Thursday, September 20, 2012

Send In The Cavalry

Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man--"the Big Three," as they've come to be known by readers--are arguably the big guns of the Avengers. Not only because they're the most seasoned members (as well as being the most seasoned characters in Marvel's stable), but also because they're almost perfectly balanced in terms of technology, strategy, and raw strength. So when the Avengers called in the cavalry, it made sense that these three answered the call--for when they assembled with whatever members the regular roster comprised, their addition assured a complement of Avengers at their most powerful.

There were many cycles of stories, depending on the writer at the time, where these three were regular members of the Avengers--a strange turn of events, considering that each of them made separate decisions to resign from active membership fairly early in their tenure (Thor, most noticeably, doing so without a word of announcement). And, indeed, with Thor and Iron Man being the two members who would have the most difficulty maintaining regular, active memberships, it made sense for them to assume reserve status. Cap, the newest member at the time, was chosen to head a new team--but, once Giant-Man (changing his name to Goliath) returned to the team and the roster was stabilized, Cap cryptically announced his own resignation, citing the need for Steve Rogers to have a life.

Yet, having the marquee value that they did when all three of them were together, the Big Three were called back briefly at certain times--either to add raw power and/or resources in times of crisis, or to deliberate as founding members on some pressing Avengers matter. During writer Roy Thomas's time on the book, that seemed to happen fairly often:

Avengers Annual #1
Iron Man brings Thor to a meeting with Cap and the regular team to investigate some of their old enemies in an international plot masterminded by the Mandarin.

Avengers #58
The Vision requests Avengers membership, and the Big Three join the others to get to the bottom of the synthezoid's mysterious origin. (A similar meeting occurred when Spider-Man was being proposed for membership.)

Avengers #70
The three are assembled with the other members by Kang, the Conqueror, in order to prevent the Grandmaster's victory in a contest which may determine the survival of Earth.

Avengers #76
All hands are needed on deck to travel to the dimension of Arkon and battle his armies in order to rescue the Scarlet Witch and some abducted atomic scientists--oh, and to prevent Arkon from nuking the Earth.

Avengers #79
Thor and Iron Man are called in to assist the team when the Grim Reaper and the Lethal Legion engage the Avengers in a deadly game of vengeance.

Avengers #80
Members of the team debate on which pressing threat they are most needed to fight.

Avengers #82
Relates to issue #80, as the three join ranks to free New York from the grip of Zodiac.

Avengers #88
Thor and Iron Man accompany Cap and Goliath to investigate the disappearance of a friend of the Falcon. (If you're wondering about why the urgency to assemble the Big Three to work on a missing persons case, join the club.)
Avengers #93
The three meet at Avengers Mansion to discuss a letter of resignation sent by the Avengers' butler, Jarvis, as a result of their decision to disband the Avengers--a decision they never made.

That last instance was of course the prelude to the well-known Kree-Skrull war the Avengers became embroiled in. Afterward, the Big Three all resumed active status in the Avengers, as writer Steve Englehart soon assumed the reins of the book. Having the three interact regularly with the other members added an odd dynamic to the team. It wasn't really a dynamic I enjoyed, either at this time nor when the Avengers first formed--it sort of falls under the category of "too many chiefs" under one roof. And again, Iron Man and Thor don't have enough to keep them occupied elsewhere? Also, think about how much power you have here--Thor, Iron Man, the Vision, Capt. America, and the Scarlet Witch. If the Big Three were indeed the cavalry during Thomas's stint, that would mean that the cavalry is now on board all the time. So who's going to be the cavalry now when things get desperate?

These three seem to be at their best when they rejoin each other after decent intervals apart. They were the ones who established Avengers history--naturally, interest will perk up whenever they're brought back to the team in a limited capacity. For instance, it was such interesting reading when the three, with Hawkeye, conferred during the Avengers Disassembled storyline and tried to figure out who the hell was gunning for them. It was like watching an Avengers summit, with the only four people you'd want to head the investigation. Yet as regular members--well, it sort of saps the excitement of the cry "Avengers Assemble!" if there's no cavalry of big guns out there to hear it.


david_b said...

So..., how come Ironman never shows up without Thor..?


Murray said...

I find myself with something of an opposing philosophy. The Avengers are only the Avengers when the Big Three are on deck.

To quote Mr. B. Grimm (in Avengers #92) "The Avengers? What Avengers? The Avengers I knew was Thor...Iron Man...guys like that. These new guys might be, I don't know 'em from Adam."

Well, I'm a bit more generous than Ben. Hank and Janet count. Also the Vision. There are probably a few more characters who make my list as "true" Avengers, but I haven't time just now for proper research.

dangermash said...

At some point after issue 70, the big three seem to rejoin the Avengers but it's never clea4 when this happened. That's the real mystery.

Comicsfan said...

dangermash, I'd guess the turning point was just prior to the Kree-Skrull war. Since the team hadn't yet established its six-person limit, the Big Three, as charter members, were pretty much free to come and go (and stay in residence) as they pleased. When they called their meeting to get to the bottom of the mystery of their missing members, that seemed to reignite their chemistry with the team, which writers Roy Thomas and, later, Steve Englehart appeared to take notice of.