Avengers #100 (June, 1972)

The final panel of Avengers #99 had promised that “this hour” would see an imminent invasion of “the hallowed halls of Olympus!!“, as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes prepared to mount a rescue of their amnesiac comrade, Hercules, who’d just been snatched away by servants of Ares, the Greco-Roman God of War.  So you’d naturally expect the next issue to begin with such a scene — or if not, then maybe a scene of something happening simultaneously to the invasion, just to draw out the suspense a little bit longer.

As we’ll see momentarily, that’s not quite what happens in the opening pages of the Avengers’ hundredth issue.  But our heroes’ delay in launching their assault on the home of the gods turns out to have some justification behind it.  After all, it takes a little time to gather all of the characters on view in artist Barry Windsor-Smith’s instant-classic cover image — a first-time-ever assemblage of every Marvel character who’d ever been an Avenger as of March, 1972.

That cover withstanding, it was still a surprise to my fourteen-year-old self fifty years ago when I turned past that cover to the first page, and was greeted by the sight of a hero whose last featured appearance had occurred well over a year prior, in Avengers #84

Barry Windsor-Smith provided the inks as well as the pencils for this lovely opening splash, as well as for the five equally lovely pages that follow — though not for the entire story, as acknowledged by the credits.  (Though those credits don’t specify which inker handled which page, as we move through the story we’ll be noting the transitions from one embellisher to another, following the attributions given in the Grand Comics Database.)

Following this dazzling double-page spread, Joe Sinnott takes over as inker for the next five pages.  Decades after this comic’s publication, in a 1998 interview for Comic Book Artist, Barry Windsor-Smith would characterize the overall multiple-inker situation on Avengers #100 as a “disaster”; however, he made a point of noting that “the one and only Joe Sinnott did a couple of pages over mere layouts and, as always, Joe was wonderfully rich and detailed.”

I have to say that the entrance of the Black Knight’s Ebony Blade — which, like its long-time wielder, had last been seen in Avengers #84 — into the current storyline is a plot development that seems to come out of nowhere.  Still, it works (at least for me).

Ares’ struggle to extract the Ebony Blade from a tree-trunk is likely to remind many readers of the Arthurian motif of the Sword in the Stone — but there’s also another, somewhat less well-known story, found in Norse mythology, of a “sword in the tree”.  Scripter Roy Thomas would draw more directly on that latter tale some eight years later for a Thor storyline, but it seems likely that he had it in mind here, too.

Panel from Avengers #38 (Mar., 1967). Text by Roy Thomas; art by Don Heck and George Roussos.

Ares doesn’t explain the circumstances under which he and the Asgardian enchantress known as, um, the Enchantress had previously been allies; and since Thomas didn’t bother to include a footnote, my younger self figured that “days of yore” probably meant just that, and that the two characters’ prior association involved some untold tale of the distant, mythical past.  But Ares and the Enchantress actually had some shared, and relatively recent, Marvel Universe history; as originally shown in Avengers #38, they’d previously joined forces to make trouble for both Hercules and the Avengers in what had been Ares’ most prominent appearance to date, prior to the present storyline.

The Enchantress’ showing up here in Olympus follows after her last set-to with the Avengers in the aforementioned issue #84, at the conclusion of which she’d seemingly fled the scene just before the Ebony Blade went into the Well at the Center of Time and vanished.  Evidently, she’d followed the sword’s trail through multiple dimensions, all the way to its final destination (though she’d also somehow found the time and opportunity along the way to briefly bedevil the Hulk in issue #142 of the latter’s series.  Busy woman.).

As to why her hair color has suddenly changed from blonde to white, and the dominant color of her attire from green to red, I figure the answer is simply that the uncredited colorist was unfamiliar with the character and was winging it.  But if you want an “in-universe” explanation, I guess we could assume that the changes were an accidental by-product of her interdimensional wanderings.  Or maybe the lady was just ready for a new look.

Elsewhere in Olympus, Hercules is enjoying a friendly sparring match with his fellow divinity Phoebus (aka Apollo), held for the amusement of a group of spectators including their father Zeus; of course, not a one of them has the least suspicion of the disaster about to befall (seems there’s never an oracle around when you need one)…

Believe it or not, this is the second appearance of that particular variety of Greco-Roman god known as the Yellow-Crested Titan, one of whose ilk had fought Hercules back in Thor #129 (Jun., 1966).  Roy Thomas had evidently been taken enough by this Stan Lee-Jack Kirby creation that he just had to bring him back (and in stereo, even), despite the fact that, as Thomas later put it in his introduction to Marvel Masterworks — The Avengers, Vol. 10 (2010), the name Yellow-Crested Titan “always sounded to me like the name of a bird.”

