As I’ve mentioned here before, having become aware of the fact that my father’s place of employment was located right in the vicinity of the Levittown Heroes World location, the only real comic book shop I yet knew of, I would regularly plead for him to stop by the place and pick me up some comics on his way home. Every now and then, he would agree to do so, and I would provide him with long, elaborate lists of issue numbers I wanted for particular titles, books that at that moment had caught my attention. I can recall him coming home one night with both this issue of AVENGERS ANNUAL #2 and the following ANNUAL, #3. “Look at those numbers!” he said with some excitement and triumph. I didn’t have the heart to explain Annuals to him, so I accepted his kind offering with gratitude. It was still a beaucoup haul. That John Buscema cover is a classic, with its black background used effectively in making the Avengers old and new pop off the page. It promised maximum excitement.
At the time when this Annual first saw print, writer Roy Thomas was in the middle of his long AVENGERS run and had shaken out the kinks to make the series a true reflection of his passions in super hero comics. It was legitimately his book now, rather than editor Stan Lee’s. Roy in particular relished the Annuals, where he could do long stories like those his beloved Justice Society of America had starred in in ALL-STAR COMICS back during his youth. And he had a killer concept for this particular Annual, springboarding off of the events of a then-recent issue: the original Avengers battling the modern Avengers! What kid could resist that? The story opens with the Avengers returning to their Mansion headquarters after a storyline in which they journeyed back to the past to find out conclusively whether or not Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s wartime sidekick, had survived or not. But as the Avengers walk up fifth avenue, they are disconcerted by the stares of other passers by, who react as though they had no knowledge of this band of heroes.
And it’s no wonder, because arriving home, the Mansion’s built-in defenses don’t recognize them either. And after fighting their way through, they find the original Avengers gathered in their central meeting room. Of course a fight breaks out, but the new Avengers are pretty overmatched by the originals, though they give a good accounting of themselves. Ultimately, though, the new Avengers realize that this fight is meaningless, and they bug out on the originals. They realize that somehow, their earlier trip through time must have altered history–and indeed it did. We are introduced to the Scarlet Centurion, a mysterious entity who appears before the original Avengers seconds before the Hulk quits the team, and offers his aid in turning the Earth into a paradise if the Avengers will just wipe out all of the other super heroes and villains on Earth. It seems foolish for the Avengers to go along with this, but they do, and we get to see them mop up on everybody across the nascent Marvel Universe in flashback.
A pause in the story here for this dynamite two-page pin-up from artist John Buscema of all of the Avengers past and present at that point. It’s a much smaller group than it would become over the course of time. Sadly, John was too busy working on the regular monthly AVENGERS series to draw this huge Annual, so the art chores were split between two Marvel mainstays, Don Heck and Werner Roth. Both of them were fine artists, but neither one was as intrinsically exciting as Buscema at his peak.
And this mid-story spread of the old Avengers cleaning up on the assorted miscreants of the Marvel Universe proves it. It isn’t a bad spread at all (it looks to my eye to be the work of Roth rather than Heck, though it’s tough to tell after inker Vinnie Colletta gets finished with it.) but it isn’t as jaw-droppingly charged as Buscema’s pages. Anyway, the Centurion praises the Avengers’ good works but tells them that there are still five more heroes who must be put down before the transformation of the world can begin–the new Avengers, of course. So a reckoning is coming. For their part, the new Avengers have figured out the history of this changed world as well as where the old Avengers split up all of the components of Doctor Doom’s time machine after they had defeated them. Reassembling the device is their only hope of being able to go back into the past and fix things. So going into the second half, the new Avengers split up to retrieve the pieces of the device, and the old Avengers do likewise to hunt down the new Avengers.
As the story moves into chapter two, we open with the Black Panther and Hawkeye, who have to contend with Iron Man and the Hulk in their attempt to retrieve their component. The two new Avengers are clearly outpowered here, but some excellent teamwork and a little bit of luck (Hawkeye’s sonic arrow somehow causes the Hulk to transform back into the powerless Bruce Banner at a key moment) helps them to win out. That and being the lead characters in the story, of course. Elsewhere, Captain America finds himself hard-pressed to fight off the Thunder God, Thor. That is, until it occurs to him to try to separate Thor from his hammer for sixty seconds (Cap doesn’t know about the enchantment at this point in history, but he figures, “Hey, Thor’s always hanging onto that hammer for dear life, maybe if I separate the two…”) When the arrogant Thor reaches his time limit and returns to the form of Doctor Donald Blake, it’s all of a second’s work for Captain America to turn Blake’s lights out. And finally, Goliath and the Wasp battle earlier versions of themselves, back when Hank was called Giant-Man. But in their case, they’re much more experienced and polished than their old Avengers counterparts and win the fight handily. So the new Avengers now have all of the bits that they need to fix things.
