Sunday, 26 March 2017

Avengers #157. The not quite so dark knight returns.

Avengers #157, Jack Kirby cover
Avengers assemble, true believers! Inspired by my post the other day, I've been for a rummage in my Steve Does Comics Cave and found Avengers #157 lurking there.

I was motivated to do this because it dawned on me that, although I have it, I don't think I've ever read it.

How could I allow this oversight to continue?

I couldn't.

So, here goes.

The first thing that leaps out at me is that the inside front cover is a full page ad for the 1976 King Kong remake.

It's the ad where Kong's straddling the twin towers of the World Trade Centre while plucking jet fighters from the air. You know? The one that makes it look like it's a movie that's a million times better than it actually is and makes it look like Kong himself is going to be totally awesome?

It only goes to prove how advertising can lie to us.

King Kong, 1976
Having said that, I do prefer that version to the Peter Jackson remake, which I've never managed to make it all the way through.

As for the Avengers story, the first thing that strikes me about that is that it's drawn by Don Heck.

I must confess there've been times in my life when discovering that a story's drawn by Don Heck has been enough to send me into a dizzying combination of depression and indignation.

But now, oddly enough, separated from the publication of this comic by almost exactly forty years, seeing his work here makes me feel strangely warm, fuzzy and nostalgic. I can't deny it, there's something psychologically fulfilling about seeing him work again on the strip whose pages he did so much to grace in its early years.

It's got to be said that it's not Heck at his best - but, then, nor is it him at his worst.

I suspect this may be down to the inking of Pablo Marcos who manages to add a touch of polish and tidiness to the pencils that helps to hold them together in a way that some other inkers failed to do in this era.

The script is by Gerry Conway, so I started this tale assuming that someone's girlfriend was going to die.

Avengers #157, the Black Knight revives
The other thing that strikes me is it's a tale that's the very definition of, "Simplicity." Basically, the Avengers are at home in their mansion when the statue of the Black Knight, from way back in the days of the Evil Eye Saga, smashes into the building and, one by one, knocks them out, until the Vision shows up and disposes of him.

Along the way, we discover that he's not really the Black Knight. He's just the now-soulless statue of him, which has been brought to life by an unnamed villain and, thinking he's the real Knight, is out to gain vengeance on the Defenders and Avengers for leaving him to stand around as a statue for the rest of eternity.

Avengers #157, the Black Knight vs the Vision
Other than the main plot, the other point of interest is we're now in the era of Wonder Man's return.

From what I can gather from the dialogue, he's not long since been revived and seems to already be thinking that he and not the Vision should be the Flake in the Scarlet Witch's 99. Given that he and the Vision are effectively the same character and that Marvel heroes can't deal with a problem without hitting it, I suspect this can only end in fisticuffs.

But that'll clearly have to wait for a later issue.

As will the identity of the true villain of the piece. Tragically, in this issue, we're never told who animated the statue. All we see is a hand that I don't recognise. I will therefore assume it belongs to either Kang or Ultron because, well, it's an Avengers story.

Avengers #157, the Black Knight vs Wonder Man
So, it's not a classic tale but it is one that you could imagine lingering in the mind, if only for the way the statue ultimately smashes itself to pieces on the Vision before giving up the ghost completely and simply dropping dead.

All of which, I suppose, proves there's a merit to simplicity when it comes to story-telling.

And that's basically it. I've fulfilled my duty and finally got round to reading a thing that had been unread for so long. It was a pain-free experience and I thoroughly recommend reading unread things, to everyone who views this post.


joe said...

I just finished reading the entire run of the Defenders which I acquired in bargain bins over the last several years. After forty years, I was really expecting to find out who was behind that hand, but no luck. Apparently, it was never revealed in an actual story, just in an Official Handbook entry on Dane Whitman, and Avengers writers have chimed in on this site ( to confirm that it was indeed Ultron all along.

Anonymous said...

Strange that wasn't resolved by later writers, not least because it doesn't look like Ultron's arm - how come Kurt Busiek never wrote an epic Avengers arc explaining how the Space Phantom was behind it all?

Don't know if 157 was some sort of fill-in, or whether Conway got the push (staff plot maybe?) but if I recall correctly Shooter started writing the Avengers with the next issue.
Which is just as well as it became the only A-list Marvel superhero comic that was any good in the late 70s (the X_Men being still an obscure off-beat bimonthly). Odd, because Shooter - and David Micheline - never seemed particularly impressive writing anything else.


Steve W. said...

Thanks for the info, Joe. It's nice to know my Ultron/Kang instincts were right all along.

Steve W. said...

Sean, I remember very little of the Shooter era. I think my main memories are of that weird Ms Marvel pregnancy storyline and Ultron's Oedipus Complex.

Anonymous said...

Forgot about all that, Steve - I think I missed it at the time...
Mainly I was thinking of Korvac and the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the period when John Byrne was drawing the comic (although having said that, the Gyrich storyline with the government insisting the Falcon had to join the Avengers - political correctness gone mad! - seems somewhat iffy too).
Didn't Starlin's annual with Thanos and Warlock come out around the same time as Shooter's early issues? That was pretty good...


Anonymous said...

Those annuals came out in '77, IIRC. I think the issue discussed here predates it, maybe by a year, maybe less.
I agree that that King Kong remake was a real dud, but it featured a young Jessica Lange, who was a delight to behold.


Anonymous said...

The original 1933 King Kong is still the best despite its' primitive special effects. I first saw it on BBC 1 in December 1976 - which means that in two years time we'll be as distant from 1976 as 1976 was from 1933 !!

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Sean, though perhaps simplistic by today's standards's shooters run on the Legion of superheroes that he wrote as a teenager was very enjoyable for me to read when I finally went back and read it. that being said I happened to read it in the comic book format not in an archive version and I tend to think reading the original comics is more profitable experience than just reading the archives if you're able to do that. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Ah well, I'm not much up on the Legion, Charlie, so you might well be right there.
Agree about old comics v. collected editions, at least were possible. As it happens I'm judging those late 70s Avengers on memories of how they seemed at the time - I shudder to think how they'd stack up on a modern re-read.


TC said...

I loved the Legion, and the Superman Family comics in general, in the Silver Age, but I "shudder to think how they would stack up on a modern re-read." Matter-Eater Lad, Comet the Super Horse, Beppo the Super Monkey, and Bouncing Boy did not seem so whacked out when I was eight.

They got King Kong right in 1933. The remakes were pretentious bores.