Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Long and Winding Road: Cap's Kooky Quartet, part 2

Avengers 22 Power Man Enchantress
Avengers #22 (1965)
Avengers 22 (November 1965)
“The Road Back!”
Stan Lee –writer, Don Heck – penciller, Wally Wood – inker

Karen: The second part of our Kooky Quartet of Avengers reviews picks up right at the end of last issue. The team has been ordered to dissolve by the city council. Cap wants to go after Power Man to discover how the team was framed. But the three younger Avengers seem to have thrown in the towel. They are prepared to disband. This really riles Cap, who says, “All right then –take off—all of you! I never could stomach a bunch of quitters!” When Wanda tells Cap “A man should be able to accept defeat gracefully,” Cap says disgustedly, “Lady, how did you ever become an Avenger?”

Sharon: The sight of Wanda spouting platitudes and wagging her finger—she seems especially obtuse and clueless here.

Karen: This of course tweaks off Pietro, and there’s a brief skirmish between he and Cap. The artists do a very nice job of demonstrating Quicksilver’s speed here. It really seems possible that he could beat Cap!
Sharon: I always liked Heck’s way of depicting Pietro’s speed (it’s similar to how Kirby usually rendered Pietro’s speed in the earlier X-Men issues).

Karen: It’s funny how a bunch of lines somehow manages to get across the idea of speed so great, the image is blurred. But it works. And this was before all the computer-enhanced gimmickry of today!

Doug: As I said last in last issue’s comments, I get tired of all of the constant in-fighting during this period of Avengers history. Yes, I know what Stan was going for, and even if annoying it is 100x better than some of the storytelling that was going on at the Distinguished Competition. But it just gets stale. I also wonder about another matter we’ve previously discussed: Marvel time vs. real time. Because if this is only the sixth issue in the Kooky Quartet’s history, it’s somewhat likely that they would have been on the job less than a month in the real world! There is an awful lot of bickering, etc. coming from new employees!!

Sharon: It’s in keeping with the Fantastic Four model I mentioned in our last entry. The unceasing bickering here is reminiscent of the early issues of the FF, in which that team was far from solid, what with the Thing and/or the Torch complaining (and deserting the team, or threatening to). Also, here, in #22, we see the seeds planted for a future respect between Hawkeye and Cap, as Hawkeye takes the initiative and steps in to restrain Pietro; and Cap gives thanks where it’s due.

Karen: It may be tiresome to us reading it now, but back in 1965, it was revolutionary. I’m sure many readers found it both shocking and refreshing that not all the team members got along. I know when I’ve read Justice League tales from about the same time, they seemed like the blandest group of heroes ever! If not for their costumes, I would never have been able to tell Flash from Batman or Green Lantern. It may have been a quick way to provide conflict and characterization, but it worked.

Karen: As they all go their separate ways, Cap feels ashamed that the team has fallen apart on his watch. It’s odd to see Cap so insecure and uncertain as he is here.

Doug: Agreed. It had seemed that Stan had gone away from the self-doubting, even self-loathing Steve Rogers and had replaced him with the strong leader we’ve known and loved.

Sharon: It certainly is a different Cap than later on. He’d expressed doubts about his leadership since #16 and what’s more, he didn’t seem that keen on being a full-time Avenger; remember how ecstatic he was a few issues earlier when he thought SHIELD wanted him?

Karen: So I guess we can say that Cap also evolved into the great leader we think of him as today, much as the rest of the quartet evolved too.

Karen: The other three erstwhile Avengers attempt to get jobs – which I thought was a typical Stan Lee ‘real world’ element. While one might expect them to be out stopping crime, the reality is, they’ve gotta eat! They try to get on TV shows (Wanda even tells one producer she can sing!) but it’s no go. The Avengers’ reputation is so tarnished nobody wants them. Enter the Ringmaster. Knowing that the threesome must be desperate, he and his Circus of Crime contact the three and offer them jobs at the circus. Of course, he actually plans to use them to commit robberies.

Sharon: What I don’t understand is: why did Pietro and Wanda stick with Hawkeye (as evidenced by Wanda’s line: “Perhaps Hawkeye will get a lead!”)? There was certainly no love lost between the two men, and Wanda had barely noticed Hawkeye.