At this point, Joe Sinnott turns the inkwell back over to Barry Windsor-Smith for a single page…

The spirit of the original Black Knight, Sir Percy of Scndia, concludes with a quick, one-panel recap of the main events of Avengers #98 and #99 — and then we’re back to the present (as well as to the inking of Joe Sinnott, who’ll stick around through page 15 before departing again)…

Re-reading the above dialogue for the first time in many years, it strikes me that Thomas didn’t know any better than the Hulk did why Thor was looking at him in that third panel — but that’s what Windsor-Smith had drawn from what they’d plotted together, so that’s what he had to script.

I’d say that the Avengers go pretty easy on the Swordsman here, considering the amount of trouble he’s caused them in the past (not to mention the whole breaking-out-of-prison thing).  On the other hand, the fate of the world is at stake, and time’s a-wastin’, so I guess we’ll roll with it.

And speaking of time, one might wonder at this point whether our storytellers are going to have time, as well as space, to finish up their narrative by the end of the book.  After all, we’re already thirteen pages in, and most Marvel comics are featuring 21-page long stories these days…

The centaur who just took down Iron Man is swiftly dispatched by the Black Knight’s power lance — but then Dane Whitman himself is beset by another couple of beast-men types, leaving only Thor and the Vision to proceed on to Hercules’ place of captivity.  (What’s happened to the Hulk, you wonder?  Just give it a few more pages…)

Syd Shores comes on as inker with page 16, and remains in place to the end of the story.  Barry Windsor-Smith appears not to have been all that happy with Shores’ efforts, but I have to say that, aside from the minor issue of Kratos and Bia’s appearing rather less defined and distinct here than in the Tom Sutton-inked versions of Avengers #99, these pages look fine to me — if not quite as drop-dead gorgeous as those inked by Windsor-Smith himself.

Remember all that fuss back in Avengers #99 when the Vision refused to engage with Kratos and Bia as the two Titans prepared to flee with the captive Hercules, choosing instead to attend to the stunned but otherwise uninjured Scarlet Witch?  That issue ended with just about everybody — even the Scarlet Witch herself — pissed off at the android Avenger.  But as the matter never comes up again following this scene, we’ll have to assume that Thor later fills in his teammates regarding the heroism shown by the Vision here, and that that takes care of the issue.  Considering how much drama Thomas and Windsor-Smith had wrung out of the original situation in #99, however, it’s hard not to see this speedy resolution as somewhat perfunctory; a consequence, perhaps, of the storytellers trying to cover more ground in this concluding chapter of their “Olympus Trilogy” than could comfortably be managed within their allotted number of pages.

OK, so… the whole Warhawks business in Avengers #98 turns out to have been about Ares trying to open a portal to Asgard through worldwide nuclear holocaust.*  That tracks well enough, I suppose.  But now the God of War has given up on that plan, and has his minions seeking “other means” to accomplish the same goal… which somehow involves launching a direct Olympian assault on Earth via London, England?  I’m sure that my fourteen-year-old self just rolled with this explanation back in 1972; in 2022, however, my sixty-four-year-old self can’t help feeling that something’s missing.  It’s an unsatisfyingly vague piece of exposition which, like the resolution of the “Vison’s cowardice” business a couple of page earlier, would likely have benefited from Thomas and Windsor-Smith having more room in which to tell their story.

As Thor flies to the Black Knight’s aid against one of the Yellow-Crested Titans, the Enchantress flees the scene.  Ares attempts to do the same — but is pursued by Dane Whitman as well as Thor, who puts the Titan down with a single blow.  Meanwhile…

Perhaps it’s coincidental that Thomas and Windsor-Smith had just recently completed work on Conan the Barbarian #14 and #15, featuring a guest appearance by Elric — the sword-and-sorcery hero whose relationship with his own cursed black blade, Stormbringer, had earlier inspired the backstory of the Black Knight’s Merlin-forged weapon — and perhaps it isn’t.  Either way, I’d say they were correct in realizing that Dane Whitman is a lot more interesting when burdened by the Ebony Blade than he is when waving around a high-tech “power-lance”.

