Hercules Co-Writer Fred Van Lente Joins the Chat for Hercules vs Dragon Man

This is "From a Different Point of View," a feature where I discuss a comic book series with another writer. In this case, it is CBR's own Eileen Gonzalez who will be going over the history of the Avengers with me, story by story!

As part of today's Fred Van Lente Day CSBG Takeover, Fred Van Lente will join me and Eileen for this issue's chat!

We continue with Avengers #42, "The Plan -- And The Power!" by Roy Thomas, John Buscema and George Roussos.

Brian Cronin: It's a nice coincidence that we JUST hit the Hercules era in time for the former Incredible Hercules co-writer to guest!

Fred Van Lente: Very fortuitous.

Brian Cronin: I assume that you and Greg [Pak, the other co-writer of Incredible Hercules - BC] re-read these issues before your run began, right?

Fred Van Lente: I don't remember. Probably? My knowledge of Marvel Hercules before we started doing the book was fairly sketchy.

Fred Van Lente: I believe Typhon gets introduced as a villain a few issues from now, and I definitely read those, because used Typhon a lot in iHerc.

Brian Cronin: It's just interesting how he has more or less stayed basically the same guy through all of those years, as you see the Hercules of this opening page and I could easily see the same scene in an issue of Incredible Hercules.

Brian Cronin: "Chill out, everyone, we'll save them. Let me eat some freakin' grapes."

Fred Van Lente: Right. He is a huge dick with a really big vocabulary.

Brian Cronin: As Eileen noted last issue, Roy Thomas' thesaurus is in full effect in these issues.

Fred Van Lente: I've long since given up on an MCU adaptation of Hercules, partly because Disney already has their own lucrative Hercules property, and partly because they just gave Thor Hercules's personality, which was a smart move on their part.

Fred Van Lente: Obnoxious Immortal With an Accent

Brian Cronin: I bet it WILL happen, it just will be a much different take on him.

Eileen Gonzalez: No actor could look as good in Herc's outfit as the way Buscema draws him here anyway.

Fred Van Lente: It's hard to pull off a skirt-sash-sandals-high school wrestling head protector thing combo off properly.

Brian Cronin: This is Big John Buscema's second issue of the Avengers and as we discussed last time around, he's still getting the hang of it a bit.

Brian Cronin: But it's still a big step up over Heck's later issues.

Brian Cronin: Heck was probably best used for books with smaller casts.

Fred Van Lente: I will point at exactly the page where I realized it was Buscema drawing. I assumed it was Heck. Most be Bell's inking.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, Roussos isn't doing much favors.

Brian Cronin: George Klein is a big step up later and, again, I think Buscema gets better, as well.

Brian Cronin: The cover is positively Heck-esque.

Brian Cronin: I had to double check to see that it WASN'T.

Brian Cronin: Quicksilver's position that Hercules isn't obligated to help them save Goliath and Wasp seems ill-considered.

Brian Cronin: I mean, I guess, TECHNICALLY

Eileen Gonzalez: Maybe he was trying to reverse-psychology his way to getting Herc to help them.

Brian Cronin: But come on, they're letting the dude crash with them and their friends are in danger and Quicksilver's like, "Hey, he's a guest. He doesn't have to help save their lives."

Brian Cronin: True, Quicksilver is much different in these issues, where he's the de facto rational guy.

Fred Van Lente: Quicksilver should have been like, "You ate our grapes, you are now obligated to do whatever we say." Which is a Greek mythology-kind of a logic, Herc might have fallen for that.

Fred Van Lente: "Those weren't grapes they were pomegranates!"

Brian Cronin: A couple of issues ago, Hawkeye lucked into his arrows breaking Enchantress' spell

Brian Cronin: So it would be worth a shot!

Brian Cronin: I love that Thomas at least handwaves why the Fantastic Four aren't helping the Avengers.

Brian Cronin: Because Quicksilver told them not to bother, since it was an Avengers matter

Brian Cronin: And Hawkeye is all, "Now I like you better, Quicksilver!"

Brian Cronin: It is good to know that the way into Hawkeye's good graces is moronic strategic decisions.

Eileen Gonzalez: Is that better or worse than the "everyone else is conveniently out of town" excuse?

Fred Van Lente: The Justice League always had to say Superman was off in space on a mission, so I feel their pain.

Brian Cronin: I did a bit about how many times Gardner Fox had the Justice League come across either magic or kryptonite in the first 25 issues of Justice League of America. It was kind of nuts.

Fred Van Lente: It's so funny, because FF #64, the one referenced here, was at the height of the Kirby/Lee run, and this Avengers is so primitive in comparison, even though it came out the same month. Kirby was just at a different level completely.

Brian Cronin: It is good to know that Hank Pym is the greatest bio-chemist in the world.

Brian Cronin: And that's Diablo-praise. That's high-earned.

Eileen Gonzalez: I feel like that line of Dragon Men is about to burst into a Queen song.

Fred Van Lente: Whoever thought redesigning Diablo's costume was a good idea deserves to be Goliath-slapped.

Brian Cronin: My biggest knock on these early Buscema issues is the sort of stiffness to some of his figures.

Brian Cronin: He even mentioned later that he needed to study Kirby to get more fluid.

Fred Van Lente: Page Five was the first time I was like, Ahhhh this is Buscema.

Brian Cronin: He had been drawing static figures for so many years that he had a hard time adjusting to sequentials.

Brian Cronin: As a commercial artist, that is.

Fred Van Lente: Basically, Stan handed Buscema (And any other new artist) a stack of Kirby comics when they started at Marvel and said, "Draw like this."

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, I noticed a little stiffness too. Goliath looks like he's posing for the After image in one of those fitness ads a lot.

Brian Cronin: But the facial expressions were about a gazillion times more detailed than Heck's later issues.

Fred Van Lente: That bit of Goliath picking up Diablo is classic Buscema.

Brian Cronin: So even stiff Buscema was a huge upgrade.

Fred Van Lente: Heck was just kind of over his head doing superhero comics. He comes back to draw Avengers like 100 issues later and it's super-jarring.

Fred Van Lente: And somehow ever stiffer than he was in the 60s.

Brian Cronin: We always joke about his romance poses, like Eileen noticed one the other issue where Black Widow is unconscious and yet somehow also being sexy while out cold.

Brian Cronin: He really did seem to prefer to be doing romance stuff.

Brian Cronin: I am 99% certain that "Wasp was the one who is nicest to Hercules" is pulled out of whole cloth, right?

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, that was weird. I don't think they've even had any real interactions yet?

Fred Van Lente: Stan was hitting the thesaurus pretty hard doing this Herc dialogue.

Brian Cronin: And he was just creeping on Scarlet Witch two issues ago!

Fred Van Lente: I had to look up "ycelpt", which first looked like a typo but is in fact a genuine word.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, Thomas seems to be leaning into the thesaurus in his attempt to ape Stan's approach.

Eileen Gonzalez: I totally thought "yclept" was a typo. That's digging DEEP there, Thomas.

Fred Van Lente: Ahhh, it's Roy not Stan, I missed that.

Fred Van Lente: (archaic) "by the name of:

Fred Van Lente: That's a bit egghead for Stan.

Brian Cronin: Thomas gets in a nice early meta fictional bit by having Hawkeye note that he'd get more attention if he painted all of his arrows the same color.

Brian Cronin: This is juuuuust about the time that Marvel and DC actually started noticing each other in the actual comics.

Brian Cronin: Not Brand Echh launched right at this time.

Fred Van Lente: Is...that a Green Arrow reference?

Brian Cronin: It is indeed.

Fred Van Lente: Or all of Green Arrow's arrows green?

Fred Van Lente: Is that a thing?

Brian Cronin: I think so, actually.

Eileen Gonzalez: That bit was great. There's been plenty of pop culture references, but this is the first time Marvel acknowledged DC's existence in-comic.

Fred Van Lente: Say what you want about Oliver Queen, but the man knows branding

Brian Cronin: I mean, it's a big strained joke, of course, but I do think Green Arrow's actually WERE all green at this point in time.

Fred Van Lente: I like how Hawkeye being lame is his schtick even this far back.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, one of the things you'll notice in these issues is that they're not particularly GOOD at this superhero stuff.

Fred Van Lente: But I guess I've never had any patience for archery-based characters. GET A GUN MY DUDE IT'S AMERICA

Fred Van Lente: Another common motif: Hank Pym attacking his teammates for sketchy reasons.

Brian Cronin: Quicksilver might have super speed, but Goliath is super good at GUESSING!

Eileen Gonzalez: One thing that is nice about this issue is the trust the Avengers have in each other. Even when Goliath is attacking them, they all automatically assume he's being manipulated in some way. There's no "You've totally and permanently betrayed us!"

Brian Cronin: Good point. They've definitely moved to the point where even their fights are mostly disagreements between friends.

Brian Cronin: How in the world does Diablo have LAVA under his castle? How did we miss that it is a volcano?

Eileen Gonzalez: The union he got to build the castle was super efficient.

Fred Van Lente: Dragon Man's shorts: Are they cargo shorts, or regular

Eileen Gonzalez: Dragon Man's shorts vs. Hercules' miniskirt

Brian Cronin: I do like the idea of the Mad Thinker insisting on giving him shorts.

Fred Van Lente: It implies the Mad Thinker gave him a Dragon Dong

Brian Cronin: "I'm Mad, not indecent! The masses are not ready for Dragon penis!"

Brian Cronin: This was almost the first Black Label Marvel book.

Fred Van Lente: Fun fact: most lizards' penises are inside their bodies and only come out, uh, when needed

Fred Van Lente: [pushes glasses up nose] so these shorts seem unnecessary

Fred Van Lente: The things you learn when you do a St. George comic

Brian Cronin: Then maybe they ARE cargo shorts

Brian Cronin: To keep his keys back to Mad Thinker's place.

Fred Van Lente: Keys to the Dragonmanmobile

Brian Cronin: By the way, isn't it weird that Reed Richards recommended that Hank Pym take in Dragon Man?

Brian Cronin: Why not Reed himself?

Eileen Gonzalez: Sue put her foot down and said no.

Brian Cronin: And then later let him teach her children

Brian Cronin: Or was that MALICE who decided that?!?

Brian Cronin: Duh duh duhhhhhh

Eileen Gonzalez: Part of me is liking Herc's characterization here, how he wants to fight Dragon man for the sake of glory but is prioritizing Jan's safety instead. The other part is giggling at "By the zestful zither of Zeus!"

Brian Cronin: Yeah, I really liked that part.

Fred Van Lente: Put down the thesaurus, Roy

Brian Cronin: And really, Buscema is doing a great job on the fight scene.

Fred Van Lente: Herc should have totally pantsed Dragon Man

Brian Cronin: The Wasp is there! She's so winsome! He wouldn't dare!

Brian Cronin: I wonder who came up with the awesome punch from out of the panel bit? Buscema or Thomas

Fred Van Lente: It's nothing the Wasp hasn't seen before, she's been around

Brian Cronin: They're still working Marvel Method, but Thomas was a good deal more detailed than Stan, of course, with his plots.

Fred Van Lente: Buscema comes alive when Hercules is around. It reminds you that all he really wanted out of life was to draw Conan until his arm fell off.

Fred Van Lente: But they kept making him do these dumbass superhero comics

Brian Cronin: Totally. That's why Stern's run was so clever, as Stern brought in both Hercules and Black Knight.

Brian Cronin: Both the types of characters he knew Buscema liked to draw.

Fred Van Lente: That was my era of Avengers as a kid. It was always was hands down my favorite Marvel series.

Brian Cronin: There's great stories of people buying Buscema original artwork and seeing that he was drawing sword and sorcery stuff on the backs of his superhero work.

Brian Cronin: Just doodles, but essentially, "This is what I REALLY want to be drawing."

Brian Cronin: Thomas and Buscema have the Black Widow be badass here, but her hair is so, so dumb.

Fred Van Lente: This Black Widow costume is one of the few things that makes Hercules' outfit slightly less ridiculous.

Brian Cronin: Also, the Pychotron is worse than hyrodgen missiles? For serious, Natasha?

Eileen Gonzalez: I just noticed she has B on her earrings and W on the clasp on her cape. That's... interesting.

Brian Cronin: Oh man, that's so bad.

Brian Cronin: That's so, so bad.

Eileen Gonzalez: This outfit needs to be replaced immediately.

Fred Van Lente: One piece swimsuit + Mardi Gras mask + heels + four-limb fishnets

Brian Cronin: And up-do hairstyle.

Fred Van Lente: I saw the Pierre Cardin exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art over the Thanksgiving break and he did some crazy stuff in the 60s but even he would be like BURN IT WITH FIRE

Brian Cronin: Hawkeye was pining after her recently and she looked like a 40-year old librarian.

Brian Cronin: But I do appreciate how much ass they have her kick here.

Eileen Gonzalez: Given Hawkeye's history with bad looks, he has no room to judge.

Brian Cronin: She is tearing through those filthy commies like a knife through butter.

Fred Van Lente: Generic Commies = the unsung Marvel villains of the Silver Age

Eileen Gonzalez: But yeah, Black Widow is super amazing here, up until she gets gassed.

Fred Van Lente: "Ha ha I wanted you to kick the shit out of my underlings they suck anyway

Brian Cronin: We know the Chinese are the true masters of deciet.

Fred Van Lente: Colonel Ling and Goliath are running the same playbook of fake-out fighting

Brian Cronin: In "No one knows how Scarlet Witch's powers work," she can't use them with Hawkeye too close to Goliath because she might hit Hawkeye?

Brian Cronin: Huh?

Fred Van Lente: I like how in the MCU they just threw up their hands and were like, "Screw it, Scarlet Witch is basically just Jean Grey"

Brian Cronin: Yeah, much simpler.

Brian Cronin: I like Hank lying about how he was going to betray Diablo all along.

Brian Cronin: "Oh, well, yeah, I was going to betray him. I was just fighting with you guys for...reasons"

Fred Van Lente: Why oh why is Diablo dressed like a waiter at a Russian restaurant

Eileen Gonzalez: And of course Hawkeye's big plan to get to Diablo is "Lemme blow it up!"

Brian Cronin: A while back, he rescued Cap and Hawkeye and in the process, Wasp was captured an he told them, "I wish I had let you die!" but noooo, he was totally going to let Diablo kill her to stop him. Suuuuure.

Fred Van Lente: And...was Cap's arrival foreshadowed the previous issue? Because I had to go back to see if I missed something and I was like, nope.

Brian Cronin: Nope, not foreshadowed in the least bit.

Eileen Gonzalez: Surprise!

Eileen Gonzalez: That panel of him grabbing Diablo's hand is pretty great.

Brian Cronin: SUCH A GOOD PANEL!

Brian Cronin: And yes, if he did not show up out of nowhere, the Wasp would be dead.

Fred Van Lente: He also has Reed Richards on speed-dial

Fred Van Lente: Oh, right, they have homing beacons on their "aero-cars". Lucky for them, because Reed Richards stopped answering his phone

Brian Cronin: His fight with Diablo, whose dyna-disk was a brand-new addition to his arsenal and is now all he uses to pull all sorts of powers out of thin air, brings up something we've noticed a lot recently.

Brian Cronin: Everyone keeps acting like Cap is this big veteran hero.

Brian Cronin: He was put into suspended animation before World War II ended.

Brian Cronin: He joined the army after Pearl Harbor.

Brian Cronin: So at MOST, he was a superhero for three years before being frozen.

Brian Cronin: So...well...huh?

Fred Van Lente: They get confused because that crazy guy impersonated him during the 50s

Eileen Gonzalez: I imagine The Legend of Captain America grew considerably in the intervening years, which probably is influencing their attitudes toward him now.

Brian Cronin: But he brought it up himself!

Fred Van Lente: Hell, Baby Yoda has been in like four episodes of television and he's pretty much taken over my Twitter feed like he's always been there.

Brian Cronin: "I've been in the superhero game a long time"

Eileen Gonzalez: I'd like to see them all sit down for a chat and the Avengers are talking about all of Cap's great adventures, and he's just like "Uh, that wasn't me, that was something made up for the newsreels."

Brian Cronin: A couple of issues ago, the Avengers were dead against the Triumvirate of Terror before Hercules showed up to rescue them and now they're dead until Cap shows up.

Brian Cronin: They need to step up their game.

Brian Cronin: The panel of Hercules lifting Dragon Man is amazing.

Fred Van Lente: Flashes of future Buscema Greatness

Eileen Gonzalez: Has Dragon Man gotten bigger all of a sudden? He looks way bigger in that panel.

Eileen Gonzalez: Or is that just me?

Fred Van Lente: It's the shorts

Brian Cronin: No, I think you're right, he is bigger now.

Brian Cronin: Or was, as Hercules just murdered him.

Brian Cronin: It IS funny how casual Hercules is with killing. He thought he killed him earlier, as well.

Fred Van Lente: Ah, he's a robot, Herc can get a good lawyer and beat that rap.

Eileen Gonzalez: Killing robots is an Avengers tradition.

Brian Cronin: He's taking advantage of the Black Widow "I'm not an Avenger, so I can kill everyone" loophole she used a few issues back.

Eileen Gonzalez: Like when they dropped that Spider-Man robot out of the sky all those issues ago.

Brian Cronin: How silly is Cap's "Oh, by the way, I rigged the place to blow up in thirty seconds"?

Fred Van Lente: Also there's literally an army of Dragon Man copies in the room on the other side of the wall

Brian Cronin: It's delivered so casually.

Brian Cronin: When did you do that, Cap?

Brian Cronin: When the Wasp almost DIED?

Fred Van Lente: Like a lot of green Marvel artists (and even Kirby in the beginning), Buscema is having a tough time pacing the ending.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, Heck had huge problems with that.

Brian Cronin: It all makes sense, of course, when you're plotting the pages out yourself.

Fred Van Lente: The last two panels are just like, Oh, bee-tee-dubs, Black Widow has been captured by the Chinese, we should go save her

Brian Cronin: But I would have thought Thomas' tighter plots would have helped in that regard.

Brian Cronin: Buscema does get better, so perhaps Thomas gets even tighter later?

Eileen Gonzalez: It seems like there's always that point towards the end where things get rushed all of a sudden.

Brian Cronin: Like imagine if the big Vision crying page was stuck in a small panel crammed together with a bunch of other panels

Fred Van Lente: I have no reason to think that Thomas isn't just doing exactly what Stan did and letting the artist pace the story himself. There's no plot as we think of them today.

Eileen Gonzalez: At least it looks like the Black Widow subplot is finally coming to a head.

Fred Van Lente: "The Bamboo Curtain" = not really a thing

Fred Van Lente: Also I like that Marvel heroes throw ideas of national borders and sovereignty out the window when kicking Commie ass is involved

Brian Cronin: The Avengers literally invaded a country so that Cap could impress Nick Fury!

Fred Van Lente: Isn't Black Widow a spy? Which is illegal? She could have broken legit espionage laws and is imprisoned for a reason man!!!

Eileen Gonzalez: Ha, yeah. They couldn't go storming into Latveria because of Doom, but when they want to go storming behind the Bamboo Curtain? No problem!

Fred Van Lente: Mao needs one of those cool armors with death rays and the Yankee Avengers will suddenly start talking Diplomatic Immunity

Brian Cronin: I do love how bad Hawkeye feels about doubting Natasha.

Brian Cronin: Freakin' GOLIATH was giving her more of the benefit of the doubt and his wife was literally murdered by Communist agents!

Brian Cronin: And, of course, in true Avengers tradition, Hawkeye wants to go after her alone.

Eileen Gonzalez: Why are they even a team if they constantly want to go in alone?

Brian Cronin: They need to be a team to get a swank mansion to live in.

Brian Cronin: I do like how Hercules used the destruction of the Dragon Man to hit on Scarlet Witch. "Yes, yes, it's sad I destroyed him. Let's have sex."

Fred Van Lente: It's not until the Vision shows up (not coincidentally once Buscema hits his stride) that this book gets anything resembling an identity. It just kind of staggered along with the random heroes from castoff other Marvel books.

Fred Van Lente: Two X-Men villains, two Iron Man villains, the shrink people, and Cap

Fred Van Lente: And now, a not-Thor god guy

Brian Cronin: And we're hitting the point where Stan Lee forces Cap out of the book.

Brian Cronin: It'll be fascinating to watch how Thomas deals with the "No Big Three" edict.

Brian Cronin: As his answer is to come up with reasons why the Big Three just happen to have to guest star that given issue.

Eileen Gonzalez: That's one way to get around it!

Brian Cronin: "Vision wants to be a member now, I guess Iron Man, Thor and Cap need to come back to vote!"

Brian Cronin: "Someone needs to test this adamantium. I guess Iron Man and Thor can come by to help.

Brian Cronin: The Red Guardian stuff coming up IS quite good, I recall, but yes, it isn't until Ultron shows up that things get REALLY good.

Eileen Gonzalez: Unless you're Hank Pym.

Brian Cronin: True, but life has never been good for Hank Pym.

Fred Van Lente: It's tough being a generic scientist-hero in the Marvel Universe, there's too many of them. Scott Lang was always way more interesting.

Fred Van Lente: And he won't be invented for another 15 years or so.

Brian Cronin: Marvel science means you have to have five degrees.

Brian Cronin: And do crazy stuff outside your field.

Brian Cronin: "World's best bio-chemist? Let's see you invent an artificial intelligence."

Fred Van Lente: Well this was great you guys! I regret I am only doing it on My Special Day.

Brian Cronin: Thanks, Fred! A blast having you over!

Eileen Gonzalez: It was great having you, Fred!

Brian Cronin: And since this will be running on the day, Happy Fred Van Lente Day, everyone!

Fred Van Lente: Thanks for having me, Eileen and Brian! Maybe we'll do it next year for issue #120!

Eileen Gonzalez: I'll mark it on my calendar!

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