Buscema Unbound

This morning’s post marks a return to my occasional series on the Treasuries and Tabloids of Comics’ Bronze Age.

Yet again, The Mighty Avengers (1975) is a very recent addition to my collection. I passed on it in Blackpool in 1980 although I bought the Conan Treasury.  Bronze Age Babies has had a fairly negative response to Kirby’s Seventies work at Marvel so far but I like this cover. Even if Cap is floating and a wonky Goliath is in the wrong costume. The contents are pencilled by John and Sal Buscema.

Death Calls for the Arch Heroes: Black Panther- in a short-lived open cowl, like Daredevil- joins the Avengers, who at this stage have been  reduced to a trio: Hank, Jan and Hawkeye.  Wanda and Pietro had been suborned by Magneto again and Hercules was back in Olympus, after being quite a central character for about a year.

The Panther has just been on a Bond-style mission with Cap to end the threat of Zemo’s death-ray satellite. T’Challa, genius and African ruler,  is the first black superhero to join a super-team, preceding Mal of the Teen Titans by two years.

The villain is the Grim Reaper, in an ornate costume of purple, blue and green. He will return at the beginning of the next decade in his more sombre colours. The Reaper is ,of course, the brother of Wonder Man ( presumed deceased at this point) and the Panther has to foil his plans for revenge. There are cameos for the Big Three Avengers, the Black Widow in her civilian guise and Jasper Sitwell, the pompous, fogeyish SHIELD agent from Iron Man.

Buscema’s Panther is powerfully built but agile and always in motion. The other Avengers are twisted in agony and the Reaper is pictured sneering or screeching. The title is a reference to a Willa Cather novel and signals Thomas’ literary knowledge. We’ll see more of that idiosyncrasy in this comic.

T’Challa’s open cowl makes the character more expressive while emphasising his race.  The importance of expression will be signalled with the arrival of the next Avenger…

Behold the Vision: a cinematic story, heavy with mood and menace as the synthezoid stalks the mansion like a vengeful ghost. Ghoulish robot villain Ultron returns;  Hank Pym imitates King Kong and Percy Shelley’s Romantic Poetry supplies a coda about hubristic pride. Thomas also references Andy Warhol.

This is a highpoint for two reasons then: first, Thomas supplies a surreal story with nods to the college cats and arts aficionados.  Then, there is plenty of action with this brooding, sombre new character: a dayglo version of the Spectre.

Black Widow returns in her fishnets, mask and cape for the second-last time in this book. T’Challa begins a subplot which will play out over a couple of years, as he muses on how to help in the ghetto.  The loquacious Wakandan will be overshadowed  by the presence of the Vision, however,  for the remainder of his time as an Avenger. The synthezoid’s struggle with his emotions trumps the Panther’s struggle with privilege and is more identifiable.

Till Death Do Us Part:  the only story in this comic that I owned in its original form. It’s the wedding of Hank and Jan; the team think Yellowjacket may have killed Goliath and is marrying the Wasp for her money. Bizarrely, they go along with Jan’s wishes, despite their suspicions. Comics!

Buscema gives us a stunning portrait of the wedding guests: Cap, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Nick Fury, the X-Men ( in a clique of their own), Dr. Strange, the Black Knight, Daredevil and hi-jinks from the FF.  It’s an encapsulated, manageable- affordable- Marvel Universe.  Thor is absent, battling the Silver Surfer in Asgard.I’m reminded now of the Adam West Batman with the revelation that the caterers for the reception are actually the Circus of Crime, at once both comical and menacing.

The tussle ends with Yellowjacket attaining giant size; the secret of Hank’s schizophrenic episode is out- with devastating consequences for the future. Meanwhile, Buscema draws beautiful women: Sue Richards, Crystal and of course, the bride herself. It’s a pleasant surprise also to see how dangerous the Clown can be.

Come On In, the Revolution’s Fine: Thomas comments on Women’s Lib with the Lady Liberators. This is an assembly including Wanda, Jan,  Madame Natasha (in her EmmaPeelers, now) and Medusa. The group is led by  operatic new villainess, the Valkyrie.

Val would go on to become a mainstay of the Defenders, thanks to Englehart and Gerber. Here, she’s a disguise for the Enchantress. The story is set at the Rutland Hallowe’en parade where the male Avengers take on the Masters of Evil ( Melter, Klaw, Whirlwind, and Radioactive Man). Hawkeye is in his lengthy Goliath phase ( the Avengers need a giant!). Quicksilver is in action, careening about like Cannonball- it’s so unusual to see him as a young, positive character instead of the bipolar, acerbic bastard-cum-nutjob of the last thirty years.

This is an inconsequential slugfest but moodily drawn by Buscema and Palmer.  Jan looks stunning and Pietro, exotically handsome. In the mighty Marvel metatextual manner,  Thomas and his first wife make a cameo appearance.

Avengers Assemble: this is a gorgeous Sal Buscema poster image circa issue 71 (December 1969): the conclusion of the Grandmaster/Kang tournament. It features all the Thomas Avengers -bar Hercules, Wanda and Pietro- and including Black Knight . It also appeared as the back cover of FOOM Magazine 3.

If most of the principal Avengers of the  Sixties appear on the Treasury’s front cover, the back cover features a Kirby portrait of the 70s stars, including the Beast and Moondragon (awkwardly clutching her cape); Wanda is wearing her long gloves; Vizh’s visage appears to have been redrawn by Gil Kane and  a friendly Yellowjacket is present alongside a goofy-looking Giant Man.

All in all, this comic  is a record of a vibrant time in Avengers history with superb art. It pinpoints the moment when the story engine changed from Hank and Jan to the Vision. Also, while I’m accustomed to the seven-member model of the 70s, it shows it’s perfectly possible to tell Avengers stories with a quintet (and a quinjet!) providing, of course, those Avengers have complex personal lives.

Coming soon: our first DC tabloid and the savage fists of Kung Fu.

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners.

2 comments on “Buscema Unbound

  1. Kid Robson says:

    I’m pretty sure I had this one back in the day. Unfortunately, they sometimes abridged the tales reprinted in these Treasury Editions and also usually cropped the panels to make them fit the page-size, although I don’t know if any of the stories in this issue were edited.

    Thanks for reminding me of the name of your school. I looked up the address on the internet and I’ll be posting your particular package tommorrow.

  2. Kid Robson says:

    Dougie, posted your CDs on Monday, first class – they turned up yet?

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