Avengers #98 (April, 1972)

How do you follow up the Kree-Skrull War?

That was the question facing Marvel Comics in general, and Avengers writer/de facto editor Roy Thomas in particular, fifty years ago.  In terms of its length and scope, the aforementioned nine-issue storyline had been all but unprecedented at the publisher.  Not to mention the fact that the epic’s back half had (mostly) been visualized by perhaps the hottest artist in American comics at the time, Neal Adams.

So what do you do for an encore?  Well, if you’re Thomas, you segue right into a three-parter which, even if it can’t beat the KSW for length, at least gives it a run for its money in terms of scale — and which wraps things up with a very special 100th issue featuring every single Marvel character who’s ever been an Avenger, however briefly.   And as your collaborator on this trilogy, you bring back an artist who, since his first brief Avengers stint in 1969, has evolved from a raw but promising young talent to, well, another of the hottest artists in American comics, Barry Windsor-Smith. 

Windsor-Smith’s involvement with the final three issue of Avengers‘ first “century” does not appear to have been driven by any great desire on his part to return to the series; indeed, in 1998, he confessed to Comic Book Artist interviewer Jon B. Cooke that he recalled little about the experience save “the nightmare of drawing the 100th issue… all those bloody characters that I didn’t give tuppence about.”  So, why was he even there?  Any answer your humble blogger might suggest will necessarily be speculative, but we’ll begin by noting that the artist’s return to Avengers occurred at more or less the same time as his (first) departure from Conan the Barbarian.  The reasons for that departure are themselves rather murky, but Conan had been knocked down to bi-monthly publication following the release of issue #13 in October; that move meant that Windsor-Smith had to either take a 50% hit to his Marvel-based income, or compensate by picking up other assignments during Conan‘s off months.  There was one other option, obviously, which was to give up the bi-monthly Conan for another, monthly series — such as Avengers — which is in fact what ultimately happened.  Of course, Windsor-Smith may have had other reasons for making changes as well; still, it’s worth noting that he returned to Conan (and abandoned his other Marvel work) just about as quickly as he could once Conan was restored to monthly status mid-1972.  (True, he’d only remain on the book for another six months before leaving again, this time for good… but that’s another story.)

In any event, whatever Barry Windsor-Smith’s reasons for coming back to Avengers may have been, the fact remains that he did come back.  And however indifferently he might have felt towards the assignment, that didn’t stop him from bringing his A-game when he set pencil to art-board — at least, that’s how I see it.  But what say we take a look, and you can see for yourself.

Before we turn to the first page of Avengers #98, however, let’s pause a moment longer to consider the book’s cover — a fine piece of work which, I must admit, I’d assumed for close to five decades was pencilled by the same artist who drew the interiors, i.e., Barry Windsor-Smith — but which the Grand Comics Database assures me was actually pencilled by John Buscema, and only inked by Windsor-Smith.  The combination of those two artists’ disparate styles works better than I would have expected — and kind of leaves me wishing that they’d collaborated in like fashion on at least an issue or two of Conan the Barbarian., just to see what that would have looked like.  Alas, for what might have been…

But now let’s proceed with our story, which, in something of a reverse situation to the cover, is pencilled in its entirety by Barry Windsor-Smith, but inked by a Buscema — though this time it’s John’s younger brother, Sal:

Some of the most compelling images from Windsor-Smith’s earlier two Avengers issues (#66 and #67) were renderings of the Vision.  As much as the artist’s style had changed since drawing those stories, he clearly still had an affinity for the character (though I don’t know if beginning the story with a full-page splash of the android Avenger was his idea or Roy Thomas’).

As readers of last month’s post about Avengers #97 will likely recall, Thomas and John Buscema had pretty well tied up all the varied plot threads of the Kree-Skrull War by the conclusion of that issue — with the ultimate fate of Goliath, aka Clint Barton, being the notable exception.  The mystery of what had become of Clint — whom, as the Vision’s dialogue above indicates, we’d last seen taking on a spaceship full of armed Skrulls on his own, without his powers — had been a good way to hook readers to come back for #98; though, as we’ll see, once Thomas and Windsor-Smith have re-established the situation as the Avengers’ top priority at the start of the present story, it’ll get back-burnered almost immediately, not being referenced again until almost the very end of the issue.

Save for Goliath, the group of Avengers we see seated around their conference table represents the team’s complete currently active roster — which, in addition to the Vision, includes (as shown left to right): the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and… Rick Jones?  Seriously?  I mean, sure, I’ve always liked Rick, but come on — why is the former companion of the Hulk partner to Captain America atoms-switcher with Captain Marvel still hanging out with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?  Doesn’t he have a music career to get back to?

