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When the Avengers Were Forced to Become Equal Opportunity Employers

This is a feature called "A Political World," where we spotlight 20th Century comic book stories that came out back when comic books were not political at all, unlike comic books nowadays.

Today, based on a suggestion from reader Joe O., we take a look at when the United States government forced the Avengers to add the Falcon to their membership ranks.

During the Avengers' epic battle with Count Nefaria in Avengers #164-165, there is a moment where we see a man sneak into Avengers Mansion and then he leaves in the following issue bragging about all the information he got from Avengers Mansion during the battle.

Well, we learn who that man was in Avengers #168 (by Jim Shooter, George Perez and Pablo Marcos) when it turns out that he is Henry Peter Gyrich, an agent for the National Security Council...

Gyrich is unsure whether the Avengers deserve to maintain their special security clearance if they are to have security leaks like they had during the Nefaria battle.

The Gyrich issue sort of fell by the way side as the Avengers ended up in a dramatic confrontation with a cosmic being known as Michael Korvac in what is now known as "The Korvac Saga." During that storyline, the Avengers teamed up with the Guardians of the Galaxy (the original team that was based in the future. They traveled through time to team up with the Avengers as Korvac was originally from their time period), Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell, who got involved due to his Cosmic Awareness) and every reserve member that they could find due to the threat that Korvac represented.

Once that storyline was over, David Michelinie had taken over the book as the new writer (he had scripted the series towards the end of the Korvac Saga as Shooter slowly took himself off of the Avengers following Shooter becoming Marvel's Editor-in-Chief).

Gyrich returned in Avengers #181 (by Michelinie, John Byrne and Gene Day) to cause trouble by forcing the Avengers to follow certain requirements in order to keep up their government clearance. Since their government clearance was a major boon to the team, they agreed to go along with it, even when Gyrich announced that he was going to dictate the Avengers' new membership...

Gyrich, of course, is referring to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was established by President Lyndon B. Johnson in response to Executive Order 10925, which was put into place by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. In Kennedy's executive order, he said that government contractors would have to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."

Speaking about the issue in the Marvel Masterworks that collected these stories a couple of years ago, Michelinie noted, " "I decided to ramp up the friction by having the seventh member be the Falcon, required by government policies to provide equal opportunities for minorities. That was a hot-button topic at the time, and Marvel always tried to have its finger on the pulse of current events." I think Michelinie must have misspoke there, though, as Marvel only started doing stories about politics recently, right?

The Avengers argued against Gyrich's decision....

Obviously, there are a couple of things that are a bit off in this whole thing. One, "Equal Opportunity Employment" means just that. You give applicants an equal opportunity. It does not mean giving an African-American a job that he or she did not even apply for. Even in one of the biggest recent cases on this topic, where the government determined that New York City's Fire Department was not hiring enough African-American firefighters (and thus the NYFD was ordered to increase their number of African-American firefighters), the issue was simply increasing the number of applicants that were hired, because the numbers were so minuscule (as if 10% of applicants are African-American every year and every year only 1% of hired firefighters are African-American, that suggests a major problem, which is precisely what was happening). The government didn't say, "Here, make this guy a firefighter now."

Similarly, Iron Man's "superheroes and androids are minorities" position is, well, pretty brutal. The mutant defense is more palatable, but only slightly so, as it sort of draws into that weird area where writers try to draw direct parallels between the treatment of mutants and the treatment of real-life minorities and it doesn't come off very well. Mutant prejudice is typically better executed in comics where writers just ALLUDE to the similarities between mutant prejudice and real life prejudice instead of having characters say, "This is just what happens to black people! We're exactly the same! Mutants and black people, there is no difference in how we are treated!"

Not to mention that that argument didn't exactly hold much weight when Gyrich specifically DID have a mutant member on the team, Scarlet Witch, as well as an android member, the Vision.

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