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Wonder Man & Beast: The Origin of Marvel’s Uncanny Super-Friends

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Wonder Man & Beast: The Origin of Marvel’s Uncanny Super-Friends

Move over, Power Man and Iron Fist! Give us a break, Batman and Superman! Don’t make us laugh, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold! One of the all-time greatest superhero buddy team has happily reunited in this week’s “Uncanny Avengers,” so we here at CBR want to take a moment to both celebrate the friendship of Wonder Man and the Beast, and reflect on the origins of one of the greatest superhero friendships of all time.

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The pair were such a popular teaming, Marvel even gave them their own trading card at the height of the Marvel Trading Card era, which was a pretty big deal!

Wonder Man and Beast took two very different paths to becoming Avenger teammates together in 1976.

Wonder Man debuted in 1964’s “Avengers” #9 (by Stan Lee, Don Heck and Dick Ayers), where he was given powers by the Masters of Evil as part of a plot to infiltrate the Avengers and tear them down from within. He joined the team and then did, in fact, capture the team (including defeating Thor, which is something that will come up later). However, once he did so, he realized that he couldn’t do this to these great heroes, so he sacrificed his life to save them. He seemingly died a hero…

Beast, meanwhile, was obviously a founding member of the X-Men. When “X-Men” ceased putting out new stories at the end of the 1960s, the characters were all free agents. Marvel decided to take the Beast and give him his own feature in the pages of “Amazing Adventures” at the end of 1971. Gerry Conway launched the feature, which was based on the hook that the Beast would be transformed into an actual beast instead of just a human-looking mutant with big hands and big feet…

After that first issue, a young writer was given his first official Marvel assignment by following Conway on the book. That writer was Steve Englehart (he had done some uncredited scripting, but this was his first actual official assignment). What’s interesting is that Englehart kept Beast’s personality roughly the same as it had always been, big-wordy and pleasant, albeit now with a bunch of added pathos due to being, well, you know, a beast.

The feature ended with “Amazing Adventures” #17, but Englehart’s star was on the rise at Marvel, and he soon settled into a very long run on one of Marvel’s biggest titles, “The Avengers,” following Roy Thomas, who himself was coming off a very long run on the book. He had been on the book for a few years before the Avengers roster went through some changes, as it often does, and when they went looking for new members in “Avengers” #137 (drawn by George Tuska and Vince Colletta), he had a new member ready for them!

As you can see, the Beast is now a bit of a jokester. Englehart had Beast determine in that issue that he was better of looking at things from the lighter side of life. Most likely, this was simply to contrast Beast with the rest of his teammates, but whatever the reason, this new take on the Beast really clicked with readers. By the time that Englehart left the book with “Avengers” #151, the Beast had become such a popular character that the incoming writer, Jim Shooter, was not interested in getting rid of him.

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“Avenger” #151 was a significant issue for another reason. You see, Jim Shooter had heard that when Marvel introduced Wonder Man, DC had complained. Whether true or not, that was the impression that Shooter was working under at the time. So he was mightily irked when DC then introduced a Power Girl after Marvel had changed Luke Cage’s name officially to Power Man. Therefore, he was intent on bringing Wonder Man back, which happened in “Avengers” #151 (by Shooter, Gerry Conway and Steve Englehart plus artists George Perez and John Tartaglione)…

Conway then took over writing duties on the book with Englehart gone (Englehart says Conway, who had just been named Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, ousted him off of the book because he wanted to write it, while Conway says he only wanted to do a fill-in issue to get the book back on schedule and Englehart quit the book instead) and once he established that Wonder Man was, in fact, alive again, he did not do a whole lot with Wonder Man. He was just sort of there, occasionally noting how weird it was being back from the dead.

Jim Shooter, though, took over the series with “Avengers” #158 (art by Sal Buscema and Pablo Marcos). In that issue, he established one of two traits Wonder Man would be known for the next year or so, namely his over-the-top declarations of how strong he was, constantly comparing himself to Thor…

but this was all clearly hiding a heaping case of self-doubt and fear over what happened to him, as established in “Avengers” #160 (by Shooter, George Perez and Pablo Marcos), when Wonder Man’s brother, the villainous Grim Reaper, captured the Avengers looking for answers about his brother’s return…

While they defeated his brother, Wonder Man’s costume was destroyed, so Beast introduced a garish looking new one in “Avengers” #161 (by Shooter, Perez and Marcos)…

The costume was extremely short-lived, with Wonder Man getting his classic red safari jacket look within a few issues.

RELATED: Wonder Man – the King of Bad Superhero Costumes!

Still, though, Wonder Man was continuing to be plagued by self-doubts while Beast was also dealing with similar self-doubts about both his place on the team (he didn’t have fists that hit like Thor’s hammer, after all) and how much it sucked to be a, you know, beast.

“Avengers” #164 (by Shooter, John Byrne and Marcos) showed where this was heading by having the Beast go out to get a hot dog while he is moping about how, on the Avengers, he’s not even the smart one with Tony Stark hanging out, when he suddenly discovered that while mutants were feared and hunted, everyone was a fan of the Avengers!

