The Avengers Show the Evils of Racism With 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 #32, "The Sign of the Serpent" by Don Heck and Stan Lee.

Brian Cronin: You could tell right off the bat that Lee and Heck probably put a little more effort into this one.

Brian Cronin: Heck inked himself and it sure seems like Lee was more involved in the plotting than normal.

Brian Cronin: Hence him telling us how deeply-moving it in on the front page.

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Eileen Gonzalez: This issue feels kind of like a Very Special Episode, but you can tell there was effort put into it. Lee and Heck clearly felt very strongly about this one.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, like a lot of Very Special Episode type stuff, there's going to be some ham-handedness in it

Brian Cronin: But it was clearly done very earnestly.

Eileen Gonzalez: They tried! And I commend them for that

Brian Cronin: Definitely.

Brian Cronin: I like that the Avengers are so used to people just waltzing into their headquarters

Brian Cronin: That they are shocked when there are actual security measures at work.

Brian Cronin: "Oh right, we got sick of stuff like the Swordsman and Power Man just walking into the command center of our headquarters."

Brian Cronin: "We probably should have done something about this much earlier."

Eileen Gonzalez: This does make me wonder where Jarvis is. Out shopping?

Brian Cronin: Also, that ray that Cap blocked, that sure looked like it was deadly. Do the Avengers rely on "Stand your ground" laws in the Marvel Universe?

Brian Cronin: "If you break into our headquarters, we ARE allowed to kill you."

Eileen Gonzalez: What would Hank and Jan have done if they came back alone? Cap and Hawkeye are the ones stopping that beam from killing them all!

Eileen Gonzalez: This was not a well thought-out security measure.

Brian Cronin: I imagine the Beetle breaking in, finding their bodies, and slowly backing out of the hole in the wall he created.

Eileen Gonzalez: Ha! He should be so lucky.

Brian Cronin: It's fascinating that Cap thinks that Goliath should be the leader. He's said this a couple of times in recent issues.

Brian Cronin: It's not like Goliath was the team's leader BEFORE Cap took over.

Brian Cronin: They rotated.

Brian Cronin: So...huh?

Eileen Gonzalez: I guess the thinking is that Hank is one of the original team, so he has more experience/deserves more respect. But that all falls apart when we remember Jan was an original member also and no one's bugging her about being the leader.

Brian Cronin: Well, Jan was just the team mascot, no?

Eileen Gonzalez: They did let her lead once, I believe! Like when a dog gets voted mayor, I guess.

Brian Cronin: Or like the kid who everyone pretends is a sports hero to make him feel better.

Eileen Gonzalez: Now Rick Jones, HE never got to lead, which I'm sure he complained about.

Eileen Gonzalez: Hawkeye really took over the whiner role, didn't he?

Brian Cronin: I'm sure Cap complained about it for him, too.

Brian Cronin: "It's an outrage that we let the girl be the leader, but the kid that I'm training on commando missions hasn't gotten to lead us yet? Outrageous!"

Brian Cronin: Then again, Cap was a bit unstable at the time, so he also flipped out when they said they wanted to make Rick an official member.

Brian Cronin: "Outrageous! Only I get to make that call!"

Brian Cronin: I'll give the team this much, they really have stepped up the personal conflicts from the early days.

Brian Cronin: When it was just people yelling about nonsense.

Brian Cronin: Now their constant arguments are at least about somewhat relatable issues.

Brian Cronin: Like "Why won't Scarlet Witch give me the time of day?"

Brian Cronin: "Why can't I shrink below ten feet tall?"

Eileen Gonzalez: Or in the case of today's issue, "Stop feeling sorry for yourself, you weenie!"

Brian Cronin: That leads into a reader e-mail.

Brian Cronin: In our recent discussions of Hank's growth issues

Brian Cronin: We've debated whether this would be considered the start of his mental issues.

Brian Cronin: As that was the start of his "I'm just a freak...there's no escape for me."

Brian Cronin: Some heady stuff.

Brian Cronin: However, reader James T. wrote in to say that he thinks the origins of Hank's mental issues go back to Avengers #14.

Eileen Gonzalez: The one with the pink aliens?

Brian Cronin: He writes, "I argue that Hank Pym's mental issues were first brought forth in a major way in Avengers # 14. The opening page has him carrying Jan/Wasp as Thor requests to carry and fly her to the hospital. Thor or Iron Man could have flown Jan/Wasp to the hospital much faster than Hank carrying her. Not rational, but emotional. Later in the story, he breaks down, falling on the floor and pounding his fist on it. He even says to himself in the story he must get a hold of himself. In anger he grabs the doctor/space alien. Throughout the story, he is emotional and not rational. I argue that this issue was the start of Hank's mental issues."

Brian Cronin: Here are the pages in question...

Brian Cronin: I dunno, I'm not seeing it myself. What about you? I think you can't judge a guy right in the middle of shock like this. I think that that's different than the dark moping he gets into once he's stuck as a "freak."

Eileen Gonzalez: I guess I'd have a couple of things to say about this theory. First, part of me has always wondered if Hank always had some undiagnosed mental health issue that the constant superheroing just made worse over the years. I have no evidence for this--the only comics I've read with Hank in them are these Avengers comics, so I'm hardly an expert on his character and development.

Eileen Gonzalez: Second, I see the point about Thor's flying being faster, but doesn't Thor need to hang onto his hammer to fly, leaving him with just one arm to carry someone? Hank's way might have been slower, but at least he had two giant arms to carry her carefully as opposed to Thor trying one-handedly to carry a woman with a gunshot wound.

Eileen Gonzalez: In conclusion, I'm not sure. A lot of the heroes tended to react to things melodramatically back then, so I don't know if Hank's reaction is really a sign of anything, but I guess it could be read that way.

Brian Cronin: I think you're absolutely right that he almost certainly is bi-polar (which was eventually revealed decades later)

Brian Cronin: But I don't think we really got a sign of it until more recently, as his other reactions were fairly typical for all of the characters in the book.

Brian Cronin: Like, for instance, Cap literally throws his shield at a hallucination of Baron Zemo in #9 and no one is like, "Uh...that's not good."

Brian Cronin: So everyone in the series had their moments, but this "I'm a ten foot freak" has been the first extensive period with the same problem for a character.

Brian Cronin: Making it stand out more as the first substantive sign that something was wrong with Hank.

Eileen Gonzalez: Though you could probably also make the argument that ALL of these guys need some psychiatric help.

Brian Cronin: Oh true, almost everyone could be helped by therapy.

Brian Cronin: Which is the message of Raina Telgemeir's delightful new book, Guts!

Brian Cronin: Talk about an unexpected plug!

Eileen Gonzalez: Those are the best kind.

Brian Cronin: Anyhow, thanks for the note, James, it is an interesting topic. I will give you a No-Prize for it!

Eileen Gonzalez: I like Hank flexing his muscles as he brags about his scientific prowess to Cap. I don't know why, that just seems funny to me.

Brian Cronin: Who needs therapy when you have Captain America solving all your problems just by picking fights with you?

Brian Cronin: I imagine Captain America, American ambassador to the UN. "That's right, Soviet Union, just walk away. I bet you're too chicken to negotiate a nuclear weapons treaty."

Eileen Gonzalez: There's a Superman IV joke in there somewhere.

Brian Cronin: We need Wasp and Hawkeye there as ambassadors, too, so we can get, "What is he doing? They're going to attack us with nuclear weapons!" "No, no, just let him work."

Brian Cronin: I like that Wasp's kiss of Cap was off-panel for some reason.

Eileen Gonzalez: Too saucy for the CCA.

Brian Cronin: Which allows us to just imagine what exactly went on mid-panel for Cap to be grinning so much.

Brian Cronin: By the way, since this was done Marvel Method style.

Brian Cronin: I now have decided that Heck originally wrote it as an actual fight between Cap and Goliath for Wasp.

Eileen Gonzalez: That makes a horrifying amount of sense.

Brian Cronin: And Stan was like, "What? No, this makes no sense! You can't have Captain America just say, 'I'm taking your woman, Pym!' How will I save this?"

Brian Cronin: Hawkeye is really growing as a character, right? He's downright pleasant now.

Brian Cronin: Maybe it's the removal of Quicksilver. He doesn't have to worry about being the most tempestuous guy in the room anymore, so he can just relax and be himself.

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, it's SUCH a relief to see him engaging in friendly banter with Cap instead of actively needling him.

Eileen Gonzalez: Actually I'm kinda surprised Hawkeye doesn't have his eye on Jan like he did with Wanda. Though maybe Natasha's return calmed him down a bit.

Brian Cronin: You would certainly hope so!

Brian Cronin: And then we get into the serious stuff.

Brian Cronin: With the Sons of Serpent beating up a Hispanic immigrant and his white neighbors just letting it happen.

Brian Cronin: So dark and so real. Good stuff by Lee and Heck.

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, that was intense.

Eileen Gonzalez: The Sons of the Serpent are so blatantly a knockoff of the KKK.

Brian Cronin: Yep, but translated well to the tropes of superhero comics.

Brian Cronin: I imagine Black Widow was with them until they started in on immigrants.

Brian Cronin: "White supremacy, I'm down with you there, but whoa, you're against immigrants, too? That's too far!"

Eileen Gonzalez: I do wonder what she's doing there? Investigating?

Brian Cronin: I sure as heck hope so.

Brian Cronin: And I do imagine that that WAS the intent.

Brian Cronin: But it's awfully odd that she just wanders off and ends up as part of a Sons of Serpent meeting.

Brian Cronin: Hank and Jan's relationship sure is rocky.

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, this scene is... something.

Eileen Gonzalez: Hank, we were all trying to help you two pages ago, and now you do this.

Brian Cronin: It's like from zero to 60 in five seconds.

Brian Cronin: "I know you're trying to help and I appreciate it" to "I'm going to get a real scientist to help me, no a chattering female!"

Brian Cronin: Dang, dude!

Brian Cronin: That was in the SAME PANEL!

Eileen Gonzalez: And then later Jan just comes back and forgives him for no apparent reason. Okey-dokey then.

Eileen Gonzalez: Does he ever even realize what he said was bad?

Brian Cronin: "I should have said chattering woman, not female. My bad."

Eileen Gonzalez: Pff, yeah, that was probably the extent of his self-discovery there.

Eileen Gonzalez: Meanwhile, did Black Widow really have to break Hawkeye's window there? Was that strictly necessary?

Brian Cronin: And you have to love Heck's quick move for her to be just rubbing up on Hawkeye.

Brian Cronin: His romance art popping up again.

Eileen Gonzalez: I just noticed, what is Hawkeye wearing? A tiny green vest?

Brian Cronin: Not as tiny as Black Widow's waist

Brian Cronin: Also, what does she mean about "I can recognize you without your mask on"?

Brian Cronin: Has she seriously never seen him without his mask on?

Brian Cronin: And also, holy shit, Heck, is there a single difference between how you draw Steve Rogers and how you draw civilian Hawkeye?

Eileen Gonzalez: Maybe that's what Black Widow meant. She can tell Steve from Clint without their masks on to distinguish them.

Brian Cronin: Ah, good point. In that case, it's actually quite impressive.

Brian Cronin: Then we get the introduction of Bill Foster, which was handled really well.

Eileen Gonzalez: Yeah, it's kind of a fun moment there. Luckily Bill takes all this in stride and Hank respects him way more than he does Jan.

Brian Cronin: That's sort of society in general, right? Black MEN got to vote, what, 75 years before women of any race could vote?

Eileen Gonzalez: In theory, anyway.

Brian Cronin: True

Eileen Gonzalez: Why are there no floors in any of these panels? The scene with Jan sitting on the chair looks weird.

Brian Cronin: Oh man, Heck just sort of lost all perspective there, right?

Brian Cronin: "I'm inking it myself, get off my back!"

Eileen Gonzalez: E for Effort there, Heck.

Brian Cronin: So wait, Black Widow showed up to tell Hawkeye...nothing about the Sons of the Serpent?

Brian Cronin: What the what?

Brian Cronin: Heck MUST have intended that scene to be her warning Hawkeye about the Serpents, right?

Brian Cronin: And Stan just went a different direction.

Eileen Gonzalez: I guess she wants to catch them herself to prove she's a good guy? But it does look like she's supposed to be warning him.

Eileen Gonzalez: While posing.

Brian Cronin: "Hawkeye, I have to tell you something. But first, I need to contort myself and rub against you."

Brian Cronin: Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch's plot is beyond inane, isn't it?

Brian Cronin: "Our powers are failing. We must leave. Okay, our powers are back. We're returning now."

Eileen Gonzalez: "Plot" is a generous word.

Brian Cronin: It's nice that Albert Einstein is living in their old village.

Eileen Gonzalez: He just popped up out of nowhere, didn't he? And what's this treatment he's giving them? How did they find him? What is going on?

Brian Cronin: It's a diathermatic treatment, DUH

Brian Cronin: You know, like you do.

Eileen Gonzalez: Hopefully this is building up to something.

Brian Cronin: I really don't think it is.

Brian Cronin: But yeah, you'd hope.

Brian Cronin: The attack on Bill Foster was handled well.

Brian Cronin: It's a great rising incident.

Eileen Gonzalez: Agreed. Though Hank is super dramatic afterward.

Eileen Gonzalez: I get it, they were trying to emphasize how bad racism is, but the whole shaking his fist at the sky made me giggle, I must admit.

