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 #20, "Vengeance is Ours!" by Don Heck, Stan Lee and Wallace Wood.
Brian Cronin: This comic is one of the rare times that you will ever see an inker promoted on the cover of a comic book!
Brian Cronin: Stan Lee and Wallace Wood had one of the strangest relationships you'll ever see in comics.
Brian Cronin: Stan Lee was a huge Wood fan, as well he should be, as Wood was brilliant.
Brian Cronin: So when Lee got Wood to work for Marvel, Lee was so pumped about it that he promoted the heck out of Wood.
Brian Cronin: This, really, shows the great dichotomous aspect of Stan Lee's personality.
Brian Cronin: He admired guys like Wood and Kirby and he would promote the heck out of them, because he truly did admire them.
Brian Cronin: At the same time, though, he wouldn't give them credit for all of the work that they did.
Brian Cronin: And apparently wouldn't necessarily pay them for all of the work that they did.
Brian Cronin: For instance, Don Heck, by this point in time, was likely doing the bulk of the plotting of Avengers issues
Brian Cronin: And yet he wasn't paid extra over what he was paid when he was just drawing stories.
Brian Cronin: Wood was aghast at that practice when he began plotting Daredevil stories for Lee.
Brian Cronin: Even though Lee promoted the heck out of Wood drawing Daredevil.
Brian Cronin: Lee just never quite seemed to put two and two together for why guys like Wood hated him.
Brian Cronin: Since he admired Wood so much and believed that he was promoting him a lot.
Brian Cronin: Anyhow, this begins Wood's short stint as Don Heck's inker on Avengers.
Brian Cronin: And it DOES look really good, right?
Eileen Gonzalez: It really does! No disrespect to previous Avengers inkers, but you can really tell the difference between this issue and the previous ones.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, Heck and Ayers have been a decent match, to be sure.
Brian Cronin: But it was more a matter of convenience than anything else. When you move to a master like this, it's a big step up.
Brian Cronin: Even if it's a Swordsman story.
Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, I guess it would have been nice if the story was a little grander to go along with the new inking.
Eileen Gonzalez: Especially since this story is about to take another weird-ish turn
Brian Cronin: I think that goes along with the Don Heck plotting deal.
Brian Cronin: You can attribute so much of the weirdness in Marvel Comics of the mid-1960s to artists who weren't used to plotting suddenly having to plot.
Brian Cronin: Luckily, Roy Thomas is coming soon and while Thomas still technically worked Marvel Method, he was much more intricate with his plots.
Brian Cronin: Thomas became the real writer, ya know?
Eileen Gonzalez: Fortunately I love mid-1960s Marvel weirdness, lol
Brian Cronin: Here, I doubt Lee contributed much more than "Hey, let's get the Mandarin involved in here."
Brian Cronin: I love the recap on the splash about Swordsman's moronic plan.
Brian Cronin: "Make me your leader or I'll kill your current leader!"
Eileen Gonzalez: I'm just impressed the Avengers managed to work together long enough to save Cap. Of course, they start bickering again for no reason the second the job is done...
Brian Cronin: True. By the way, if Hawkeye had a rope arrow ready, wouldn't that have done the job right off the bat?
Brian Cronin: And I like how Scarlet Witch's powers continue to make no sense.
Brian Cronin: "She gave that girder bad luck!"
Eileen Gonzalez: You'd think she could have given those ropes binding Captain America's hands bad luck and untied them right off the bat.
Eileen Gonzalez: Then he could punch Swordsman in the face and boom, battle over
Eileen Gonzalez: I like how Quicksilver probably just ruined some couch potato's night by ripping out the TV antenna. Someone was watching Gilligan's Island in that building!
Brian Cronin: You have to love how Heck thinks twirling a sword is, like, this amazing thing.
Brian Cronin: "Oh no, he's twirling his sword around! We're screwed!"
Brian Cronin: At least he isn't having his sword boomerang back to him like last issue, which is, as you noted, not how swords works at all.
Eileen Gonzalez: He still doesn't know how swords work! Unless I'm just overlooking some super obvious meaning to the phrase "my sword can do my running for me." What does that mean???
Brian Cronin: Also, I don't get it, is he trying to stab Quicksilver or what?
Brian Cronin: That's why heroes AND villains with swords are usually a bad idea.
