Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Come Together: Cap's Kooky Quartet part 3

Avengers 23 Kang
Avengers #23 (1965)

Avengers #23 (December 1965)
“Once An Avenger”
Stan Lee – writer, Don Heck – penciller, John Romita – delineator

Karen: We’ve just made it past the half-way point in our look back at Cap’s Kooky Quartet. Here in issue 23, things really start cooking. You’ll recall that at the end of issue 22, Cap had left the team, disgusted with all the constant squabbling. We start this issue with the remaining Avengers discussing their loss. Again, the Scarlet Witch appears to have romantic feelings towards Cap. She thinks, “How I miss the sight of him working out in our private gymnasium! So confident…so handsome! To me, he was every inch an Avenger!”

Doug: Wanda was just another of Stan’s lovesick girls in a few panels – the tears, the longing glance toward her vision of Cap in the gym.

Sharon: To think that our sweet Wanda enjoyed leering at Cap as he went through his sweaty gyrations in the gym…. well, I’m glad the girl has a pulse! Anyway, the drawing of Wanda in that panel is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Karen: The object of her affection has decided to seek out a job as a sparring partner for “the champ”, a boxer.

Doug: Did you find it odd that Cap would cut loose with that super-soldier strength on those guys? Would you say that it was a little irresponsible?

Karen: I’m sure Cap was still careful not to hurt anyone too badly. But he seems a bit feistier here than he would later on.

Karen: We see that Cap, too, feels pain over his decision to leave the team. Meanwhile, Kang the Conqueror, that megalomaniac from the future last seen in issue #11, has returned, ready to take vengeance on the Avengers. Realizing that “they are like a ship without a rudder” without Captain America, he reasons it is the perfect time to strike. He captures Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch and whisks them off to the future. Although Wanda is able, at great effort, to free them, Kang manages to re-capture her and Hawkeye. Pietro’s great speed allows him to escape.

Doug: I’d like to interject here, and I’m going to get back on the time travel problems I voiced in our discussion of the Adult Legion stories. Kang obviously has a log of all history up to his era. Is it merely mischievousness that prompts him to attack certain worlds or time periods? While I would not dispute that his technology would be infinitely better than most places he would choose to conquer, he certainly has the knowledge to attack at just the right moment. How could he ever be truly defeated?

Doug: I loved the way Kang initially attacked the Avengers by landing what seemed to be an additional story on top of the mansion. Did you notice, too, that Kang referred to having the Avengers lost in a “labyrinth” later in the story – a motif we’ll see again in the Celestial Madonna arc, which we’ve previously discussed!

Doug: Did you notice that the force field employed by Kang on page 16 was the same as was depicted on the cover of his initial appearance, issue #8?

Sharon: It’s been said Heck used Kirby’s books as a primer or reference guide. Smart guy, that Heck. (I’m sure other Marvel artists during that time did the same.)

Karen: I thought their escape was a nice reminder of how Wanda was portrayed back in the old days – heck, how most Marvel heroines were portrayed – as weak, near-defenseless hanger-ons. After she uses her hex power she is almost exhausted.

Doug: And you’re right, Karen – the immense tiring-out after using one’s powers was a Marvel mainstay – Johnny Storm, Cyclops, etc.

Sharon: I agree with both of you; many “energy-wielding” characters of both genders often exhausted their powers, as did some characters with enhanced bodily attributes like Reed, Angel and Quicksilver. This gave Marvel the opportunity to inject some “vulnerability”—no Kryptonite needed! The only exceptions seemed to be non-powered people like Hawkeye (who depended on gadgets) and, at the other end of the spectrum, the truly powerful strongmen like Thor and Ben Grimm.

Doug: What did you think of Wanda saying a spell when using her hex in the glass confinement? I thought it channeled Dr. Strange, or even Zatanna (although Wanda spoke her words forward).

Sharon: LOL, Doug, I think you’re channeling me, as this is a point I have made countless times, both here in our humble blog--as recently as in our entry on Avengers #21—and on the Avengers Assemble boards. So you can probably guess what I “think of” Wanda acting as if her power is to cast spells: it is wrong! Wanda does not cast spells! She is not a sorceress!! (Especially not back then.) She is not the equivalent of Dr. Strange/Zatanna/Enchantress/Miss Harkness/Clea!

Sharon: Now, of course the writer here (Stan) could argue that we the readers should attribute this “spell invocation” to the limited viewpoint of the character herself…we can overlook this inaccuracy as the character (Wanda) not being all knowing about her power. And Wanda would continue to occasionally refer to her power as “spells” in some other issues in the Silver Age, so perhaps that’s how she characterized her power. But that’s really stretching it. Bottom line, I see it as sloppiness on the part of the writer--first Stan, and for the later Silver Age issues in which this occurs, Roy’s.

Karen: Cap has heard about the Avengers’ abduction and returns to the mansion. Kang discovers this and teleports him to the future too, but the beautiful Princess Ravonna, whom Kang desires, interferes and Cap winds up outside Kang’s clutches. He and Pietro meet and after expressing their happiness at seeing each other again, go after Kang.

Karen: I have to say something here about the art and the women’s faces in this issue. The hand of Jazzy Johnny Romita is highly evident when it comes to both Wanda and Princess Ravonna. Both have that typical Romita girl look – clean, lush art much like he would later be associated with on Spider-Man. In fact, Princess Ravonna could almost be Mary-Jane’s sister! Although the clunky head-gear she’s wearing is a disaster – is that really what the glamorous women of ‘the future’ will be wearing?

