roster, the Avengers has become the premier team of Marvel Comics and, thanks to the team and its individual members forming the backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have become an unbelievably popular and successful franchise in their own right.
Story Title: The Coming of the Avengers!
Published: September 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
In 1960, DC Comics brought together their most popular and powerful characters to form the Justice League of America. Never ones to let the competition get a leg up on them, and having seen successful with the Fantastic Four and the debut of the X-Men in that very same month, Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman asked Stan Lee to create a similar team of superheroes. Helpfully, Lee and a number of his most famous collaborators had already established a number of colourful characters to bring together: Tony Stark/Iron Man, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Doctor Donald Blake/Thor Odinson, and Doctor Hank Pym/Ant-Man and Janet van Dyne/The Wasp.
Since the debut issue, the Avengers have been a consistent and influential presence in Marvel Comics; the roster constantly shifted and changed, with the Hulk leaving the team in the second issue and Lee memorably dusting off the long-retired character of Steve Rogers/Captain America in issue four. Since then, the team has expanded and changed many times, seen spin-offs and splinter groups, been disassembled and reassembled, and taken part in all manner of massive cosmic events in the decades since their introduction.
“The Coming of the Avengers” begins with Thor’s brother, Loki Laufeyson, the God of Mischief, imprisoned on the “dreaded Isle of Silence” in the mythical realm of Asgard. This is, of course, back when Loki was a despicable, irredemable villain whose previous mad schemes for power and conquest were thwarted by his brother; consequently, Loki is incensed at being exiled to the barren wasteland by Odin Allfather and plots a devious scheme for revenge.
Though his physical self is trapped, Loki is able to use his vast magical abilities to project his disembodied self across the length of he dimension-spanning Bifrost and down to Earth, the planet Thor loves so dearly. He spies in on Donald Blake but dismisses him as a lame and insignificant mortal; he is acutely aware that Blake and Thor are one and the same but desires victory over Thor, not his crippled mortal shell. After many long hours, Loki comes upon the Incredible Hulk and is instantly intrigued by the creature’s brute strength and disdain for humanity. Thanks to Loki’s manipulations, the Hulk is blamed by the media when a train almost derails (despite the fact that the Hulk went out of his way to keep the train on track after Loki’s tricked him into damaging the tracks). Concerned for the well-being of his friend, Rick Jones desperately attempts to contact the Fantastic Four for help but Loki intercepts the broadcast and successfully coerces Blake to transform into Thor.
However, Rick’s broadcast is also intercepted by Ant-Man and the Wasp and Tony Stark, who eagerly leap into action to stop what they perceive to be one of the Hulk’s trademark rampages. Though he’s now decked out in his slightly more streamlined gold plated armour (which can also charge through solar power), Stark is still entirely reliant upon his iron plated chest device to keep him alive but, nevertheless, he’s eager to test the strength of his armour against the Hulk’s much-vaulted power. The Fantastic Four eventually pick up the transmission regardless of Loki’s interference but are unable to assist since they’re already busy on another case but Rick and his fellow “Teen Bridge” are star-struck when Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, and the Wasp all show up to answer their summons. This is probably as good a time as any to talk about how much I loathe Janet van Dyne, especially in her earlier appearances in the sixties and seventies! She’s such a ditzy, scatterbrained little tart; all she ever does is think about her hair, make-up, and appearance and constantly fawn over other men right in front of her partner/husband, Hank. Sure, Hank is generally much more focused on his work, the mission, or being professional and is largely neglectful and ignorant of Janet but that doesn’t excuse her God-awful characterisation. Similar to Susan Storm/Invisible Girl, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, and many of Marvel’s supporting female characters at the time, Janet is constantly patronised and spoken down to by men but, unlike many of them, she actually deserves such harsh treatment since she’s more of a glorified model or brainless celebrity than a capable superheroine, much less an individual worthy of their respect since all she wants to do is drool over Thor’s muscles!
Anyway, having inadvertently brought together some of Earth’s mightiest heroes, Loki changes tactics and uses his powers to trick Thor into thinking the Hulk is right outside their door! Acting without thought or logic, Thor immediately heads out to battle the Green Goliath and immediately heads to Asgard when he realises that the “Hulk” is merely one of Loki’s visions…just as Loki planned all along! Meanwhile, the Hulk, now free from Loki’s control, has…disguised himself as Mechano the Mechanical Man and hidden himself away at a circus? Thanks to Ant-Man’s uncanny helmet, which allows him to control and communicate with ants, Pym is able to first locate the Hulk and then use countless numbers of ants to cause a cave-in beneath the beast’s feet. Unimpressed and irritated, the Hulk easily bursts free of the trap and reacts with anger when Ant-Man attempts first to calm him and then to trap him.
