Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Avengers - Lo! The Lethal Legion!

John Buscema

The Avengers have faced some mighty threats over the decades, cosmic world-beaters, racist secret societies, vengeful robots, and such. Sometimes their old enemies gather together to square off against the Assemblers, the most famous of these groups being the various versions of the Masters of Evil which morphed over time into The Thunderbolts.

One group, less famous but no less deadly, was the Lethal Legion. The Legion got together first in the summer of 1970 when the Grim Reaper, the Swordsman, Power Man, the Living Laser and the Man-Ape all joined forces to battle the Assemblers.

The cover above by Big John Buscema is a draft of the cover for the second part of the story, and shows the gathered group of villains gloating over the defeated Avengers symbolically trapped in an hourglass with their time running out. It's a dramatic cover.

John Busema & Tom Palmer

The first part of the adventure drawn on the inside by Sal Buscema sported a great cover too, again by John Buscema with M'Naka the Man-Ape featured with his utterly defeated heroes in hand. It oozes drama.

The cover of the seventy-ninth issue was inspired according to Roy Thomas by a vintage All-Star Comics cover from the Golden Age. Roy liked to lift these classic images and give them a redo.

He'd done it earlier in the Avengers Annual #2 when the hourglass idea made the splash page of the second part of the story this time featuring the Scarlet Centurion holding the assembled heroes. The image by Don Heck and Vince Colletta was used as a cover many years later when the story was reprinted in Marvel Super Action.

The Lethal Legion got its start when the Swordsman debuted in summer of 1965. He tricked his way onto the Avengers team and quickly turned on them, becoming an immediate arch-villain.

Later that same year Power Man showed up, given abilities by Baron Zemo, this powerhouse battled the Avengers first alone.

Then in 1966 Power Man and Swordsman along with the Black Widow teamed up the take on the Avengers together. The seeds of the Lethal Legion were at last sown.

1966 also saw the debut of a new baddie, the Living Laser, a high-tech villain who took the Avengers to task on his own.

Then the Swordsman, Power Man, and the revised Living Laser joined forces with the Mandarin to battle the full Avengers team in the very first King-Size Avengers Special in the summer of 1967.

Later the next year the Swordsman and the Living Laser hooked up with a Captain America baddie Batroc to battle the Living Legend in his own magazine.

Earlier in 1968 though the Grim Reaper had debuted, taking on the Avengers at one of their lowest points in terms of raw power. He seemed for a time to have killed the Assemblers, but it was all a ruse and he was defeated with significant help from new Avenger, the Black Panther.

Later in 1969, the Panther's own nemesis the Man-Ape first appeared, and the elements of the Lethal Legion were at last all accounted for.

The Lethal Legion was a murderous gang for sure, all seeking their own vengeance on the Avengers ironically for past defeats and past slights. They gave the team all they could handle for a couple of issues in 1970 then disappeared to heard of no more until in 1977 another version of the Lethal Legion was assembled by Count Nefaria, this team featuring Power Man, Living Laser and adding former Master of Evil Whirlwind to the mix.

Other versions of the team have appeared over the decades, but none have matched the raw villainy of that first group so long ago in the earliest days of the Bronze Age.

Rip Off


  1. Rip --

    Fun post today!

    Hey, in the realm of rejected covers, etc. I am wondering why in the world either Marvel or Big John himself rejected the draft version of the cover to Avengers #79. For my money the original pencils, with the slight tilting of the Grim Reaper and the different facial expressions on the other baddies is superior to the published version. Thanks very much for showing the draft version -- I'd not seen it before!


  2. The Man-Ape and the original LL: two favourite memories of rainswept days on the Ayrshire coast at the end of the Silver Age!
    I think the published version is superior because the villains look just too monstrous and grotesque in the draft. Part of the Swordsman's mystique was just falling short of nobility, after all. Being a self-serving mercenary for so long drove his inferiority complex in Avengers. He should, therefore, look like a leading man gone wrong whereas Power Man is just a thug and Laser is a lunatic.

  3. Doug - I think I prefer the draft too. Usually I can see why a cover image was passed over, but this time I can't. The draft seems more vigorous.

    Dougie - The development of the Swordsman as a character was Englehart's genius move. He took a neat villain and turned him into something truly and utterly tragic.

    Rip Off

  4. Great post on the Lethal Legion :-) One tiny comment tho, the Man Ape's actual name is M'Baku...


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