Fifty years ago, one didn’t necessarily expect fresh linguistic coinages to turn up in comic books right away. If anything, comics were notorious for incorporating slang words and expressions (especially those presumably favored by America’s youth) years past their peak of popularity– if, indeed, they’d ever been popular at all.
But in its incorporation of the phrase “male chauvinist pigs” on its cover, Marvel Comics’ Avengers #83 seems to have been right on the money.
Of course, the term “chauvinist” (which originally referred to excessive patriotism, and had nothing at all to do with sexual politics) has been around for over a hundred years, and “pig” has been a popular pejorative for a lot longer than that. “Male chauvinist”, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have taken off until the very late Sixties, concurrent with the rapid upsurge of the Women’s Liberation Movement. And based on what I’ve read, the full three-word construction of “male chauvinist pig” (at least in print) may not go back any further than 1970 — which is, of course, the very year that Avengers #83 was released.
One reason that “male chauvinist pig” took off as quickly as it did — and fell out of everyday use almost as quickly, especially among feminists — may be that many people didn’t take it all that seriously. As political science scholars Jane Mansbridge and Katherine Flaster wrote in their article, “Male Chauvinist, Feminist, Sexist, And Sexual Harassment: Different Trajectories In Feminist Linguistic Innovation”, American Speech 80.3 (2005):
The addition of pig to male chauvinist may have given the phrase greater popular appeal, first by helping someone who did not know what chauvinist meant guess at the meaning of the phrase and second by allowing the phrase to pass as a joke. Male chauvinist pig had just the right tone of improbability to lighten the criticism as a teasing term, expressed in fun, in a way that the more serious male chauvinist could not.
In other words, having a female character decry “male chauvinist pigs” on the cover of Avengers #83 could have been a way of signaling to the audience that the story within probably shouldn’t be taken as a serious exploration of the issue of women’s rights — which seems to be pretty much in line with the intentions of the issue’s writer, Roy Thomas. As Thomas put it in his 2009 introduction to Marvel Masterworks – The Avengers, Vol. 9:
“Come On In… The Revolution’s Fine!” was my own admittedly “lite” take on women’s liberation. I had no serious point in mind, and one or two of my feminist friends — particularly Trina Robbins, whom I’ve known and admired since the late ’60s — took me to task for it. I didn’t consider the story as making a statement, really, either for or against “women’s lib”…
I would hazard a guess that Robbins (a pioneer of underground comix, and one of the most famously feminist of comics creators), as well as Thomas’ other “feminist friends”, didn’t think that women’s struggle for equal rights was really a topic one could write about responsibly without taking a position for or against. And from the perspective of a half century later, Thomas’ “lite” approach seems even less well-considered than it did (to some readers, at least) in 1970.
But back then, your humble blogger was but a callow youth of thirteen years; and while I’d probably at least heard of “women’s lib”, I might not have known what a “male chauvinist pig” was even supposed to be. Thus, when I picked up this comic book, it’s likely that my primary interest was to see what kind of changes might have come to Avengers Mansion since the last time I’d checked in, a whole year ago:
One thing that had definitely changed since my last visit to the Mansion — and one that had nothing to do with the sudden takeover of the place “in-story” by the self-proclaimed “Liberators” — was the return of John Buscema to pencilling duties. “Big John” had been the artist on Avengers when I started buying the book regularly, back in 1968, and as much as I’d enjoyed the efforts of those who’d followed him on the title (including John’s younger brother, Sal), he was still the Avengers artist, as far as I was concerned.
I would also have been familiar with the name of Buscema’s inker on this issue, Tom Palmer, even though he hadn’t worked on any of the Avengers comics I’d read (he’d come on board during my hiatus, with #74). Rather, I knew Palmer’s stuff by way of Doctor Strange (where he’d inked Gene Colan) and X-Men (where he’d inked Neal Adams) — although I probably didn’t yet appreciate the importance of his contribution to the terrific artwork in both of those titles.
As the editorial footnote by “Stan” (likely penned by Thomas, rather than by the book’s ostensible editor, Stan Lee) indicates, both the Wasp and her husband, Yellowjacket, had been absent from Avengers since #75 — although, since they’d still been active members of the team when I’d taken my break from the title in October, 1969, I’d never missed them, and so the explanation was pretty well wasted on me.
Sorry to say, my younger self probably wasn’t fazed by Jan’s “powderpuff protest meeting” crack, as cringeworthy as I find it now. (It should be acknowledged, however, that the line was consistent with the “flighty” characterization Janet Van Dyne Pym had been saddled with ever since her introduction back in Tales to Astonish #44 [Jun., 1963].)
