I’m not sure exactly what my fourteen-year-old self was expecting to see on the cover of Avengers #97 when it first turned up in the spinner rack, back in December, 1971; nevertheless, I’m pretty confident that Gil Kane and Bill Everett’s illustration highlighting Captain America, the original Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner — plus four other guys I didn’t recognize — wasn’t anywhere near it. I mean, it was a great image, but aside from Cap, none of those characters were Avengers. And “Rick Jones Conquers the Universe!”? OK, that last bit wasn’t so unexpected — it had been pretty clear from the latter scenes of the preceding issue that Rick was going to play an important role in the conclusion of the Kree-Skrull War. But still — where the heck were the Avengers? Or the Kree or the Skrulls, for that matter?
The story’s opening splash page — more specifically, its credits box — brought yet another surprise…
While Neal Adams hadn’t drawn every single page of Avengers since becoming the title’s new regular artist with issue #93 — John Buscema had pencilled a little less than half of #94 — it was still shocking to see him only credited as “consultant” for this, the final chapter of the epic story that writer Roy Thomas and his various artistic collaborators had been telling for the last nine months. What had happened?
It’s possible (if not terribly likely) that at this point my younger self flipped to the back of the book, to see if there was any kind of explanation offered on the letters page. If so, I found this:
Well, that seems pretty straightforward. Deadlines are deadlines, and these things happen, right? It’s a disappointment, for sure, but we can all deal. After all, John Buscema’s a fine artist, and we’ve still got Tom Palmer on inks. Surely no one would ever make a big stink about… oh, wait. Never mind.
Unfortunately for us all, the circumstances of Neal Adams’ departure from Avengers — as with so much else associated with Adams and Thomas’ brief but celebrated collaboration on the series — have become a matter of some dispute over the last five decades; a dispute not only between the two creators themselves, but also between comics fans who’ve lined up on one side or the other. (The argument goes back at least to the late ’90s; its most recent permutation, to the best of my knowledge, was carried out via the Bleeding Cool web site in 2018. That exchange is regrettably hard to read in the proper sequence, but you can start here and work you way back via the links.) Frankly, I’ve been loath to get into this mess here on the blog (mostly because, as I said back in August in my post on #93, I have no special knowledge regarding the facts of the matter), preferring instead simply to deal with the comics as we have them. That’s meant giving credit to one creator or the other for a solo story contribution on those occasions when they’re both in agreement that it’s deserved (e.g., Adams having come up with Ant-Man’s “fantastic voyage” through the Vision’s body on his own has been readily acknowledged by Thomas), but, for the most part, crediting them jointly as collaborating storytellers.
It’s almost impossible to avoid the controversy when discussing Avengers #97, however. That’s because a significant number of readers have always been disappointed in how the Kree-Skrull War was resolved — and at least some of those folks appear to be convinced that they would have liked the wrap-up a whole lot better had Neal Adams been allowed to continue on in his prior role. Your humble blogger happens to believe that that latter group of fans is misguided — but before I attempt to counter their argument, we should go ahead and look at the story itself, just to make sure we’re all on the same page.
Following the opening splash page, “Godhood’s End!” (the story’s title wraps up Thomas’ series of nods to classic science fiction works by alluding to Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 novel Childhood’s End) continues with two pages that recap the current status of all the principal players, courtesy of a vision experienced by Rick Jones — and then, it’s on with the action:
Poor Annihilus. The last time he turned up in Avengers (in issue #89), he got his clock cleaned within three pages. This time, if we skip the recap, it takes all of, um,,, three pages. Jeez, what’s a dread lord of the Negative Zone gotta do to get some respect around here?
At the end of the previous issue, when Rick was pulled into the Negative Zone, the Supreme Intelligence indicated that it was happening according to his plan. But now Captain Marvel is saying he did it, accidentally? Hmm…
You know, it’s funny how for all those months that they were switching atoms with each other, either Rick or Mar-Vell could be parked in the Negative Zone for, like, ever, and never have to worry about floating into an “explosive region”, or Annihilus suddenly showing up. Makes you wonder what’s changed around the old place.
“I spoke not of your personal birthright, Rick Jones,” the Supreme Intelligence explains, “but that of the entire human race from whose apish loins you sprang.” But further details will have to wait, as the SI suddenly senses that he’s been found out. And indeed, the usurper Ronan has detected an unlikely power surge emanating from the chamber where he’s imprisoned the former leader of the Kree Empire, and is even now dispatching a squad of soldiers to eliminate both him and Rick for good…
This scene calls back to the one in issue #92 where Rick had recalled the comic-book heroes of his childhood — but whereas in that instance Roy Thomas had instructed artist Sal Buscema to toss in a few non-Timely/Marvel heroes he figured had fallen into public domain, for this more robust treatment he opted to have Sal’s brother John draw only Marvel properties.
