Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Avengers! Kang! Spider-Man! Wowee!

While there was no shortage of guest stars in Fantastic Four and, to an extent, X-Men in their early years, guest appearances in The Avengers were few and far between--that is, unless you're counting characters such as the Sub-Mariner, the Black Widow, or their former member, the Hulk, all of whom were question marks in terms of their standing as heroes or villains. Other characters, such as the Black Knight and Hercules, along with the Widow and Namor, eventually became part of the team, an option that neither of the other teams could indulge in. Yet one prominent character made the rounds in all of them--the amazing Spider-Man, whose popularity of course only increased for the duration of the Silver Age and well into the Bronze, and probably gave more of a boost to those he appeared with than vice versa.

It's a fair assumption that the original Avengers, despite their star power, were struggling to gain a foothold with comics readers and could use the web-slinger's assistance. With only five issues to go until these particular Avengers would exit to make way for a new infusion of characters for the book, a guest appearance by Spider-Man couldn't have been more well-timed--particularly since Iron Man, though pictured on the issue's cover, is M.I.A.

Jeez, Rick, what an eager beaver! Take off, man--the Teen Brigade meeting is over in Queens!

Later Avengers stories would have the team considering Spider-Man for membership; but in this case, the only person considering a team-up with Spider-Man is Kang the Conqueror, who's still fuming from his first defeat at the hands of the Avengers and now turns his attention to a surrogate for engaging them again. To that end, he settles on the most suitable subject to model a robot likeness after, a costumed adventurer he's apparently been intrigued by for some time.

Kang's reasoning for choosing Spider-Man doesn't quite add up, since his plan depends on the Avengers trusting the wall-crawler; but that doesn't seem likely if, as Kang admits, no one, including the Avengers, really knows anything about him. It's a detail that apparently doesn't concern Kang, however, since he forges ahead with creating the robot that will be a precise duplicate of Spider-Man--and soon enough, Spider-Robot is born! (Not his actual name, since even Kang couldn't be that ridiculous.)

And with the flick of a switch, the robot is hurled into the past, where a fateful meeting in comics history will soon take place!

(And if you're feeling a little gypped that this isn't the real Spider-Man, hold that thought!)

To arrange for Spider-Man to get his foot in the door, Kang arranges for lifelike robots to ambush Captain America, during which he receives timely assistance from the Spidey-robot in subduing them. Once the fight is over, "Spider-Man" proposes himself for Avengers membership--and Cap takes him back to Avengers H.Q. so that the others can weigh in. The reception Spidey receives is somewhat chilly, though the team is prepared to proceed with the formal process as well as a period of trial; but Spider-Man nevertheless feels the need for the added incentive which was part of Kang's plan.

Rushing off while forgetting they've left an unknown quantity like Spider-Man able to roam about their H.Q. isn't the brightest move the Avengers could make; but while Jarvis's profile hasn't yet been raised that much in the book, let's assume that they felt he'd show the web-spinner the door following their departure.

At their temple destination in Mexico, however, they're fated to see Spider-Man again, much sooner than they'd anticipated. And since "standard operating procedure" has the Avengers splitting up to reach Mexico using their own modes of travel, Kang transports his robot to the temple well ahead of them, making it simpler to take each of them by surprise--starting with Ant-Man and the Wasp, one of whom doesn't stay ant-sized for long.

Unless that small pillar he's lashed to is the only thing holding up that chamber's ceiling, it's absurd to think it would pose any sort of challenge for Giant-Man to simply rip out and thus free himself--though it was probably only a matter of time before the Wasp was "swatted" out of action, if she hadn't been already by now.

But you'll find this is a battle that's expedited in ways to assure that the Avengers end up on the ropes against this robot foe. In Thor's case, you can expect that his 60-second limit for remaining Thor without his hammer will come into play--with the help of a lot of webbing, and the fact that Thor has no problem ripping through it even though his hammer can't. For all the good it does him.

Yet even the robot Spider-Man comes to realize that Captain America is too savvy a fighter to take victory for granted--and so after a few bruises, he once again makes use of his webbing to give him the edge, as it has with all of the Avengers. (Though we'll discover the robot had a little help from Kang, who had prepared the temple ahead of time to help determine the outcome in the robot's favor.)

It looks like game and set to Spider-Man, eh? But even Kang and his robot have reckoned without interference from the real McCoy, who has intervened in Cap's plunge and now moves to deal with his robotic duplicate.

(Wow, Kang thinks of everything--even a mask that reacts to his foul moods!)

