True to form, once I had made the leap to reading AVENGERS on a regular basis, I made may way back to the drug store, to dig through their Big Bin of Slightly Older Comics to see if I could find any other recent issues. I came away with two, this one and issue #152 which we’ll cover tomorrow. Buying this book was a slightly surreal experience, because this cover had already been used on one of the Mead Marvel school supplies book binders, so I had seen it around–in 1978, it was just about the most recognizable AVENGERS cover you could find.
As it turned out, this was the first issue of AVENGERS drawn by my new favorite, George Perez. But this was a much more formative Perez than even what I was used to thirty issues later. George was still embryonic and figuring out his style, so while this issue was perfectly acceptable to my eyes when I read it, it’s also pretty crude and beginner-ish. It probably doesn’t help that Vince Colletta inked this job–George would say in later years that Vinnie really elevated what he gave him, and that may have been true. But I was never a fan of Vinnie’s line, nor the way he would simplify backgrounds and elements to a few open areas, and so this wasn’t a match I loved.
This issue was right during the final period of Steve Englehart’s tenure as the writer of AVENGERS, and he evidenced a very different style from Jim Shooter, who had been doing the new issues I had followed. I knew Englehart’s work a little bit from his run on JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. But here, having given up the reins of CAPTAIN AMERICA, Englehart decided to turn his story on wrapping up a dangling plotline from that series, as well as some business left over from the Beast’s short-lived solo run. Consequently, there was a lot of diverse continuity involved in this story, which left me a bit lost. But I wasn’t flummoxed, rather it was all like pieces of an immense jigsaw puzzle where I’d be able to work out the picture if I could just connect all of the elements in the proper arrangement. The story opens with the Beast being attacked by minions of Roxxon Oil, who had been causing trouble for Captain America–and Cap showing up out of nowhere to lend him a hand in defending himself.
The scene then changes to the bedside of Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, who were injured on recent missions. Cap and the Beast show up there so that Cap can enlist the aid of the Avengers in investigating Roxxon–he had been apart from the team for several months at this point, a fact I was unaware of, of course. As the Avengers return to their Mansion to work out their next move, a mysterious woman enters Hank and Jan’s room, searching for them. They’ve got some ideas as to who this was, and Englehart provides a clue by way of a footnote–but I didn’t have the background to puzzle this out just yet. There were, it must be said, a lot of footnotes in this comic.
Back at the Mansion, Iron Man and Moondragon have returned from their away mission with a report: their fellow teammate Hawkeye is missing, apparently trapped in the timestream by the team’s old enemy Kang. Again, I had no way of knowing this, but Englehart had been using Kang as a recurring foe for the team, having him show up again and again issue after issue, thanks to the fact that he could recover from a defeat, plan out a new strategy and then return minutes or days later thanks to his mastery of time travel. But this forces the Avengers to split their forces, with Thor and Moondragon heading to the past to search for Hawkeye while the remainder of the team heads out with Cap and the Beast to investigate Roxxon. In the midst of all of this, the mysterious chasing woman finally catches up to the Avengers, and it turns out that she’s Patsy Walker, formerly the star of a million teen humor comics. Englehart had brought her and her husband Buzz Baxter in as supporting characters in the Beast series, and here she’s following up on those appearances. She tries to blackmail the Beast into making her into a super hero by threatening to reveal his true identity. When Hank calls her bluff, the Avengers tell her that they already know that the Beast is Hank McCoy, but the Beast insists on allowing Patsy to accompany them anyway, so that she can see firsthand how dangerous being a super hero really is.
While Thor, Moondragon and their travel guide Immortus get attacked by Kang in the timestream, the remaining Avengers head off for the Brand Corporation, an outfit about which Iron Man has serious misgivings. They attempt to infiltrate the compound, but security has been beefed up thanks to Patsy’s ex-husband Buzz. And so the Avengers find themselves confronted by the Squadron Supreme. Yes, Supreme, not Sinister–despite what the cover says, this is the good guy Squadron team from a parallel Earth not their nefarious Marvel-Earth counterparts. But why are they working for the bad guys? Hell if I knew. But I was informed enough about parallel worlds thanks to my JLA reading so that I could somewhat follow the explanation of which Squadron this happened to be.
It’s a short but colorful fight, and something of a rout as the Avengers have their heads handed to them by the Squadron. (There’s another bit of confusing continuity brought up here, where the Squadron’s Golden Archer explains that, on his world and in his last appearance, he had been known as Hawkeye. But since he was on the Avengers’ Earth now, where Clint Barton lives, he decided to change his name to avoid confusion–and he adopted a costume that Hawkeye had once used to pose as a super-villain. See? There were a lot of footnotes in this comic.) Anyway, the Avengers are all defeated and captured by the Squadron–and meanwhile, back in the timestream, Thor, Moondragon and Immortus emerge in the year 1873, only to come face-to-face with the owner of a threatening and spooky voice. To Be Continued! For those unaware (and because I wouldn’t read the next issue for several years afterwards) that voice came from one of the Marvel western heroes, Ghost Rider (here called Night Rider), who was allied with the Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt and the Two-Gun Kid to oppose Kang’s plans in the old west. So that would be another weird team-up story–Englehart was really drawing ideas from all corners of the Marvel publishing line at this point.