It’s easy — and natural, too, I suppose — for a contemporary comics fan, well aware of the deep fondness for Golden Age superheroes that Roy Thomas has demonstrated over the course of his long career in the field, to roll their eyes at the sudden shoehorning in of a quintet of obscure characters only the most dedicated and knowledgeable enthusiasts of 1971 would have been likely to recognize. But, at the time — years before the Invaders, the Liberty Legion, the All-Star Squadron, or any of the other WWII-era continuity grafts for which the writer would later be responsible — this was quite a novel development. Like I said before, it wasn’t at all what my fourteen-year-old self had been expecting — but that didn’t mean it wasn’t interesting.
Of course, I’d probably have found it all even more interesting if these old-timers had been “real”, rather than some sort of energy constructs pulled out of Rick’s comics-reading memories. (I’d been down on “facsimile” heroes ever since the sorceress Zatanna conjured up a team of faux JLAers in Justice League of America #51 [Feb., 1967] — my thinking was, if the characters I was reading about weren’t actual living beings, why should I care what happened to them?) Ironically, each and every one of these guys would eventually be brought into official Marvel Universe continuity as flesh-and-blood heroes who’d had for-real careers in the 1940s. But, for whatever reason, in 1971 Marvel still wasn’t ready to embrace its pre-Silver Age history in the way that DC Comics had done for years (though, admittedly, mostly at arm’s length, via the device of Earth-Two).
Constructs or no, you might still be curious about these characters, and since there’s no reason for you to remain as clueless as I was back in December, 1971 (seriously, Roy, not even one footnote?), we’ll be noting the provenance of each one as they take their brief moment in the spotlight. First up, as depicted in the next-to-last panel of page 10, above: the Patriot, who was created by writer Ray Gill and artist George Mandel, and who first appeared in Human Torch Comics #4 (Mar., 1941).
The original Vision was the creation of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and made his debut in Marvel Mystery Comics #13 (Nov., 1940).
The Fin debuted in Daring Mystery Comics #7 (Apr., 1941), and was the creation of Bill Everett — better known, of course, for his other aquatic hero, the Sub-Mariner. (According to Roy Thomas’ overview of the Kree-Skrull War in Alter Ego vol. 2, #4 [Spring, 1999], Everett’s inking of Avengers #97’s cover represented a very rare instance of the artist working on both characters for a single piece.)
The original Angel , as created by Paul Gustavson, goes about as far back as Marvel itself, having initially appeared in the company’s very first comic book, Marvel Comics #1 (Oct., 1939) — a distinction he shares with the Torch and Sub-Mariner.
And now that you’ve met the whole gang, wave bye-bye, because we’re all done with ’em.
Unsure what to make of all this, our quartet of Avengers decides to head for the Skrull Throneworld to get some answers…
The brief glimpse Buscema gives us of the Skrull Armada echoes a Neal Adams splash from the previous issue, down to the close-up on Commandant Kalkor in the bottom right-hand corner.
The poetic justice of “Craddock”‘s fate is obvious, still, death by mob violence is pretty strong stuff for a 1971 Code-approved superhero comic…
OK, so… the Supreme Intelligence manipulated Mar-Vell to try to contact Rick using the Omni-Wave device, which is what unleashed the dormant powers of Rick’s “cosmic heritage”. And I suppose that Rick falling into the Negative Zone was merely an unintended consequence, obviously included by our storytellers just so there could be a cliffhanger at the end of issue #96. Yeah, I think we’ve got it, folks.
I get why some readers find the resolution of the Kree-Skrull War to be anti-climactic — hell, I wouldn’t have minded another space battle or two myself — but I have to say that the basic concept of the two advanced races having reached an evolutionary “dead end“, and humanity ultimately having the upper hand (though still needing the Supreme Intelligence to take advantage of it, of course) has always worked for me. There’s a basic irony there that I find appealing; it also feels like the logical payoff to the whole “beachhead Earth” idea that Thomas has been playing with since the storyline’s earliest episodes.
Roy Thomas seems to have had a propensity for taking superheroes “off the board” after their series had been cancelled — he’d done it with Doctor Strange a year or so back by having the Master of the Mystic Arts “retire” for a while, and here he was doing it again by having Captain Marvel give up his life-force to save Rick. I doubt that many (if any) fans believed at the time that we’d never see Mar-Vell again, so I have to wonder what the point of this was.
