After I saw the Thor and Captain America movies, I got pretty excited about The Avengers movie (that was the idea, wasn’t it?) Thor, Captain America and Iron Man all stand up pretty well, but after a while these solo movies feel like a complicated teaser campaign and we find ourselves gasping for the payoff of The Avengers movie. With this anticipation grinding away at me, I thought I’d look at some old Avengers comic books.
Having read quite a few retellings of their origin story over the years, and a fair amount of offshoot stories and New Avengers, I hadn’t really looked at the books I started out reading as a little tiny kid. One of the things that has stunned me in rereading things I enjoyed when I was small, is how much of the content went over my head at the time. Anything that was emotionally or physically beyond my personal experience back then didn’t even register. In retrospect I can now see that I was missing about 50% of The Avengers content, particularly the interactions between the couples of the team.
Theoretically, small children like me probably should have stuck to team books like Teen Titans or Super Friends (both of which I remember enjoying at the time, even if most of what stands out in my memory is the mystery of how useful the Wonder Twins could actually be? “Form of a bucket of water”? Really?) In my memory, The Avengers were serious grown ups, with serious villains to fight. Reading Avengers comics from the late ’70’s now, I’m shocked that these Comics Code Authority approved books managed to pack in so much emotional, physical ambiguity. Sure, it’s tame by todays standards, but today we freely admit that comic books are for adults. Back then, it must have been really intense to try and get a kids comic that dealt with such things.
When I went back and read about some ’70’s Avengers, I was surprised that Hank Pym (as Ant-Man and then Yellowjacket) had a massive nervous breakdown, impacting the entire team. His wife Janet (the Wasp) explained that she’d been changing her costume often recently to “try and keep him interested.” What do kids reading comic books know about keeping a marriage interesting? And what could they know about the role of clothing in that regard? And how was a kid supposed to understand that an interesting marriage might change Hank’s emotional state? At the time I questioned none of this, simply enjoying the turbulent ride of The Avengers.
The adult relationship that did stand out as a little more confusing to me at the time, was the marriage of the Scarlet Witch and Vision. Even now, dissecting it fascinates me. He’s an android, with the personality of Wonder Man (who was dead at the time he was built, but later came back, as comic book characters do.) So he’s not the same person as Wonder Man, (something both he and Wonder Man discuss), their personalities diverged through their disparate experiences. So far so good – strange, but it makes sense. But then there is the relationship with Wanda. She loves Vision, so much so that she marries him. She’s deeply in love with him, but not at all interested in the resurrected Wonder Man, who basically has the same building blocks to his personality. And he’s not an android, which has to help, right?
The whole thing was massively strange to me as a kid, very much in a “how does that even work?” way. As ignorant as I was about romance, I still didn’t understand why Wanda had feelings for Vision that she couldn’t have for Wonder Man (at that point in time), especially since the problems they had were often to do with him being synthetic… (and I’m not talking about physical stuff, that was far beyond my understanding at the time, but more to do with the empathic, emotional stuff.) Thinking about it now, it is possible that my attempts to understand the Scarlet Witch led to my youthful interest in Spock in Star Trek. The rational, unshakable Vulcan seemed a lot more attractive than the erratic Kirk. At the time, this was a big selling point because as a child, the world was confusing. The idea of an android husband made sense within the context of this desire – maybe Wanda liked the logic thing?
Now I look back on the way the relationships were described in The Avengers with more of a perspective of the era. The late ’70’s was still a time when a lot of people were reevaluating their own perception of what constituted a healthy relationship, in all sorts of ways. Clearly there were times when this approach bled through to the writer’s of comic books like The Avengers, as the authors indirectly used the medium to discuss issues affecting their own lives. The intimate team dynamic left it wide open to a kind of group therapy honesty that probably wasn’t out of place to adults of the era. The fact that this was part of a book I read as a little kid just meant it all went straight over my head.
This is a great example of a book so rich and varied in content that, even when I was missing half of it, I was still entertained. It is a great example of the ways in which there is space in much family-oriented entertainment for more non-violent, adult themed content. Widening appeal doesn’t have to mean more violence and pain, maybe this complex history will bleed through to the very modern Avengers that will be depicted in the upcoming movie. You never know.