The inclusion of Medusa among the Liberators is rather curious, considering that, at this point in Marvel Universe history, the queen of the Inhumans had no connection with anyone else on the team, and hardly ever left her home in the Himalayas-hidden Great Refuge, besides. It seems that the Fantastic Four’s Invisible Girl would have been a more logical choice to join this all-women squad; on the other hand, Thomas (or Lee) may have felt that Sue Richards’ culturally-hallowed status as a Young Mother made her appearance in this context (i.e., a “‘lite’ take on women’s liberation”) unfeasible.
Still, Medusa seems an odd fit here. Even her sister, Crystal — who, until very recently, had herself been living in New York as a member of the FF — would make more sense. Or what about Marvel Girl, of the recently cancelled X-Men? Perhaps Marvel just wanted to give a boost to the new Medusa-featuring “Inhumans” strip then running in Amazing Adventures. But you do have to wonder if at least part of the problem was that, in 1970, Marvel had such a shallow bench when it came to superheroines that the choices for filling out the Liberators’ lineup were severely limited.
The mysterious Valkyrie’s arguments are, by and large, pretty weak sauce — at least as specific, direct charges against the Avengers. The one real exception is the Black Widow’s having been rejected for official team membership for no good reason. But although Valkyrie refers to Yellowjacket “grabbing all the glory for himself“, we’re not really shown that. As for the Maximoff siblings — well, it’s not at all clear how Pietro is responsible for the newspaper headlines other men write about him and Wanda. (Incidentally, the return to the Avengers of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver — who’d both been fugitives the last time I’d seen them in these pages, back in issue #53 — was news to my prodigal younger self. They had rejoined the team in issue #75, the same issue in which the Pyms took their sabbatical.) And the case against Medusa’s husband, Black Bolt, makes the least sense of all (just how does his silence, self-enforced to spare others from the destructive power of his voice, render her a slave?). Not to mention that he’s, y’know, not actually an Avenger.
But, as the astute reader will glean from the panels that immediately follow, strong and coherent arguments are really beside the point, here:
Medusa’s sudden acquiescence, followed by the Wasp’s, make it pretty clear that these women are under someone’s (probably the Valkyrie’s) malign influence. Unfortunately, this fact, in conjunction with the weak-sauce arguments, has the effect (unintentional, I believe) of minimizing the actual, real-world problems that those arguments are derived from: men’s usurpation of women’s rightful credit, sexism in the news media, emotionally domineering or abusive husbands, and so forth. Since these issues aren’t enough in and of themselves to bring the heroines over to Valkyrie’s side, they must not be all that important to begin with, right?
We come now to the part of this story that’s remembered at least as well as the women’s liberation material — and that’s aged quite a bit better, frankly — the first appearance in comics of the Rutland Halloween Parade, as well as of its organizer, Tom Fagan.
In one sense, both Fagan and the Rutland, VT event with which he became synonymous had appeared in comics well before Avengers #83, as the longtime fan had had a letter promoting the parade published as far back as 1964’s Detective Comics #327 (which, coincidentally, was also the first comic book featuring editor Julius Schwartz’s “New Look” for Batman). The inclusion of Batman* and related characters in the annual parade soon led to other comic book heroes (and villains) showing up as well, and this ultimately attracted comics fans to the event — including at least one fan-recently-turned-pro, Roy Thomas, who began attending the parade (and the associated parties) in 1965.
Thomas had actually given a shout-out to Fagan over a year prior to Avengers #83, in an issue of Daredevil which found that hero’s beloved, Karen Page, returning to her hometown in Vermont — a little place called “Fagan Corners”. But in 1970, he decided to go all-in, bringing both Fagan and his parade to full four-color life.
Of course, the Rutland Halloween Parade portrayed in “Come On In… The Revolution’s Fine!” isn’t a dead ringer for the real thing, circa 1970 — and not just because “real” heroes and villains show up in the comic. Another big difference is that one has to look very hard to find any sign of Batman — or of any other DC Comics character, for that matter.
In later years, when both Marvel and DC would publish stories set in Rutland at Halloween, they’d be rather more liberal in allowing the other company’s intellectual properties to appear in the context of the parade. But for this first outing, the Caped Crusader and his cohorts were mostly personae non gratae — though whether the reason was not wanting to give DC free publicity, or legal concerns over copyright and/or trademark infringement, or some mix of both, is hard to say for sure.
And so, Thomas had Fagan suit up instead as Nighthawk, the villainous Batman analogue he’d invented as a member of the Squadron Sinister the previous year, in Avengers #70. (Fagan would later pay tribute to Thomas’ story by cosplaying as Nighthawk for real.)