And so, “Whatever Gods There Be!” comes to its conclusion on page 23, having run two pages longer than was standard operating procedure at Marvel in March, 1972** — and still feeling rushed, for all that.  A modern reader might wonder why the publisher didn’t simply make Avengers giant-sized for one month, given the special occasion; that, after all, is how numerical milestones are commemorated in American comics these days, and have been for quite some time now.  (By point of comparison with Avengers #100, the 750th issue of the title, published in December, 2021, features 84 pages of content.  Of course, it also costs $9.99 compared to #100’s $0.20 price tag, so…)  But that’s not how things were done back then, probably because the newsstand distribution model preferred predictability; if Avengers #99 was 32 pages for 20 cents, then #100 should be as well, and so should #101 and so on.  (Sure, Marvel had published one issue of Avengers at 48 pages for 25 cents, some eight months earlier.  But #93 had been intended as the first issue in a new regular format for the title, rather than the anomaly it ultimately became.)

Still, understanding why something happened the way it did doesn’t stop one from wishing things had gone down a little differently — and it’s hard not to wonder how much better “Whatever Gods There Be!” might have been had it had a little more room to breathe.  Along with the rushed story beats and instances of inadequate exposition already discussed, Barry Windsor-Smith clearly needed more pages to render the back half of the story; as a result of the seriously compressed storytelling, the Battle of London barely has a chance to make an impression before it’s over.

All that said, however, I still think that Avengers #100 is a pretty terrific comic book, just as it is.  It commemorates the occasion of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ hundredth issue in a way that feels appropriately special, with a conflict of literally mythic proportions that allows every Avenger at least a single moment in the spotlight.  Though one can easily wish the story had been longer, the one we have is a rouser, and a well-told one, at that.  It’s a fine way for Windsor-Smith to end his second short tenure as Avengers’ artist, as well as for Roy Thomas to cap off his considerably longer one as the title’s writer.  (Yeah, I know that Thomas continued to script the book through #104, but I kind of like to think of those last four issues as a victory lap.)

 

*By way of contrast, in a storyline running concurrently to this one over in Thor, the Greco-Roman god of the underworld, Pluto, finds his way into Asgard simply by… sailing up to it in a big boat.  (Yeah, Asgard was traveling between dimensions at the time, which I suppose could have made it more accessible, somehow… but still.)  Between that and Thor scripter Gerry Conway’s rather casual approach to providing his godly villain with mythologically appropriate henchmen (Pluto is served by trolls, who are Norse, rather than by the more authentically Greco-Roman satyrs, centaurs, titans, et al, who are employed by Ares), it seems a pretty sure bet that there was little, if any, coordination between these two story arcs attempted on the part of anyone at Marvel.

**Curiously, despite what it says in the final caption, neither of the two pages requisitioned to accommodate the story’s extended length pushed out the letters column, which ran as usual; rather, the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page was sacrificed, along with an advertising page.

13 comments

  1. frednotfaith2 · March 12

    I fully concur with your overall assessment, Alan. A grand gem of a tale that should have been given more room to be even grander, but, hey, better than the average 00th celebratory issue so far at Marvel. Smith’s own inking gave those parts of the story a sort of eerie yet earthy appearance, as augmented by the detailed long blades of grass in much of the art. The textures he added tend to make his pages look like a fantasy tale of an old, shadowy world, while Sinnott’s and Shore’s gave it a more brightly-lit modernist look. This trilogy also sharply contrasted with his previous run such that it hardly seems the work of the same artist. On first reading this (I think I got it sometime in the ’90s, but can’t really recall now), it did seem strange that the Hulk didn’t really do all that much, aside from throw one punch at a bunch of baddies. But then, about the only thing Hank & Jan did was show up for the biggest Avengers reunion since Avengers Annual #1 (to which the Hulk wasn’t invited and Swordsman was fighting on the other side).
    Also, having by then read both Englehart’s run in which the Swordsman genuinely reformed and became a regular member of the team for about a year and a half but also the older stories by Lee & Thomas in which he was very much an evil cad, although Lee gave him some scruples in his initial outing, it also struck me as strange that he showed up to lend a hand and was accepted without much debate. My first glimpse of him was in Avengers #112, a shadowy figure speaking to Mantis in her first appearance, as they planned to their trip to the Avengers mansion. When he finally did show up to request to become a member, Cap was far less cordial to him than in this issue, which makes sense as they weren’t facing a big, all-hands on deck sort of battle and Swordsman did have a long criminal record, far longer and nastier than that of Wanda, Pietro and Clint.
    Anyhow, while we can imagine what might have been if the story had been given the greater space it really needed, and if Smith actually could have gotten it done on time and maybe even been able to ink the whole story himself, it was still a nice enough romp and a means to get everyone together, however briefly, even if just to waive and say, “hey, you called and here I am”, which come to think of it sort of echoes that first issue in which Rick Jones puts out a call to the Fantastic Four and instead a bunch of soon-to-be Avengers show up and ask, “somebody need some avenging?”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · March 12

    Sometimes I think you could go to Roy Thomas and say, “Roy, I’d like you to write the history of the world…in twenty-one pages,” and Roy would just shrug and say, “OK, but can I get Barry Smith or John Buscema to draw it?” I think Roy always understood that if the story was exciting enough, if the art was dynamic enough (and preferably provided by a fan favorite penciller), then readers wouldn’t mind if he had to cut corners and trim the edges off the story to make it work. And largely, I suppose he was right, because he stuffed more stories and over-looked more plot details than the next three writers combined and we always came back for more.