Sharon: I agree that Romita really shines when it comes to the womens’ faces; Wanda looks gorgeous while retaining a voluptuous look, and Ravonna is absolutely ravishing in a sleeker, more modern way. The women’s sharp facial architecture (cheekbones, chins) is Heck’s work, but the strong yet feminine facial features (including Ravonna’s delicate cleft in her chin) are Romita’s. And it’s not only the women: Romita makes the unmasked Steve Rogers look very classically handsome, and Quicksilver also looks more attractive than usual.

Doug: Speaking of clunky headgear, I always think there’s a bit of a disconnect in the way Wanda’s head/face is depicted in this era of Avengerdom. When looking at her from the front, her headpiece seems to stick out to the sides, yet when seeing a side view, it would appear to be tight to her head.

Sharon: It was difficult to draw, to say the least (Kirby’s fanciful costumes aren’t known for being practical or realistic); and it’s probably why Heck finally said to “heck” with it and changed Wanda’s headgear to a tiara-like piece in #36.

Doug: Karen, I couldn’t agree more about the impact of Romita on this issue. I noticed how much better Heck’s pencils looked right from the splash page; Jazzy Johnny’s faces are beautifully on display throughout the issue.

Sharon: It’s no surprise that the women look so good; before taking on this Avengers assignment (his first for Marvel, I believe) Romita had spent several years as one of DC’s top romance book artists, so he was a pro at drawing attractive people, especially women. Romita had previously worked with Stan during the waning Timely/Atlas days, before the Atlas implosion; he then went to DC and became their principal romance artist; but when the romance work dried up at DC for various reasons, Romita accepted Stan’s offer to do some work for Marvel. The second time’s the charm, I guess--Romita ended up on staff and in many ways became Stan’s right hand man during the Marvel era.

Karen: And as an aside, I have been looking at both the Avengers DVD-ROM and the Marvel Masterworks edition with these stories – and Wanda’s hair is colored auburn in the Masterworks!

Sharon: That’s disappointing; I think reprints should be as faithful as possible to the original material, though I understand that the Masterworks coloring was done by following a more current color guide (and most people consider Wanda’s haircolor to be the auburn).

Doug: I still think the raven-haired Wanda is a strange look. Not a bad look – just not used to it, as I always think of her as having the auburn hair.

Sharon: With me it’s the opposite—I go for the black hair since that’s how Wanda appeared when I first saw her (Avengers #45). Though I’m used to it by now and I know Wanda’s black hair only lasted for a mere 3 years of her 40-plus years existence, there’s still that part of me that thinks her auburn hair looks wrong! Just goes to show how powerful and long-lasting first impressions are.

Karen: Cap and Quicksilver go after Kang but he is able to defeat them with his scientific weaponry. Kang demands that Princess Ravonna agree to marry him, or he will level her kingdom. She asks her father what she must do. Just as it looks like she is about to accede to Kang’s demands, Hawkeye and Wanda arrive, having freed themselves. Cap and Pietro are also recovered and the whole team is reunited, ready to take on Kang! Sensing potential defeat, Kang orders his armies to attack the city, leaving us poor readers to wait ‘til next issue!

Karen: I thought this was a better-written issue than last issue. Stan seemed to make more of an effort to capture the individual voices of the four Avengers. I thought it was funny that Hawkeye jumped on Wanda and Pietro for quoting Cap, and then he himself does it later! “Rats! Now you got me doing it!” It’s obvious despite all of his wisecracks about Cap that deep-down Hawkeye respects him. It’s interesting to see the ways Cap has influenced all of them.

Doug: Did you think that although Pietro had pined for the leadership of the team, that he and Wanda quickly deferred to Hawkeye? I thought Clint showed some of his potential in this issue. And I would wholeheartedly agree with you, Karen, that Stan’s dialogue was solid – he wrote the characters as I hear them.

Karen: Yes, it almost seemed like Hawkeye slipped into that leadership role without even trying. The three of them did work well together, but I would expect that sort of bonding, given the circumstances of their arrival to the team. When we wrap up next issue, I’d like to talk to both of you about the fates of this quartet of Avengers…time has not been kind to them.

Sharon: Yes—so many twists and turns, often tragic—better than a soap opera! To be continued next time, as Karen says…

Karen: I also feel like Stan was successful in showing that this team, despite lacking the power of the original, showed great determination and courage, and truly deserved to be called Avengers. There was also a sense of vitality to this issue that I enjoyed.

Doug: Yes, Kang gave them a sign of respect in the middle of the story when he commented that despite their relative powerlessness in comparison to their forebears, “I almost regret that they have… no chance!”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Marvel is generally thought of as the House of Ideas in the 1960's, and supposedly DC was old-school. But their portrayals of women were an exception to that rule. DC had heroines with solo strips (Supergirl, Wonder Woman), and female civilian characters had non-traditional jobs (Lois Lane, Vicki Vale, and Iris West were journalists, Carol Ferris was CEO of an aircraft company, Jean Loring was a lawyer). Marvel women, when they had jobs at all, were in traditional roles (Betty Brant and Karen Page were secretaries). Heroines were team members or sidekicks, and even then were often "near-defenseless hangers-on."

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