And having decided to write one real-life personage into his fictional Rutland Halloween story, Thomas appears to have then decided to go for broke, and work both himself and his then-wife, Jeanie, into the tale as well:
Jeanie Thomas’ “Mrs. Peel” line is pretty funny (although I didn’t get the joke in 1970, if memory serves), but does make her come off as a little ditzy. That, in turn, nudges Roy Thomas’ follow-up — probably meant to be read as affectionate teasing — into condescension territory, at least for this reader. This effect may have been unintentional; but, considering the theme of the story, it’s unfortunate, nevertheless.
The Masters of Evil were entirely new to me when I first read this story, I believe. I hadn’t started reading Marvel comics (or any comics, actually) early enough to have encountered the original, Baron Zemo-led group that debuted in Avengers #6 (July, 1964), and then turned up again every few issues for about a year. And while I had read a couple of Avengers issues by the time the “new”, Ultron-assembled Masters turned up in issue #54 (July, 1968), I wasn’t yet picking the title up even semi-regularly, so I missed both that issue and its follow-up, #55, which was the last time these bad guys had appeared. Nor had I yet read any of their solo outings, even in reprint editions — so Klaw, Whirlwind, the Melter, and the Radioactive Man were all unknown quantities, so far as I was concerned.
Yes, potential kidnap villain Dr. Erwin is very publicly riding on a float in the parade — along with his super-scientific, ultra-powerful, one-of-a-kind doohickey! Well, they’ve always been a little strange over there at Miskatonic University, as any H.P. Lovecraft reader could tell you. Or maybe he’s just a big EC Comics fan, since I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be the Old Witch in the bottom right-hand corner of the first panel, above. (Apparently Marvel wasn’t worried about getting a cease-and-desist order from the copyright owners of the “GhoulLunatics” — who, as it happens, were the very same corporate overlords who also owned DC Comics.)
The Vision and the Black Panther are pretty much down for the count at this point, while the Whirlwind goes on to give Quicksilver a good run (whirl?) for his money, and the Radioactive Man binds Goliath with a couple of blasts from his cement gun (jeez, I hope that stuff’s not radioactive). Also at around this point, the Rutland Halloween Parade fades from the story as an active plot element; basically, from the moment that Goliath shouts “Clear the streets, everybody!” on page 10, we could be in Anytown, USA.
And just about when you start to wonder if they’ll ever show up again, the Lady Liberators finally return to our tale — on page 14 of a 20 page story:
Valkyrie’s “war cry to remember” is certainly striking, isn’t it? Interestingly, save for changing the singular form of “pig” to the plural, it also happens to be a word-for-word quote of the title of an article about the women’s liberation movement by Morton Hunt (apparently a very unsympathetic one) that appeared in the May, 1970 issue of Playboy magazine.
I guess that Roy Thomas could have come across the slogan somewhere else, and had never seen or heard of this article at all; but, well… let’s just say I wouldn’t take that bet.
Gasp! It’s the Enchantress! That otherwise-nameless (in 1970, anyway) Asgardian sorceress who, along with her boyfriend — the equally moniker-challenged Executioner — was introduced as a nemesis for the mighty Thor way back in Journey into Mystery #103 (Apr., 1964), and who (again with the Executioner) joined the original Masters of Evil in Avengers #7 (Aug., 1964).
Unlike the four members of the “new” Masters introduced earlier in the story, these characters weren’t completely new to me in October, 1970, as by this time I’d picked up Avengers Annual #1 (Sept., 1967), in which they’d both appeared, as a back issue.
Uh-oh. You can see where this is going, right? The Valkyrie’s supposed militant feminism is about to be reduced to being nothing more meaningful than the Enchantress’ rage at having been abandoned by her lover:
Of course, the Enchantress isn’t dead. (In fact, she’ll be back in the very next issue! Check back here next month to learn more.) Nevertheless, she has been thoroughly defeated — and considering all of the elaborate scheming and subterfuge she’s employed to get to this point (not to mention all the ancillary fighting), her being taken out so quickly and cleanly by a single hex sphere from the Scarlet Witch seems a little… abrupt. But, hey, this is page 20, so…
Thomas earns a point or two for allowing the two female Avengers the final word in the “debate” that closes his story.** But then he kind of spoils things by couching the whole business in terms of the so-called “battle of the sexes” — with the clear implication that the debate is intractable, eternal, hard-wired, so whaddaya gonna do? — rather than it involving a struggle for basic equality: an understandable, and hopefully achievable goal. Such a stance, unfortunately, can’t help but devalue that struggle; so, while Thomas may not have wanted to make a political statement with his little “offbeat Halloween saga”, in the end his attempt not to do so makes a statement in and of itself.
As noted at the beginning of this post, “male chauvinist pig” was something of a vogue term, which was very popular for a relatively short time. According to Mansbridge and Flaster’s research, usage of both that phrase and the slightly less colorful “male chauvinist” peaked in 1972 (at least as measured by their appearances in The New York Times), eventually being superseded by more straightforward terms such as “sexist”.