“…he could have hoped she would become — even more.” Actually, Princess Anelle did become something more to Mar-Vell, if only briefly; as many of you reading this will already know, much later stories would reveal that, during their acquaintance, the royal Skrull and the captive Kree conceived a child together — the future head of the Kree-Skrull Alliance, Teddy Kaplan-Altman, aka Hulkling. (Though when and how the couple managed to find the time and opportunity to get busy, I have no idea.)
Incidentally, the notion that Anelle would become regent of the Skrull Empire in the war’s aftermath — an appealing outcome, but not one that’s really supported by events — would be ignored by future storytellers; Anelle’s dad, Dorrek VII, wasn’t going anywhere, at least not for a while.
“…Kree and Skrull at uneasy peace, your planet safe —” It’s not actually very clear just how the SI’s enforced armistice is supposed to work. At some point, the “freeze” instituted by Rick has to end, if it hasn’t already — and when it does, what’s to keep Ronan, Dorrek, et al from picking up right where they left off? One might presume that there’s some sort of residual fail-safe left in place from Rick’s actions that’ll lock everything back up should the former combatants try to resume hostilities; but that’s just a guess. Honestly, this should have been explained better.
Was Nick Fury’s joke the first time my younger self had ever heard of Gilbert Shelton’s classic underground comix characters? Yeah, probably.
At last… the mystery of the Fourth Skull, explained! (Although that should probably be amended to “adequately explained”, for reasons I’ll go into below.)
As you may recall from the discussion in our Avengers #93 post, three Skrulls who’d been hypnotized by Reed Richards (aka Mister Fantastic) way back at the end of Fantastic Four #2 (Jan., 1962) had been revived by the Super Skrull in the present day, and sent to attack the Avengers. But there had been four Skrulls captured by the FF earlier in that classic tale. To all appearances, penciller Jack Kirby just plain forgot about Number Four when it came time to draw FF #2′ final pages, leaving it up to scripter Stan Lee to come up with the fairly lame explanation offered in the panel shown at right. Now, at last, the truth is out — which I suppose means that either Reed had some good reason readers weren’t told about in ’62 to believe that the fourth Skrull really had somehow managed to rejoin his fellow invaders in outer space, or he actually had no idea what had happened to the guy, and so handed the U.S. military a line to cover the FF’s asses. Your choice, faithful readers!
One more thing to note here: In issue #96, the Supreme Intelligence had claimed responsibility for influencing “Craddock” to go after the Avengers; in my post about that issue, I’d suggested that that claim didn’t really jibe with what we’d later learn about the guy, i.e., that he was actually a Skrull. Obviously, I should have read on ahead through #97 before writing that, because here’s Thor telling us that, yes, “’twas surely the Intelligence Supreme did influence the Skrull thus — to bring the Avengers into the fray.” Um, OK, I guess. Although it seems like an unnecessary complication to my mind — why would the fourth Skrull have needed a push from the S.I. to make trouble, when his three former comrades and the Super Skrull hadn’t? (It also underscores what seems in retrospect to be one of the plot’s major weaknesses — that the Supreme Intelligence’s ability to mentally manipulate virtually anyone, anywhere in the cosmos, is all but absolute. Which was fine as long as he was portrayed as essentially benign, like Thomas did in Captain Marvel as well as here — but problematic for later Marvel storytellers who wanted to use him as a bad guy.)
Ah, well, it’s all over now anyway, right? No? Oh, right, I almost forgot…
Yeah, it’s not what you’d call the tidiest ending to a nine-part epic, but finishing up a comic with a hook to bring you back for the next issue is the Mighty Marvel way of doing things, circa 1971. And we’ll be back next month to fill you in about Clint Barton’s fate, so don’t fret too much about the guy in the interim, OK?
And now to return to the questions we postponed dealing with at length earlier in this post: Why didn’t Neal Adams draw the conclusion to the Kree-Skrull War? And would that conclusion have been substantially different, in a story sense, if he had?
Roy Thomas’ version of events hasn’t changed substantially since the announcement that ran in Avengers #97 letters column, fifty years ago; in essence, it’s that Adams ran into deadline problems, which in turn led Thomas (in his editorial capacity at Marvel), to assign the plot for #97 that he and Adams had already worked out (hence Adams’ credit as “consultant”) to John Buscema to illustrate.
