Last month, the blog tackled Avengers #66, which featured the first chapter of writer Roy Thomas’ second-ever storyline featuring the super–villainous robot Ultron, as well as the first mention ever of Wolverine’s favorite metal, adamantium. Today, we’re moving on to the second chapter of this three-part tale, which, like the first, was illustrated by the young British artist Barry Windsor-Smith — save for the cover, that is, which was instead drawn by an American artist, named Buscema. Unlike with issue #66, however, the Buscema who pencilled #67’s cover (inked, as #66’s had been, by Sam Grainger) wasn’t the veteran John, but rather John’s brother, Sal.
The younger Buscema had been working as an inker for Marvel Comics for a little over half a year — among his first published jobs, he’d embellished his sibling’s pencils for the classic Silver Surfer #4 — but this cover represented his Marvel debut as a penciller. It would soon prove a harbinger of bigger things to come, as with the very next issue of Avengers, #68, the 33-year-old artist would graduate to becoming the regular artist for its interiors.
But as far as issue #67 was concerned, everything beyond the cover was still the 20-year-old Windsor-Smith’s show — as was probably evident to anyone taking a look at #67’s opening splash page, even before looking at the credits…
…unless you mistook the pencilled artwork for that of Jack Kirby, or even Jim Steranko — who were still two very dominant influences on BWS’s developing style at this early stage of his career.
The inks were by industry veteran George Klein, and represented his last work on Avengers — a series for which he’d embellished the lion’s share of issues published ever since #55, a full year earlier. As noted in last week’s post, Klein had sadly passed away in May, 1969, but his work would continue to appear in Marvel’s comics for several months after his death.
The script? That, of course, was by Roy Thomas — just as it had been for the last thirty-five issues (including two annuals).
Thomas and company picked up their story in the immediate aftermath of the last issue’s climactic last page reveal — namely, the return from the “dead” of Henry (Yellowjacket) Pym’s rogue creation, Ultron-5 (who himself had later created the Avengers’ android member, the Vision, as revealed in issue #58) — in the new and improved form of…
Yep, it’s the old “what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” question, though Thomas phrases it slightly differently. This wouldn’t have been the first time that my younger self had encountered this famous paradox in a comic book, since it had also been invoked on the cover of my very first issue of Justice League of America, back in 1965. (It didn’t get a real answer that time, either.)
Having thrown us right into the middle of explosive action in the first scene (though Thomas did manage to squeeze in just a teensy bit of exposition on page 2, as you may have noticed), our storytellers now shift the scene to the Vision — the mystery of whose sudden and inexplicable betrayal of his teammates had been the driver of the plot in issue #66, all the way up until Ultron-6’s last-page appearance.
With that mystery solved — and with any readers who’d missed #66 now brought up to date on just about everything truly essential for following the story from this point — it’s back to the rock’em, sock’em action:
Between Barry Windsor-Smith’s two leading lights of comics art, the Jack Kirby influence shines more brightly through most of Avengers #67 — but there’s certainly at least a glimmer of Jim Steranko in the layout of page 5, as Ultron-6’s hand lever serves double duty as a panel border. (Or had BWS been looking at Neal Adams’ stuff, too?)
Thankfully, Yellowjacket’s wings cushion his landing — but he barely has the chance to alert the Wasp and Iron Man that they’re facing a resurrected Ultron, who to make matters exponentially worse is now made of indestructible adamantium, when the malevolent robot makes a dive-bombing run at them. The three Avengers all narrowly manage to evade him; but then, he comes back around for another pass, this time aiming directly at his creator — “the most dangerous of all the Avengers!” — and Hank’s only spared thanks to Iron Man running interference:
His timely save of Yellowjacket notwithstanding, Iron Man is pretty ineffectual — not just in this particular skirmish, but throughout the whole three-part storyline, thanks to the “accident” (actually a deliberate act of sabotage by the Ultron-controlled Vision) he suffered early in issue #66. I find it an interesting choice by the storytellers to downplay the Armored Avenger’s role, considering that Roy Thomas was already going out on something of a limb with his editor (Stan Lee) by including both Iron Man and Thor in the story in the first place. Perhaps the thought was that the four “regular” team members — Yellowjacket, Wasp, Vision, and Goliath* — would be too much overshadowed if both of these “OG” Avengers powerhouses were operating at full strength throughout all three issues.
As soon as Goliath sets him back on his feet, YJ is eager to be off again, in pursuit of his errant creation — but his teammates urge him to pause at least long enough to catch a breath, and maybe ponder a question or two:
Meanwhile, the Vision himself has headed straight to where he’s sure his former (?) master must be going — Ultron’s old HQ, located beneath a collapsed building on New York’s Lower East Side. He arrives there just moments before the robotic villain does himself:
The next-to-last panel of page 13 gives Windsor-Smith another (if brief) opportunity to go full-on Steranko by drawing S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, and La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine — all of whom had appeared in the single issue of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. illustrated by the artist, #12 (May, 1969).
By now, the Vision’s fellow Avengers have arrived at the site of Ultron’s stronghold; but before they can make their way into its subterranean interior, the appearance of S.H.I.E.L.D. jets overhead signals the imminent arrival of still more company:
What’s caused “such fearful quaking” is, of course, the Vision throwing down with Ultron-6. And for a few panels, at least, it looks like the creation might actually get the better of his creator:
I can recall that when first read this page back in June, 1969, I was wowed — and dismayed –by Ultron-6’s newly-demonstrated ability to convert his solid form “into sheer ionic force” at will. As if being made out of indestructible adamantium hadn’t already rendered him unbeatable enough! How were the Avengers ever going to be able to beat him?
(Also, that up-shot of Ultron’s face in the second panel is just plain damn freaky.)
Yikes. It’s looking pretty grim for the Big Apple, isn’t it? I almost hate to ask you to wait a month to find out what happens next — although the fact that this all went down half a century ago, and the Marvel Universe version of New York City is still standing in June, 2019 (it was the last time I checked, anyway) should help make the suspense manageable.
Of course, when we do rejoin the Avengers for issue #68, we’ll be short one young Englishman. Barry Windsor-Smith’s original sojourn in these United States had been undertaken without benefit of a work permit, and his luck in that regard ultimately ran out. His return to Old Blighty actually took place sometime before his two Avengers stories were published, or even produced — a Marvel Bullpen Bulletin from three months earlier mentioned the artist having to mail his “goodies” in to Marvel from overseas every month — so it would be less than accurate to state that his departure from our shores necessarily precipitated his departure from his gig of being the regular artist on Avengers. Still, it could hardly have been an ideal situation for either the artist or for Marvel.
It would be roughly four months before BWS’ art would be seen in another Marvel comic book. When he did return, it would only be for occasional short stories in Marvel’s new “mystery” anthology title, Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness — that is, until July, 1970, when the premiere issue of a brand new title drawn by Windsor-Smith first appeared on the stands. That new series, originally published bi-monthly, represented the artist’s return to regular publication — and was the harbinger of a whole lot more, besides. But, of course, that’s another post… for another day.
*The team’s fifth full-time Avenger, the Black Panther, was in Africa at this time, as explained in #66.
Not becoming a “Marvel guy” until the seventies, I missed these issues and thus, missed BWS’ pre-Conan work. When you finally get around to discussing that debut, will you be able to discuss what led to the extreme stylistic changes his work underwent along the way? I mean, he was a good comics artist here, but the work he began on Conan was something completely different and relevatory and I just realized I never heard the story of how that happened. Just a request for when you finally get there…Thanks.
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I’ll do my best, Don!