    Avengers #100 was just as exciting and dynamic as it needed to be to get the job done and celebrate the Avengers’ centennial issue in style. Though I would agree that using various inkers led to a lack of consistency to some of the art, the one thing that really bothered me here were the little squiggly lines BWS used to shadow with on the pages he inked himself. As to the story, we’re mostly in Olympus, so I guess it’s only fair that the lion’s share of the story goes to Thor, the only full-blown god on the Avengers’ roster, but I found most of the other Avengers’ contributions to the story to be shallow and hardly significant. I think the problem for me with the Avengers as opposed to the JLA is that the JLA was composed of first-string heroes across the board; Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman…sure, there were plenty of B-teamers on the roster, but the original seven JLAers were all major heroes. With the Avengers, you had Cap and Thor…and maybe Iron Man, though I was not a fan of old Shellhead until his movie came out in 2004. Your mileage may vary as to the status of the other heroes on the Avengers’ roster, but to me, they were all C and D-listers and were hardly a reason for me to pick up an issue. Therefore, seeing this story packed with even more heroes I didn’t care about than normal came across as a minus, not a plus in the story-telling.

    Regardless, Avengers’ #100 was truly a celebration of the team and their legacy and the story made for a fun romp and was certainly worth the twenty cents we paid for it, even at 1972 prices. My issues with both the book and the group in general don’t change that and certainly don’t mean it’s fiftieth anniversary shouldn’t be celebrated. All hail the Avengers! I look forward to what comes next…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. brucesfl · March 12

    Alan, thanks for another enjoyable trip to the past. It certainly has been awhile since I had seen this issue, and if anything I appreciate Barry’s art now more than ever. I don’t recall how well I appreciated the different inking styles back in 1972, but certainly notice them now. They are all fine but Barry inking himself is of course amazing. It is interesting to note that the Hulk of this time period really did not fit in here, and it’s never really made clear how he was “summoned” to this gathering (and in the early Defenders stories he also did not seem to fit, but the stories were still good). I thought I would point out a couple of things. First, whether by coincidence, or perhaps by intention on Roy’s part, the addition of the Enchantress in Avengers 100 (which fit in well with the story) is quite interesting as she is, as of this issue the Avengers enemy who has appeared against the Avenger the most at this point in time (also including Avengers Annual 1). It is a bit surprising when you consider she started out as a Thor villainess, but by Thor 200 had actually appeared in very few issues of Thor but instead appeared often in the Avengers and elsewhere. Her comment about wanting to start Ragnarok in Avengers 100 seemed strange though…. Even Loki knew that was a bad idea. One might have thought Kang or Ultron or some other Avenger arch-for might turn up the 100th issue but instead it was Ares and the Enchantress, but that still was very entertaining.
    Second, I agree that this might have been better as a double sized issue but for whatever reason Marvel would not have double sized issues again for some time. Marvel had the separate “giant-size” books in 1974-175 and brought back annuals in 1976 but no regular Marvel book would be double size again until 1978. In an interview Marv Wolfman explained how he had to fight with upper management to get FF 200 to be double sized but after that book sold well, 1979 saw the double size Conan 100 and Spider-Man 200 and of course the 80s and beyond had so many double size books. While it would have been great to have an extra large Avengers 100 with Barry Smith it’s also not clear with his schedule that he would have been able to provide an extra large story, so certainly glad for what we have. Thanks again for the memories.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. DAVID MACDONALD-BALL · March 14

    I think this is the first time that I have ever seen Avengers #100 in colour. I have only read it as a black and white British reprint in the pages of “The Titans” anthology comic circa 1975. At the time it had an enormous impact upon me constituting as it did a roll-call of all Avengers past and present. For my thirteen-year-old-self, this was as good as it had got up to that point in my comic collecting “career”.
    Looking back now, I don’t believe that I could have reasonably identified the inking of Sinnott and Shores, but exposure to Conan (also being reprinted in b&w in the UK) meant that I was familiar with the work of Smith. However, his “squiggly” shading was a new development and one I recall that did not transition well to “The Titans”, printed as it was in a horizontal format so as to get more panels to the page.
    This has been a wonderful trip back down memory lane… and I’m almost glad to report that fifty-nine-year-old me still finds Roy’s “English” dialogue jarring to my eye and ear, particularly the penultimate panel of the final page. Note to all readers: The UK is somewhat larger than London and even in that beknighted city they don’t all speak like Dick van Dyke’s chimney sweep in “Mary Poppins”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Chris A. · March 14

      Poor Dick van Dyke was so ridiculed for attempting a Cockney accent that he spoke in his normal American accent in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” also filmed in the UK and with songs by the same brothers who scored “Mary Poppins.”