As for Adams — here’s his account, in its latest (2018) iteration:
Let’s be clear. When I took over the Avengers, Roy was doing a rather scattered series that included many characters. When I asked if he had a specific direction, Roy said not really, but since we were working Marvel Method, I could go in any direction I wanted. I looked at what Sal [Buscema] and Roy were doing,…thought about it, and told Roy that I’d like to do a very long story. perhaps 10 or 12 books and lead the whole thing including ALL the Marvel characters into a full out Kree-Skrull War, all to focus on a much unused Rick Jones. Roy seemed very pleased, and so I began. In all honesty the story just got off the ground and Rick was in place, the opposition lined up and the meat of the war was to begin. The Kree Skrull War.
Then…. well, things changed. And the wonderful John Buscema was instructed to shorten and end the story, I can promise you I had quite fantastic things planned.
Adams had more to say about his unrealized plans for the storyline in the most detailed account of these events that he’s given (as far as I’m aware); it originally appeared as part of an interview conducted in 1998 for Comic Book Artist #3 (Winter, 1999):
I really had the sense that I could do something bigger, something really, really big with Marvel’s key characters. If you look at the four issues of the Avengers and see all the stuff that’s in there, you really get the sense of a tremendous framework building in a short amount of time; it’s an awful lot of work. Consider the work that went into the layout of every page; look at the detail in these pages. I turned out an awful lot of pages for this with a tremendous amount of sincerity, and I felt it was going to turn into something. I was building a kind of Marvel New Gods.
I felt I was embarked on an epic and I discovered the support for doing an epic wasn’t there, in general. The Marvel “machine” was not prepared to get behind something as big as this, for whatever reason…
My main issue with this account is that, frankly, I don’t get “the sense of a tremendous framework building in a short amount of time” when I look at those four issues of Avengers. Certainly not in the sense that the story was building towards a 10 – 12 issue extravaganza “including ALL the Marvel characters”. If that were true, then surely there’d be a sense of plot threads introduced in #93 – 96 that are simply truncated in #97, that never pay off — and there aren’t, at least not that I can see. Pretty much every element that gets introduced into the storyline after Adams joins the creative team — the cow-Skrulls (actually foreshadowed in issue #92), the Super Skrull, the Omni-Wave Projector, the Mandroids, the Inhumans — either gets wrapped up before #97, or is appropriately dealt with in the course of the finale.
The other important thing to note about Adams’ words here is that they lay the blame for his departure from Avengers on Marvel’s lack of support for his vision; in doing so, they sidestep the issue of his missed deadlines. And indeed, in his 2018 pronouncements about these events, the artist doesn’t address deadlines at all. In the 1998 CBA interview, however — sandwiched in between the grand plans and the recriminations — there’s this:
I talked to Roy about the story as it progressed, and we were collaborating more on the individual book storylines at that point, but only I knew where it was going. I suggested to Roy the idea of doing the next story from the point of view of a classroom in the future, telling the story of how the Kree-Skrull War got to Earth. Roy kind of questioned that; he thought it really sort of says that we survived. I thought it really wasn’t that important at that point; we know we’re gonna survive. I thought it would be an interesting way to do the story; he didn’t like it very much. I said I thought I could make it work; he said okay, go ahead.
I went home thinking, “Let me think about this. Let me try out some different ideas.” After a few days I realized it really wasn’t going to work, so it probably wasn’t such a great idea. Not only that, Roy didn’t like it that much. So I just went back to straight narrative. I had some other work I had to get done at the time, and it took me a good week to get back to it. When I got back to it, I was fine. I had pages, I brought them in.
Well, apparently Roy had decided he was going to go with a different way to tell the story, and he had sent the story to John Buscema! It threw me for a loop…
Thomas’ account of events, while including additional details, is actually pretty consistent with Adams’. In his 1999 article for Alter Ego vol. 2, #4, after noting that Marvel either had to deliver something called Avengers to the printer every 30 days, or be charged a hefty late fee, the writer goes on to say:
…when Neal and I discussed #97, incorporating ideas I’d had seven issues earlier plus new ones one or both of us had, he told me he wanted to set #97 in Earth’s far future, with a teacher Instructing a new generation about the long-ago war between the Skrulls and the Kree. The last chapter of the War would be, in effect — a flashback!
I wasn’t wild about this idea, but if Neal could do it and still tell the main story in 21 pages, I’d go along with it. I hadn’t lost my faith in Neal’s instincts. Far from it.
As Neal was presumably working on the artwork for #97 and the deadline loomed I was getting considerable grief from production manager [John] Verpoorten, especially when, after a decent interval, no penciled pages had been delivered.
