In crafting the installment of their ongoing “Kree-Skrull War” epic that arrived on stands in September, 1971, the Avengers creative team hadn’t had the luxury (or, if you prefer, the burden) of 34 pages to work with, as they’d had for a single issue with the previous month’s issue #93. Rather, the first 20-cent edition of the title featured a mere 23 pages of art and story.
Nevertheless, the reduction of space didn’t deter writer Roy Thomas from continuing to break each issue’s episode of the galaxies-spanning saga into multiple chapters — or from giving every chapter its own individual title, each inspired by a well-known work of science fiction. For #94’s “More Than Inhuman”, the reference was to Theodore Sturgeon’s 1953 novel, More Than Human:
Despite the very serious situation facing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as our story opens, this opening scene, with one of three captive Skrull warrior attempting to inflate “like a dirigible“, borders on the comic. Artist Neal Adams, famous for his photorealistic style, seems to have relished the challenge of convincingly rendering the rubber-faced, shape-shifting Skrulls.
Iron Man fills in Mister Fantastic on the Avengers’ encounter with the Skrulls, whom the latter hero recognizes as the same trio the Fantastic Four fought (and ultimately hypnotized into becoming cows) way back in the second issue of their own title. The conversation gives the Thing (Ben Grimm) the opportunity to once again rudely dis the Avengers, much as he’d done back in issue #92 — though, occurring as it does outside the earlier incident’s context of a formal governmental hearing, this time the dialogue is at least funny (Ben: “You creampuffs are lucky ya didn’t run into the Super-Skrull… he would’a clobbered ya.” Reed: “Ben — for Pete’s sake –” Ben: “Well — he would’a.”).
Asking the Avengers to pardon his irrepressible teammate, Mister Fantastic promises to review his files to see if he can find any information that might help our heroes figure out the Skrulls’ plans. That leaves the Assemblers to ponder another mystery — the whereabouts of the Vision, who hasn’t been seen since the battle at the end of issue #93…
The role of the Skrulls’ enemies, the Kree, in the creation of the Inhumans had been established back in 1967, in a backup feature then running in Thor that explained the hidden race’s origins. It was a story element retrofitted to what Marvel readers already knew about the Inhumans (it pretty much had to be, considering that the Inhumans had fist turned up in 1965, while the Kree weren’t introduced until 1967, about half a year before the aforementioned Thor backup feature was published). But it hadn’t come up in any of the stories read by your humble blogger since I was first introduced to the inhabitants of the Great Refuge in Amazing Spider-Man #62 (Jul., 1968); so this information was as new to me in August of ’71 as if Thomas and Adams had made it up on the spot.
However, another concept appearing in this scene was, I believe, equally new to all Marvel readers (though I may be mistaken about this) — namely, the notion of some sort of affinity (at least on the level of “brain-waves”) between the Inhumans (Inhomo supremis) and mutants (Homo superior). Interestingly — and apparently as a complete coincidence — there was also a similarly-themed story running concurrently in Amazing Adventures, where Magneto was portrayed as believing that the Inhumans were, in fact, mutants. I call this “a complete coincidence” advisedly, as there’s plenty of evidence to indicate that the creative teams of Avengers and Amazing Adventures were working in nigh-total ignorance of each other as they both spun their own Inhumans-related tales in mid-1971. But, more about that in a future post.)
Since Marvel’s editorial staff neglected to include a footnote here, please allow me to clue you in that Thor’s recent Inhumans-related visit to “a California ghetto”, as mentioned above by the Vision, occurred in Amazing Adventures #8 (which you can read all about here).
For any of you who’ve come in late — the Vision has recently come to realize that he’s fallen in love with the Scarlet Witch, although he’s not quite ready to admit that to anyone yet, himself included.
We’ve now come to the end of our tale’s first chapter. I probably don’t have to tell anyone reading this what famous science-fiction work inspired Roy Thomas’ title for the next one, but, just in case… There was this Stanley Kubrick film that came out in 1968, you see, as well as a companion novel by Arthur C. Clarke, both of which were called 2001: A Space Odyssey…
Wait a minute… John Buscema? What’s he doing here? What happened to Neal Adams?
Unsurprisingly, Adams and Thomas have differing recollections of the circumstances that led to Buscema filling in for Adams on the 10-page middle section of issue #94, just as they do concerning a number of other aspects of their Avengers collaboration. And so, just as in last month’s post on Avengers #93, I’m not going to try to make a case here for which creator’s account is the more accurate; rather, I’m simply going to make a few fact-based observations.
As we’ve previously discussed in several posts commemorating August, 1971 as Giant-Size Marvel Month, the decisions by Marvel publisher Martin Goodman mid-’71 first to expand the page-count of his company’s standard-size comic books from 32 to 48 pages, then to drop the count back down to 32 again almost immediately, occurred within the space of a few weeks. Evidently, everyone working for Marvel initially believed that the comics scheduled for publication in September would be 48-page, 25-cent books; by the time the staff and freelancers learned that they’d be 32-page, 20-cent comics instead, production had already begun on those issues, and editorial staff and creators had to scramble to make their content fit into the new format by the printer’s deadline. In some cases, an existing 34-page story had to be cut in two and filler material found to pad out the page count. In other cases, different strategies seem to have come into play.
