30 Apr 2015

Do You Remember The First Time? AVENGERS #79

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.

Stewart R: My first experience of an Avengers comic is one that predates my birth by nearly a decade. I picked up my copy of Avengers #79 - originally published in August of 1970 - on a Sunday trip out with my family to an unrecallable indoor market somewhere in Dorset at some point in the late 1980s. If I were to make a guess it’d likely be around 1989 when I was reading Marvel UK comics on a regular basis and the American format was still something of a foreign novelty to me.

I certainly remember my choosing of this particular comic from the longbox it inhabited as a true case of judging a book by its cover! Take a look at it now; five scowling, crazy looking villains (complete with slight colour inaccuracy on the Living Laser) crowding around an hourglass containing five, evidently shrunken and panicked heroes, Captain America being the only one I recognised at the time. That cover in itself just shouts about how much danger the Avengers might be in and sets their foes - the excitingly monikered Lethal Legion - as a potent challenge indeed. It’s bright, multicoloured and screams ‘Read Me! Read me NOW!

And read it I did. Several times over. Dozens in fact, as was my penchant for turning back through comic purchases in my preteen years. Even at that young age I recall thinking that the Roy Thomas dialogue and scripting was a little clunky compared to the (then) modern Transformers stories I was reading from Bud Budiansky and Simon Furman on a weekly basis. But I knew that the comic I held was older than I - it wouldn’t be until the mid '90s when I realised the date was to be found in the publisher details of the first page - and as such I was lenient in my judgement of it. After all, here was a story throwing a group of great heroes into the gravest of dangers and then fighting back from the precipice.

For those not in the know, the Grim Reaper forms his Lethal Legion in order to exact revenge upon the Avengers whom he holds responsible for the death of his superhero brother, Wonder Man. The villainous team comprises of several characters we're unlikely to see transferred to the big screen as they've rarely transferred well to Marvel's 21st century comic ventures (if at all). There’s a plan involving bluff, counter-bluff and then divide and conquer, which surprisingly works well against the Avengers who seem to be below their best for much of the story. It’s almost as if Thomas leans his preference towards the villains as they get the wolf’s share of the page count and their ascendancy is far better paced than their fall which coincides with the Avengers' rise.  The whole thing allows for several punch-ups and clashes to unfold, some going the way of the villains and of course the final one seeing the Avengers triumph in double-quick time.

What’s interesting to look back on now, and especially in light of why we’ve been celebrating 'Avengers Month' at the PCG, is that there’s much here that matches up with the live action heroes we’re getting on our cinema screens this month, this summer and beyond. Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and the Vision are all involved heavily and though I didn’t realise it until rereading the issue for this piece, Clint Barton a.k.a Hawkeye appears too, having taken up the Goliath role (using Hank Pym’s Ant-Man formula to do so!) after recently being jilted by Black Widow. Black Panther also gets a good deal of focus, the King of Wakanda having been captured by his adversary the Man Ape in the previous chapter and it won't be long before we see him in an Avengers movie!

There’s tension between the group as a whole, with trust issues and bickering high on the agenda, and it’s only thanks to the intervention of the alienated and self-analysing Vision that the day is saved, only to see his involvement lead to the team fracturing further come the final panel. While there are events preceding this issue that probably warrant investigation, and the climax here teases further problems to come for the team, this served as a great one-shot for me in my early reading days, highlighting just how entertaining the Avengers’ adventures could be and how different Marvel writing was back in the 1970s.

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