Brian Cronin: Oh yeah, that was definitely what you would call "extra"

Brian Cronin: I like how Jan's first reaction is, "Isn't this more of a police matter?"

Brian Cronin: It's an interesting perspective, really. Stan hanging the lantern on the topic.

Brian Cronin: Stan was good at anticipating what readers might think,.

Brian Cronin: So he'd have characters address it ahead of time.

Eileen Gonzalez: That's a good point. I was annoyed with Jan for saying that, but I can see why that dialogue is there now.

Eileen Gonzalez: Side note: why does their table look like that

Eileen Gonzalez: It's like a bright pink trampoline

Brian Cronin: "I'm plotting, penciling AND inking this thing! Get off my back!"

Eileen Gonzalez: Ha, sorry, sir!

Brian Cronin: I'll have to do a bit about Cap's relationship with Fury.

Brian Cronin: For a guy who was obsessed with getting a job with Fury, it's funny how chill Cap is about him now.

Brian Cronin: That bit was just dropped flat in Tales of Suspense #78.

Eileen Gonzalez: As much as I like the peek into SHIELD HQ, I'm not sure this bit was necessary. If Natasha had just told them what she knew and agreed to work with the Avengers on this, this whole scene could have been cut, I think.

Brian Cronin: Yeah, exactly.

Brian Cronin: And really, since that's almost certainly what Heck intended with the Black Widow page

Brian Cronin: Then this was REALLY superfluous.

Brian Cronin: It's almost as if Heck was trying to just fill pages.

Brian Cronin: But no, not Heck!

Brian Cronin: I love the debate among the New Yorkers about General Chen's visit.

Brian Cronin: "Let's have an exposition-filled debate!" "I think that that would be a good idea, just like I think it is a good idea that General Chen will be here at 4 pm for a speech to the United Nations that is being protested by a number of racist hate groups, who seem to be getting organized recently by an ever-more efficient Sons of Serpent."

Eileen Gonzalez: We also see the return of the Mysterious Cloud Concealing the Bad Guys' Hideout.

Brian Cronin: And the mysterious tractor beam weapon, that's been used at least twice in the first 20 issues of the Avengers.

Eileen Gonzalez: What great new recurring characters!

Brian Cronin: It's adorable how worried Hawkeye is about Cap.

Brian Cronin: While Cap is doing his best to fight three dozen guys at once (Heck always was good at Cap action scenes).

Eileen Gonzalez: I do love Cap's scene here! He knows he can't win but gosh darn it he's gonna go down swinging.

Eileen Gonzalez: And poor Hawkeye, he was just starting to get along with Cap!

Eileen Gonzalez: The little snake recorder would be cute if it wasn't supervillain paraphernalia. And if it didn't explode

Brian Cronin: Goliath is a bit out of his element trying to figure out the strategy of this Serpents deal.

Brian Cronin: Where's Cap with a fat suit and a tape recorder when you need him?

Brian Cronin: The Avengers really do have a go-to approach of "pretend to give in/get captured."

Eileen Gonzalez: But he's the leader! We must listen to him!

Brian Cronin: I guess it's effective for cliffhanger purposes

Brian Cronin: But it's just so rote by now.

Brian Cronin: "We give in!" in part one and then "We win!" in part two.

Brian Cronin: Rinse and repeat.

Eileen Gonzalez: The blurb at the end kills the suspense dead. It literally says the Serpents will be smashed!

Eileen Gonzalez: We could have guessed that, of course, but come on.

Brian Cronin: I thought that the Serpents really WERE going to take over the nation!

Brian Cronin: I was shocked!

Brian Cronin: I liked the district attorney calling the Avengers about their new legal strategy.

Brian Cronin: "We just thought of a new legal angle to use. Quick, call the noted legal experts, the Avengers!"

Brian Cronin: Maybe they were confused about the then-acclaimed legal drama, The Defenders

Brian Cronin: And thought that the Avengers were the same deal.

Eileen Gonzalez: He needs to wait until She-Hulk joins the team.

Eileen Gonzalez: For the Avengers' first foray into such a serious topic, they haven't done too badly so far.

Brian Cronin: No, this has been handled well so far.

Brian Cronin: And when you consider that it is followed that Keeper of the Flame deal?

Brian Cronin: Yikes. It's like a whole other world.

Eileen Gonzalez: True. Anything would look good after that, but they really delivered here.

Brian Cronin: Stan is trying to go out on a high note!

Eileen Gonzalez: But will it last through next issue?

Brian Cronin: The downside of quality comics - you can only go down from there!

If anyone has anything they'd like us to discuss in future installments, feel free to drop us a line at brianc@cbr.com!

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