But, moving on…  Everyone agrees with Vision that it’s imperative to determine whether or not Goliath survived the end of the Kree-Skrull War, and to bring him home if he’s still among the living — but how can they search all of outer space?  Thor promptly volunteers to journey to Asgard to make use of the magical scrying tools there; Iron Man follows suit by offering to access the resources of his “employer”, Tony Stark.  After the others agree to do what they can at the Mansion, the meeting adjourns, with Iron Man advising his teammates not to worry too much about their missing member: “…he’s one Goliath I wouldn’t want to have to tackle with just a slingshot!

The name of Mr. Wo Tong’s nation is never explicitly stated in our story — but around the same time Avengers #98 would have been written and drawn, the “real world” United Nations had voted on October 25, 1971 to recognize the People’s Republic of China as “the only legitimate representative of China”, thereby displacing the existing delegation from Taiwan; the P.R.C.’s initial U.N. delegates were first officially seated at a November 23rd meeting of the Security Council.

Regardless of where on Earth-616 Mr. Wo Tong and his colleague may hail from, however, the pale yellow used for their skin color is undeniably inappropriate, and embarrassing by today’s standards; unfortunately, such coloring was pretty much standard operating procedure for American comics in the early ’70s.

Captain America quickly susses out that the crowd is being unnaturally influenced by the weird music of the two cloaked pipers; of course, that doesn’t render these frenzied folks any less dangerous.  And so, after Quicksilver has speedily built a makeshift wall out of sandbags borrowed from a nearby construction site, Cap prepares to unleash his most special superpower — the power to sway others through his inspiring rhetoric…

Well, that went south pretty damn quick, didn’t it?  That last panel’s presentation of a rabidly anti-Communist Captain America is positively chilling — as well as something of a preview of an instant-classic storyline coming later in the year in Cap’s own title (though of course none of us reading in January, 1972 knew that as yet).

Thor explains to Vision how he made multiple attempts to penetrate the invisible barrier barring him from Asgard, to no avail, before deciding to pack it in for the nonce…

Vision is tempted to follow Thor, since that’s where his beloved Scarlet Witch is, but he bucks up and continues on to Tony Stark’s lab to do his duty.  Meanwhile, en route to the scene of the riot, Thor wonders whether Goliath’s going missing, his own being cut off from Asgard, and this Warhawks business might all be connected somehow.  (Of course, the laws of narrative convenience being what they are, it’s a good bet that if they aren’t now, they soon will be.)

Windsor-Smith and Buscema manage to make both Iron Man and the Vision look quite menacing, here.  I know I wouldn’t want to get on either one of ’em’s bad side…

Ares makes his debut in a panel from Thor #129 (June, 1966). Text by Stan Lee; art by Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta.

In January, 1972, my fourteen-year-old self was definitely not eligible for taking “one giant step“, as I’d missed all of Ares’ earlier appearances, the majority of which had been published before I started reading Marvel comics (for the record, they occurred in Thor #129 and #131, and Avengers #38, #49, and #50) — and thus didn’t have any idea who the man with the Mohawk was prior to Thor ID’g him.

But I’d guess that even a lot of longer-term Marvelites might not have placed Ares right away, considering that those five earlier appearances were all in a supporting role, rather than as a headlining villain.  Ares’ main shtick to date had been to make trouble for Hercules — who, like the God of War, was a son of Zeus, and whom was resented by Ares for supposedly being better liked by Dad.  Essentially, he’d come off as the Greek version of Loki, only a lot less ambitious.  In Avengers #98, he seemed to have stepped up his game; if nothing else, he was getting involved in affairs on Earth in a way Marvel’s readers hadn’t seen before.

Thor soon discovers just how much trouble Ares has made already when he’s attacked by Captain America; the God of Thunder responds by quickly putting his hammer Mjolnir to work, though not against his teammates, or the other possessed New Yorkers…

Iron Man does as Ares bids, seizing Thor and bearing him down into the bloodthirsty crowd  — though, as he says, the Thunder God was going to fall to Earth anyway without his hammer, so his action has just speeded things up a bit.

Thomas’ script doesn’t point this out — but most of us readers in 1972 probably knew without being told that Thor is in more danger here than might readily be apparent, as he’ll turn into the mortal Dr. Donald Blake if he’s out of contact with Mjolnir for over sixty seconds — and poor Don Blake won’t likely survive the frenzied violence of the mob for half that long.