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Brian Morrison · March 14

    I remember buying this one back in 1972 and it’s still in my collection. As a DC fan my favourite stories were the annual JLA/JSA team ups so seeing a multitude of heroes on this cover meant it was a no brainer for me. The first six pages, as all the heroes assembled were fantastic and I remember going back to look at them again and again. I had bought copies of the Avengers sporadically so had missed many. This issue left me with many questions, when had the Black Knight become a member? Why was Hank Pym Antman, wasn’t he Yellow Jacket now? Why had Goliath gone back to being Hawkeye in that strange costume? It would be many years before I’d be able to buy back issue or reprints so I could get the answers, but none of that detracted from my enjoyment of the story.
    I always wondered who the “youth” was on page 2. I reckoned that it must be Rick Jones but he had brown hair so didn’t seem to fit the image. I reckon now that it must have been him and the colourist made another mistake to added to his error in the colouring of the Enchantresses hair and costume. I suppose that I have to cut the colourist some slack because he/she did have 14 main characters to deal with – although I did wonder about their judgement in colouring Ares tasseled boots pink. It was a bit ahead of its time for male attire in 1972.
    I was surprised when the Swordsman appeared and had to go back to the cover to check that he was there. I had missed the shady character in the background.
    Like David mentioned, the dialogue given to the Londoners grated and the policeman’s uniform, which would have been correct in the 60’s was now out of date so the whole London scene seemed a little off. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the issue and about this time decided to start collecting the Avengers in addition to all my DCs.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Stu Fischer · March 17

    Alan, I haven’t even written comments on your blog post on Avengers #99 yet, so I might as well post all of my comments about that one–save one–here as well. When I first read Avengers # 100 fifty years ago, I was very underwhelmed and disappointed. One big reason for this is that for reasons that I don’t understand to this day, I had not read Avengers #99 and was totally confused at how things got to where they were from Avengers #98. The easy answer would be that the distributor never sent it to my father’s drug store. However, while that kind of thing apparently happened a lot in those days in some parts of the country (including apparently yours), to my knowledge it never happened even rarely with my Dad’s store (and I would know as I read practically every comic book that came in).

    Anyway, because Avengers #98 had Ares in it and he was apparently defeated in that issue, I had no idea what he was doing in #100 (although Rascally Roy had less than two years earlier done a two-fer in The Avengers with the Enchantress, I guess she had him under his spell). I was really put off by Hawkeye’s new duds (pun intended) and did not have the benefit of the explanation in #99 (not that this would have made me like them). I especially hated how the Enchantress was colored (still do, it’s a good thing the character isn’t real, l or the colorist would have been in real trouble). I found the changes in art style jarring and annoying. I also didn’t find it particularly special that all of the Avengers in history got together, primarily because in the four years that I had read the book, all of the characters I remember had appeared fairly recently (the Hulk’s appearance seemed like his appearances at the time in The Defenders and I didn’t see the Black Knight as having been gone too long). Unlike many of the readers here, as an 11- year-old, I really liked the Fantastic Four and Spider Man centennial issues with revisiting all of the villains and found Avengers # 100 to be rather ordinary. Finally, I noted the incongruities in the storyline that you did. As such, I was not looking forward to re-reading No. 100 as I remembered hating it.

    Times change. While some of my complaints from my first read 50 years ago still hold (e.g., Hawkeye’s outfit, the Enchantress’ coloring), I am more understanding and forgiving of other things. While the art changes are still jarring and unfortunate, at least we have the beautiful Barry Smith pages and the pages with Joe Sinnott’s inks. I’ve read issue #99 now so I know how we got to where the issue begins. I’m much more forgiving about the storyline incongruities now because it’s an anniversary issue so Rascally Roy and Barry Smith took liberties to get everyone on board. Under those circumstances, I can forgive. Similarly, I can overlook having some former Avengers not doing anything or practically anything in the story (I do now think that the eventual use of the Hulk here was very amusing). So now, fifty years later, I fully appreciate and like the issue (as opposed to Thor #200 from the same month which I still dislike).

    Liked by 2 people

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