I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
Besides the comics that I selected for myself in my youthful years, I always had access to a few stray issues that came into my possession by mysterious means. Comic books were purchased a little more freely in the nineteen-seventies. They were available practically everywhere and were somewhat likely to be picked up as impulse buys by teenagers and college students just looking for a four-color distraction. I never found a treasure trove of Silver Age comics in some dusty corner of an attic, though I longed for such a discovery. So I had to make due with the ragged discards of cousins, uncles and other relatives who tossed aside their fantastic fictions when they grew bored of them.
One such comic that found its way into my collection was Giant-Size Avengers #3. Issued with a cover date of February 1975, this was one of the quarterly publications that Marvel Comics tried out briefly in the mid-seventies. When I first found it, I was a devoted follower of comics aimed squarely at the younger set. Most of the superhero comics I’d tried to read at that point were practically impenetrable, full of lore and reliant on long-established, minuscule character details that were shorthand for regular readers but uncrackable code for someone with a single issue in their possession. This Avengers comic was no exception.
The very first page of the story is weighed down with recap that seems to humble even the omniscient narrator, conceding the caption box that the summary is accurate only “as far as we can dope it out from reading” previous issues of Avengers. When even the narrator is acknowledging difficulty following the story, what hope did I have?
Seriously, this issue was so confusing that even the sound effects required clarifying captions.
Turns out this issue was just one small part of a massive storyline that writer Steve Englehart was threading through multiple Marvel mags. Not yet accustomed to the rigors of tracking the intertwining interstates of superhero storylines, I read through this issue repeatedly, sure it would click in at some point. The Earth’s mightiest heroes in the Avengers already meant there was a significant cast to sort through, but there was an abundance of supporting characters, villains and cameos in this story.
Those panels alone have a Norse god who moonlights as a superhero, a resurrected strongman, a couple of androids and, to top it all off, Frankenstein’s monster (who was starring in a regularly published Marvel comic at the time). That doesn’t even mention the villainous Kang, the character with one of the most daunting histories in all of Marvel Comics. It was enough to make a young boy woozy.
And if it wasn’t tough enough to join this titanic tale mid-stream, the last panel taunted me with its inconclusiveness.
Avengers #133? I just found this comic laying around the house. I had no means to get some follow-up issue. The intended cliffhanger left me dangling from a flimsy vine with no hope of rescue. There was a part of me that thought (hoped?) that if I could somehow read the surrounding issues, it would all fall into place.
As a direct counterpoint to the main story, the size of the issue was helped towards its necessary giantness by the inclusion of a reprint of the story from the second issue of Avengers, originally published all the way back in 1963. It’s simple, self-contained pleasures gave me some reassurance that maybe I could handle these superhero stories after all.
Maybe this panel explains my enduring affection for stories that involve superheros just lounging idly together, hanging out in full uniform (and armor) chatting with one another. Incidentally, from what I’ve read of the early issues of Avengers, the only character trait the winsome Wasp has is lusting after her male teammates.
By the way, I’m pretty sure this was clipped out of the issue I had:
I read through this issue again, preparing for this post. You know what? I still have trouble following it.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe