In November, 1971, the cover of Avengers #96 heralded a new era for the title, as a streamlined new logo created by Gaspar Saladino replaced the one that had graced almost every issue of the Marvel Comics series since its launch back in 1963. A previous attempt to replace the original logo in 1969 had lasted a mere eight issues; this latter effort obviously proved a great deal more durable, as Saladino’s design, while undergoing multiple modifications over the years, has survived in recognizable form down to the present day.
Another significant change to the book’s trade dress was the addition of a certain three Avengers’ names above the new logo. This wouldn’t be nearly as lasting an innovation as the logo itself — indeed, the names would be replaced with the more generic (though ultimately iconic, even so) phrase “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!” within seven issues — but it lasted long enough to do its job. And that job, of course, was to let readers know that Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man — all three of whom had been held at arms’ length within the series for years, due to an edict of editor Stan Lee that no superhero with their own solo feature could be a full-time active Avenger — were back to stay. This had in fact been effectively true for some time; but up until this point, there’d remained a tiny bit of daylight between the status of the Big Three and that of the “regular” Avengers (currently Goliath, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision) who didn’t have their own titles. From now on, that would no longer be the case.
Still and all — as notable as those new design elements were, I doubt they had any greater impact on the readers of 1971 — including my fourteen-year-old self, of course — than did the actual cover image: Neal Adams’ powerful illustration of the allegedly “emotionless” android Avenger, Vision, brutally beating an alien warrior, while his three “star” teammates rush to try to stop him. As dire as the Avengers’ situation (and the Earth’s) had seemed at the conclusion of issue #95, things had obviously escalated since then. And I couldn’t wait to find out how.
In case you’re wondering, this is the very first appearance of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Space Station, for all the narration’s implying that it’s been around for a while (“to it have come dictators and dignitaries”, etc.). (Evidently, it would also be virtually the station’s last appearance, at least under the auspices of S.H.I.E.L.D., due to its finding running dry in a few years. Talk about your boondoggles…)
Writer Roy Thomas’ practice of referencing well-known works of science fiction in his titles for the individual episodes of the Kree-Skrull War storyline continues with “The Andromeda Swarm!” — a riff on the name of Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain, as well as its 1971 film adaptation. Compared to the other “classic” SF works Thomas had alluded to so far, this one was of very recent origin; still, as the author put it in his 2010 introduction to Marvel Masterworks — The Avengers, Vol. 10, “…how could I have resisted naming one chapter… after the galaxy in which the Skrulls originated?”
Also worth noting on this page is the credits box, which lets us know that customary inker Tom Palmer was assisted on this issue by the book’s penciller, Neal Adams, as well as by another artist, Alan Weiss, who had made his Marvel pencilling debut the previous month in Daredevil #83. (Incidentally, in that same month of October, 1971, Weiss had also appeared as a character in the lead story in DC Comics’ Batman #237, a tale which just so happened to be drawn by Adams.)
That last bit about “…all at speeds beyond speed — into space which is not space…” seems to be Thomas’ way of informing us (without getting into any specifics, of course) that the Avengers’ S.H.I.E.L.D.-loaned spaceship is equipped with some sort of faster-than-light hyper-drive — which would seem quite necessary indeed, considering that it would take 2.5 million years traveling at the speed of light to get from Earth to the Andromeda Galaxy. (Gee, I wonder how much that tech cost the U.S. taxpayers of Earth-616?)
I figure that comics writer Grant Morrison probably had this page in mind when they referred to “hovering armadas made of a thousand space warships” in the midst of waxing rhapsodically about the Kree Skrull War as a whole in their 2011 book Supergods. No, Adams didn’t actually draw a thousand ships, here or anywhere else, but he certainly managed to give the impression of a vast armada in what he did draw — an effort that was enhanced, I believe, by his decision not to draw any two ships alike (at least, not at this range).
As they see the Skrull flagship heading for them, the Avengers realize their gambit of disguising their single ship as an entire fleet (presumably by some sort of illusion-projecting tech; it’s not really explained) has failed; there’s nothing for it, then, but to fight, and to hope that if they best this batch of Skrulls, the others will back off.
Thomas and his artistic collaborators may have made us wait for seven issues (counting from the beginning of the storyline in Avengers #89) to get to the full-on outer-space action — but now that we’re finally here, we should find the payoff well worth the wait.
While this was hardly the first time comic-book readers had seen superheroes fighting aliens in space, never before Avengers #96 had such a battle seemed so vividly real. This sequence captured the sensibility of a widescreen blockbuster science fiction action movie before there were any widescreen blockbuster science fiction action movies, setting the standard for all the superheroes-in-space fight scenes that would follow in its wake.
It’s a triumph for all of the storytellers involved, though most especially for Adams.
Outside the flagship, Iron Man decides it’s time for him to join the fray within, leaving Goliath to keep an eye out for any more Skrull vessels — as well as to mope about how “playin’ watchdog” is just about all he’s good for now. ( Hey, Clint — it was your idea to ditch Hank Pym’s growth serum, so stop complaining already.)
Maybe it’s just me, but something about the Skrulls seems to bring out Adams’ sense of humor…
Before the Avengers can stop him, Commandant Kalxor relays the Emperor’s directive to an unseen subordinate, using his spacesuit’s internal communications system…
So now it’s up to a powerless, weaponless Clint Barton to save the entire Earth from nuclear Armageddon all by himself. I know we’re supposed to admire his bravery as he goes charging into this dire situation — but when I first read this story fifty years ago, I couldn’t get past my irritation with him for (1) forgetting to take his growth serum in the first place, and then (2) deciding to give it up altogether, at the worst possible time. And I still feel that way, so there.
Someone seems to have forgotten to slip the colorist (probably Tom Palmer) the memo about Ronan the Accuser being a blue-skinned Kree (and proud of it!), rather than a lowly “pink”…
Ronan recognizes Rick Jones as being among those who messed up his plans to devolve every living thing on Earth back in issue #91. But he’s impressed with the young man’s “rudimentary courage” after Rick grabs the staff from one of his guards and (uselessly) assaults Ronan with it. He decides to make Rick his “body-slave” — but before Rick can begin his new duties, Ronan needs to make sure he understands how insignificant and backwards humanity is in the universal scheme of things…
So the Supreme Intelligence is responsible for H. Warren Craddock’s anti-alien/anti-Avengers crusade? Hmm, I’m not sure that tracks all that well with what we’ll learn about Craddock in the very next issue. But so as not to spoil that particular reveal for anyone out there who might not know the details of how this story ends, we’ll table that concern for the nonce.
Jeez. Rick Jones and Captain Marvel took turns hanging out in the Negative Zone for more than a year without Annihilus showing up once, and now you can’t even turn around once in the place before bumping into the guy. But for more on this matter, as on the mystery of H. Warren Craddock, we’ll have to wait until next month — when we’ll come at last to the conclusion of the Kree-Skrull War.
It’s just too bad Neal Adams won’t be able to join us.
More abut that, too, come December…
This issue was an incredible ride, Alan! Alas, that Adams was not able to complete the grand finale or even provide at least a few finished pages, but at least they got Big John B to fill in. This amplified all the cosmic elements of Kirby’s various space-themed tales, and from which Starlin, Cockrum, & Byrne, among many others would take much inspiration. Rather fitting that it’s with this issue they brought on the new, modernist logo. Unlike the original FF logo, doesn’t seem there was much nostalgiac love for the old, rather clunky Avengers logo. Agree on your assessment of Clint’s dilemma; rather impetuous, of him, but I suppose Roy felt it was a way to ramp up the drama while transitioning him back to his Hawkeye identity. Of course, the highlight was Vizh’s rampage — cold, calculating, and oh so human!
Great write-up on one of the enduring classics, Alan.
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I wonder if Neal knew in advance he wasn’t going to be able to pencil the final installment on the Kree/Skrull War storyline and if that drove him to new highs of artistic inspiration this time, because the art here is gorgeous and some of the finest Adams ever created. Really beautiful stuff that holds up even today and other than Palmer’s coloring error with Ronan and the close-up of Rick on page 18 where Adams draws the teen looking more like a forty-year old man, I can offer no criticism of it. Roy’s story, on the other hand, can be clunky and heavy-handed at times (as these mega-part stories tend to be), as Roy manfully pushes his thematic pieces into place, sometimes with ease and sometimes with a Hulk-like amount of forcible manuvering. Much like Conway in our recent re-hash of the Mr. Kline saga, Roy (or perhaps Neal and his beautiful pencils) occasionally paints the story into a corner that requires a no-prize level amount of finagling to get out heroes out of. Not as bad here as in other stories in other books, but you can definitely hear the grinding as Roy tries to make all the pieces fit.
As to the whole Goliath thing, I sometimes think Roy didn’t really care for the character, but that either Neal insisted on including him or Stan did in his editorial capacity and Thomas just didn’t know what to do with him. I do think the idea of him taking off after the bad guys all alone in his own ship with orders from Cap to win or die trying was a brave one, underlying the fact that heroism is reliant on the heart and not in super-powers or advance tech or an alien upbringing. Still, Clint’s wish that he hadn’t decided to give up the Giant man serum after all reminded me of Lloyd Bridges in the Airplane movies as he opined, “I picked the wrong day to decide to stop sniffing glue!”
Overall, however, this is a great story. I didn’t read it fifty years ago, but I wish I had. Still, better late than never, I guess. Thanks for the analysis, Alan. Well done.
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I can only echo the comments above about the gorgeous art work by Neal Adams, sad that he wasn’t able to finish the saga – I’m sure you will have more to say on that in your post on Avengers 97 in a months time.
I always understood from Thor’s comments on page 3 that the SHIELD space ship could only go into hyperspace because it was given the additional power by Mjolnir.
Also, I think the Batman issue that you referred to and blogged about w.r.t Al Weiss was 237 not 232.
Great post again, thanks.
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Brian, good point about Mjolnir. My thinking was that while Thor’s hammer might be powering the ship, it would still need some sort of special drive to actually enter hyperspace (kind of like how in Star Trek, the Enterprise runs on dilithium crystal power but still needs warp engines to actually get anywhere). But on reflection, I think you’re right — Mjolnir is Roy Thomas’ explanation for how the ship Goes So Very Very Fast, and we should take it as such.
And thanks for the catch on Batman #237. (Hey, at least I got the hyperlink right!)
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Great comic, classic Adams-Palmer work. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it wouldn’t be until Superman vs. Muhammad Ali seven years later that we would see any more sci-fi spaceship art from Adams (his 1975 Eric Burden album comics art would not see print until Epic Illustrated in the early 1980s).
What we really need to dig up, though, is Neal’s homemade 1981 movie “Nannaz” aka “Death to the Pee-Wee Squad.” 🙂
I found it dubbed in Spanish at least:
“Death to the Pee Wee Squad” was filmed in 1981 with th original title “Nannaz” (the name of a stuffed monkey toy – think ‘bananas’) and starred Neal Adams, his children Jason and Zeea, and comics artists Larry Hama, Ralph Reese, Gray Morrow, and Jay Scott Pike, among others.
And Denys Cowan
Well, I loved the original Avengers logo
Honestly. I’ve never shared the love for this epic that others have. Maybe because I read it later. I’m more a fan of that long JBuscema/Colan/SBuscema run that has ends (for me) with the Grandmaster/Squadron Sinister three-parter. After that the one-and-done edict came down and things started to go downwhill for me
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John, you left out BWS’s two issues from that run. On purpose, or was it an unconscious block? 🙂
I do think it sometimes matters when you first read a story. My experience was similar to yours in that I originally dropped Avengers after #71. However, I started buying the title again about a year later, so I was back in place to enjoy the Kree-Skrull War issues when they came out.
Yeah, I read this one in my mid-20s, probably around 2005 (give or take) and was left very underwhelmed by the story itself. The art, of course, did not disappoint.
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More musings on Avengers #96 — hadn’t previously heard of Gaspar Saladino or known of his creation of what became the classic Avengers logo, as well as of many other great comics logos for Marvel and DC. With the creation of that “arrow A”, the Avengers finally had their own unique symbol, as with the FF’s 4, the Spider-Man oval, Cap’s shield, etc. Also yet another instance of the shift from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age, at least viewed retrospectively. By the time I started collecting the Avengers several months later, I’d just taken it as a given not realizing it was a recent innovation. I was only familiar with the older logo from reprints in Marvel Triple Action which had new covers, usually by Gil Kane, but often reprinted the original inside. A bit of research showed that the FF’s own original logo was also replaced at the same time as the Avengers’ (cover dates February 1972). I think by this point the longest lasting logo still in place on a Marvel title was that for Amazing Spider-Man, with the original cobwebs that first appeared on ASM#2, although the webbing background was changed with issue 124. Otherwise there was Thor’s logo which first appeared on the cover of Journey Into Mystery 104, the first in which the actual comic title was minimized in favor of that of the leading star, and wouldn’t be updated until Simonson’s classic run in the 1980s. Eventually, the FF logo would recycle back to the original, one of the very few instances I’m aware of with a long-running title in which that happened and was maintained for an extensive period rather than just a special throwback issue, such as that of an anniversary issue of Captain America using the logo of the very first comic to feature him from 1940.
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I really don’t have anything to add here to everyone else’s comments. The Adams, Palmer and Weiss team exceed the uniformly excellent work in the past (Adams/Palmer of course) in doing this issue. I actually re-read this more than once because it looks and reads magnificently. Pages 2-4 I kept looking at for awhile. I loved Thor’s three dimensional hammer throw on page 6 and reach on page 10 (and Rick Jones on the last page). In addition, the story tension and dialogue are absolutely perfect throughout. This might very well be overall the best Marvel comic of 1971.
Even Clint Barton’s bonehead maneuver of going on the mission without weapons or super skills didn’t annoy me because, well, Clint Barton is often a bonehead. As for Ronan’s coloring, correct me I’m wrong but wasn’t mistakes like that frequently made when the strips were sent out for final coloring outside the company in those days? I thought that I read that in Sean Howe’s book somewhere. While not frequent, coloring mistakes like that cropped up occasionally in many Marvel books and pointing them out did not earn a letter writer a No-Prize because of the nature of the mistake (and that once it was done, it was too late to do anything about it).
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Gaspar Saladino was my favourite letterer in comics. He also created great logos, story title fonts, and sound effects (which I heard someone refer to as display lettering). There should be a computer font based on his work.
I never knew this Avengers logo redesign was his. Another great job.
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In Alan’s review of Daredevil #84 a short time back, I mentioned in the comments that there were a lot great writers whose work, in retrospect, had “warts.” Avengers #96 provides some examples of Roy Thomas’s warts.
Alan mentions here that it’s the “first and last appearance of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Space Station”—I’d be willing to bet a reasonable amount of money that the station was an idea from Adams and not Thomas, thus Thomas never got back to it after his collaboration with Adams ended. A likely product of Thomas merely discussing the story with Adams as opposed to writing out a more detailed plot (or Heaven forfend, a complete script) for him. At this point, I’m starting to believe most of the reason for the writers working this way back then (at Marvel, at least) was not for the sake of expediency but simply laziness.
Then Alan notes that the idea of the Supreme Intelligence manipulating Craddock doesn’t make much sense at all. No, it does not. I suspect Thomas had not yet finalized his resolution for the storyline when he wrote this. Again, the seat-of-the-pants nature of working this way strikes me as lazy in addition to being terribly sloppy.
I enjoyed the Kree-Skrull War when I first read it and can still find enjoyment in it today—but I also see an alarming number of flaws there when I look at it now. Most of them would appear to be a result of a lack of effort, which I find rather sad.
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