The second issue of AVENGERS that I pulled out of the drugstore’s Big Bin of Slightly Older Comics was this one, issue #152. For the record, the current issue was #171, so both this and yesterday’s #141 were significantly older than the FF issues I had gotten. For some reason, the longer that bin was there, the further back it went–as though they were drawing from a huge stack of books that had been piled up chronologically and were now being put out from the top of the pile. This was all good news for me, though–it gave me a lot of room to maneuver in terms of being able to get issues that I had missed.
This was exactly at the point where new Marvel EIC Gerry Conway (who holds the record for having had the job for the shortest period of time, a mere three weeks) replaced the perennially late Steve Englehart as the book’s regular writer. Englehart plotted this issue, but it was Conway who scripted it. That falling out was contentious by the look of things, and each man has a slightly different account of what went down. But all that matters for this report is that Conway was in and Englehart was out. At this point, I can’t say that I was paying a lot of attention to the writers, so this difference didn’t make much of an impact on me.
Reportedly, the resurrection of Wonder Man in this story came about due to friction with rival publisher DC. Years before, when Wonder Man had first appeared, DC had sent Martin Goodman a warning, saying that they felt that the character infringed on their property. (They made reference to a one-off SUPERMAN story featuring a character called Wonder Man, but they were really talking about Wonder Woman.) Goodman and Lee agreed that the character wouldn’t be used again–and outside of some flashbacks, he largely wasn’t. But then, DC (specifically, Gerry Conway) introduced Power Girl in ALL-STAR COMICS. Marvel reached out to DC crying foul, saying that they had a book called POWER MAN and that this was an infringement. DC, apparently, told them to stuff it, and in a fit of pique, Stan ordered that Wonder man be resurrected as a retaliatory move. Now, I don’t know how much of this story is actually true–it’s likely been exaggerated over the years. But it all makes for good copy, doesn’t it?
Consequently, the previous issue ended with a big crate being delivered to Avengers Mansion–out of which exploded Wonder Man, who accused the Vision of stealing his mind. And it’s true–the Vision’s brain patterns had been based on those of the deceased Wonder Man, so the Android Avenger took this accusation pretty hard. After a cursory examination, nobody can explain how or why Wonder Man is alive again, nor why he’s become so mindless and mono-focused. But studying some of the dirt on what was left of the packaging crate, the Scarlet Witch is able to hone in on New Orleans as the source of the delivery. Wonder Man, apparently, has been resurrected as a Zuvembie. And if you’re wondering what a Zuvembie is, that’s hardly surprising. At that moment, the Comics Code still forbid the use of Zombies in approved stories (you could do a Zombie black and white magazine, but never mention him by that name in the color comics.) Accordingly, Roy Thomas or somebody came up with the work-around alternative name of Zuvembie. But make no mistake, anybody so referred to is a Zombie, plain and simple.
Heading down to new Orleans with Wonder Man’s body as their burden, the Avengers are quickly able to ascertain that the culprit they’re looking for can be found in Le Mort Bayou, the dead swamp. As they make their way through the undergrowth, Wonder Man begins to perk up, sensing the presence of his Zuvembie master. He leads the team to the Black Talon, a bit of a ridiculous foe who is both a master of voodoo and who wears a chicken mask. Not at all put off by his fearsome fowl appearance, the Avengers attack, wading into the Talon’s voodoo worshippers and any stray Zuvembie that might be hanging around.
The Talon, though, summons his dark lord Damaballah, a fearsome supernatural presence. Even the Scarlet Witch’s skills prove ineffective against it–at least until she changes up her approach, tossing out witchcraft and instead employing her built-in mutant hex ability. This is enough to defeat the Black Talon and to banish Damaballah–but even so, Wanda is unhappy with her performance, and she exits the issue leaving the Avengers behind in order to seek out greater tutelage in the mystic arts. Meanwhile, the Avengers have learned that it wasn’t actually the Black Talon who reanimated Wonder man, so their mystery would continue onward as well. It was a solid issue with some nice artwork from Avengers mainstay John Buscema.