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 #39, "The Torment...and the Triumph!" by Don Heck, Roy Thomas and George Roussos.
Eileen Gonzalez: Such a dramatic title
Brian Cronin: We see two things right away on the splash page. 1. Roy Thomas is leaning right into the over-the-top emotional stuff that you can do pretty well with this particular cast and 2. Don Heck's romance comic past is on full display.
Brian Cronin: Thomas even jokes about it on the splash page.
Brian Cronin: Where he explains that this comic still has the Mad Thinker and His Triumvirate of Terror, so be forewarned, this isn't a romance comic!
Brian Cronin: Thomas is mastering the self-effacing way that Stan Lee used to talk in his openings.
Brian Cronin: A clever balance between bravado and teasing of himself.
Eileen Gonzalez: Well, I guess the cover does look like a romance comic, what with the shirtless guy.
Eileen Gonzalez: And yes, the tone of the comic has remained essentially unchanged since Stan Lee was writing, even though we're seeing a slight change in the way the stories are constructed.
Brian Cronin: Heck's designs of the villains on the cover are...uninspired at best.
Brian Cronin: It's not often that you can right off the bat say, "Yeah, these villains aren't going anywhere," but the Triumvirate of Terror definitely go that direction.
Eileen Gonzalez: Agreed. The Thinker in particular is just... bleh.
Brian Cronin: I love Quicksilver's, "We never would have guessed that she would betray us...even though that's exactly what we were talking about last issue!"
Eileen Gonzalez: Even Hank seems befuddled.
Eileen Gonzalez: I do love how lax the security is at the defense installation Natasha broke into. Like if a person really broke in there and was stealing classified plans, would the Army NOT be shooting to kill?
Brian Cronin: Yeah, it's interesting that they're specifically NOT trying to hit her while she's noting how she is eluding them because of her suction shoes.
Brian Cronin: They have given Black Widow an unreasonably high opinion of her eluding skills.
Brian Cronin: "Just shoot around her!" "Wow, I'm so graceful that they keep just missing me!"
Brian Cronin: I'm unsure exactly what the public's stance regarding the Black Widow is at this point in time.
Brian Cronin: How do they know her as anything BUT a villain? Just a villain who's recently been hanging out with the Avengers.
Eileen Gonzalez: Hm, yeah, I'm not sure about that. I guess the public might be used to ex-villains joining the Avengers by this point, so they might have just assumed the Avengers were tricked into accepting a criminal as a member again like with the Swordsman.
Brian Cronin: I imagine the headlines, "Wait, Swordsman's a BAD GUY?"
Eileen Gonzalez: Poor Marvel civilians, so confused.
Eileen Gonzalez: Even Jasper Sitwell and Nick Fury don't seem to know what to think of Black Widow, and they recruited her.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, what the heck, Sitwell?
Brian Cronin: "Sounds like the Black Widow did the mission we assigned her exactly as we told her to do it....but can we trust her to do what she just did, even though she clearly just did it?"
Brian Cronin: It's fascinating that Hank has now become her biggest defender.
Brian Cronin: It's not really supported by anything, is it?
Brian Cronin: Thomas deftly works continuity of the Agents of SHIELD feature in Strange Tales into the story, with Fury's cryptic "I am on bed rest" comment.
Brian Cronin: Thomas must be the first writer in Marvel history to actually worry about whether a character's appearance here jibes with the plot in that character's regular book. We've seen Heck and Stan tie in other titles, but not so much in this fashion, where it's Thomas anticipating readers saying, "But wait, how is Fury here when he's supposed to be on bed rest?"
Eileen Gonzalez: I believe he does the same thing with Captain America later in this issue, too. It's really interesting to see them tying the different titles together at that level.
Brian Cronin: The Strange Tales stuff makes more sense, though, as Thomas had just recently been doing dialogue for Steranko on Agents of SHIELD.
Brian Cronin: And the story Thomas is specifically referencing in Strange Tales #155, was Steranko's first issue dialoguing his own work.
Brian Cronin: Man, can you imagine going from a Steranko issue at the time to this Heck issue? Heck has not been on a particularly good stretch these last few issues (the Living Laser's minions were ridiculously racist, the Ultroid designs were poor and now the Triumvirate of Terror are weak, as well).
Brian Cronin: The book really needs the jolt that Buscema soon brings to it.
Brian Cronin: I'm a big Heck fan in general, but he's been lagging these last few issues.