Brian Cronin: Like the Black Knight.
Brian Cronin: He's not going to, like, stab bad guys.
Brian Cronin: And if he's not going to stab bad guys, you have to bend over backwards thinking of things for his sword to do.
Brian Cronin: Luckily, Swordsman's sword gets an upgrade later this issue so Heck was probably annoying himself, too.
Brian Cronin: Hoisted by his own petard!
Eileen Gonzalez: At least Hawkeye's arrows have range so he can shoot people from a distance. With the Swordsman, he's already met his match in the form of Cap's shield.
Brian Cronin: They're super chill about him seemingly vaporizing in front of their eyes.
Eileen Gonzalez: Meh. They've seen weirder. They have more important things to do, like fight over who gets to be leader.
Brian Cronin: Which leads to the all-time classic line from Quicksilver noting that Cap and Hawkeye are too hot-tempered to be leader.
Brian Cronin: ....
Brian Cronin: I think I stroked out after reading that.
Eileen Gonzalez: I guess Avengers Mansion doesn't have mirrors because he clearly hasn't looked in one lately.
Brian Cronin: How cool is that panel of Mandarin watching them?
Brian Cronin: It seems a bit too high brow for this issue, to be honest.
Brian Cronin: Sort of arty.
Eileen Gonzalez: That is a pretty great panel. Personally I'd say it's kind of wasted not only in this issue but on the Mandarin too. I've never been able to get into him as a villain--he's based too much on the racist Fu Manchu archetype for me.
Brian Cronin: That's been the problem with Mandarin ever since.
Brian Cronin: He's a super racist villain.
Brian Cronin: And yet he's one of Iron Man's biggest enemies.
Brian Cronin: Which is so confusing for writers to deal with.
Brian Cronin: He's so big that writers don't want to just ignore him.
Brian Cronin: But he's just soooo racist.
Brian Cronin: So they all basically try to tone the racist stuff down as best as they can, but it is tough when the very concept of the character is, as you noted, couched in Fu Manchu stuff.
Eileen Gonzalez: Personally I say put him on ice permanently, but with the way death is such a revolving door in comics, I know that he'll just be back in a year even if they do kill him off, lol. Oh well.
Brian Cronin: I believe he's actually remained dead since Fraction killed him off in his run.
Eileen Gonzalez: I'm glad to hear that, but I know he's been dead before...
Brian Cronin: Shoot, I forgot that Matthew Rosenberg brought him back for his current Punisher run.
Brian Cronin: But yeah, Mandarin sucks.
Brian Cronin: Luckily, Heck doesn't lean TOO much on the caricature stuff.
Eileen Gonzalez: True. His inclusion here feels random, though. As you noted, a lot of these early Avengers stories take sudden, strange turns right in the middle.
Brian Cronin: I think it's one of a few different scenarios.
Brian Cronin: 1. Mandarin was created by Heck and Lee, so Heck was familiar with him
Brian Cronin: 2. Lee thought it would be interesting to bring him in
Brian Cronin: 3. Heck (and/or Lee) felt that Swordsman really needed a power upgrade.
Brian Cronin: Because there's only a certain amount of sword-spinning that you can get away with.
Eileen Gonzalez: To be fair, Swordsman does need an upgrade.
Eileen Gonzalez: And he sure gets it here!
Brian Cronin: I love, though, that his first instinct is to grab his back-up sword (also called a knife) and try to stab Mandarin.
Brian Cronin: Honestly, Swordsman comes off a LOT better in this issue, right?
Brian Cronin: He was mostly a cipher and/or a jerk in the previous issue.
Brian Cronin: Here, he has some personality.
Eileen Gonzalez: That is true! He's not about to take Mandy's interference lying down.
Eileen Gonzalez: (Although I think he does end up lying down because of the Mandarin's machines. Whoops.)
Brian Cronin: Meanwhile, the Avengers continue their monotonous bickering.
Brian Cronin: Really, they all come off as such jerks.
Eileen Gonzalez: With the way they're written here, one wonders why they think the Swordsman wouldn't fit in. They're all kind of... bad.
Brian Cronin: It's like Stan Lee came up with a cool idea and has decided to just, like, triple down on it.