An arrow!“?  Yes, and not one that looks like it was designed for use in World Archery Foundation-sanctioned athletic competition.  Say, you don’t think…?

Yes, Hawkeye’s back, and he’s wearing a new costume.  I’m tempted to make a crack here about “most of a new costume”, but the fact is, I don’t remember my younger self being particularly bothered by the Avenging Archer’s lack of pants, way back in 1972.  Honestly, I was mostly just glad to have Clint Barton back as Hawkeye; even though I hadn’t necessarily objected to his taking on the role of Goliath in 1969, it had always seemed something of a borrowed super-identity, and not really authentic to the character.  After all, “Hawkeye” had been the guy’s only name for practically the whole first half-decade of his existence — and “Hawkeye” is the name of an archer.

In retrospect, I can see why Barry Windsor-Smith’s makeover for Mr. Barton has had its fair share of detractors over the years.  Simply based on the personality that Marvel had established for Clint by this point, it’s hard to believe he would be happy about showing that much leg on a regular basis.  On the other hand, the outfit’s not a bad design in and of itself; it would almost certainly have worked for a Hyborian Age-era archer character in Conan the Barbarian.

Plus, it does have a good bit of purple in it.  That’s something.

As I recall, I was delighted with the story’s final full page splash, and its dramatic reveal of Hercules, Prince of Power.  One reason was that I was very interested in mythology (even if I did prefer the Norse stuff to the Greco-Roman variety); another had to do with my regret that I’d just barely missed most of Hercules’ original stint with the Avengers — for though he’d been formally admitted to the team (after hanging out at the Mansion for a number of months) in the very first Marvel comic I ever bought, Avengers #45, he’d exited the series by the time I picked up my second Avengers, #53.  Since then, he’d only shown up in a couple of other Marvel comics (specifically, Ka-Zar #1 and Sub-Mariner #29), both of which I’d missed; and having become a huge Thor fan in the four years I’d been reading Marvel, I was keen to become better acquainted with the demigod who appeared to be the Asgardian God of Thunder’s analogue in the Olympian pantheon — at least in the Marvel Universe’s version.

And I was also fascinated by the riddle-like prophecy that closed the issue — a lively bit of verse that could have come right out of The Lord of the Rings.  What could it mean?  The “Next” blurb promised to disclose “The Meaning of It All!” in issue #99; in truth, however, we readers would have to wait until #100 for a full explanation of the portentous phrases rotely recited by the sadly addled Hercules.  No matter; Avengers #99 would still have plenty going on within its pages to keep us engaged, even without answering #98’s closing riddle… but that’s enough said for this post.  Check back in this space about a month from now, and I’ll be happy to tell you more then.

15 comments

  1. frednotfaith2 · January 1

    Nice overview of this issue, Alan! I got this, along with 99 – 103, much later. The first comic I purchased to feature Clint Barton was Avengers 104, so this bare-legged Hawkeye costume was the first one I saw, although just a few months later he’d switch back to the original version and it’d be a few more years before I’d see him as Goliath, in a Treasury edition with a reprint of Avengers 83. Anyhow, nice enough follow-up to the Kree-Skrull War, keeping the momentum going with hardly a breather for the gang. Reminds me, however, that the first few issues of Avengers I got included a subplot of PIetro likewise disappearing during a battle but that mystery wouldn’t be resolved for several months, and that would be in the pages of the Fantastic Four! Clint was only missing for about two months (readers’ timewise). Fully agree about the garishness of the coloring of the Asians — simply horrid. To be honest, I don’t recall if I even gave it much thought as a kid in the early ’70s, at least not until I read letters disparaging that coloring practice in either Captain America & the Falcon after the storyline featuring the Yellow Claw or in Master of Kung Fu. I do recall many letters in MoKF, and elsewhere from Bill Wu taking Marvel to task for that and I think for the most part by the late ’70s the color tones for most Asian characters were more realistic, aside from Fu Manchu and Yellow Claw. As a child who had lived in Japan, as well as in San Francisco and later Lemoore, a small town but with many Filipinos due to its big Naval Air Station, I knew many Asians and knew that none of them had pale yellow skin (and I have both a Filipina stepmother & sister-in-law). I know the excuse was due to the limited color palate available at the time, but seems it was more due to inertia after and apparent reluctance to make changes to a standard that went back several decades. Seems they were more concerned with ensuring readers could instantly tell the characters were Asian than with risking offending readers of Asian ancestry with the garish colors.
    Well, much has changed in 50 years, for both good and ill, but at least that sort of coloring is a product of the ever receding past!
    Happy New Year, Alan!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Chris A. · January 1

    Barry Smith still didn’t seem to have a simple grasp of basic human head proportions at this stage in his career, though the characters emote well enough.

