Monday, July 20, 2015

Go, Avengers, Go!

One of the most fascinating additions made to the Marvel Universe by the wildly entertaining What If? series was found in the ninth issue which featured a look back at what might have happened if The Avengers Had Fought Evil During the 1950's . The story was developed from an idea by Roy Thomas and written by Don Glut. The story was penciled by the late Alan Kupperberg and inked by AC Comics honcho Bill Black.

The heroes assembled for this nostalgic team are Marvel Boy, Venus, Living Robot, Gorilla Man, and 3-D Man. They are led by nimble foe of the evil Yellow Claw, Jimmy Woo. But it takes some significant energy and effort to get to this point.

The story begins with a few select Avengers (Thor, Cap, Vision, Beast, and Iron Man) assembled by Shellhead to take a gander through an other-dimensional viewer that Stark has cobbled up. He seems to think they have much in common with the heroes he is about to show them, though the conceit while a clever way to get to the story seems a tad forced.

They are looking back in time to the 1950's at what might or might not be an alternate universe.

The story begins with Jimmy Woo, the FBI agent who is the arch enemy of the evil Yellow Claw, when he comes under attack by the Black Dragons motorcycle gang.

Jimmy Woo and The Yellow Claw debuted in the very first issue of Yellow Claw in 1956.

He is saved by both the 3-D Man and Marvel Boy who quickly divines that the attack is the doing of Yellow Claw himself.

Marvel Boy was a legit 50's superhero, one of Marvel's few. He debuted in Marvel Boy #1 in 1950 and appeared for several issues even when its titled was changed to Astonishing.

3-D Man is a 1970's ret-con hero, created by Roy Thomas and Jim Craig in three issues of Marvel Premiere the year before this 1978 issue of What If?. In fact it was Roy's idea to expand on the original 3-D Man saga that sparked this retro-Avengers tale.

To combat the Yellow Clasw threat Woo has been called upon to gather together a strikeforce of particular heroes including Marvel Boy and 3-D Man along with lesser known characters such as Gorilla Man out of Africa. Jann of the Jungle helps to locate the latter.

Gorilla Man debuted in a one-off horror tale in 1954's Men's Adventure #26. Not intended as anything other than a monster story, not unlike the Ant-Man he has gone on to be rather popular character.

Jann of the Jungle debuted in Jungle Tales #1 from 1954 before she took over the series properly with the eighth issue. 

The Sub-Mariner's cousin Namora helps locate The Human Robot on the sea-floor. Neither Namora nor Jan hang around to help the team beyond these expeditions.

The Human Robot debuted in a one-off horror story in Menace #11. After killing his creator he disappeared until discovered in the water by Namora.

Namora debuted in an issue of Marvel Mystery Comics before becoming a regular co-star in The Sub-Mariner and even had her own three-issue run in 1948.  While not part of this ensemble, she later was tapped to be part of the team when they were revived in this century by others.

Finally the goddess of love Venus arrives who had been around since the debut of her self-titled comic in 1948, and the team is complete ready to take on the threat of Yellow Claw and his henchmen.

Their battle cry is not "Avengers Assemble" but rather the rather keen and nifty "Go, Avengers, Go!" Chuck Berry would've been proud.

Meanwhile the Yellow Claw has kidnapped President Eisenhower and it is the mandate of his hastily assembled team of extraordinary heroes to rescue the captured Commander in Chief.

To combat that threat Yellow Claw has gathered together a ruthless gang of villains, many of whom would not fight together save for the overwhelming hypnotic influence of the Claw.

They are Skull-Face (from Mystery Tales #6 not Mystic as the note indicates), The Great Video (deadly enemy of Marvel Boy), Electro (Communist version), and the Cold Warrior (like 3-D Man a ret-con addition to the 50's).

Needless to say the team succeeds ultimately by being able to work together. They save Eisenhower who surprisingly asks them to keep their new alliance a secret, in fact he calls upon them to disband and so it will take another time and place for "The Avengers" to once and for all time assemble.

Jack Kirby inked by Joe Sinnott produced one of his best cover images for this particular comic. His covers from this period are generally quite good, but this one is a stand out.

I personally love these kinds of stories that take old elements and dust them off to make something fresh. Roy Thomas was expert at it and Don Glut does a heady job in the same vein this time out. Like The Invaders, this is new history recorded for the first time and expands out the parameters of what we imagined the Marvel Universe was. Decades later Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk, among others bring back this gang of "Avengers" and dust them off themselves to make some dandy stories.  

Sadly Alan Kupperberg, the artist who penciled this story passed away just a few days ago from a cancer which had long afflicted him. I extend my sympathies to his family and dedicate this post to his memory. This story is one of my all-time favorites and that is because, aside from the wonderful wacky story, the artwork by Kupperberg and inker Bill Black is so inviting, handsome and downright charming, perfectly suited to this little punch of nostalgia.

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