The new Avengers get the time machine put together, but before they can activate it, the Scarlet Centurion appears. He reveals that he’s a time traveler himself, the mastermind driving all of these events, including Cap’s sudden interest in revisiting Bucky’s death that set this adventure into motion. Now he intends to prevent the Avengers from changing what he has wrought by destroying them. But these heroes just went through the old Avengers like a hot knife through butter, so they’re not going to permit one guy in red armor from stopping them now. Ultimately, it’s Goliath at ant-size who is able to activate the machine, which sweeps up all of the Avengers as well as the Scarlet Centurion himself, sending the would-be conqueror hurling uncontrollably back into the timestream. And then the Watcher shows up, to explain the plot not to the Avengers (who will have no knowledge of these events when the timestream resets itself) but rather to the readership. He reveals that the Scarlet Centurion would continue into the future, where he would one day become perennial Avengers villain Kang the Conqueror. So that’s a fun little kicker at the end of the adventure.
John Buscema did contribute a few pages to this Annual, and in a style that he didn’t often get the opportunity to use. One of the features that had been decided upon to run across all of the Annuals that year were humorous tales of how the creative team put that year’s story together. It’s a legitimately funny little story that Roy Thomas spins, with Buscema’s genuinely adept cartooning providing the visuals. I enjoyed it a hell of a lot. On the one hand, it’s hugely self-indulgent, but on the other, it did give a sense (albeit a fictitious one) about how a comic book like this one was put together. And that was information that I was hungry for. It also helped to characterize some of the creators in the Marvel bullpen, something that Stan Lee was always keen on doing.
11 thoughts on “BHOC: AVENGERS ANNUAL #2”
For a long time this was the oldest comic I owned and it looked much like the one posted here. This is a really fun comic!
I’d read reprints of Avengers #2 and Avengers Annual #2, and just upon reading your post noticed one glaring error in Roy & Don’s tale — namely that in the regular mag, which begins with the Avengers meeting around the table and ends with Hulk quitting and stomping off, Iron Man is still in his bulky entirely golden armor — in the pages of the Avengers he first appeared in his crimson & golden armor in Avengers #3, but in the 2nd Annual — set during the proceedings of issue 2, Iron Man’s in the new armor already. Presumably that was an oversight by Thomas & Heck as I don’t think it was something either Lee or Thomas would have thought would be too confusing for readers to figure out, even if they weren’t familiar with Iron Man’s old armor.
No, this gets addressed in the issue. Iron Man is in the old golden suit when the Scarlet Centurion first shows up, and a caption indicates that he changes to the more modern armor at a certain point.
Ah, ok. So the meeting wherein the new encounter the old Avengers was not meant to be the same as in the opening of Avengers #2 but a later meeting as the Hulk didn’t quit in the new reality created by the Scarlet Centurion’s intervention, if I’m recalling the details better now.
Correct. We see a flashback to the end of Avengers #2 wherein the Scarlet Centurion appears before the Hulk takes off and makes his pitch to the Avengers.
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It’s fascinating reading now how horrified the Avengers were to find themselves in this alt.timeline where they broke bad. Today it would just be “It’s Tuesday.”
” It was legitimately his book now, rather than editor Stan Lee’s.” Someone once suggested one of the differences between the Assemblers and the JLA is that when Gardner Fox was canned, nobody put their stamp on the book the way Thomas did.
I don’t think that’s quite true, in that the person whose stamp was on it I think was Julie Schwartz, both during Gardner and after. But the DC creators didn’t yet think about the books quite in the way that Roy did.
That makes sense.
I don’t see any Roth in the pages you showcase so I’m gonna have to see if I still have my copy. Roth had been my favorite X-Men artist pre-Cockrum. I know I hadn’t come to appreciate Don Heck’s craftmanship like I do now so while I enjoyed his work when I was younger I also preferred it ‘softened’ by Colletta.
Roth’s Marvel work, to my eyes at the time, was incredibly dull. I really, really didn’t enjoy it at the time. A runner up in that disappoint sweepstakes was Heck.
The irony was that I really like Roth’s work in the 50s and pretty much all work by Heck in every genre except superheroes, more so when he inked himself.
Moral, of course, is that not all artists are equally good in all genres.
(That said, I would cop to a problem or Heck and Roth was working Marvel style but, even saying that, I’m not sure that was the problem.)
According to Roy Thomas Heck provided layouts and Roth pencils. I believe that is correct. There are also a few corrections by staffers on a few panels including Paul Reinman (page 5, panel 2; page 19; panel 3- Namor)and page 20, panel 3 (DD, probably altered because Don drew the red costume instead of the original. John Verpoorten may have done the correction)