Eileen Gonzalez: When I saw the reference to Strange Tales, I went and skimmed the issue they were talking about, and... yeah. No offense to Heck, but Sterenko's stuff is just in a class by itself.
Brian Cronin: I guess that's really been Heck's "problem" this whole time.
Brian Cronin: That you flip through the other Marvel books on the rack at the time and you get Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four, Thor and the Captain America feature in Tales of Suspense.
Brian Cronin: You got John Romita on Amazing Spider-Man
Brian Cronin: You got Gil Kane on the Hulk feature in Tales to Astonish
Brian Cronin: You got Gene Colan on the Iron Man feature in Tales of Suspense
Brian Cronin: You got Jim Steranko on the Agents of SHIELD feature in Strange Tales.
Brian Cronin: You got Bill Everett on the Namor feature in Tales to Astonish.
Brian Cronin: Oh, and Colan is on Daredevil, too.
Brian Cronin: A lot of legendary artists all working together at the same time. It's very tough for Heck to live up to that.
Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah. I feel bad, because as you said, Heck really is not a bad artist by any means. But when you're in league with legends, well...
Brian Cronin: But even in that context, he's not been at his sharpest the last few issues. The Mad Thinker here is barely even recognizable, right?
Brian Cronin: Why is the Mad Thinker even attacking the Avengers?
Brian Cronin: Boredom? He mentions wanting to steal some of Tony Stark's stuff, but there surely has to be an easier way to do that than attack a team of superheroes, right?
Brian Cronin: "My plots have always failed due to the human element....also, I attack superheroes instead of just the security team at random Stark Enterprises headquarters B."
Eileen Gonzalez: I think he spouts some nonsense about wanting to intimidate the Fantastic four (because that always works well for Doctor Doom), but his main goal does seem to be the Stark tech, in which case, yeah, why is he here?
Eileen Gonzalez: Though as we've seen in the past, Avengers Mansion security is not up to snuff.
Brian Cronin: True, people DO tend to waltz right into their headquarters a lot.
Brian Cronin: I also like the idea of "My plans have failed due to the human element, so let me hire a trio of loser supervillains. That's the way things will turn around for me!"
Eileen Gonzalez: Where did he even find these guys? Were they established characters or just random weirdos off the street?
Brian Cronin: I suspect he gave them their suits.
Brian Cronin: The most notable thing about these rejects is that they beat the Wrecking Crew to these particular names (well, Hammerhead and Piledriver, that is).
Eileen Gonzalez: In that case I see why he's called the Thinker and not the Designer.
Eileen Gonzalez: I did wonder if they were related to the Wrecking Crew. I guess not, then.
Brian Cronin: The Thinker's look fluctuates throughout the issue.
Brian Cronin: Although I guess Roussos needs to take some blame there, too.
Brian Cronin: I love the Avengers and their consistent disregard for emergencies.
Brian Cronin: "Oh no, Hawkeye's in trouble! Let's go save him!" "Whoa, hold on there, he's only on BLUE level trouble! You don't send everyone out on just BLUE level emergencies!"
Brian Cronin: Then inevitably later..."Why did we only send two of us out on this mission?!"
Eileen Gonzalez: They are so desensitized to danger that they just don't take it seriously anymore. Either that, or Hawkeye gets himself into stupid situations so often that they don't feel like expending that much energy on him.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, that's a fair point.
Brian Cronin: Hawkeye might routinely call in condition blues when, like, he needs a lift to the bank or whatever.
Brian Cronin: "It IS an emergency! If I don't pay this bill by closing time, I'll be charged a late fee! A LATE FEE!!!!!"
Eileen Gonzalez: I can see that very thing happening.
Brian Cronin: "We're here, Hawkeye! What's the emergency?" "I can't reach the remote. Can you change the channel for me?"
Eileen Gonzalez: Or given Wasp's characterization, she might want help choosing a dress at a sale.
Brian Cronin: Speaking of the Wasp, she's rarely been shown to be all that competent, but ooph, this is a particular lowpoint for her.
Brian Cronin: First, she needs Goliath to tell her to do the only thing that she does
Brian Cronin: And secondly, she can't even do THAT!
Brian Cronin: "Oh no, my only weakness! Shovels full of dirt!"
Eileen Gonzalez: She's so inconsequential that apparently the Thinker didn't even plan for her demise? Piledriver straight-up says he forgot about her, and the Thinker attributes her defeat to "calculated luck." Ouch.
