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Who Is The Surprising(ly Lame) Leader of the Sons of the Serpent?

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!

We continue with Avengers #33, "To Smash a Serpent," by Don Heck and Stan Lee.

Brian Cronin: Recently, I did an article about which was the first comic book that people actually "speculated" on. You know, one where people bought mass quantities in the hope that it would go up in value.

Brian Cronin: And it is interesting to see that Lee continues to push the collectability of comics in these issues.

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, I feel that wasn't an uncommon thing Lee did in those days, promoting issues as The Next Big Thing.

Brian Cronin: I think, though, he is think of collectibility in a slightly different sense.

Brian Cronin: When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, people all over the country would save the newspapers that covered his death.

Brian Cronin: Not because they believed it would be worth something.

Brian Cronin: But because it commemorated a major event in US history.

Brian Cronin: I wonder if that's the sort of thing that Lee is referencing when he mentions people using the comics as "collectors items."

Brian Cronin: Hmmm...I'm probably getting too deep for Stan at this point.

Brian Cronin: It's more likely that he just knows, from fans writing in, that there are a lot of fans out there who are actively collecting comic books (and not just throwing them out once they were done, like in the Golden Age) and he's just trying to "cash in" on that idea.

Eileen Gonzalez: Possibly! I also remember reading that kids often traded comics around rather than keeping/collecting them. I half-wonder if this was an attempt to get the kid to buy more than one issue: one to save and one to pass around.

Brian Cronin: Just like when they came up with the idea of the Marvel Value Stamp in the 1970s!

Eileen Gonzalez: Well, I suppose comics is a business first and foremost.

Brian Cronin: I like how the background members of the Sons of the Serpent on the first page are helpfully just spouting out miscellaneous racist things

Brian Cronin: Just to make sure we know what their deal is.

Eileen Gonzalez: They're cheering on the head jerk.

Brian Cronin: Imagine a dude who just abruptly shouts out "The blood of Americans must be kept pure!"

Brian Cronin: Also, a quick case of historical perspective for our readers

Brian Cronin: Laws against interracial marriages were not yet unconstitutional by the time that this issue came out.

Brian Cronin: Let the absurdity of that sink in.

Brian Cronin: And then realize that 50 years from now, that's what people will think about stuff like gay marriage.

Brian Cronin: "Wait, that wasn't allowed? What the hell?"

Eileen Gonzalez: This issue came out in 1966, so the Civil Rights Act was a grand total of two years old.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, it's crazy and it's only a little over 50 years ago.

Eileen Gonzalez: That said, I think a lot of what goes on in this issue is still relevant today, which is a statement on both the timelessness of the storytelling and America in general.

Brian Cronin: Oh, totally.

Brian Cronin: Sad, but true.

Brian Cronin: Lackey #3's "Foreigners must be banished!" sure sounds familiar, eh?

Eileen Gonzalez: Very much so.

Eileen Gonzalez: I do wonder about the guy talking about the Serpents' sting, though. Do serpents sting?

Brian Cronin: They're dumb enough to join the Sons of the Serpent, I don't think they're the most educated of people.

Eileen Gonzalez: Ha, true!

Brian Cronin: Where are they holding Cap?

Brian Cronin: Is it just a giant yellow screen?

Eileen Gonzalez: Flypaper?

Brian Cronin: Or is Heck just trying to save time by just having a yellow background for panels

Brian Cronin: I like Heck's inks over his own pencils, but he probably was behind the eight ball on deadlines doing the plotting, penciling and inking of the issue.

Brian Cronin: We should look to see if there are any pages in the issue that feel like padding/break pages.

Eileen Gonzalez: Maybe he was tired after drawing all the details on the Serpents' costumes and needed a rest.

Brian Cronin: Those ARE some ornate costumes

Brian Cronin: I like Cap trash-talking the Supreme Serpent by bringing up Hitler.

Brian Cronin: Cap's the only dude who can say people remind him of Hitler and be just real about it.

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, he really snapped and let them have it.

Eileen Gonzalez: If nothing else, the fact that the screen he's chained to is electrified shows someone in the Serpents has the semblance of a brain cell.

Eileen Gonzalez: They knew their opponent would be tough and prepared accordingly.

Brian Cronin: They probably used an immigrant electrician, too, those dicks.

Eileen Gonzalez: I bet their whole ship was built by Mexicans.

Brian Cronin: Total jerks.

Brian Cronin: Stan does a great job with Hawkeye's character here.

Brian Cronin: Stan has really built Hawkeye up in recent issues. This is the version of the character that people grew to love, I imagine.

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, he finally has a personality that isn't "jerk." Even I'm warming up to him!

Brian Cronin: Stan gets in some good points about how, if they're willing to compromise their ideals to get Cap back, are they no longer being true to those ideals?

Brian Cronin: However, Goliath knows that a tried and true Avengers plan is to give in temporarily until you eventually win.

Eileen Gonzalez: And most important of all: never confide your plans to your teammates.