    I did see his Monsters graphic novel a few months ago. The last ten or so pages show a rapid decline in drawing quality. With his medical issues I believe it is the last work we will see of his in comics. He had a good run.

    Liked by 1 person

    • frednotfaith2 · January 1

      I recall on the letters pages of Avengers #104, with comments on issue 100, someone noted that all the characters’ faces looked like Conan! But then many comics artists, no matter how talented, had trouble drawing unique human faces, so that they were recognizable as a particular character without costume or unique hair style. Some, such as Paul Gulacy, dealt with the problem by using faces of actors or friends as models for characters. Smith’s own style would continue to develop over the coming decades, improving and becoming ever more stylistic. Haven’t read Monsters yet but from what I’ve read about it seems intriguing enough to be worth checking out.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · January 1

    I don’t believe for a hot second that the Clint Barton we all know and love would wear that new outfit with the headband, the open “V” down the front and the exposed legs. Totally out of keeping with the personality of the character and whoever thought it up and whoever approved it should have their head examined. Thankfully, as Fred pointed out, it didn’t last long, but jeez, that’s embarrassing. And that’s not just 64-year-old me talking, I felt that way at 14 as well. Thanks to a couple of new friends at school, I had seriously gotten into Marvel in 1972 and I don’t remember which issue it was, but I do remember sitting around with said friends and complaining about this new costume. Ugh.

    Yep, the light yellow coloring of the Asians in the story is atrocious. Fortunately, the color processing for comics began improving by leaps and bounds shortly thereafter, making it possible to finally correct the problem. As for the art, I’m not terribly impressed. BWS is great, but Sal’s inks seem a little heavy in spots, and unless it’s a close-up of a face, it’s hard not to assume that most of this is pencilled by Big John. I realize Barry needed to make a living, but his rapidly evolving style was really best-suited for fantasy comics and you could tell in his super-hero work that we wasn’t feeling terribly fulfilled. As for Roy’s writing, on the other hand, you can tell he was feeling pumped up after the Kree-Skrull conflict and ready to jump into something new, plus the excitement of his plans for #100 had to factor in as well. This is as good a script from Roy as we had any right to expect in 1972, and he was obviously engaged and excited by the work in front of him. The whole mind control/war mongering storyline was a little trite, but he handled the conflicts well and I was truly surprised to see the Avengers (most of them) fall under the pipers’ spell.

    As for the reveal that Mr. Tallon was Ares, I had no idea. Hercules had always been sort of “Thor-lite” to me and I’d never had an interest in him. Plus, Marvel never did much good by the Greek gods, in the same way that DC never did right by the Norse ones. Wonder Woman was where I went to see Ares, not the Avengers.

    Hey, do you think that under Hawkeye’s new man-skirt, he might be wearing some Captain America underoos? Just asking for a friend. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Joe Gill · January 7

    As I have expressed before in other replies Barry Smith just really does it for me. The facial expressions, the clever use of the vertical panels. Just that Splash Page rendition of the Vision is enough to justify the cost of the comic. The shot of Iron man and Vision wafting high above the smoke filled street. Gorgeous. So often comic drawing strikes me as sedentary, immobile frozen statues on a page. Smith portrays movement, fluidity like no one else. Here is a master artist at the top of his game in my humble opinion. I find the criticism of Hawkeye’s outfit a bit comical too. Wanda shows off plenty of skin without complaint as did Wonder Woman and Valkyrie to name but a few contemporaries. It’s a visual medium, out to sell magazines to all sorts of fans both male and female.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · January 7

      Joe, that’s a good point about Hawkeye’s attire vis-a-vis the outfits worn by many female superfolks, — although my own objection (and I think Don’s, too) had more to do with whether it was in character for Clint Barton, who’d been consistently portrayed as having, shall we say, “traditional” ideas about gender roles, to willingly don an outfit which, though technically a tunic, seems at first glance to include a skirt. I purposefully didn’t say “shows too much skin”, as in fact his previous get-up, as Goliath, bared quite a bit of flesh — it all just happened to be above the waist! Indeed, I rather suspect that the original color scheme of the Goliath outfit was changed (to include some red) after its first few outings because someone at Marvel though the initial, all black-and-blue iteration looked too much like leather bondage gear. 😉

