In Do You Remember The First Time? we take a nostalgic trip back in time to discuss a seminal purchase that introduced us to a character, title, creator, or even a hobby.
During April, we're looking at our first Avengers comics.
Andrew B: So in the foreground there’s this woman in pinky-purple (I later realise it’s supposed to be scarlet). She’s wearing some sort of four-cornered headgear that makes her face look like it’s on a TV screen and her arms are up in the air as if she’s either surrendering or about to start a pole dance. A guy I recognise as Captain America’s got his arm round her – I’m guessing personal space issues aren’t relevant when you’re battling to save the world. In the background two other costumed men look like they’re drunk in charge of a submarine. One of them’s Hawkeye – I remember him from an Iron Man story where he was the Bad Guy – while the other’s having a major bad hair day and looks a bit of a flash character. Water’s pouring in like Noah’s Flood and there are a few blue guys bobbing up and down in it with wide Kirby mouths.
It’s the cover of Avengers #27 (April 1966 issue). My first Avengers comic.
Actually, I’m kind of lying. I first saw this cover and read this story in either Fantastic or Terrific, the so-called Power Comics that in 1960s Britain reprinted Marvel material before the birth of British Marvel. But I have the actual book in front of me now.
It’s a fairly routine mid-'60s Stan Lee story looking at it again. A one-dimensional villain – Attuma, memorable only because of the hermit crab he used to wear for a helmet. A one-dimensional master-plan – raise sea levels to flood the world and then conquer the few good swimmers left alive. Heroes captured. Heroes escaping. Heroes in danger. Heroes out of danger. Hawkeye to the rescue. Cap to the rescue. Standing tall against insuperable odds. Thop and thak and whirooom. And it’s workaday Don Heck art. Not even Jack.
But what the heck (pun intended). Avengers #27 still managed to do what almost all Stan’s output did during Marvel’s crucial formative years – it transcended. Humble, hokey origins? Forget ‘em. From a handful of captions and speech balloons Marvel crafted a language of power and drama and inspiration that remains with me nearly half a century later. Out of four colours it made a universe.
And I’m sitting here writing this and I’m thinking about today’s kids with their mobiles and their gadgets queuing up to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, and they’ll see plenty. They’ll see special effects we couldn’t have dreamed of in the days of Avengers #27. They’ll see a slicker Quicksilver and a less pinky-purple Scarlet Witch (hopefully). They’ll see unparalleled action sequences and a master-villain who’d make old Attuma quake in his control room. But hopefully they’ll see something else, too, less to do with big studio money. Courage and belief and optimism. The magic that Marvel can weave. The magic that Marvel has always woven, that makes a fifty year old comic book still mean something, still worth reading. In fact, now that I’m done here…
Avengers #27. ‘Four Against the Flood-Tide.’ A little bit of alliteration, too. Thanks, Stan.