Brian Cronin: That's just Superhero Comic Book Plans 101

Eileen Gonzalez: And that means for once the in-fighting isn't even Hawkeye's fault.

Eileen Gonzalez: If I were him, I'd want to shoot Goliath too.

Eileen Gonzalez: Side note: Goliath apologizes for punching Hawkeye and promises to submit for disciplinary action later, but... I don't think he does. Oh well.

Brian Cronin: Goliath is all over the place.

Brian Cronin: By the way, in response to our recent discussion of Hank's mental issues, I did a bit looking at the origins of his problems and it was surprisingly before the Avengers even debuted!

Brian Cronin: Fascinating to see how long that had been part of his character status quo.

Brian Cronin: This is now the second issue in a row where an Avenger picked a fight with Goliath.

Brian Cronin: The dazed Hawkeye must be thinking. "He THANKED Cap! What did I do wrong?"

Brian Cronin: I liked that the Serpents showed up to deliver a message

Brian Cronin: And then left behind one of their snake sticks to...deliver a message

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, that was weird. I was sitting here wondering why they decided to show up at all when they already know the Avengers are on their side. Just wanted to confirm with their own eyes, I guess?

Brian Cronin: Make them feel bad, too?

Brian Cronin: These ARE really big jerks, after all.

Eileen Gonzalez: The biggest.

Brian Cronin: General Chen is also a big jerk, though.

Brian Cronin: I like that the two committee members are discussing how much they hate Chen while sitting just a few feet away from Chen.

Eileen Gonzalez: Ha, yeah, they are not subtle.

Eileen Gonzalez: This part is where the story begin to lose me, though. Everyone starts talking about how the Serpents have a right to free speech and stuff, but they've clearly gone beyond just speech. They're beating people up and throwing bombs at foreign leaders.

Brian Cronin: Did they take credit for the attack last issue?

Eileen Gonzalez: Hm, I thought they did, but that may have been Chen making assumptions.

Brian Cronin: But yeah, even if they were only SUSPECTED

Brian Cronin: That's still a far cry from just free speech, as you note.

Brian Cronin: Man, I feel so bad for Bill Foster.

Brian Cronin: It really does look like his new boss (and friend) just sold him out.

Eileen Gonzalez: Agreed. Poor guy shows up to work hard, gets beat up by racists and then betrayed by his new boss. I assume they made up later, but Foster doesn't return after this scene, so...

Brian Cronin: "This is a dangerous situation. The only way I can keep Bill protected is by making him think I'm a huge, cowardly racist."

Brian Cronin: "You always have a plan, High Pockets!"

Brian Cronin: I do love seeing Hawkeye be all impressed by Hank's dumb plan.

Eileen Gonzalez: Well Hank is a founding Avenger, so all of his ideas must be good ones.

Brian Cronin: The Serpents' plan really does make you wonder why people don't just send out fake Captain Americas more often.

Brian Cronin: Heck, the Silver Age DEBUT of Captain America was of a fake Captain America (as a test to see if fans wanted the real one to return).

Brian Cronin: It's not hard to fool people.

Brian Cronin: Banks would practically hand their money to you.

Eileen Gonzalez: I was gonna say that people would notice that the shield was fake, because unless they stole it I doubt they could get their hands on a vibranium shield, but you know what? From what we've seen of Marvel civilians, I bet it wouldn't be hard to fool them even so.

Brian Cronin: And even there, is his shield even adamantium/steel yet?

Brian Cronin: I don't believe it is yet.

Eileen Gonzalez: Good point. I don't know if they've mentioned the metal used in the shield yet!

Brian Cronin: Remember, Iron Man opened it up like a watch fob!

Brian Cronin: I actually did an article on the topic a few years back.

Brian Cronin: It wouldn't be until a later arc in Tales of Suspense by Kirby and Lee that the shield becomes indestructible.

Eileen Gonzalez: That's way better than Iron Man slapping magnets on it.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, it seems like Kirby would often just change stuff in Cap's solo feature.

Brian Cronin: Kirby dropped the magnets, Kirby dropped the whole "Cap is obsessed with Nick Fury" bit and eventually he dropped the whole "the shield can be taken apart" angle.

Eileen Gonzalez: It's fun to watch all this stuff develop in real time.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, it's amazing to see just how much everyone and everything about them evolves all the time.

Brian Cronin: Cloud cover is a smart thing for the villains, but if one small cloud just hovers through the city...not so smart, right?

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, and even with a bunch of clouds, Hawkeye notices something's up pretty fast.

Eileen Gonzalez: Then again, the civilians might assume a random unnatural cloud is a publicity stunt for raincoats or something.

Brian Cronin: "Umbrellas! Get your racist umbrellas here!"

Brian Cronin: That might turn out to be their hidden agenda this entire time!

Eileen Gonzalez: Meanwhile, the Serpents have all gathered to say hello to Hawkeye. As terrible as they are, in some respects, they are a cut above your average crook in terms of intelligence. They sure do know their opponents.

Brian Cronin: Hawkeye has now improved to the point where Heck gives him the patented "Cap taking on multiple villains" action sequence.