Brian Cronin: "It's interesting to see superhero teammates who don't always get a long"
Brian Cronin: Good idea
Brian Cronin: "Superhero teammates who constantly harp on every little thing"
Brian Cronin: Not so good idea.
Brian Cronin: Great panel of Scarlet Witch by Heck and Wood, even if it includes the nonsensical "if you anger Quicksilver, you anger the Scarlet Witch."
Brian Cronin: Sooo... you're saying you're constantly angry?
Eileen Gonzalez: If Quicksilver was my brother, I'd be angry a lot too.
Brian Cronin: Also, "If not for your powers, you'd be nothing."
Brian Cronin: That's WHY HE HAS POWERS, HAWKEYE!
Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, that was such a weird line. At least when Cap said something similar to Iron Man in the movie ("take away your suit and what are you?") he was under mind control. Hawkeye is just Hawkeye.
Eileen Gonzalez: Honestly, looking at this I wonder why it took 40 years for an official Civil War to break out.
Brian Cronin: Ha!
Brian Cronin: And also, why would Hawkeye think his arrows are faster than a dude with super speed?
Brian Cronin: He's seen Quicksilver in action for a bunch of issues now.
Brian Cronin: How could he possibly think his arrows could beat him?
Eileen Gonzalez: He probably got so caught up in his argument that he started shooting his mouth off and didn't realize until too late that what he was saying was complete BS.
Brian Cronin: Good call.
Eileen Gonzalez: And by that point he couldn't risk backing down and admitting he was wrong, so he had to go through with it.
Brian Cronin: Scarlet Witch's celebrations with Quicksilver are always a little too close for my tastes.
Brian Cronin: It always looks like she's about to start making out with him.
Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, I noticed that too. Given more recent developments, those panels are uncomfortable at best.
Brian Cronin: I love the idea of Mandarin being able to create perfect doubles of Iron Man.
Brian Cronin: I bet he does it all the time and has them, like, grovel at his feet.
Brian Cronin: What a loser.
Brian Cronin: Swordsman's zinger was also pretty good.
Brian Cronin: "Why DO you always lose to Iron Man?"
Eileen Gonzalez: Ha! I can see Mandarin doing that.
Eileen Gonzalez: I can't help but notice that Mandarin's plan sounds suspiciously similar to all those other villains' plans to plant a fake Avenger on the team to help destroy them.
Brian Cronin: And yet they were willing to accept Hawkeye at his word.
Brian Cronin: Kurt Busiek once had an idea for something like this.
Brian Cronin: Where new members keep joining the Avengers.
Brian Cronin: Until it is just Cap and a bunch of new members.
Brian Cronin: And they all reveal that they are the Masters of Evil.
Brian Cronin: That idea, of course, was later revamped into Thunderbolts.
Eileen Gonzalez: Ooh, neat!
Eileen Gonzalez: I just wonder why Mandy would go in for a plan like this when he's presumably been keeping close enough tabs on Iron Man to realize that you can't beat the Avengers that way.
Brian Cronin: He's egotistical enough that he insists that Iron Man never defeated him.
Brian Cronin: So I think he's beyond being reasoned with on something like this.
Eileen Gonzalez: lol true. That's the way with most supervillains.
Brian Cronin: But even then.
Brian Cronin: "I know how to beat Iron Man. Attack the Avengers while he...isn't there!"
Brian Cronin: "Yeah, that's the ticket!"
Eileen Gonzalez: The fake Iron Man that Mandarin sends to the Avengers does actually make a decent point about how Hawkeye doesn't have a leg to stand on in criticizing the Swordsman's attempts to get on the team. I mean... Hawkeye, you did the exact same thing.
Eileen Gonzalez: The only thing is that I guess Mandarin doesn't know about Hawkeye and Swordsman's shared past.
Eileen Gonzalez: And how Swordsman tried to kill him all those years ago.
Brian Cronin: It is hilarious how we establish this big shared backstory.
Brian Cronin: And it doesn't factor in AT ALL
Brian Cronin: What in the world was the point of that?
Brian Cronin: It's such a big misfire
Eileen Gonzalez: I'd like to say they were saving that up for later (and it does come up far down the road, if I remember right), but I somehow doubt they planned that far ahead.
Eileen Gonzalez: I like that panel where all the Avengers are watching the Swordsman and it looks like they're surrounding him. Gives an idea of the mood at Avengers Mansion at the moment.
