Tuesday 10 August 2010

Avengers Annual 1977. Better late than never.

Marvel UK, Avengers Annual 1977I could claim the Avengers Annual 1977 was a treat that helped light up Christmas Day 1976.

But it wasn’t.

Not because it wasn’t any good but because my dad totally forgot he’d bought it and only remembered several weeks later when he found it in the airing cupboard and realised what he’d done. Thanks to this not totally atypical oversight, it means I got a little piece of Christmas 1976 sometime around March 1977.

So, was it worth the wait?

Of course it was. It was the Avengers. It was Marvel. It was 1977. How could it not be?

It kicks off with a double-length epic in which the Avengers come up against the threat of Nuklo. Like a giant vampire duck, Nuklo’s dramatically billed. He’s billed as, “the monster that time forgot,” and is big, strong and radioactive. His deadly radiation doesn’t seem to bother our heroes who seem quite happy to run up to him and punch him at every opportunity. As none of them have lost their hair or teeth by the end of the tale I can only assume that even the non-super powered ones are quite immune to deadly radiation.

The tale’s drawn by Rich Buckler in his flat-out Jack Kirby style and so can’t be said to look stylish but his story-telling sense is strong and the main draw of the thing is the revelation that Golden Age hero the Whizzer is the father of Wanda and Pietro. I suppose, bearing in mind his power of super-speed, this is hardly a shock but it’s appropriate and gives us a potted history of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, tying them pleasingly into the High Evolutionary. As a kid I always had the idea that Quicksilver was a super-evolved cheetah from the Evolutionary’s kingdom of Wundagore, so the official link with him was a good thing for me even if it wasn’t in the way I’d imagined.

I believe the Marvel Powers-That-Be later changed their mind and decided the Whizzer wasn’t their father after all but I choose to ignore that, as it’s one of those inconvenient truths I can live without. The main plot about the Avengers’ battle with Nuklo isn’t quite as interesting as the Whizzer subplot but it has a certain vigour to it and at least Mantis is slightly less annoying than usual here.

Next we get a Conan the Barbarian tale which is basically the same story as we got in his comic pretty much every month, in which he has to rescue a fit bird from a giant crocodile summoned by an evil wizard. It’s as beautifully pencilled as ever, although I was never big fan of Buscema’s inking which generally used too thin a line for my liking.

Given that every woman Conan ever rescued was drop-dead gorgeous, I do wonder if Conan simply refused to rescue any of the ugly ones, hence the lack of stories in which he did so. He seemed to be practising a mad sort of eugenics in which all the ugly women got eaten by monsters while the fit ones survived, meaning the world would soon be populated entirely by the firmly knockered.

Finally, the Two-Gun Kid teams up with the Avengers to fight Kang the Conqueror in the Wild West. Kid Colt’s there too but for some reason disappears without trace or explanation after the first two pages. Given that, to fit it into the annual, pages have clearly been cut out, I’m not sure if his disappearance is down to pruning by the annual’s editor Jim Salicrup or if that’s what happened in the original comic.

Because it’s a segment of a multi-part tale and therefore it’s not totally clear just what’s going on or why, it’s probably the weakest choice of story in the annual although in itself it’s clearly a nice tale and does feature the death of Kang.

Why do I get a feeling he probably didn't stay dead?

I’m trying to wrack my brain to remember exactly what strips were featured in the Avengers’ weekly comic in the Autumn 1976 period when this annual came out. I think Dr Strange was long gone. Was Shang-Chi still in it? If so, it’s a bit of a shame we didn’t get to see him instead of a somewhat butchered Avengers story.

Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers and if my Christmas 1976 arrived in instalments, perhaps it was appropriate that it ended with a tale that itself was a final instalment of an earlier event.


tharg said...

Didn't get to read this but the 1979 version was excellent: "The name is Yellowjacket" and (drum roll) "Song of Red Sonja" (which is one of the greatest stories ever of course).

I can still reel off "Ka nama kaa lajerama" at the drop of a hat (might be useful sometime).

Both stories written by my favourite writer (Roy Thomas) and favourite artists (John Buscema and Barry Windsor Smith).

Martin Gray said...

Ar a guess, I'd say this was the time of the 'Avengers starring the Savage Sword of Conan' - which I hated. Gimme superheroes, not some hairy guy who couldn't even keep his own comic!

Conan apart, I loved this annual.

Steve W. said...

Personally I was delighted when Conan joined The Avengers comic. All that lovely Barry Smith artwork.

Come to think of it, I think Barry was drawing the Avengers and Dr Strange around that time as well, so it was practically a Barry Smith tribute comic for a while.