Following Gene Colan’s three-issue stint as penciller on Marvel Comics’ Avengers series, the 66th issue brought yet another artistic change — though not the one that the book’s cover appeared to indicate. That illustration, which depicted the team of heroes — including, unusually for this era, both Thor and Iron Man — battling one of their own, the Vision, across multiple levels of their mansion HQ — was by John Buscema, who’d been the series’ regular artist for the better part of the two years immediately preceding Colan’s brief tenure. The interior art, however, was by one of Marvel’s newest (and youngest) artists, the nineteen-year-old British import we’d eventually come to know as Barry Windsor-Smith.
Windsor-Smith, whose work had most recently appeared in Daredevil #52, was at this time working in a style heavily influenced by those of Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko (though he was as yet nowhere near as technically proficient as either of those artists) — and on this issue’s opening splash (inked, like the rest of the book, by veteran artist Syd Shores), the figure of the Mighty Thor bears Kirby’s mark quite clearly.
At this point in Avengers history, neither Thor nor Iron Man were regular, active members of the team — and they hadn’t been for quite some time — ever since “The Old Order Changeth!” in issue #16 (May, 1965), in fact. Editor (and original Avengers scripter) Stan Lee had forbidden current writer Roy Thomas to feature either of these heroes — or, since issue #47, Captain America — on a regular basis, apparently due to concerns over potential continuity conflicts with the trio’s solo titles more than to any worries about overexposure. Thomas had nevertheless contrived to feature them on an occasional basis, usually in the context of “special events” such as #58‘s admission of the Vision to Avengers membership. Issue #66, however, seems to mark the moment when Thomas essentially decided he’d henceforth ask Lee for forgiveness rather than permission, and feature one or more of the “Big Three” whenever he wanted to — though it would still be some time before Cap, Thor, and Iron Man began once again to appear on a consistent, regular basis.
The third panel on page 4 features the story’s second use of a word that would ultimately represent this comic book’s primary claim to fame — “adamantium“. Some seven years after this story’s publication, readers would learn that the claws and skeleton of a new X-Man named Wolverine had been reinforced with this virtually indestructible metal; and as that character proceeded to rocket in popularity, adamantium became very well-known.
In May, 1969, however, I think it’s fair to say that adamantium was just another made-up comic-book word. As far as my eleven-year-old self was concerned, this scene’s introduction of adamantium was less immediately impactful than its ominous depiction of the Vision, accompanied by Yellowjacket’s remarks about his creepy, “inhuman” voice. This was the story’s first hint of the coming conflict between our heroes promised by the issue’s cover — a hint further developed in the first panels of the following page:
Yellowjacket’s “dye your threads” wisecrack is of course a reference to the fact that Clint Barton’s new Goliath costume has undergone a color change after only three issues. (I’m inclined to believe that someone, probably Roy Thomas, realized that the original, all-blue color scheme gave the outfit a bit too much of a leather-fetish vibe.)
Also on this page, we have an acknowledgement as well as an explanation for the absence of the Black Panther this issue. Interestingly, the Panther was absent from the Avengers’ guest appearance in this month’s issue of Captain America (although he did appear on its cover). In my post about that comic a week or so back, I speculated that maybe artist Gene Colan forgot to include him, or even ran out of room to do so; but perhaps there was some actual coordination of the continuity between that book (written as well as edited by Stan Lee) and this one.
The Avengers make a thorough search of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier without finding any sign of the Vision — and it’s noted that he’s pulled his vanishing act right in the middle of the discussion about adamantium. Hmm…
“I know whose voice speaks to me…” Clearly, the Vision is, at the least, being influenced by some outside entity — if not directly controlled.
Back at Avengers Mansion, Hank Pym (aka Yellowjacket) continues to worry about the Vision’s disappearance:
As the Avengers’ doubts over their newest member increase, it’s probably worth reminding ourselves that the Vision has actually only been an Avenger for nine issues, including this one — and only came into existence one issue prior to that.
“The game’s getting rough!” Oh, so this is some kind of training exercise, a la the X-Men’s Danger Room? Well, everything should be all right then. Shouldn’t it?
Barry Windsor-Smith’s layouts for pages 10 and 11, with their respective incorporations of a numerical countdown and a textual warning serving as both graphic and narrative elements, bears the mark of Jim Steranko’s influence every bit as much as page 1’s Thor figure did Jack Kirby’s.
The story’s next page — designed as a poster at least as much as it is a segment of visual narrative — also shows the influence of Steranko; but the decorative elements in the upper left and right corners hearken back as well to the Art Nouveau theatrical posters of Alphonse Mucha — suggesting the larger world of non-comics-based artistic influences that would inform Windsor-Smith’s later, more mature work:
OMG, is the Vision killing that S.H.I.E.L.D. technician? Sure looks that way, doesn’t it? But rather than confirm this suspicion one way or the other, the story now abruptly cuts back once more to Avengers Mansion:
The next page is another splash panel of sorts, and one which demonstrates how well Windsor-Smith had, by this time, learned and internalized the visual storytelling techniques of Jim Steranko:
In his book Marvel Comics in the 1970s (2011), Pierre Comtois describes the preceding page’s effectiveness thusly:
Scattered about the page are a series of small panels showing close-ups of each of the Avengers as they discuss their possible betrayal by the Vision. The entire effect creates the illusion of a movie camera cutting from one character to another in the course of a conversation but has an added benefit available only to the comics medium: a scene from a movie that would take a few minutes to put across here is captured in a single moment in time! The setting, the action, the information being passed to the viewer is given all at once.
About the only thing I can add to that analysis is that I love the business of Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) sitting on the edge of a sofa and tinkering with some unknown piece of machinery while the Avengers are having their serious discussion.
The muffled cry for help heard by Iron Man as the page concludes turns out to have come from Janet van Dyne Pym (aka the Wasp), who’s gone upstairs to brew a pot of coffee for the boys, because of course she has:
While the Vision had demonstrated the ability to control his density from his very first appearance in Avengers #57, this issue features the debut of his using that ability to incapacitate a person by (as he put it on page 14) “becoming partially solid, while we two occupied the same space.” This would quickly become a mainstay offensive move for the android Avenger, though it would rarely, if ever, be depicted quite as unsettlingly and eerily as by Windsor-Smith in this story.
Even as Yellowjacket succumbs, however, the God of Thunder leaps into the fray:
Yep, it’s Ultron — the malevolent robotic creation of Hank Pym, who himself then created the Vision, as related via flashbacks back in Avengers #58. Ultron — or Ultron-5, as he then called himself — had apparently met his demise at the conclusion of the preceding issue, #57, but I doubt that either I or most other fans were very surprised to see him brought back, even after only eight issues. And since I had only seen him in flashbacks up to this point, I was eager to witness Ultron — especially this new and improved, Mark VI version — going into action against my Mighty Avengers.
As pumped as my eleven-year-old self was to find what would happen next, however, I was still going to have to wait a month; and so, alas, must you, dear reader. But I’ll see you back here in June, OK?