Brian Cronin: Ha!
Brian Cronin: Yeah, I like to think that their training sessions were just Swordsman twirling his sword.
Brian Cronin: Boy, Scarlet Witch...everyone is gaga over that lady!
Brian Cronin: Swordsman is willing to double-cross Mandarin for her!
Brian Cronin: I liked Swordman walking in on Swordsman while he's sleeping.
Brian Cronin: Imagine if Swordsman was...having special private time.
Eileen Gonzalez: Ha! Yeah, that panel is hilarious. Mandy has no respect for anyone's privacy.
Brian Cronin: "Swordsman! What is the status...what are you doing?!?"
Eileen Gonzalez: Sounds like the beginning of a slash fic
Brian Cronin: Swordsman/Mandarin slash fic is always the least common
Eileen Gonzalez: Maybe we'll start a new trend
Eileen Gonzalez: It's weird how the Swordsman objects to blowing up the Avengers right this minute, but blowing them up at a later date was cool with him.
Brian Cronin: Well, he was planning on convincing Mandarin to let him spare Scarlet Witch
Brian Cronin: Because she's too hot to die.
Brian Cronin: Mandarin's plans are so haphazard.
Eileen Gonzalez: Ah, right, of course.
Brian Cronin: "We will wait until Iron Man returns to blow them up."
Brian Cronin: Waits two days.
Brian Cronin: "THIS IS TOO LONG! JUST KILL THEM NOW!"
Eileen Gonzalez: No wonder Iron Man "escapes" from him so often.
Brian Cronin: Also, couldn't Mandarin just make an image of Cap and send it to Stark International and tell Iron Man to come to Avengers Mansion?
Brian Cronin: Then again, I guess he would have less explanation for the voice being off.
Brian Cronin: I love that he can't duplicate the voice.
Brian Cronin: "Of course I can replicate a person perfectly, but their VOICE, too? What kind of science fiction nonsense would that be?"
Eileen Gonzalez: I really want to know what the Swordsman was thinking when he told Cap "I can explain." Uh, no, you really can't. This is pretty much exactly what it looks like.
Brian Cronin: I like that Cap knows what "nitro-bombs" are at a moment's glance in the dark.
Brian Cronin: But yeah, sucks for Swordsman, but come on, dude, you brought this on yourself.
Eileen Gonzalez: Cap has built-in night vision, I guess
Eileen Gonzalez: Even with the upgrades from Mandarin, the Swordsman still loses in a hurry.
Brian Cronin: It's kind of sad, though, that the Avengers need, like, a plan to take down the freaking Swordsman.
Brian Cronin: Not just "Use your super speed to knock him out before he can even move his dumb sword."
Eileen Gonzalez: And they don't even go looking for him after he ostensibly blows up!
Eileen Gonzalez: You'd think Quicksilver could recon the whole block in under a second, but nope.
Brian Cronin: The ending is amazing, because it's totally
Brian Cronin: "We don't know where we're going with this."
Brian Cronin: "We might bring them back, we might not. Who knows?"
Brian Cronin: There is even a bit in the letter column where they say that Lee and Heck were too busy doing the next issue of Iron Man to even say what was going to be in the next issue of Avengers.
Brian Cronin: They really were doing so much of this by the seat of their pants.
Eileen Gonzalez: And it shows
Brian Cronin: And obviously, by the end of Avengers #20, Heck was already working on #21.
Brian Cronin: But Lee DIDN'T KNOW WHAT HECK WAS DOING.
Brian Cronin: That's the little secret Lee wanted to keep quiet.
Brian Cronin: That the artists were now doing so much plotting that he legit didn't know what the plot was until it showed up for him to script.
Brian Cronin: So it's just "That Lee-Heck Magic" because he couldn't write anything else.
Eileen Gonzalez: If nothing else, at least this method resulted in some entertaining stories. They're not perfect by any means, but I can't say I'm not enjoying them.
Eileen Gonzalez: Sometimes the crazy just makes it even more fun.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, this was a fun issue.
Brian Cronin: And Heck does start to try to slowly tie this stuff together.
Brian Cronin: Starting with Power Man's intro next issue!
Eileen Gonzalez: Ah, yes, time for another new villain!
Brian Cronin: Hooray!