Avengers #92 was a transitional issue for the Marvel Comics series in several ways, a couple of which are signified by the issue’s cover. For one, the cover marks the arrival of artist Neal Adams, who’d begin a brief but glorious run as the title’s penciller and co-plotter with the very next issue. For another, the prominence given to Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America presages the end of an era in which those heroes only appeared on a semi-regular basis in Avengers; while the old dictum of editor Stan Lee that none of the “Big Three” could appear in the title except as occasional guest stars had been honored largely in the breach for a couple of years now, up to this point you might still have stretches in which none of them showed up at all (in fact, none had appeared in the previous three issues, and, as we’ll soon see, they barely play a role in #92, cover prominence notwithstanding). From issue #93 forward, Cap, Thor, and Iron Man would simply be “Avengers”, on the same basis as their fellow members who didn’t have their own books — effectively ending what had been the status quo of the title ever since issue #16 (May, 1965).
One transitional aspect of this issue that’s not in evidence on the cover, however, is its status as the dividing point between the two phases of the extended saga comics fans would come to know as “the Kree-Skrull War”. Phase one, which began in Avengers #89, focused on an assault on the Earth by the alien Kree, and had little to nothing to do with their rivals, the Skrulls (at least, not in any way that was immediately obvious to us readers). Phase two, which would begin in issue #93, would see the Skrulls enter the picture in a big way, as “this island Earth” became a battleground for the two galactic empires. Falling between them, Avengers #92 builds on and refines the concepts established in the previous three installments, and sets the stage for the escalating events of the five chapters to follow.
But before we dive into issue #92’s “All Things Must End!”, we’re obliged to catch you up on what’s gone down with the Avengers from the last issue we blogged about, #89. As you may recall from that post, three of the team’s members — Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision — became involved with the efforts of the Kree renegade Mar-Vell (aka Captain Marvel) to free himself from the Negative Zone, as well as from the relationship with former Avengers-hanger-on Rick Jones which had allowed him to temporarily escape the Zone through an exchange of atoms with the latter. By the end of the issue, Mar-Vell and Rick were both again free men — just in time for the Kree captain’s enemy, Ronan the Accuser, to activate the robotic Sentry which had long lain dormant in a secure lab at Cape Canaveral, and send it to capture Captain Marvel.
Writer Roy Thomas and artist Sal Buscema continued the story in issue #90’s “Judgment Day”, with Buscema providing inks as well as pencils (as he also would for #91). The opening pages found the three Avengers struggling to protect Mar-Vell, who was recovering from a medical procedure to expunge dangerous Negative Zone radiation from his body, and thus couldn’t join the fight himself. Ultimately, however, they were unsuccessful, and the Sentry escaped with his prisoner, disappearing into thin air.
Anxious to leave the Cape to search for Mar-Vell, the Avengers (and Rick Jones) were first required to file complete reports with Carol Danvers — a past member of the regular supporting cast of the Captain Marvel title (currently on hiatus) who’d last been seen in issue #18 of that series, back in 1969. Finally, however, their bureaucratic task completed, our heroes were on their way, flying back to their New York City headquarters in their quinjet — and putting their time in the air to good use by letting Rick fill them (as well as any latecomers among the comic’s readership) in on the history of the Kree’s dealings with Earth, beginning with their role in the origin of the Inhumans and continuing on through the career of Captain Marvel on our planet, first as a spy for his people and later as an Earth superhero.
Arriving back at Avengers Mansion, Pietro, Wanda, and Vizh found a recorded message awaiting them:
Goliath had missed out on the previous issue’s shenanigans due his not having made it back yet from an adventure he’d shared with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Falcon, as related back in issue #88. Janet and Hank Pym (aka the Wasp and Yellowjacket), on the other hand, had officially been on leave since #75 (though Jan had returned briefly in #83 to help fill out the ranks of the short-lived Lady Liberators).
While Goliath’s teammates prepared to follow him to Alaska (to the mild consternation of Rick Jones, who wasn’t exactly happy to see the Avengers postpone the search for Mar-Vell to deal with this crisis-come-lately), the scene shifted to Goliath, who arrived in the remote, icy portion of the 49th state where Hank was on assignment for the U.S. government, studying “what effect oil-drilling might have on Alaska’s wildlife.” (Gee, I wonder how that turned out?) There he found a distraught, solitary Wasp, who explained how she and Yellowjacket had gone to investigate after losing contact with a government outpost some miles to their north. But while they hadn’t found the three technicians they were looking for, they did discover something else — something which seemed impossible…
Flying in closer to the jungle, they began to feel strange — to which Hank responded by knocking Jan out (not the last time in Marvel Universe history he’d strike her, alas), then strapping her to the back of a mutated dragonfly and cybernetically commanding the insect to fly her back to safety.