The phrase still had plenty of life in it in 1971, however, so it’s no surprise that it graced the cover of the comic featuring Valkyrie’s second appearance, just as it had for her first outing. (As with her debut, this tale was scripted by Roy Thomas.) This time, the Valkyrie wasn’t a disguised Enchantress, but rather a young woman named Samantha Parrington who had the Valkyrie’s persona (and powers) sorcerously imposed upon her by the original model in Incredible Hulk #142 (Aug., 1971). Like the original version of the character, this incarnation didn’t last beyond a single issue, with Ms. Parrington being restored to her ordinary mortal self by the end .
The third time proved to be the charm, however, as writer Steve Englehart brought the Valkyrie into the formerly all-male Defenders in the fourth issue of that “non-team”‘s ongoing title (Feb., 1973). Once again, the Enchantress transformed a young mortal woman into the Valkyrie; but since the host, Barbara Norris, had been driven insane prior to her investiture, this time Marvel could get away with not having her transformed back to “normal” (at least, not right away). Eventually, of course, the Valkyrie “persona” would be revealed to be the living essence of an actual Asgardian person, Brunnhilde — and thus not just a Valkyrie, but, per German composer Richard Wagner, the Valkyrie.
While her Defenders #4 cover dialogue eschewed any specific references to “male chauvinist pigs”, the new Valkyrie did decry “puny males” thereon. Nevertheless, Englehart quickly dialed down the new Defender’s “man-hating” rhetoric in his stories, while keeping the warrior woman’s feminism intact. This change in approach may have reflected the growing normalization of feminist ideas in American culture, but it was likely also prompted by the need to have Valkyrie, who’d previously been used as a villain, get along well enough with her male teammates for her to function as a hero. Whatever the impetus for the change, however, the ultimate result was that Valkyrie became a character, rather than just a caricature; that, in turn, helped her have a long, active career in the Marvel Universe as a dependable utility player — even if she never quite rose to the ranks of the “A”-list — all the way up to her untimely end in Marvel’s 2019 War of the Realms event.
I mentioned earlier that Avengers #83 was my first new issue of the title after a whole year away. As regular readers of this blog will recall, for a period of time extending from the fall of 1969 well into the spring of 1970, I largely lost interest in comic books. A half century and more later, I don’t remember exactly why — but I’m pretty certain that Marvel Comics’ institution of a new “no continued stories” policy, as announced by Stan Lee in the publisher’s comics released in July, 1969, played a significant role. Without its complex, ongoing, interlacing storylines, the Marvel Universe was, for me, simply a less engaging place.
Lee actually started backpedaling a bit as early as October, 1969 — ironically, the same month that the last issue of Avengers I bought for a year, #71, came out — with a “Stan’s Soapbox” column that tried to reassure Marveldom Assembled that, of course, Marvel wasn’t going to eliminate their “swingin’ sub-plots”, so everyone should just calm down, OK? That wasn’t enough for my younger self, however, and apparently it wasn’t enough for many other fans, as well — because in his “Soapbox” column for Marvel comics published in October, 1970, Lee finally, and officially, threw in the towel:
Of course, if you take Stan the Man’s words at face value, Marvel had actually resumed running continued stories as the company norm months ago, and many fans hadn’t even noticed. Unfortunately, that assertion is somewhat belied by the fact that, as of October, ’70, the publisher was still putting out plenty of done-in-ones as well — including the very issue of Avengers we’ve been discussing in this post, where the “Stan’s Soapbox” column shown above was published.
It’s somewhat ironic that Roy Thomas was still turning out single-issue stories for Avengers this late in the game, since Avengers had been one of the last Marvel series to move away from serial storytelling in the first place. (#71 had featured the final chapter of a trilogy.) Maybe the guy just liked to work really far ahead? And, in fact, Thomas — with Buscema and Palmer — had one more done-in-one coming up the very next month, in issue #84.
And it was a pretty good one, too. Come back next month, and I’ll tell you all about it.
*Fagan’s ‘Tec #327 letter indicates that “a law enforcement officer” originally portrayed Batman in the parade, although in all the articles I’ve read on the topic, Fagan himself is the only person mentioned as assaying the role in its formative years. (Fagan, who died in 2008 — just a few days before Halloween — was a newspaperman by profession.)
**The suggestion that the Lady Liberators might return some day would eventually bear fruit, though it would take nearly four decades, and ultimately involved a mostly different roster of superheroic women. Out of the original lineup from Avengers #83, only Valkyrie and Black Widow made the cut for the new group featured in Hulk (2008 series) #9 (Jan., 2009). Still, the fact that Marvel could by then easily field a team of nine female stalwarts without needing to draw heavily on the original squad signified just how much deeper the bench had gotten in 38 years — a net gain, I’d say.