BHOC: MARVEL TRIPLE ACTION #44

Marvel’s reprint line was still going strong, providing a companion reprint title for most of the major series the company was putting out. This helped to reinforce the idea that the Marvel Universe was all one single continuous tapestry–these years-old stories were still important and might factor in to new adventures produced today. Or such was the sell on them, anyway. Really, it was a cheap way to bring in some additional profits and take up some real estate on the spinner racks, the better to crowd off competitors’ titles. But I didn’t care–as I was still discovering all of the backstory of the MU, I loved these books almost as much as the new releases. (Although, at least among my crowd of comics-buying friends, reprint books were considered “worthless” as they weren’t originals and thus wouldn’t go up in value the way the initial printings of the story would. This had a big impact when it came to trading.)

This issue reprinted the story in which the Black Panther joined the Avengers, becoming a regular fixture in the series. It also represents the first occasion on which creators who were not Stan Lee and Jack Kirby handled the character. The introduction of the Panther had been contentious and difficult, with many last-minute changes and course corrections along the way. That didn’t stop when he moved into AVENGERS. For one thing, his former full face mask has here become an open cowl, with no explanation. (It would wordlessly resume its full face mask appearance in a couple of issues.) Additionally, with the rise of the real-world Black Panther Party, Marvel had begun to refer to the character simply as the Panther whenever possible, especially on the covers. This was necessary in that there wasn’t any overt connection between T’Challa and the real world Black Panthers apart from their ethnicity.

The Panther’s skin tone also fluctuates throughout this issue, and I’m not sure whether that was due to somebody trying to fix it for this reprint or whether it did so in the original printing as well. In the 1960s, as Marvel began to feature more characters of color, they had to work out a color mix for black skintone. The initial results tended to look like stone, a dull grey. The color got richer and more naturalistic over time, though the range of black skin colorations was never able to accurately be captured given the limited palate of this era. Also worth noting is that artist John Buscema’s work is inked in this issue by the reductive Vince Colletta, who does his work no favors. The storytelling and dynamics are still strong, but the finish is crude, lacking polish. In the pantheon of John Buscema inkers, Vince needs to rank near to the bottom, though he’d go on to work with Buscema a lot in the pages of THOR particularly.

The story opens with the Panther making his way to Avengers Mansion for his first meeting with the team. But when he arrives there, he finds the rest of the Avengers lying dead, murdered. Before he can do anything about it, SHIELD Agent Jasper Sitwell appears and gets the drop on him, figuring that the Panther must be the killer. T’Challa goes along with Sitwell and the Police, attempting to prove his innocence, but all of the access codes Captain America gave him for the Avengers’ equipment don’t work. He’s been set up to take the fall. As news of the Avengers’ demise hits the airwaves, we transition to the true perpetrator of the team’s destruction: a scythe-wielding multi-colored maniac who calls himself the Grim Reaper.

For the benefit of nobody but the reader, the Grim Reaper narrates his way into a flashback, detailing how he broke into Avengers Mansion and attacked the three Avengers in residence, ultimately striking them down with an electrical charge from his scythe. He then goes into a flashback-within-a-flashback (which is terrible storytelling, but I didn’t know that at the time) revealing that he is the brother of Wonder Man, a hero/villain who had sacrificed his life to save the Avengers years before. The Reaper is out for revenge on the Avengers consequently–and he’s nuts enough that he doesn’t really care if guys like Hawkeye or the Panther, who weren’t a part of the group responsible for his brother’s death, get killed in the crossfire.

Meanwhile, having learned as much from the cops as he can about what has transpired, the Panther stages a brazen escape, and in a showcase of his catlike abilities, he avoids their gunfire as he makes his way back to Avengers Mansion. He figures that the true culprit must still be there, and he’s absolutely right–the Reaper is hiding within the building. A fierce battle between the two men breaks out, one that again is designed to showcase the fighting prowess of the newest Avenger. And he does come across pretty cool in this whole adventure. As the two men tussle, the Grim Reaper reveals an unlikely truth: the Avengers aren’t really dead at all, merely in a death-like coma that can be reversed. This is a crazy bit of a stretch, but as we don’t really want to wipe out Hank, Jan and Hawkeye, we’ll need to go with it. With this revelation, T’Challa’s objective changes from bringing the Grim Reaper to justice to gaining possession of his scythe, so that the process can be reversed.