What follows is really a nicely handled and well-thought-out battle between the robot and his human match, though it may not have the desired effect for any prospective Avengers readers who at this point could be thinking that their time would be better spent reading Amazing Spider-Man instead, especially taking into account the Avengers' performance here--nor are they likely to pay any mind to any nerve gas on Kang's part which dulled the team's fighting effectiveness.

Afterward, Cap, who witnessed Spidey's battle, briefs the other Avengers, who put two and two together and discern the identity of their foe who's responsible for the entire plot against them. Strange that Spider-Man hasn't, eh, stuck around to compare notes with the team--a photo op "endorsement" that might have remained with the reader who still might have been on the fence in regard to buying further Avengers stories.

As with many Avengers classic tales, this story would go on to be reprinted, notably in the fifth Avengers Annual--itself consisting entirely of such reprints (as did the two previous annuals), though omitting various scenes due to space limitations. It does, however, correct the unusual coloring added on the cover to Spider-Man's eyelets, which made it appear that Kang's specifications for the costume might have been on the gaudy side.

The Avengers #11

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Don Heck
Inks: Chic Stone
Letterer: Sam Rosen


dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

Sorry to play the party pooper before anybody's even through the door, but Avengers issues 9-11 represent a real low point in terms of plot holes and art quality. The plot holes make the Human Torch solo series look well thought out.

George Chambers said...

A shame they couldn't have got Steve Ditko to pencil this story. Heck really struggled with the web lines on Spidey's costume, and nobody drew Spidey in action like Ditko for my money.

dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

Ditko would also have explained how Spider-Man got from Queens to Mexico and back. And he wouldn’t have given him the power of flight just by firing webbing out in two directions and letting it harden into wings.

Mind you, it was Ditko who showed Iron Man resculpting the wax model in Mr Doll's hand using a repulsor from the other side of the room, so he was capable of silly storytelling.

Maybe silver age artists took pleasure in doing silly things with other artists' creations. As well as Ditko on Iron Man and Heck on Spider-Man, others that spring to mind are Kirby on Spider-Man (ASM #8, FF Annual #1, a Strange Tales Annual), Kirby on Sub Mariner (early FFs), Kirby on Beetle/Electro/Unicorn/Cyclops (FF Annual #3), Orlando on the Thing (DD #2).

In the Bronze Age it was still there to a lesser extent - Heck on Magneto's mind control (somewhere around Avengers #110), Kane on Spider-Man's webbing (ASM #90).

Gary R. Peterson said...

Great to see this story in color, since I only have it in Essential Avengers Vol. 1. I also enjoyed your commentary, like telling off Rick Jones, who had the unenviable job of playing the poor man's Snapper Carr.

What leapt out at me is the incredible amount of copy on these pages. Sam Rosen really earned his paycheck on this book. And if you get bored, play "Guess Don Heck's Ditko swipes." He clearly had a stack of Spider-Man comics spread out before him when drawing this yarn. And as George noted, Heck--like Kirby--just couldn't get the web lines right. Not a capital crime by any means.

This was a fun story, and I admit to having a soft spot for the silly early Silver Age stories, with the Human Torch solo stories a personal favorite. This sure beats the soul-rending soap operas and navel-gazing that came along in the late 1960s Marvels. Great post--thanks!

B Smith said...

Hang on a minute...these last 48 years I always thought Kang had a blue face with odd lines on it - and now your telling me it's a mask?

Was he ever seen with the mask off? And if he wasn't, how do you know that wasn't his real face?

dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

He was seen without his mask on in the previous issue, calling himself Immortus.

And in FF #19, calling himself Rama Tut.

But it wasn’t until we were somewhere around Avenges #120 +/- 10 that we got to find this out.

B Smith said...

You know, I forgot all about that business - I must be starting to lose it...

Comicsfan said...

dangermash, I had much the same reaction to Spider-Man and his "web-wings." If it were that easy to fly, those who attempted to fashion man-made wings in those old b&w films and hurl themselves from heights thinking they could stay aloft wouldn't have plummeted. I suppose his super-strength allowed him to flap sufficiently to keep from falling like a rock? I still don't buy it. :)

Gary, Rick Jones seemed to be the definition of presumptuous in terms of his association with the Avengers, IMO. We know he somehow rated an Avengers I.D.--what was he expected to do with it? Waltz into clearance-only installations like the Pentagon? Fill in for absent members? "C'mon, Rick, the Wasp is out sick--time to go on your first mission! How do you feel about taking on the Melter?"