While this would turn out to be a big deal eventually, as it turned out, it was not Jim Shooter who actually cashed in on that particular plot point. You see, Shooter instead was beginning a long cosmic-themed story arc called “The Korvac Saga,” and there was not a whole lot of time for fraternizing while they were fighting for their lives against a conflicted cosmic being called Michael Korvac. That story ended in “Avengers” #177. After a couple of fill-ins, new writer David Michelinie took over with “Avengers #181 (with artists John Byrne and Gene Day) and it was Michelinie who established that these two Avengers dealing with self-doubts would find solace in each other’s company, as they take in a movie together in that issue…

And it is there that Beast fills Wonder Man in one what he learned, that while they might not feel all that special, the public sees them in a much different fashion…

When Wonder Man is then fired as an Avenger in the same issue, he decides to try his luck as an actor, feeling that if he can succeed at that, he’ll be able to feel more comfortable as a superhero and being the public figure that Beast explained that they were. Now, do note that while Wonder Man was fired as an Avenger in that issue by government bureaucrat, Henry Gyrich, he is not gone long, as he is back on the team within a few issues when Iron Man took a short break from the team for a storyline in his own series (co-written by Michelinie, so he was all on top of it).

In “Avengers” #188, we see that Wonder Man’s confidence has been given a big boost by his new acting career, and he is now enjoying life again, in great part due to the influence of the Beast.

Wonder Man then fully rejoined the team in “Avengers” #194, and Michelinie was now fully committed to the two as being the sort of lighthearted duo of the group, especially when Beast learns what Wonder Man’s next acting gig was…

By “Avengers” #197-198, they’re doubling on dates and walking home from concerts like the best of pals…

They even got their own solo issue of “Avengers” in “Avengers” #203 (they have an adventure while the rest of the team was fighting Ultron in “Avengers” #201-202)…

However, when Jim Shooter returned to the series in “Avengers” #211, he had both Wonder Man and Beast leave the Avengers, with Wonder Man wanting to spend more time on his acting and then arguing to the Beast that he should also diversify his interests outside of the Avengers.

Beast wouldn’t last long outside of the series, as he was quickly snatched up to become a member of the Defenders. Beast returned for the famous “David Letterman” issue of “Avengers” #239 when Wonder Man needed a group of Avengers to go on “Late Night With David Letterman” to help promote his acting career and only reserve memberss were available.

Beast officially resigns as even a reserve Avenger in that issue, however.

Wonder Man would go on to become a founding member of the West Coast Avengers, while Beast would rejoin the original members of the X-Men in “X-Factor.” Once Beast was pulled back into the sphere of the X-books, he never really got a chance to leave for the next 20 years, thereby dooming Wonder Man and Beast from ever being a regular friendship again.

However, that was not it for their friendship period, though. When Wonder Man got his own comic book series in 1991, Beast made sure to make a couple of guest appearances, including in “Wonder Man” #5 (by Gerard Jones, Jeff Johnson and Jan Anton Harps), where Wonder Man (who had gotten pretty emo by this point in time) got a rare chance to laugh again with the Beast’s visit, even causing Scarlet Witch to be shocked by how different Wonder Man acted around his old friend…

Wonder Man then seemingly died once again in the first issue of “Force Works,” so there weren’t any chance for Beast and Wonder Man to hang out. When Wonder Man returned in the early issues of Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s “Avengers” run, however, you better believe that the Beast was all over this good news in “Avengers” #14 (by Busiek, Perez and Al Vey)…

A couple of years later, they even got their own comic book series, in “Avengers Two: Wonder Man and Beast,” a miniseries spinning out of Busiek’s “Avengers,” by Roger Stern, Mark Bagley and Greg Adams…

Soon after, though, the Beast received his secondary mutation and became a cat-like being and meanwhile, the Avengers ended up disassembling and Wonder Man wasn’t around much. Wonder Man rejoined the Avengers after “Civil War,” as part of Iron Man’s newly formed “Mighty Avengers” team, but then ended up sent to prison by Norman Osborn when Osborn took over control of SHIELD from Iron Man! When Wonder Man got out of prison following Osborn’s ouster at SHIELD (called HAMMER under Osborn), he was not feeling very pleased with the Avengers and actually came to the conclusion that the Avengers did more harm than good and actually tried to take the team down (and almost succeeded!). As it turned out, the ions that made up Wonder Man were a bit out of sorts and likely explained his extreme views towards the Avengers. He then joined the Unity Squad (an Avengers team made up of X-Men and Avengers following “Avengers vs. X-Men”), but only for his media advice. He refused to fight anymore.

Meanwhile, after “Avengers vs. X-Men,” Beast had gotten a bizarre idea to bring the original five X-Men back from the past to the present to teach some sort of weird lesson to Cyclops and it backfired, with the original X-Men trapped in our present/their future. At the same time, the Beast was mutated once more into an ogre-esque look.

The two friends reunited in “A+X” #12 (by Christos Gage and David Williams) where they confronted each other over the mistakes that they each had made. They were unsure if they could go forward with their friendship, but after a classic night on the town, they hashed out their differences…

Sadly, Wonder Man once again seemingly sacrificed his life to help his teammates, but now that he has returned once more, of course the Beast was going to be there to see his old friend again. What will happen when they get together? Find out in this week’s “Uncanny Avengers”!

Hopefully someone will compare something to Thor’s hammer in the issue!

(We seriously think Wonder Man believes “Thor’s hammer” is a unit of measurement)

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