I’ve found I still can’t use Blogger in the public library, to my frustration. So today, we continue to look at my Xmas haul with the storied World Distributors Avengers hardback annual of 1975. This book was published in late ’74 and was one of an unforgettable trio of annuals released at the height of Marvel UK’s popularity. I was fortunate enough to get all three on Christmas Day in 1974 but the Avengers Annual was always my favourite. So much so, I treated myself to a second, second-hand copy last month.
Such was their impact, I can’t recall what else I might have been given that year. One reason for the resonance of the Assemblers book was probably the fact that I hadn’t read a single US issue in almost two years: I hadn’t even seen one in the shops. So, this was an opportunity to catch up with the team that had superceded the FF as my childhood favourites.
The annual opens with a two-part Englehart/Don Heck adventure. And Now, Magneto: the story begins with a videolink between Wanda and Pietro. Roy Thomas had written out the speedster who had become romantically linked to one-time FF sub, Crystal. Pietro is outraged by Wanda’s affections for the Vision. This story beat seems to negatively alter the character for good; a decade later, Englehart will play Quicksilver as a cuckolded maniac. It also indicates the soap opera tone that will dominate the book for at least the next three years.
The Assemblers are then lured into a trap by, er, Magneto – as the title makes plain. His mutated lackey Piper sics a herd of dinosaurs-presumably shipped in from the Savage Land- on the team. Mags impersonates the fallen Angel and uses the imposture to capture some Avengers and a handful of X-Men. At this point in time, the mutants’ own comic was a reprint title: RT had tried to rebrand them as freaks in plain clothes but it didn’t take (MTU 4, 1972).
With Two Beside Them: This tale then crosses over to Steve Gerber’s Daredevil but that segment- perhaps for reasons of length- isn’t reprinted. In any case, Thor, Iron Man and the Vision have bolstered their diminished numbers with DD and his love interest, the Black Widow.
We get some exposition about Magneto’s brand-new mind-control powers. Then we have my favourite part of the entire annual- a flashback to Maggie’s last outing in Amazing Adventures, where his Universe Machine plot was thwarted by the Inhumans ( his Orc-like mutate army- the likes of Mooneye and Obar- seem to have been killed off). Then , another flashback, to Neal Adams’ Savage Land story from X-Men. The cameo of Mag’s Beast-Brood became seared on my brain- a frog/man, a beadred figure with a large cranium; a troll-like figure; and a human, swathed in metal coils- Magneto himself. It is incredibly evocative but it will be another couple of years before I see the languid Lorelei too.
The mutant maven’s master plan is thoroughly deranged: he plans to expose mankind to radiation and rule over the mutated survivors. The story climaxes with Magneto’s defeat as the Vision controls Piper, Deadman-style. It’s strange to see Vizh so central to the plot considering he’s barely even a feature of modern Avengers tales. His star has fallen as far as DC’s 90s trio of legacy heroes: Kyle, Wally and Connor.
This is a portrayal of Magneto that’s quite unrecognisable compared to the dark, sexy, tormented Holocaust avenger of X-Men First Class – or even the elderly, waspish Mittel-European of the first three X-Men movies. This Mags is a raving, grandiloquent loon- a grotesque Caligula of genetic tinkering. A glimpse of his original mutant band prefigures his next outing in Defenders with Mastermind’s reformed Brotherhood. Here his plan to create an Ultimate Mutant takes him off the board for a couple of years.
The story ends with a mystery: Angel has vanished. Englehart would thread this subplot through subsequent stories of the Hulk and Captain America, where eventually we discover that mutants have been kidnapped by the seditionary Secret Empire. Oddly, the X-Men returned to their school uniforms at that point, which seemed retrograde. Another year or so would elapse before the All-New X-Men debuted.
Englehart gives a practical explanation as to why Daredevil turns down an offer to become an Avenger: the sheer number of them interferes with his radar sense. Interestingly, Englehart contemplated adding DD to the West Coast Avengers in the 80s. No doubt he would have addressed the problem but it seems he elected to go with Moon Knight instead.
(Bendis would go on to make The Man Without Fear an Avenger but did virtually nothing with him, let alone play up his uniquely enhanced senses.)
Suddenly, the tone and look of the Annual shifts with Among us Wreckers Dwell: a mid-60s Cap’n’Bucky short from Lee and Kirby.in this WWII flashback from Tales to Astonish, Sando and Omar are a stage mentalist act who are promoting acts of sabotage by the Nazis as propaganda. C&B encounter a spunky young Agent 13. Much later, Englehart would reveal that this was Peggy Carter, elder sister of SHELD’s Sharon Carter, the Agent 13 of the 60s and 70s.
The Lion God Lives: The final Englehart tale in the annual introduces a supernatural opponent drawn from African mythology. He debuts in a sequence that seems inspired by the voodoo sacrifice scenes from Live and Let Die. Having broken up the DD/BW team last issue, Englehart goes on to show how the romantically- conflicted Romanova is a good fit for the team. However, the story is really about the Black Panther’s conflict about his two cultures: Wakanda and Harlem. The Panther decides to stay with the team while Natasha changes her mind. To me, this was the wrong decision given the dynamics of the group, although I understand keeping T’challa on as a hero of colour. I don’t feel anything much was done, however, with his majestic persona or the stealth or tracking skills that predated Wolverine.
The most interesting part for me was the three-panel introduction of Mantis, in a slinky dress ( and her usual colour scheme). The Swordsman is completely obscured by darkness. This is a strikingly downbeat entrance for a character who will dominate the direction of the comic for the next year or so.
I throughly enjoyed reading this book again. I was struck especially by Englehart’s style: rising and falling cycles of subplots, usually driven by romantic passion, duty and self-discovery. Hawkeye is a powerful presence in cameos throughout the stories even though it feels like Englehart doesn’t know where the character’s going. The other striking aspect is Englehart’s employment of his vast knowledge of Marvel history: it feels effortless and organic.
I will very possibly return to the Spider-Man and Mighty World of Marvel annuals for 1975 when we get to December 2014, celebrating their fortieth anniversary.
Coming soon: Infinity and Beyond.
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