Neal Adams had turned out a fully-pencilled 34-page story for Avengers #93 — which, incidentally, came out the same month as DC Comics’ Green Lantern #86 (the second of that title’s high-profile “drug issues”), and had presumably been drawn at around the same time. Which is to say: Neal Adams was a very busy man. If he was running late on his assigned number of pages for #94 (and everyone seems to be in agreement that he was never expected to draw more than 20 or so pages for the issue*), it’s not all that surprising — nor is it surprising that, in the midst of all the other chaos Thomas and the other Marvel staffers were dealing with, that the writer, in his role as associate editor, chose to take out an insurance policy by assigning one of #94’s chapters to John Buscema — even if that wasn’t anyone’s idea of an optimal solution.
And, of course, if you had to bring in a pitch-hitter, who better than John Buscema, who not only had pencilled more issues of Avengers to date than any other artist this side of Don Heck, but who had also been frequently paired on the series with inker Tom Palmer — who just so happened to be also inking issue #94, and whose distinctive style would ensure at least some visual consistency between Adams’ two chapters and Buscema’s single one?
(That was a rhetorical question, if you couldn’t tell; but for the record, the correct answer is, “Nobody”.)
And now, to return to our narrative…
Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (aka the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) have evidently lucked out here, as the Super-Skrull seemed poised to kick them out an airlock or something before getting word that his crew was about to make the hyperspace jump to the Andromeda Galaxy, where the Skrull Empire is based. Once the jump is made, however, S-S is too preoccupied with his own personal return from exile to have any head room left over for his excess prisoners. So he exits the bridge, leaving Wanda and Pietro to silently give the eye to their fellow captive, Captain Marvel — and Captain Marvel himself to brood over what those stares mean: “They know I am a man of the Kree –”
Yeesh. Sucks to be Mar-Vell right now, I’d say.
About this time, the Skrulls’ ship reaches their homeworld — but as they approach its capital, the ship’s crew are stunned to find themselves being fired on from the Emperor’s own palace; apparently Emperor Dorrek isn’t quite ready yet to welcome the Empire’s exiled son home with open arms.
As soon as the craft lands, the Super-Skrull exits to give battle; then, the scene shifts to the palace’s throne room, where we join Dorrek and his daughter, Princess Anelle…
Emperor Dorrek, seventh of that name,** had first appeared in Fantastic Four #18 (Sep., 1963), in the same story that featured the debut of the Super-Skrull. His peace-loving progeny, Princess Anelle, was introduced over a year and a half later, in #37 (Apr., 1965), which also saw the FF travel to the Skrull Homeworld for the first time.
The Super-Skrull’s status as an exile had been in force for quite a while at the time of the Kree-Skrull War. Since his original bout with the Fantastic Four in FF #18 he’d fought several rematches with the group, only to be defeated each time. As punishment for his consistent failures, he’d been eventually consigned to menial patrol duty in “the endless skyways of nowhere” (Thor #142 [Jul., 1967]). But even after being manipulated by Loki into fighting the God of Thunder, and subsequently being soundly trounced for his troubles (so much for your “creampuff” remark, eh, Mr. Grimm?), the unfortunate S-S was nevertheless given another chance by his Emperor. Sent back to Earth to discover why the Skrulls’ age-old enemies, the Kree, had placed an operative on our world — a captain, name of Mar-Vell — Super-Skrull hoped not only to be returned to his emperor’s favor, but also to win the princess Anelle’s hand in marriage (it was one of those “succeed, and any prize short of my crown will be yours” kinds of deals). Alas, his efforts once again failed completely, as the Kree soldier turned S-S’s own power of super-hypnosis against him in Captain Marvel #3 (Jul., 1968), forcing him to abandon his mission and return to outer space — where he’d evidently remained, still in exile, until coming up with his latest scheme.