Doug: As I was reading this issue, I almost forgot that what I’d come here for was the conclusion of the Power Man/Enchantress saga! This was like getting two stories for the price of one!

Karen: Is it just me, or was the Circus of Crime one of the lamest groups ever? The only early Marvel group that I think was even less interesting was the Enforcers, over in Spider-Man. I also found it odd that no mention was made of Hawkeye’s carnival background, as shown in his origin in Tales of Suspense 57.

Sharon: Ha--maybe that’s what convinced the trio the job offer was legit, since, after all, one of them had experience. And Pietro had expressed a desire to work in a circus in an earlier issue...I can see why our ambitious heroes thought this job opportunity was “too good to be true!” (rolls eyes…)

Doug: Agreed on the Circus of Crime. They are pretty lame. However, and maybe we’ll get to these issues later (although after suffering with the Vision for six weeks, I’m not sure I’m up for our other downtrodden Avenger), the height of Circus glory was definitely the cover of Avengers #60 – the wedding of Hank and Jan! Phenomenal John Buscema cover and interiors. The python was very menacing!

Karen: In any case, when the three young ex-Avengers discover what’s going on, they make quick work of the Ringmaster and his stooges. Again, Quicksilver’s speed seems so much more formidable here than it would in many later stories. His comments about slow-moving “Homo sapiens” also remind the reader that Pietro did spend a good amount of time in the presence of Magneto. Some of that superior attitude seems to have rubbed off. Of course, it got worse as he got older.

Sharon: Why would Pietro assume his foe was a human (Homo sapiens), and not a mutant (Homo superior)? I mean, maybe Cannonball had a big, mutated head underneath his helmet.

Doug: The Homo sapiens comment smacked me right between the eyes. But, upon doing a little research (I used the Avengers DVD-ROM for this review), I found that Pietro had used the term “Homo superior” in describing himself and Wanda during their reflection of their careers on page 10 of Avengers #16.

Karen: his hang-up with this presages some of his later issues, particularly when it comes to his daughter, Luna.



Doug: Is Wanda’s lack of ability to use her hex power when having her eyes shielded just one more confusing aspect of her powers?

Sharon: Seems to me a case of a harried Stan not really understanding the art. He could have easily dialogued something like Wanda was caught by surprise and being choked or the like, starting to black out, etc., before she had a chance to use her power.

Karen: Unfortunately the police side with the Ringmaster, and the ex-Avengers are on the lam again! There’s a fun couple of panels where we see the reaction of the man on the street, including two kids in Marvel t-shirts (one with the Avengers, one with the FF) arguing over the innocence of the team! “Aw, your uncle eats pickles!” shouts one youngster – obviously an insult of high degree.

Doug: Your saying that brings to mind the scene from the film “A Christmas Story” when the kids discuss the “double-dog dare”. Funny, very childlike, stuff!

Karen: In the meantime Cap has tracked down Power Man, and discovers he’s been working with the Enchantress. He manages to tape a confession from the villains, which will undoubtedly clear the Avengers – if he can survive long enough to get it to the authorities!


Doug: Is it just me, or are disguises used in comic books the greatest technology known to man? I mean, how in the world could anyone not have known that the PR guy was someone wearing a costume?? Similarly, going back a couple of weeks in blog-time, we discussed Superman and Cosmic Man switching identities by using rubber masks… Has anyone ever been fooled by a trick-or-treater at your door?

Sharon: The worse part is, Cap has his Cap mask on underneath the rubber mask! This is one of those Silver Age comic book conceits you just have to take with a grain of salt.


Karen: There are some sizzling action scenes, with Cap trying to outmaneuver the super-strong Power Man. At one point he says to Power Man, “Remember – you’re fighting the weakest one! My partners are all younger- and have greater powers!” Again, we see Cap as less than the ever-confident leader he would one day become.

Doug: Cap at his best.

Sharon: To me, this seemed to an instance of Cap using his “leadership” skills and psychology to impart some fear in Power Man; I can’t imagine Cap really thought he was weaker than Hawkeye or Wanda (with her then “small-potatoes” power that seemed useful in making people trip or drapes fall and the like).


