Avengers (Vol. 1) 1964 Year In Review

avengers 11 - original art
Original artwork from Avengers #11, with margin notes

How Many Issues?

Nine issues: Avengers #3-11.  The book was bimonthly until #6, at which point it started getting published monthly.

Creative Team:

Plotters: Stan Lee (#3-11), Jack Kirby (#3-8), Don Heck (#9-11)

Scripter: Stan Lee (#3-11)

Penciller: Jack Kirby (#3-8), Don Heck (#9-11)

Inker: Paul Reinman (#3,5), George Roussos (#4), Chic Stone (#6-7,11), Dick Ayers (#8,10), Don Heck (#9)

Was It Good?

It wasn’t great.  There were moments here and there that were very cool, like the introduction of Captain America; the various big fights were pretty fun, too, and there were plenty of those.  The stories just weren’t very good.  Part of that is because the title feels like it is subservient to the solo stories of the team members; we see references to Journey Into Mystery and Tales of Suspense plots, but Avengers plots don’t really impact anyone’s solo adventures.  That leaves these stories feeling a bit flat.  The bigger problem was that the stories are absolutely goofy and illogical.  There are bizarre time travel beat-em-ups, impossibly swift cross-continental journeys, and inconsistent characterizations; it is clear that Stan Lee & company are still trying to find a voice for this comic. 

As is becoming a pattern, Jack Kirby stayed on the title just long enough for it to get going, and he left after #8.  His pencils on this title alone were enough to check this title out — his acrobatic Captain America, in particular, is a lot of fun — but (as is the case with a lot of his Silver Age work) his art would probably look more impressive now if he had worked with fewer inkers.  The nine Avengers issues for 1964 were split between five different inkers.  Don Heck takes over as penciller with #9; Heck is not in the same class as Kirby, but he handles the generic Marvel House Style well enough.

The enemies the Avengers faced in 1964 are pretty good.  There are some inconsequential one-offs, like the D’bari alien, the Lava Men, and Kang’s Spider-Man robot, but most of the villains became pretty noteworthy.  They battled the Hulk, Namor, and Wonder Man — these were generally my favorite stories, because the enemies had some depth to them.  The most frequent villains this year were the Masters of Evil, who they faced four times; unfortunately, these stories were often pretty convoluted.  We also saw the time-travelers Kang and Immortus cause problems for the heroes in less impressive stories, because time travel stories are usually not very good.

What About Sub-Plots and Continuity?

It can be fun to track the minor story points throughout a year’s worth of comics to see what ideas were developed and which were quietly dropped.

  • There were some membership changes to the Avengers!
    • The Hulk quit in 1963, and does not return to the team.
    • Captain America joins the team in #4
    • Iron Man proposes that Rick Jones be given full membership as Cap’s partner; Cap refuses.
    • The Wasp’s membership question is resolved.  She wasn’t called out as a member in 1963, but she is added to the cover corner box this year, and Iron Man confirms that she is a “full member.”  However, since this is mentioned in the context of letting Rick become an official Avenger, it feels like she might not be an equal member.
  • Rick Jones pivots from being the Hulk’s sidekick to becoming Captain America’s sidekick.  
  • Captain America is mourning the death of his World War II sidekick, Bucky.  This drives him to battle Baron Zemo, and also prevents him from accepting Rick Jones as a fully-fledged sidekick.
  • Rick and the Teen Brigade help the Avengers defeat the Masters of Evil and Kang.  Both times, they did some incredibly reckless stuff, and it’s a miracle none of them died.
  • We start to see this title tie into the greater Marvel Universe this year.  Consequences from Iron Man’s adventures in Tales of Suspense are seen in Avengers #7 and 11.
  • Remember when the Space Phantom appeared to know a bunch of secrets about the Avengers last year?  That wasn’t brought up at all in 1964.
  • The Avengers are very committed to stopping the Hulk’s rampages, by either capturing him or forcing the Hulk to rejoin the team.  They see him as a ticking time bomb that needs to be contained.  How they expected that to work, I don’t know, but that’s why they actively sought him out to fight.
  • The Avengers are not at all committed to stopping Namor from rampaging.  When Namor escapes a battle, they choose to let him go because he has a noble soul.  Never mind that he has actually tried to invade the surface world (in the pages of Fantastic Four) and has his own army.
  • The Masters of Evil appear to be whoever Baron Zemo is hanging out with at any given time.  Their membership changed this year:
    • Masters of Evil, version 1.0: Baron Zemo, the Black Knight, the Melter, and Radioactive Man.
    • Masters of Evil, version 2.0: Baron Zemo, the Enchantress, and the Executioner.

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