Having heard this story, Goliath promptly flew off to the jungle on his own, leaving the Wasp alone again (a jerk move, to be sure). Landing his quinjet, the giant-sized Avenger didn’t get far before being zapped into unconsciousness by a familiar figure…
Yes, the situation in Alaska, which originally appeared to be completely unrelated to the goings-on involving Captain Marvel, was actually directly connected to them. That might seem like a remarkable coincidence, but frankly, it’s the kind of thing you come to expect when reading Roy Thomas’ Avengers stories.
Rendezvousing with Jan not long after she’d been abandoned by Goliath, the other Avengers (with Rick Jones still in tow) joined her in proceeding on into the uncanny jungle — where they found not only Ronan and the Sentry waiting for them, but a mind-controlled Clint Barton as well:
In the battle that inevitably ensued, the Wasp was knocked unconscious. Meanwhile, Ronan observed events from his citadel, while gloating to his prisoner Mar-Vell about how well his scheme to destroy humankind — called Plan Atavus — was going: “Even now, the swirling sweep of this citadel’s evo-rays grows greater with each turn, each arc –”
The following month’s “Take a Giant Step — Backward!” in Avengers #91 saw the unconscious Wasp gain a temporary reprieve (of sorts) when the devolved Yellowjacket decided not to smash her brains out with a club, at least not right away; rather, because she was “pretty”, he would take her with him “…for later…” (Ick.) As to why the Wasp herself hadn’t started devolving yet, Ronan explained to Mar-Vell (and to us readers) that the evo-rays had worked so quickly on YJ due to his having been insect-sized at the time he first encountered them; eventually, however, the rest of the Avengers would fall prey to them as well (presumably with the exception of the Vision, who as an android should be immune).
Meanwhile, the Vision managed to take out Goliath, by partially solidifying his fist inside the giant Avenger’s body just long enough for the intense pain to render the latter unconscious. But the android himself ultimately fell to the Sentry, as did the Scarlet Witch — leaving only Quicksilver and Rick Jones free to carry on the struggle:
In the citadel, Wanda and the Vision awoke to find themselves Ronan’s prisoners:
Roy Thomas had hinted at a romantic attraction between these two characters in earlier issues, but this sequence made it overt for the very first time, making this a pivotal moment in Avengers history.
Though outnumbered three-to-one by his rivals, the devolved Hank was able to draw on his Avengers training well enough to repel the transformed technicians, at least for the moment. Meanwhile, Ronan taunted his captives by demonstrating an even more advanced version of the Kree’s evo-ray, one that could devolve a toad into a unicellular organism…
Following Mar-Vell’s instructions, Rick fired the uni-beam at the citadel’s central control panel, damaging it severely…
For Hank Pym, “normal” means not only that he’s no longer a brutish caveman-type, but also that his hair color has changed back to blond. (Evidently, all cavemen were brunettes.)
Hank’s decision to resign from the Avengers is presented in such an emphatic fashion that it’s hard to believe that Roy Thomas had any notion of bringing him back just two issues later — though, as we’ll see in our Avengers #93 post next month, Neal Adams had other ideas. As for the Wasp, whose own “my husband quit, so of course I have to as well” announcement has aged poorly (to say the least), she’d be back as early as #100 — but only because every character who’d ever been an Avenger would be called up for that commemorative issue. Following that appearance, however, we wouldn’t see her back at Avengers Mansion until #137 (Jul., 1975), though she’d turn up in other books as a guest star from time to time.
That last panel sure gives the impression of an ending — it even has “Finis” inscribed in the bottom right corner — but, of course, the story was anything but over at this point. Which brings us at last to Avengers #92, and “All Things Must End!”
Thomas and Buscema continued as the storytellers for this installment, with George Roussos coming on board as inker.