Karen: Eventually Cap does get knocked out, but right then, those three younger and greater team-mates of his arrive! They battle Power Man to a standstill, but he gives up when the Enchantress deserts him. The Avengers are exonerated, and it seems like we’re cruising towards a happy ending – but guess again! Cap says he’s had it with the rest of the team. “Now that our names are cleared, I’m kissin’ you off!” the star-spangled hero says, leaving both the Avengers and the reader shocked!

Sharon: Cap seemed reluctant to take on the leader role that was handed to him (in Avengers #16), and as mentioned, he seemed awfully eager to join SHIELD (and become a part-time Avenger) just a couple of issues earlier. Cap at this time was very conflicted--this was underscored in his Suspense tales, which had just reverted to the present day--and frankly, he would remain so until he finally cut the cord and “left” the Avengers—yes, again! --in #47. Some time later (after #47) when he returned to the Avengers, he had matured into the leader and paragon we all think of him as.

Karen: What a fun issue! There’s so much going on, and just when you think everything is back to normal –wham! Stan hits you right in face. Although it feels to me like Stan doesn’t really have Cap’s voice yet (“kissin’ you off”?? Really?), that just may be due to the fact that I’ve read so many later Cap and Avengers stories, where Cap is always depicted as a paragon of virtue. Here, he is much more human and in some ways more interesting.

Doug: Karen, you hit the nail on the head in regard to dialogue. I felt at several times in the story that the characters were just using cookie-cutter lines. I also thought that our musings about the nationality of Erik Josten were lost in his speech patterns (one could argue that Wanda and Pietro have lost their “European accents” as well).

Karen: Yes, Josten later makes a comment about ‘Santa Claus’ which seemed very American to me.

Sharon: It’s hard to believe Stan would have problems with the dialogue, since the protagonists were very unalike. But Stan gives Pietro Hawkeye-like dialogue: “I hope—for your sake—that you’re joking, mister!” and the oh-so-proper Wanda even calls Princess Python “Lady.” It’s not in keeping with the notion that Marvel’s strength was in its focus on characters’ individuality (in no small part through the dialogue). But as with the earlier example of the Wanda panel, this is a by-product of having one person—Stan—as the chief scripter (dialoguer) for the majority of the superhero books at the time. While it led to a unified Marvel Universe, it could also give rise to shortcuts and sloppiness, as here.

Karen: Sharon, I think you have got something there. Stan had so many books to write, I suppose he just slipped a bit with this one.

Karen: I also enjoyed all of the little inside comments, such as the page where Stan explains that the original Avengers are busy and can’t get involved. We find out Iron Man is fighting the Android in Tales of Suspense 72, and Thor is in Asgard in Thor 122. But as for Giant-Man’s whereabouts, the footnote says, “Your guess is as good as ours!” And at the conclusion of the story, the caption in the last panel tells us, “Does Cap really mean it? Is this another crucial split-up for the mighty Avengers? Do we have all kinds of dazzling surprises waiting for you next ish? Why not tune in and see for yourselves? This much we can tell you – if it isn’t the zingiest 12 cents worth of the month, we’ll never talk to Irving Forbush again! Face front!” It’s all good, goofy fun, without diminishing the characters or the story one bit.

Doug: Yep – I really miss storytelling like this. It is goofy, but there are pictures that move the eye across and up and down the page, and there are words – and lots of them! The cross-referencing is great fun, too – but no where did the reader feel like he/she was required to buy all of the other books in order to have a handle on what was happening in the Avengers.

Doug: I’d also comment that I love the house ads! Every month from this era was a great month. I wish I’d been around to have that wide-eyed wonder at the spinner racks as each new week brought more four-color wonderment.

2 comments:

Kirk G said...

I'm looking for one of those Cap's Kookie Quartett t-shirts in an adult male size XL. Do you know where I could find one? I know the FF shirt was reissued a couple of years ago. And I fell off my chair when I saw an original X-men t-shirt at a Comic Con about ten years ago in a kids' size. But where to find those retro shirts nowadays? Any help?

SK said...

Kirk,

I wish I knew--I would love to find one of those t-shirts myself! It would be a real--er--collectors' item classic. ;) Maybe a vintage Kooky Quartet shirt will show up on Ebay one of these days.

Sharon

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