…I finally yielded to the inevitable. I wrote out a version of the plot (which up to then had been only a verbal discussion between Neal and me) and Special Deliveryed it off to John Buscema, who was implored to pencil the issue as quickly as possible for Tom Palmer to embellish. Under pressure, John did so in less than a week.
Under the circumstances, I decided not to use Neal’s futuristic framing sequence, since that would simply have thrown John an unneeded curve at a crucial stage. Otherwise, however, the plot was very much along the lines of who Neal and I had agreed on…
While John was finishing the pencils, Neal came into the Marvel offices with a handful of pages of finished pencils or layouts — frankly I forget which. I recall them as dealing with his futuristic framing sequence, but I won’t swear to that part of it — only to the fact that it was just the bare beginnings of a past-due issue.
At that point I had to tell Neal we’d now have to go with Buscema-Palmer art. I was unhappy about it, but Verpoorten and I had to get the book out, and we still weren’t sure we were going to make it in time. (For all I recall, maybe we did have to pay late charges on #97. If not, we made it just under the wire.)
In his version, Adams suggests that Thomas made up his mind to change course while the artist had run into a delay in his drawing the issue, as though the delay itself didn’t precipitate Thomas’ decision. But he doesn’t deny that the delay occurred. Why bring it up at all, if it wasn’t the decisive factor that led to his losing the assignment?
If anyone out there reading this still has any doubt that Neal Adams could have been having such serious deadline problems in late 1971 that his publisher was in danger of either having to put out a reprint book or pay late fees to their printer, they only have to look at the issue of the other book Adams was drawing regularly at the time — DC’s Green Lantern — that also shipped in December, just a few weeks after Avengers #97 hit the stands.
Because, rather than featuring the latest brand-new adventure of Green Lantern and Green Arrow as chronicled by the award-winning team of Adams and writer Denny O’Neil, GL #88 went to press with two reprinted Silver Age Green Lantern stories, accompanied by a never-published tale of the Golden Age GL that had been sitting in DC’s files for twenty-two years. The only pieces of Neal Adams artwork that appeared in this “Special Surprise Issue!” were its cover, and a pencil rough of the cover for the next issue, #89.
Naturally, Adams has an explanation for this unfortunate circumstance, just as he does for his abrupt exit from Avengers. In an interview published in The Comics Journal #43 (Dec., 1978), the artist said:
There was a time when a Green Lantern reprint was put in as an editorial decision long before any deadline was up… I think Carmine Infantino was a little bit annoyed that the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series was getting a lot of attention and that I couldn’t do his covers while I was turning out Green Lantern/Green Arrow. You must understand the situation I was in. I was being asked to turn out Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but I was also being asked to do five covers a week for DC Comics… So, when people talk about my having trouble with deadlines, they tend to forget to mention things like, “Well, while Neal was having trouble turning out Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Neal was also being asked by Carmine Infantino to turn out approximately five covers a week, pencils, inks, and colors. And when he let down on doing those covers and insisted that Green Lantern/Green Arrow was more important, it was insisted to him by the publishers that indeed it was much more important to get out those covers because those covers sold more books. And, after all, Green Lantern/Green Arrow wasn’t that important after all.”
Now, from that point of view, whatever problems I had with the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series were created by publishing decisions.
Hmm. Is it just me, or does anyone else see a little bit of a pattern here?
I hope that nothing I’ve written here comes across as terribly disrespectful to Neal Adams, who was, is, and shall doubtless remain one of my favorite comics artists of all time. Indeed, I happen to believe that he’s absolutely right about at least part of what he told Comic Book Artist in 1998 — he did put an “awful lot of work” into his four issues of Avengers. The level of effort, care, and (to borrow his own word) “sincerity” is evident on every single page; so much so that, as much as I respect the fine job John Buscema did on Avengers #97, I still wish Neal Adams had drawn the book. Would my fourteen-year-old self have been OK with Marvel putting out a reprint in December, so that the Kree-Skrull War could finish up a month later, in #98, with Adams still on board? I’d like to think I would. On the other hand, I didn’t buy Green Lantern #88 that month, despite being a pretty regular reader of the title — so who knows?
And, in the end, perhaps it all did go down fifty years ago just as Adams claims. As I’ve said before, I wasn’t there, so there’s no way I can ever know for sure. All I do know is that, given the evidence available, it seems pretty unlikely.
So, if you regret that we didn’t get a Neal Adams-drawn “Godhood’s End!”, join the club. But if you’re still pining after half a century for a 12-part epic featuring “ALL the Marvel characters” doing “quite fantastic things” in “a full out Kree-Skrull War” — well, let’s just say that your time and energy could probably be better spent on other things.