The Grim Reaper winds up impaled on his own scythe as he and the Panther struggle for it, and T’Challa decides that he can’t waste any time ministering to the stricken super-villain if he’s going to rescue his new teammates. This turns out to be a bad call, as by the end of the story, it’s clear that the Grim Reaper was faking the severity of his injury and got away while the Panther was otherwise busy. In any case, T’Challa makes his way to the hospital where the Avengers’ bodies are being held–Roy tries to hang a lantern on the fact that it’s weird that they’re in a hospital not the morgue, but it doesn’t really work. Anyway, the Panther, injured in his battle with the Grim Reaper, fights his way through a gauntlet of cops who are out to capture him as the killer of the Avengers, eventually resurrecting his friends seconds before the forces of law and order can take him down. In the end, the heroes recover, the Grim Reaper is in the wind, and the Panther is officially inducted into the team. Goliath says that the group’s next order of business is going to be to track down Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who have gone rogue with their old boss Magneto. And that’s where this story wraps up.

20 thoughts on “BHOC: MARVEL TRIPLE ACTION #44

  1. It not only showcases T’Challa’s ability to fight — I think this was the best the Grim Reaper ever managed. After this he’d rely much more on allies, plus he was restrained by seeing the Vision as his brother resurrected so he was never so formidable mano-a-mano.
    I forget who, down the road, came up with the convoluted idea that Eric was the real embezzler and Simon took the blame to protect him but it was a really poor retcon.

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  2. I got this story in one of the Treasury Editions — they reprinted several of these stories from Buscema’s first year on the Avengers in the treasuries. Not sure if that was pure happenstance or if those were considered the most popularly requested of the done-in-one stories in the Avengers back catalog. This tale includes several common tropes, includin (1) the baddy who wants “revenge” on the heroes for something they didn’t actually do and several of whom weren’t involved in the situation at all (Zemo, after all, was responsible for Simon Williams’ death, not any of the Avengers); (2) the heroes seemingly killed off but turns out they were just in some sort of suspended animation resembling death; (3) another hero erroneously blamed for killing the others and hunted by cops trying to take him in on circumstantial evidence; (4) the baddy who has the perfect opportunity to kill the heroes but doesn’t simply for the purpose of in a ridiculously complicated scheme (of course, really because the writer wouldn’t be allowed by the company to kill off the main heroes in a popular ongoing series under any circumstances even if he wanted to); and (5) the baddie’s monologue which exists purely for the sake of the readers to explain the situation and his twisted reasons for what he’s doing. I’m sure more tropes could be dredged up but those are the most obvious to me at the moment. Still, overall, an enjoyable romp. The coloring on the Grim Reaper’s original costume was, um, odd, albeit fairly typical for Silver Age baddies. The later version was a significant improvement.

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  3. I notice that Dave Cockrum redrew the Panther figure on the cover. It’s a more dynamic pose than the original.

    I’m reminded how hideous the Grim Reaper’s original costume was, and that coloring did not help. When he switched to the all-black outfit in Avengers #78-79 (that he’s worn ever since), it was a marked improvement.

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    1. It looks to me like Cockrum redid everything in the background. That lab environment wasn’t there either, and the Avengers were in different poses. May have had to adjust things to fit all of the trade dress elements on this cover.

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      1. You’re right, Tom. I had to drag out my Marvel Masterworks to make sure, but it looks like Cockrum redrew everything but the Grim Reaper on the cover. Hawkeye is in a similar pose to the original, but Hank and Jan are in different poses, and a floor and background machinery have been added. And while I adore all things Dave Cockrum, I honestly think the original cover is superior because it’s less cluttered.

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      2. The Reaper’s been reworked some, too. His boots, gloves and midsection have been re-inked, and that big X-slash he’s cutting into the cover hasn’t just been resized and rotated, like the figure, it’s been completely redrawn and badly simplified.