That scheme had actually turned out pretty well, if you ask me, even if our boy didn’t quite manage to blow up the Great Refuge (hey, you can’t win ’em all). But instead of being hailed as a conquering hero, ol’ S-S finds himself summarily trapped by Dorrek’s forces within an energy sphere, which, when he attempts to use his Human Torch-derived flame powers to burn a way out of it, has an even more unpleasant surprise in store for him…
I dunno… maybe “S-S” should stand for “sad sack”, rather than Super-Skrull…
Dorrek wants the same thing from Mar-Vell that the Super-Skrull was after last issue — the secret of the Omni-Wave Projector, a Kree device which, in addition to being “the sole means of instantaneous communication between galaxies”, can also be adapted into a devastatingly powerful weapon — and realizes that he can use the Kree exile’s two Earthling friends as leverage to force Mar-Vell’s cooperation. And so…
Inside the prison-sphere, Quicksilver attempts to make his and Wanda’s beastly companion dizzy by running rings around it really fast — but all this does is cause the four pink fluffy critters stuck in the sphere with them to be lifted up and hurled against the monster. And all that does is increase the number of critters, as they evidently multiply on impact with any hard surface… a situation which quickly becomes anything but amusing…
Let’s all give Big John Buscema a hand for filling in for the last ten pages, shall we? And now that that’s done, we’re pleased to return you to your regularly scheduled penciller, Neal Adams — as well as to bring you our story’s third and final chapter title inspired by a non-comics work of science fiction. This time, it’s Michael Moorcock’s Nebula Award-winning 1966 novella, “Behold the Man”, which was later expanded into a novel by Moorcock (and, even later than that, adapted into comics form by Doug Moench and Alex Niño for the sixth issue of Marvel’s Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction black-and-white comics magazine):
We readers had first met the three unnamed government technicians who are currently “guests” of H. Warren Craddock back in Avengers #91, at which time they’d been temporarily devolved into cavemen by the Kree leader Ronan the Accuser; we’d last seen them in issue #92, when they’d provided testimony to Craddock’s Alien Activities Commission that wasn’t what you’d call especially favorable to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. They’re now having second thoughts about that, for obvious reasons.
Meantime, Craddock himself has moved beyond simple commission hearings in his crusade against the Avengers, as our heroes are about to learn…
“There goes the last of Hank’s growth serum…” In the previous issue, Goliath had bollixed things up by losing his growing powers in the middle of a battle, because he’d forgotten to take his dose of serum when he was supposed to. Now, we learn that he’s also forgotten to let Dr. Henry Pym know that he needs to be resupplied.
Readers of this blog who know their Marvel Universe history already know where this subplot is heading, and even those who aren’t stone Avengers experts can probably hazard a good guess. In the opinion of this fan, what’s coming up is a good thing — and I expect I’m not alone. Even so, I can’t help wishing that Thomas and Adams had figured out a way to get Clint Barton back to where he belonged without making him act like such a dope along the route.
As acknowledged in “Stan”‘s footnote, Roy Thomas had used the term “mandroid” once before, for a one-off robotic villain that appeared in Captain Marvel #18. It’s hard to fault the writer for wanting to get a bit more mileage out of the name — it’s a memorable coinage, if also a rather obvious one — and, in fact, these Mandroids would go on to have a considerably longer shelf life than their namesake.
I suspect that not only Captain America, but also quite a few comics fans, had indeed forgotten Iron Man’s transistor-powered roller skates — or, like your humble blogger, had never seen them prior to this moment. But they did in fact go way back — almost all the way back to the character’s origin story — being first alluded to in Tales of Suspense #40 (Apr., 1963), which featured the Golden Avenger’s second-ever appearance, and then showing up for real some five months later, in ToS #45.
Why Thomas and/or Adams felt compelled to bring back an element of Iron Man’s tech that seems unnecessary to the point of absurdity given that the guy can, y’know, fly, is anybody’s guess. The “in story” explanation, of course, is that Tony (Iron Man) Stark knows that the Mandroids’ training didn’t cover the roller skates — but considering that the advantage such knowledge gives Shellhead doesn’t last more than three panels, at which point he’s knocked head-over-shiny-ass (see below), it’s hard to see the point.
Oh, well — it appears that Tony will at least be spared the embarrassment of his ignominious tumble by the unexpected arrival on the scene of the aquatic Inhuman named Triton — who hasn’t been seen in a Marvel comic since he lured a group of brawl-happy bodybuilders away from the rest of the Inhuman royal family on a California beach, back in Amazing Adventures #7 (Jul., 1971).
Gee, I wonder where he’s been all this time? And why’s he showing up now? Is it possible that the Inhumans might join the war on the side of their ancient “benefactors”, the Kree? For the answers to those and other burning questions, be sure and join us next month as we take a look at Avengers #95 — in which Roy Thomas and Neal Adams neatly tie up the unresolved plotlines from their four-issue “Inhumans” run in Amazing Adventures, while managing to completely ignore everything that that series’ new creative team has been doing with the characters since they left the book. (Oops.) Trust me, it’ll be even more fun than a Super-Skrull on transistor-powered roller skates.
*According to Roy Thomas in Alter Ego v.2, #4 (Spring, 1999), at one point Marvel had plans for the backup feature in the expected-to-be-giant-sized Avengers #94 to be a Black Panther solo story drawn by Alex Toth; alas, that project never came to fruition, in any format or venue.
**Dorrek’s name wasn’t actually revealed to readers until FF #205, published in 1979; rather remarkably, in all appearances prior to that date he was simply referred to as “Emperor” (or, if you happened to be Princes Anelle, “Father”). But we’re going to use the name here, anyway, just for the sake of clarity. (UPDATE, 9/11/21: Over on the Masterworks Message Board, Blake Stone has noted that in his earliest appearances, Dorrek was in fact usually called “King” or “majesty”, with “Emperor” not coming into use until Captain Marvel #2. We appreciate the clarification.)