Here is yet another comic that I got in trade with my boyhood pal Donald Sims, a reprint of one of the best issues of the period. And the thing that made it one of the best issues was the inking of John Romita. This was John’s first assignment back at Marvel–he had told editor Stan Lee that he only wanted to ink, that he was tired of facing a blank page and not being sure what to do. But after completing this issue, Stan needed somebody to take over DAREDEVIL and asked John to do up a drawing of the character–and the rest is history.
Which isn’t to say that John was the whole show here. Regular penciler Don Heck did his typically nice job on this issue–Heck is one of those guys whose work suffered a bit when the size of the original artwork was reduced in the mid-1960s. But Romita is a far more sympathetic inker for Heck’s work than he had been getting a this point. John maintained everything that was good in Heck’s work while making it prettier and slicker and sharper in the inking process, something he couldn’t help doing. It’s a very attractive pairing, one that we wouldn’t often see again, as John became of greater value to Marvel as a penciler and eventually art director.
At this point in the series, the New Avengers were really starting to gel, and their personalities were coming into focus. At the opening of the issue, though, Captain America has quit the team, tired of trying to wrangle the three spirited newcomers. He finds work as a sparring partner for a boxer out at a training camp in upstate New York–but he can’t put the Avengers out of his mind. Another person who can’t forget about the Avengers is their enemy, Kang the Conqueror. Despite the fact that he’s never before battled Hawkeye, Quicksilver or the Scarlet Witch and shouldn’t have much interest in them at all, he sees this moment and a fruitful time to attack them and vanquish the Avengers once and for all. And he uses one of the most memorable absurd plans to do it: he adds an additional floor to Avengers Mansion, and then when the Avengers are lured upstairs into it, he uses it to transport them to his far future land. It’s all a bit of overkill, but it makes for a good visual.
Kang’s not just interested in Conquest, though–he’s attempting to impress Princess Ravonna of a nation he’s attempting to subjugate, whom he’s taken a shine to. But Ravonna considers Kang nothing but “a commoner” , and so the pride-stung Kang intends to display his prowess and might before her, in an attempt to win her over. Meanwhile, in the present, the news reports on the sudden disappearance of the Avengers–though how they know about it is anybody’s guess–and this announcement is enough to get Steve Rogers to quit his day job and race back to Avengers Mansion in order to affect a rescue or else avenge his fallen teammates. In the future, though, the Avengers are doing all right on their own, as the Scarlet Witch is able to liberate them from the glass jars they’re confined in (though, in typical Stan Lee fashion, this effort leaves her weak and drained. For all that the women were regular parts of all of the Marvel teams, Stan never liked to make them especially powerful or capable–nothing that would overshadow their male counterparts. It’s a bit of unfortunate period chauvinism.)
Alas, this is only a momentary respite, as the now-freed Avengers are immediately set upon remotely by Kang. Kang has left them alive because he wants them to join his powerful legions, feeling that the Avengers serving him will be a powerful symbol to Ravonna and the rest of his subjects. When the assemblers refuse, Kang is able to retake Wanda and Hawkeye, but Quicksilver proves swift enough to elude his paralysis beams. Then, somehow, Captain America is able to broadcast a challenge to Kang from the past, telling the conqueror that he hasn’t bested the Avengers until Captain America too has been defeated. Cap has no way to get to Kang’s future time, and the Conqueror isn’t biting on Cap’s feeble challenge–until Ravonna goads him into doing so by once again pricking his pride. Needing to win her over, Kang transports Cap to the future as well, where he’s quickly reunited with the still-free Quicksilver.
And then, it’s fighting time, as the Avengers twosome engages for a squad of Kang’s legions and then, after besting them, Kang himself. The Conqueror takes on the pair in full view of Ravonna and her courtiers–and while Quicksilver is able to free the other two Avengers, neither he nor Cap is a match for the incredible technology and weapons that Kang possesses. At this point in history, the idea that Captain America’s shield was unique and indestructible (as opposed to just being a metal shield) hadn’t been decided upon, and so Kang is able to use a molecular expander on it to attempt to crush Cap underneath it. Having sealed his victory, he demands that Ravonna and her fellow recognize him as their ruler and bend the knee to him. He wants Ravonna’s hand in marriage.
The remaining Avengers rally at this point, but Kang’s legions have encircled the capital city and are only awaiting his word to begin their awesome invasion. And give it he does. Stan makes some good hay out of the fact that the current Avengers roster doesn’t include Thor, Iron Man or Giant-Man any longer, whose powers would be infinitely helpful in repulsing a full-scale invasion from an army of the future. And that’s where the issue ends–with the four less powerful Avengers about to face down the mightiest legion of the 41st Century. To Be Continued! This is another story where I wouldn’t get to read the wrap-up for many years, but this issue, and this final moment, really stuck with me.