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  4. One thing about the Panther’s costume I’ve never seen discussed: With the full face mask, there’s no way for someone just casually seeing a cover to know that the Black Panther is in fact, black. That’s not an obvious thing, as many (most?) “Black [Something]” characters, especially before the 1970’s, are white – Black Adam, Black Bolt, Black Canary, Black Cat, Black Condor, Black Knight, Black Terror, Black Widow, etc. I wonder if that part of the design was intentional, for lowering the risk of problems in the South.

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    1. That was definitely deliberate for that purpose. When Kirby designed the Panther costume, the mask was an open cowl like this one. But it was closed up in FF #52 for very much the reasons you state.

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      1. Thanks. But do you know where it’s been documented that the cowl was closed for, let’s say, Southern reasons? (i.e. did Lee or Kirby say it somewhere?) I would have thought that’d be referenced over and over nowadays with the newfound prominence of Black Panther. Yet I think even in the past few years I’ve still seen more such mentions with regard to Ferro Lad.

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  5. In the digital copy I have of Avengers 52 The Panther’s skin colour is a solid and consistent brown. The reprint does indeed do funny things to the colour.

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  6. Love this art, particularly the bold inks by Vinnie Colletta. Not sure whether you are confusing John Buscema with Michelangelo but this is comic book art, not a museum piece. You are taking yourself too seriously. This is serviceable, if not above-average comic book art. You were expecting….Michelangelo??? LOL….

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  7. I loved MTA for pretty much the same reason. I started around 1973 so they were all new to me. I think I read the Hulk reprints but that’s it. Classic F4 and Spider-Man just did little for me.

    And am I right that the title is a holdover from the book having three features? They should have changed the cover title at least if they didn’t want to rename it for reals, like the way Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes did it.

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    1. The first issue of MARVEL TRIPLE ACTION reprinted two issues of FANTASTIC FOUR.

      After that it reprinted one issue of FF, for a while, until they switched over to reprinting AVENGERS.

      So it didn’t have three features, but it did reprint team books, so they could blurb multiple characters, each as a promo draw. Maybe someone thought they were fooling kids into thinking it had three features. Or maybe someone just liked the sound of it.

      The following year, they started a book called MARVEL DOUBLE FEATURE, that mostly reprinted Cap and Iron Man stories from TALES OF SUSPENSE, so that had two features. Thought in the last couple of issues they just reprinted Cap stories that guest-starred the Black Panther, so they used both logos.

      And then in 1977 they started MARVEL SUPER ACTION, which reprinted Cap solo stories. Until, I guess, they kinda-sorta did that title change you suggested — they canceled MARVEL TRIPLE ACTION, and moved the AVENGERS reprints over to MARVEL SUPER ACTION, where the title made more sense.

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      1. GIANT SIZE MARVEL TRIPLE ACTION (1975) managed to fit in three stories, as did the 2009 revival of the title but, yes, other than that it was a misnomer.

        The cover that always intrigued me was #47, which was the same scene as the cover of AVENGERS #54 but from the front of the heroes rather than behind. A choice I’d not seen before.

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  8. Colletta looks alright on Buscema in this instance I gotta say. He’s no Tom Palmer but it’s fully inked and somewhat lush. I bought this reprint off the stand as well… I didn’t usually get these reprints at this point unless there was some extra backstory on the original team.

    Costume coloring aside… the Reaper is a pretty solid addition to the Avengers’ rogues gallery, and he represents an early effort by Thomas to expand on the MU’s recent past. Simon Williams might be dead, but he’s got a vengeful brother which is a pretty good hook.

    Off the top of my head I’d say that the best Reaper story is Avengers 160. He has to confront his brother being reborn and transfers his hate to the Vision as a result.

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  9. This issue strongly influenced Jim Shooter’s 160-162, with the Reaper and the Wonder Man connection being brought back up, and especially with the conceit of “the Avengers are dead—no, wait, they’re just in deathlike comas!” Though there it was Thor arriving afterward instead of T’Challa. Issue 162 was my first Marvel comic, and that all made a big impact on me. (I even did a sort of homage to it at the start of the fourth Sentinels novel.)

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  10. It’s my memory that a letter printed in response to this issue asserted that a character named Grim Reaper ought to wear an all black costume. Evidently someone, probably Roy, agreed and passed the idea on to the artists for GR’s second appearance.

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