Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Classics - Avengers #16

In these days of ever-changing lineups for superhero teams, it's hard to remember what a shock this issue of the Avengers was when it hits stores in 1965.

It wasn't unusual for a team to vary its lineup a bit in those days. For example, any issue of the Justice League might feature some members, while others were off on a mission - but the missing members were still on the team.

This issue threw the status quo out the window. Written by Stan Lee with layouts by Jack Kirby and finishes by Dick Ayers, it starts off with the usual mayhem, as four Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, Giant-man and the Wasp) square off against the Masters of Evil (The Executioner, the Enchantress, the Black Knight and the Melter), while Captain America is fighting his way through a jungle after his final battle with the original Baron Zemo.

The battle ends with surprising speed and the four heroes return to the mansion to await word from Cap - and that's when the shocking part begins. Thor disappears immediately to take part in the "Trial of the Gods" in his own comic, and the three remaining heroes decide it's time to retire from the team!

It was a shocking move, to take the best-known members of the team out of the comic. Like me, I suspect most readers thought it was just a temporary thing - that they'd all come running back to the fold for the next story.

But this change stuck for a long time. The team almost immediately began a search for new Avengers, and the replacements arrived from the other side of the law. Hawkeye had planned a life as a hero, but a misunderstanding (and the manipulations of the then-evil Black Widow) landed him in the villain role - until this issue.

Joining him were two former members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants - Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

So why make the change? Perhaps Stan was tired of dealing with the tangled continuity challenges of working around the ongoing stories in each character's own comic. (At the time, I believe Cap's adventures in Tales of Suspense were flashbacks to his World War II adventures.)

Or maybe it was too difficult to come up with menaces powerful enough to challenge a team with so much firepower.

Or maybe he just wanted to see if it could be done - to build a comic around second and third-tier characters. Of course, he hedged his bets by keeping Cap around to lead and train the new team - and surprisingly, it all worked!

Cap's "Kooky Quartet" (as some wag called it) had some great adventures courtesy of some terrific creative teams. Eventually Giant-man and the Wasp returned (with an interesting twist), and other heroes would join, as the line-up changed with some regularity.

It kept the Avengers fresh and innovative - you never knew what to expect next!

Stan's gamble paid off, and now the change in every super-team's lineup is a regular event. But this is the issue that paved the way.

If you look closely at the cover at the top of this article, you can see it's well-worn. That's because I loved this issue and read it to pieces in the 46 years since I bought it. A true classic!

Grade: A-


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