Thursday, March 7, 2013

Assembling By The Book

Tucked in the back of the otherwise unremarkable Avengers Annual #11 is a two-page spread of an extract from the "Avengers manual" that some unidentified person at Marvel diligently spent time preparing--the original Avengers charter and by-laws, seeing publication for the first time (as far as I know) and signed by the founding members.

Now, if you will, picture the Hulk--the Hulk, mind you--sitting down with the others to discuss and finalize all of this minutiae:

This brute could barely tolerate a meeting where the others were simply getting to know each other. I can just imagine his reaction to having to do paperwork: "Just gimme something to sign, tin-head. I ain't got all day."

The charter itself is a combination of lofty oaths and articles of operation which, even in its brevity, is surprising as to how much clout this group is given right off the bat, considering that they've only been newly formed and their only adventure of note thus far has been to hunt down and attempt to capture one of its own members. Yet they're immediately able to secure operational carte blanche from the National Security Council, SHIELD, and the U.N. If I didn't know better, I'd wonder if Tony Stark hadn't greased a lot of palms in Washington.

And putting aside for the moment that the team as a whole is unproven, aside from Thor and Iron Man its individual members are practically unknown quantities. Ant-Man and the Wasp have done a lot of their adventuring mostly in municipalities and dealing with local law enforcement. (And being ant-sized isn't likely to raise your profile with the feds.) The Hulk, in his brief existence thus far, has been a dangerous enigma to the army, and most likely didn't win any friends at meetings with the NSC or anyone else wanting to know (and justifiably so) where the heck he comes from and what his stake is in the Avengers. Thor, having operated on a wider scale and working at times with armed forces officials, is probably the only member whose good intentions can be taken at face value. For the most part, you can also say the same about Iron Man--though at this point in time, Tony Stark is an industrialist manufacturing weapons for the government and Iron Man is really only his bodyguard (and informally part of his factory security). Most likely it's Iron Man's past battles with foreign threats like the Titanium Man that have earned him the NSC's nod.

And oaths of loyalty are all well and good and often made in the heat of the moment, but one sentence here certainly raises an eyebrow:

"That we shall brook no interference in the growth of mankind in meeting its rightful destiny."

The thing about destiny is that it's an extremely subjective concept; in fact, there are many who don't even believe in it, let alone agree on the form it would take. Who's to say whether or not mankind even has a destiny? If the Avengers are boldly defining it as "rightful," they seem to have already decided what it is--but in a nondescript, general sense. But let's assume that the Avengers are just being optimistic about mankind's future and just got carried away. Regardless, "brook no interference" is pretty strong language for a sanctioned peace-keeping group--and to apply it to a concept you can't even go into detail about in your charter perhaps wasn't the best result of their deliberations.

Aside from these initial observations, the Avengers by-laws are a pretty fascinating read. What sets the Avengers apart from other super-groups is their formality, and how procedural they are. I can see why their membership turnovers garner such media attention, and why they seem somewhat exciting to participate in them (unless a dour killjoy like Henry Gyrich shows up to throw water on the social factor). The by-laws spell out such procedures, which have understandably lapsed at times over the comic's history. For instance, I wasn't really aware that new Avengers undergo a 30-day probationary period before becoming a fully active member. It wasn't until Captain Marvel came aboard that the Wasp floated the idea of an Avenger-in-training, which seems somewhat the same thing (with the difference that CM wasn't granted membership until after the fact). And I think there was a time when the Wasp and Hawkeye were out to dinner and totally ignored an incoming Avengers call, just because they were both miffed at the team at the time--neither of them suffered any "disciplinary action" whatsoever.

There was also the time when the team was disbanded by Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America (albeit Skrulls in disguise), specifically claiming the right to do so by the authority of the by-laws. Yet those laws state that disbanding can only be done in one of two ways: by specific order of the NSC, or by unanimous vote of all active Avengers members. At the time, these three men were not on the active membership roster; yet the other members bowed their heads and went their separate ways anyway, with the Vision claiming that Thor and the others were within their rights. Jeez, Vizh, time to dust off that Avengers manual, guy--you could probably have discovered what those Skrulls were up to and thrown a wrench into their plans for Mar-vell.

Still, the Avengers gavel continued to swing and call meetings to order long after the Kree-Skrull war and other conflicts through Avengers history--though, not having read the comic for awhile, I wonder if that tradition has carried on through their current ranks. With the Avengers split into various factions, I suppose a few amendments to the by-laws might be warranted--assuming that they didn't run out of manuals for all those members.


Doc Savage said...

This stuff is always fun. I'm sure Thor would have taken it as an affront to his honor that he was to sign this, as his word should be good enow for these mortals. And Hulk tolerating formal ties to these puny humans?

What larks!

Comicsfan said...

Hiya, Matt. Actually, I'm surprised Thor didn't sign his name a little more distinctively. But at this point in time, he was still being treated as sort of an "honorary Earthman" by Stan Lee, who in those early stories seemed to let Thor's godhood out only in dramatic moments where it was called for. As for the Hulk, perhaps he signed mainly to make sure it would be evident that he was every bit the equal of these others. I doubt he ever seriously regarded the charter as binding, either to the Avengers or to their standards.

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