The story leads off with one of those “heroes-at-home” opening scenes that used to be a regular feature of Marvel’s team books — at least for those teams whose headquarters did double duty as residences (which in this era meant virtually all of them). Of course, longtime readers know that things won’t stay this relaxed or pleasant for very long, but let’s try to enjoy the banter while we can (casual mild sexism notwithstanding)…
Despite having been sworn to secrecy by the Avengers — who feared the revelation of Ronan’s scheme would lead to a world-wide panic” (a questionable notion, I think, given how many alien incursions the people of Marvel-Earth must have already seen come and go by this time) — the three technicians rescued by the Avengers in issue #91 have opted to spill the beans. In their defense, these guys have been established as being federal government employees; it was probably unrealistic (and even unfair) of our heroes to expect them not to make a full and accurate account to their superiors. On the other hand, reporting to your boss is one thing — blabbing to the Daily Bugle, something else.
Goliath joins his teammates even as Quicksilver turns on the TV to get the latest information regarding this unfortunate turn of events:
“…ultimately, a left-handed man would fight a right-handed man to the death — for the remnants of a bombed-out planet!” Does Roy Thomas get a little heavy-handed here in making his point? Perhaps he does, even when allowing for the comics-scripting conventions of the time. One might speculate, however, that having evidently decided not to make the obvious comparison between his fictional “Alien Activities Commission” and the historical House Un-American Activities Committee (and its McCarthyite ilk), Thomas felt the need to compensate by otherwise being exceedingly explicit in his rhetoric.
As the debate continues within the mansion, danger descends from above it, courtesy of a helicopter piloted by Carol Danvers (remember her?) that’s suddenly developed engine trouble right before it arrives at its destination (just in time of provide some action in this so-far very talky issue). Mar-Vell, who’s been sorta semi-sweet on Carol for at least a few years now, attempts to stop its descent by… leaping at it. (At this time, having left the Negative Zone behind, Captain Marvel essentially had no powers save for those granted him as a native Kree by Earth’s lesser gravity — basically, modest super-strength and enhanced durability. But hey, a guy’s gotta work with what he’s got, right?)
Ultimately, the Vision takes the impact of the crash upon his own super-dense body. (Ouch, redux.) And then… well, they say that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing — and Carol (and Mar-Vell) do both manage to walk away. As for the Vision…
Hmmm… something tells me it’s going to be a while before we see Vizh and Wanda sittin’ in a tree, if you know what I mean.
Carol offers Mar-Vell a hideout, basically — a farm upstate owned by some friends of hers, currently “boarded up for the summer”. Marv is initially resistant, feeling that it makes him look guilty, but is eventually persuaded. Of course, he and Carol have to get to the farm before he can hide there, and with Nick Fury (yeah, that’s him, even if his eyepatch has gone missing for a panel) and S.H.I.E.L.D. buzzing their airspace, that’s not going to be easy. But hey, it does provide an opportunity for Thomas and Buscema to get a little more action in:
Some years later, Roy Thomas would deal more directly with those Japanese-American “relocation centers”, both in Marvel’s Invaders and in DC’s All-Star Squadron.
Having seen Mar-Vell and Ms. Danvers safely off from the Mansion’s rooftop launchpad, the Avengers head back inside to catch a few minutes’ breather — all except for Rick Jones, who feels the need for some solitary time…
The one-panel “special guest appearance” of a number of Golden Age superheroes — not all of whom were originally published by Timely/Marvel Comics — seems pretty damn random here, though in retrospect it foreshadows a much more significant scene another five issues down the line. (Whether or not Roy Thomas already had that scene in mind when he conceived this one is a matter for speculation.) At age fourteen, I didn’t recognize any of these guys with the obvious exception of the three Marvel heroes; and while I was curious about the others, I don’t recall spending all that much time wondering about them.
But since you might be wondering, faithful reader, the eight characters pictured here can be identified* as follows, starting at top center and moving clockwise:
- The original Human Torch
- Captain America
- The Fantom of the Fair, aka Fantoman — originally published by Centaur Comics; first appeared in Amazing Mystery Funnies vol. 2, #7 (Jul., 1939).
- The Green Lama — originally a pulp magazine hero, whose comic-book adventures were first published by Prize Comics; first pulp appearance in Double Detective vol. 5, #5 (Apr., 1940), first comics appearance in Prize Comics #7 (Dec., 1940).
- The Heap — originally published by Hillman Periodicals; first appearance in Air Fighters #3 (Dec., 1942).
- Fighting Yank — originally published by Nedor Comics; first appearance in Startling Comics #10 (Sep., 1941).