Eileen Gonzalez: And he doesn't do half bad, either!

Brian Cronin: As the team has gotten weaker overall

Brian Cronin: They've pulled out some impressive achievements

Brian Cronin: Like when Cap, Hawkeye and Wasp showed up to rescue Goliath a couple of issues ago and they were like a force of nature tearing through the underworld base of the Keeper of the Flame.

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, Hawkeye is definitely very impressive here. And eventually so is Goliath in his own way, defying the Serpents to give that fiery Racism is Bad speech.

Brian Cronin: But why did he need to open with the "but they're not bad" preamble?

Brian Cronin: I think Goliath could have gotten a huge crowd himself through a press conference, no?

Brian Cronin: His big plan is to pretend to go along just to denounce them before he knows if Cap is okay?

Brian Cronin: How does that make any sense?

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, this whole plan is... not great. Maybe he finally realized that Cap wouldn't want it this way?

Brian Cronin: Or he's SUPER confident in Hawkeye?

Eileen Gonzalez: I find that hard to believe.

Eileen Gonzalez: I guess the speech could have been a distraction to keep the Serpents occupied while Hawkeye went about his business.

Brian Cronin: By the way, Lee and Heck beautifully showed how depressingly quick the crowd was ready to believe Cap.

Brian Cronin: Fickle, stupid people still get to vote

Brian Cronin: And so these morons are the ones who are deciding elections in the Marvel Universe.

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, this crowd is something else. The Avengers support the Serpents, you say? Then I guess the Serpents aren't that bad! Oh, wait, the Avenger DON'T support the Serpents? I knew they were kooks? And so on.

Brian Cronin: Wasp once again does her best skill

Brian Cronin: Opening doors to free other heroes.

Brian Cronin: It's fascinating how similar this issue is to the ending of Nick Spencer's Secret Empire.

Brian Cronin: With the real Cap showing up to kick the ass of the phony racist Cap.

Eileen Gonzalez: I do like watching Cap beat up his fake racist counterpart.

Eileen Gonzalez: And then Black Widow just shows up out of nowhere? Wasn't she supposed to be working this case alone to prove her loyalty to the Avengers?

Brian Cronin: Her showing up makes ZERO sensee

Brian Cronin: First, she doesn't warn Hawkeye about the Serpents and now she shows up?

Brian Cronin: Huh?

Eileen Gonzalez: I feel like Lee and/or Heck forgot she was a part of this until the story was almost over.

Eileen Gonzalez: And then they had to shove her in real quick to resolve things.

Brian Cronin: And then had her working...with Cap?

Brian Cronin: Or with the Avengers overall?

Brian Cronin: Has she been working with them the entire time?

Brian Cronin: It's one thing to not explain the plot to your teammates, but eventually you have to explain it to us readers, no?

Eileen Gonzalez: Hawkeye says something about Natasha being hidden in his plane when he first arrived, but we saw NO evidence of that.

Brian Cronin: And then we get the big reveal that General Chen is the Supreme Serpent.

Brian Cronin: Which...really makes no sense, either.

Eileen Gonzalez: Remember, kids, the real root of American racism is communism. That seems about right.

Brian Cronin: Right?

Eileen Gonzalez: I guess this is why they kept pretending earlier that the Serpents had always acted within the law and hadn't beat people up. Otherwise they wouldn't be able to let all the Serpents but Chen get away unpunished.

Brian Cronin: This sadly becomes a recurring bit in Serpent stories

Brian Cronin: "Look, the racist group is led by someone other than a white guy!"

Eileen Gonzalez: I was honestly so disappointed the first time I read this issue. Here I thought we were getting a progressive story and then this happens.

Brian Cronin: It's such a bad idea.

Eileen Gonzalez: Chen is cartoonishly evil, even for a comic. He goes all Scooby-Doo villain at the end there. "And I would have gotten away with it too...!"

Eileen Gonzalez: Bad, bad execution all around.

Brian Cronin: Maybe also a case of Lee and Heck pulling back a bit, so as to not get too political?

Brian Cronin: "Nah, nah, don't worry, white people, you're still okay!"

Eileen Gonzalez: I can definitely believe they were trying to avoid a pushback. But that just undermines the message they were so strong about in the beginning.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, precisely.

Brian Cronin: I also wonder if the Marvel Method is also rearing its head at the end of the story

Brian Cronin: As Heck seems like he had to throw a bunch of stuff together at the end.

Brian Cronin: So the story ends abruptly.

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, it felt a little slapdash in the last quarter of the issue, as also exemplified by Black Widow showing up out of nowhere.

Brian Cronin: It really is a shame, since the story opened up so strong before falling apart a bit at the end.

Brian Cronin: Just one more issue for Stan Lee coming up!

Eileen Gonzalez: I don't think the next issue deals with such heavy topics, but hopefully it'll at least give us a good story for Lee to go out on!

Brian Cronin: It introduces the Living Laser, so it MUST be an instant classic, right?

Brian Cronin: Right?

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