      Like

  5. DAVID MACDONALD-BALL · January 8

    I first read this issue as a Marvel UK published B&W weekly comic – thinking about it, I probably read it as two “issues” over the course of a fortnight – relatively early on in my comic collecting days and much of it made little sense to me. Why was Goliath missing and why had Hawkeye been Goliath… and why had Hawkeye changed his costume? The answer to that last question would, if course, be revealed in a forthcoming issue of memory serves me correctly.
    I don’t think we got this story in the UK until ’73 (or maybe ’74) and eleven / twelve year-old me was mighty confused, but I loved every bit of it. The artwork was “different”, but somehow special and I remember how taken I was by the fact that it actually looked like it was raining and characters seemed wet.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your overview; looking back with fifty more years on the clock gives things a very different perspective.
    Finally, I recently read BW-S’ “Monsters” and can highly recommend it, especially for those of us who have a long-time relationship with the comic book in all its myriad forms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · January 8

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, David. And thanks for the recommendation for BWS’ Monsters. I really do need to read that soon!

      Like

  6. Stu Fischer · January 11

    This storyline for some reason I don’t remember at all. In 2014, I reread Avengers #100 on Marvel Unlimited (probably because Sean Howe’s book, which I was reading at the time, mentioned it) and I did not remember it at all. I also wasn’t crazy about it at all, which might be because I didn’t remember the storyline in issue nos. 98 and 99 either, which is really weird because a) I know that I read them and b) it was right after the Kree Skrull War when I was really interested in the Avengers and presumably what happened to Clint Barton. I didn’t even remember his costume change although when I saw it re-reading No. 100, I also wondered “What the. . .!”.

    That said, I really enjoyed this issue (#98) re-reading it with your comments Alan, as well as the comments by others. Smith’s artwork is great, although I probably was annoyed back in 1972 that Neal Adams was gone. As with you, my objection to Hawkeye’s new costume is not that it’s too revealing, but that it does not match his personality at all. He looks like some placid peacenik type, a pastoral shepherd, definitely not a macho carnival refugee.

    I never realized it before, but that was definitely the first “current” appearance of Hercules that I had seen in my four years of reading Marvel comics, although I’m pretty sure I had seen him in reprint issues. I never liked the issues about the Roman gods because a) I always liked the original mythology better and read it when I was a child (versions targeted for kids that is) and b) I loved the comic book treatment of the Norse gods and did not get them anywhere else (although I DID look up the characters in the World Book encyclopedia–surprised that there was no Karnilla, Volstagg etc., what a norn was and what happened to Balder).

    You know, thinking about it now, I would not be surprised if when I read this story 50 years ago I thought that Ares was the one from the Zodiac, at least at first. Earth got off easy this time. According to the first Wonder Woman movie, Ares previously was the cause of World War I (which, if you know anything about how World War I really started, makes a lot more sense than the real explanations).

    Liked by 2 people

    • frednotfaith2 · January 11

      I think the main issue with the real reasons for World War I is that it reveals how ridiculous and foolish so many of the leaders of the world, both elected and royal autocrats, were and (alas) still are. Almost makes one wish wars could be blamed on obnoxious but powerful gods with their own agendas rather than by mere mortals entrusted with far too much power.
      To my own vague recall, I’d actually read about mythology — I’m fairly sure it was Bullfinch’s Mythology, which I’d checked out from my grade school library circa 1972 – a bit before I started collecting either the Avengers or Thor comics. Figured out pretty quickly Marvel was not exactly faithful to ye olde myths, which had Thor as a bearded redhead married to Sif and whose brothers included Balder and Tyr but di not include Loki who was Odin’s “blood brother” and not his adopted son — and Lee and Conway, among other scribes, regularly forgot that in the Marvel mythos, as per the story by Lee & Kirby, Loki was neither Thor’s step-brother or half-brother but his adopted brother! Of course, per the actual myths, at least those that were eventually written down, Thor and all the other Norse gods, except for Balder, were all supposed to be dead! Apparently they all got better and Thor came back as single, clean-shaven and blonde, but with a new and much nastier “brother”.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Jim Henry · January 14

    I thought this was a great follow up to the science fiction Kree Skrull War. I did not see a horror / possession story coming. The coloring really set the spooky mood. I remember thinking the Vision/Iron Man fight was one of the most intense things I’d seen in comics.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Avengers #99 (May, 1972) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  9. Pingback: Avengers #99 (May, 1972) – ColorMag

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