- The Sub-Mariner
- Cat-Man — originally published by Tem Publishing Co., and later by Holyoke Publishing; first appearance in Crash Comics Adventures #4 (Sep., 1940).
In his 2010 introduction to Marvel Masterworks – The Avengers, Vol. 10, Thomas wrote:
…I had Sal draw Rick thinking about super heroes he’d read about in old 1940s comics… (Naturally, I provided Sal with reference material. No heroes from DC, of course…) I had that panel colored in shades of a single color, just in case an old copyright holder reared his litigious head. Did I check out my use of the non-Timely/Marvel heroes with Stan? Probably not. But I should have, since getting a letter from an indignant lawyer was something that would’ve landed me in hot water with Stan or, worse yet, with publisher Martin Goodman, even if the latter no longer owned the company he headed.
Following Rick’s reverie, there’s a scene in which Goliath tries to break up an altercation just outside the mansion between a couple of men with opposing views on the “are the Avengers traitors?” question — and, for his trouble, gets served a summons for the team to appear at the next day’s public hearing. Nice! But it’ll be OK, Pietro tells Clint: “…we will tell our story — and let the truth be known.”
The “city courthouse” where the hearings are taking place isn’t identified (or pictured, save for the steps); and in any event, a city courthouse seems like an odd venue, since the Alien Activities Commission derives its authority from the federal government. But maybe it’s supposed to be one of Manhattan’s federal court buildings, like the Foley Square Courthouse (now the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse). Any New Yorkers out there have any other ideas?
The hearings themselves are almost certainly meant to evoke the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, of which I think it would be safe to bet most of this comic’s original readers were too young to remember personally — but which probably weren’t yet covered in most elementary-to-high school American history textbooks yet, either.
Thomas seems to go out of his way to make Ben Grimm a jerk here, which irked me in 1971 and still does. Ben’s attitude seems especially ungracious, given that the Avengers got involved in this whole mess in the first place by answering an alarm at the Baxter Building while the FF were out of town. Besides which, two of these “new guys” have been around since Avengers #16, which even in “Marvel time” has to have been a while. (Three of them have been around that long, actually, but we can forgive Ben for not recognizing Clint Barton in his Goliath togs.)
Craddock attempts to have Rick seized, but it’s already too late. And on that chaotic note, the hearings are adjourned for the day. The Avengers manage to make it back home through the throngs of protestors unscathed, but…
And that’s that for the latest chapter in the “Kree-Skrull War” saga — which, as you’ve probably noticed, has thus far been all but devoid of Skrulls (at least so far as we know — don’t forget, they’re shapeshifters!). Don’t worry, however — with the beginning of the story arc’s next phase in issue #93, you’ll be getting more Skrulls than you’ll know what to do with (though some will prove more Super than others). All that, and “A Journey to the Center of the Android!”, coming your way in August.
Personally, I wouldn’t call the cover of Avengers #92 misleading; after all, the scene it depicts (or one very much like it) does appear in the story inside, even if not until the last two-thirds of the last page. But someone at Marvel appears to have been concerned that some fans would consider the brevity of the appearances by Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor to be a bit of a cheat, considering their prominence in Neal Adams’ composition. And so someone — my money’s on Roy Thomas — took the very unusual step of penning the following message, which ran at the top of #92’s “Avengers Assemble!” letters page:
Of course, with the very next issue, Marvel would redress this “goof” (if you want to call it that) by giving us a story in which Shellhead, Winghead, and Goldilocks played a major role throughout — all lovingly delineated by Neal Adams. But the great irony of this apology is that even if the “three super-stars” seen on the story’s last page had appeared on every one of #92’s story pages, some might still consider it a cheat, since all three of them… naahhh. If you already know, then I don’t need to tell you. And if you don’t, it’ll keep until next month.
What’s that? You’re wondering what that “converting several of our titles… to double-size 25¢ books” was all about? Well, we’ll have more to say about that in our post about Conan the Barbarian #10, coming up in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, a word to the wise: don’t get too attached to that “Still 15¢” seal on this issue’s cover, OK?
*The first fan to correctly identify all the heroes for the Avengers letters column was one George Olshevsky, Jr., of Toronto, Ontario, whose letter was published in issue #99 (May, 1972). Mr. Olshevsky would soon go on to produce the Marvel Comics Indices — invaluable resources for comics history researchers back in the day.