Brian Cronin: It's not quite as embarrassing as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch being defeated by...Thunderboot.
Brian Cronin: I mean, in all of these cases, the Mad Thinker's planning is a big factor
Brian Cronin: But Quicksilver still pretty much got taken out mano-a-mano by THUNDRBOOT.
Eileen Gonzalez: And I guess the Thinker was the first among us to figure out how Scarlet Witch's hex power works, since he's able to predict what it'll do.
Brian Cronin: I'd love for one of his henchmen to ask him right there
Brian Cronin: "So, how do Scarlet Witch's powers work?"
Brian Cronin: We could have learned decades ahead of time!
Eileen Gonzalez: Show your work, Thinker!
Brian Cronin: Sadly for the Mad Thinker, there are two things that you can never expect.
Brian Cronin: The Spanish Inquisition and Hercules
Brian Cronin: I adore Thunderboot being upset at Thinker calling them fools.
Brian Cronin: "Hey, that is not cool. You are creating a hostile working environment here, Mad Thinker."
Eileen Gonzalez: I really hope there's a complaint bureau for disgruntled henchmen.
Brian Cronin: Maybe that's why he has always worked with artificial beings before now. He was always an HR nightmare.
Eileen Gonzalez: I am so angry at the Thinker right now. The one thing he has going for him (beside those comfy-looking purple jammies) is his ability to think and plan. And yet at the last second (literally!), when he could have finished the Avengers... he doesn't.
Eileen Gonzalez: Shame on you, sir.
Brian Cronin: And is mean to his minions in the process!
Brian Cronin: Double shame!
Brian Cronin: It's fascinating that the issue really boils down to "Avengers are defeated by the Mad Thinker and three low level villians...Hercules arrives and just beats everyone up solo."
Eileen Gonzalez: I can only guess Thomas wanted an excuse to spotlight Hercules' talents and what he would bring to the team/book. Because yeah, the Avengers have performed very poorly today.
Eileen Gonzalez: And then when Hercules finally frees the Avengers and they're all ready to fight together, they cut away and we don't even get to see the fight!
Eileen Gonzalez: We just get snark from a couple of civilians.
Brian Cronin: That might have also been a pacing issue by Heck.
Brian Cronin: Where he didn't leave himself enough room at the end. We've seen that from him before, where he had to suddenly cram a lot into the last page.
Brian Cronin: Thinking back on it, Heck's final pages have been fascinating in that regard.
Brian Cronin: They're always a bunch of panels.
Eileen Gonzalez: You're probably right on that. The narration even says they're all out of room--more lampshade hanging from Thomas?
Brian Cronin: Yeah, must be.
Brian Cronin: It's interesting, also, how Hank seems to want to always end every issue on a down note.
Brian Cronin: "Well, we saved the day, but can you imagine how awful it must be to be a god stuck on Earth?"
Brian Cronin: It's nice to know, also, that the Avengers were always talking about Thor behind his back.
Eileen Gonzalez: Usually it's Captain America doing the angsting, but since he's not here, angsting over Herc will do just fine.
Brian Cronin: "I was just looking out the window."
Brian Cronin: "You guys are giving me way more angst than I actually have."
Eileen Gonzalez: Ha, yeah. Herc is probably thinking about those waitresses at the restaurant he went to earlier.
Brian Cronin: By the way, earlier in the issue, there's a reference to the Steve Reeves Hercules movies.
Brian Cronin: It'll be interesting to see if they work one of those into every issue.
Brian Cronin: We're already two for two.
Brian Cronin: That Steve Reeves film defined the look for Marvel's Hercules so much that it seems like Thomas can't get past that.
Brian Cronin: I get the impulse, but it's just funny seeing it in action.
Eileen Gonzalez: I did wonder just how popular Steve Reeves was that he warranted this many references, but if he was the inspiration for the character's look, then I see why they keep hammering it in.
Brian Cronin: I mean...
Brian Cronin: Ya know?
Eileen Gonzalez: Are we sure Heck didn't trace that picture?
Brian Cronin: Ha!
Brian Cronin: Hey, Kirby's the one who came up with the idea to just turn Reeves' Hercules into Marvel's Hercules.
Brian Cronin: I await the next issue of the Avengers, when Mary Poppins, Doctor Doolittle and The Man With No Name join the team!
Eileen Gonzalez: The true ultimate crossover!