As in his debut appearance, the Hulk is far more than the mindless, rampaging beast he is generally known as; he’s eloquent and intelligent, using words like “masquerade” and being smart enough to disguise himself as a circus performer and use weapons to blow the Wasp out of the air and render her helpless. The Hulk is kept from crushed the Wasp into a fine paste by the timely arrival of Iron Man; after Iron Man’s attempts to lure the Hulk into a trap fail, he gives chase but the Hulk is wily enough to allow Iron Man to pass harmless overheard so that he (as in the Hulk) can deliver a crippling blow to Stark’s “propulsion battery”.
Over in Asgard, Odin grants Thor permission to travel to the Isle of Silence to confront Loki and he has to overcome numerous traps and hazards conjured by Loki’s black magic along the way. Thor perseveres and shatters Loki’s magical barrier using his enchanted hammer, Mjölnir, in his mission to “avenge” Loki’s foul deed. However, Thor is kept from attacking Loki first by the sudden arrival of a monstrous troll, a nature of the isle, and then by Loki’s deceitful illusions. Regardless, Thor triumphs again by summoning lightning to drive the creature away and then dispels Loki’s duplicates with an implausible twirling of his hammer. Though Thor has Loki in his grasp and intends to bring him to Earth to answer for his deception, there’s still the little problem of the Hulk to contend with; Iron Man, having repaired his battery, continues his pursuit of the Hulk to an automobile factory, where the Hulk is able to endure and outwit Iron Man’s attempts to subdue him.
Thor interrupts the battle and reveals that Loki was behind everything; Hulk’s desire to make Loki pay for framing him is momentarily avoided when Loki breaks free of Thor’s grasp and prepares to resume his battle with his hated brother…only for a hoard of ants to open a trapdoor beneath his feet and cause him to fall into an lead-lined chamber. With the threat ended, Ant-Man suggests that the six of them join forces as a team, which the others (including the Hulk, despite everything he went through during the issue) readily agree to and it is the Wasp who suggests the team’s name: The Avengers!
“The Coming of the Avengers!” is a breath of fresh air after the year I’ve had looking back at early origin stories and comic books; even compared to standalone stories of the time, it’s refreshing to not have the plot be endlessly bogged down with recaps of the characters’ origins and to not have every other piece of dialogue by a description of that character’s ability. Characters do still have an annoying tendency to monologue and describe what they’re doing as they’re doing it but it’s a far more action-packed issue than some other comics I’ve read this year, that’s for sure.
If you’re a newcomer to Marvel, this is obviously a bit of a disadvantage since you’d have no idea who any of these characters are; the only characters who really get any extended backstory and focus are Thor and Loki, which is only natural considering it is Loki who drives the main plot of the issue. However, we never see an appearance from the Hulk’ alter ego (Banner isn’t even mentioned in the issue), Ant-Man and the Wasp are never seen outside of their costumed identities, and the comic even has time to waste panels on a cameo by the Fantastic Four. The intention, however, is pretty clear: Rick’s first thought is to call the Fantastic Four since there are only a couple of superhero teams in existence at that time and the implication is that Loki is a threat worthy of the Fantastic Four’s involvement, which thus makes the Avengers appear just as capable and formidable by proxy. Not that the Avengers really need any help in that regard; each character has already had numerous chances to shine and show how capable they are in their solo issues but what better way to showcase that to its fullest than by pitting them against the Hulk, the most powerful mortal in Marvel Comics at the time?
Iron Man, especially, is eager to pit his skills and augmented strength against the Hulk’s (who sadly never gets to tussle with Thor to see which of the two truly is mightier) and it’s certainly unique seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp futilely try to subdue the beast with traps and trickery. It’s not a perfect story by any means; I could talk for days about Janet’s characterisation and she basically does nothing except buzz around, pine after Thor, and name the team and Loki never thinks to use his powers to send the Hulk into a mindless rampage to help tip the balance in his favour. Indeed, though Loki’s powers are vast and have the potential to be extremely dangerous, he’s pretty ineffectual as Thor easily fights off his illusions, he’s anti-climatically defeated by Ant-Man and the Wasp (of all people), and all he succeeds in doing is uniting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as a team. He might have had more success if he’d tried to manipulate them into fighting each other or used his powers to better effect but, as an excuse to bring together six of Marvel’s most formidable superheroes into a super team, “The Coming of the Avengers!” succeeds far more than it fails…it just needed to be a bit longer and have a bit more interaction between the characters.
How do you feel about “The Coming of the Avengers!”? Do you feel it was an effective introduction to Marvel’s newest and greatest team or do you, perhaps, find it a little weak and light on content? Which of the original line-up is your favourite? What did you think to the Wasp’s characterisation and the treatment of females during this time? Which version of the team is your favourite or who would you like to see on an Avengers roster one day? Do you think the singular threat of Loki was suitable enough justification for bringing together these heroes or would you have preferred a bigger threat? How are you celebrating the debut of the Avengers today and what are some of your favourite Avengers storylines, characters, or adaptations? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on the Avengers in the comments below.