I’m not sure exactly what my fourteen-year-old self was expecting to see on the cover of Avengers #97 when it first turned up in the spinner rack, back in December, 1971; nevertheless, I’m pretty confident that Gil Kane and Bill Everett’s illustration highlighting Captain America, the original Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner — plus four other guys I didn’t recognize — wasn’t anywhere near it. I mean, it was a great image, but aside from Cap, none of those characters were Avengers. And “Rick Jones Conquers the Universe!”? OK, that last bit wasn’t so unexpected — it had been pretty clear from the latter scenes of the preceding issue that Rick was going to play an important role in the conclusion of the Kree-Skrull War. But still — where the heck were the Avengers? Or the Kree or the Skrulls, for that matter?
The story’s opening splash page — more specifically, its credits box — brought yet another surprise…
While Neal Adams hadn’t drawn every single page of Avengers since becoming the title’s new regular artist with issue #93 — John Buscema had pencilled a little less than half of #94 — it was still shocking to see him only credited as “consultant” for this, the final chapter of the epic story that writer Roy Thomas and his various artistic collaborators had been telling for the last nine months. What had happened?
It’s possible (if not terribly likely) that at this point my younger self flipped to the back of the book, to see if there was any kind of explanation offered on the letters page. If so, I found this:
Well, that seems pretty straightforward. Deadlines are deadlines, and these things happen, right? It’s a disappointment, for sure, but we can all deal. After all, John Buscema’s a fine artist, and we’ve still got Tom Palmer on inks. Surely no one would ever make a big stink about… oh, wait. Never mind.
Unfortunately for us all, the circumstances of Neal Adams’ departure from Avengers — as with so much else associated with Adams and Thomas’ brief but celebrated collaboration on the series — have become a matter of some dispute over the last five decades; a dispute not only between the two creators themselves, but also between comics fans who’ve lined up on one side or the other. (The argument goes back at least to the late ’90s; its most recent permutation, to the best of my knowledge, was carried out via the Bleeding Cool web site in 2018. That exchange is regrettably hard to read in the proper sequence, but you can start here and work you way back via the links.) Frankly, I’ve been loath to get into this mess here on the blog (mostly because, as I said back in August in my post on #93, I have no special knowledge regarding the facts of the matter), preferring instead simply to deal with the comics as we have them. That’s meant giving credit to one creator or the other for a solo story contribution on those occasions when they’re both in agreement that it’s deserved (e.g., Adams having come up with Ant-Man’s “fantastic voyage” through the Vision’s body on his own has been readily acknowledged by Thomas), but, for the most part, crediting them jointly as collaborating storytellers.
It’s almost impossible to avoid the controversy when discussing Avengers #97, however. That’s because a significant number of readers have always been disappointed in how the Kree-Skrull War was resolved — and at least some of those folks appear to be convinced that they would have liked the wrap-up a whole lot better had Neal Adams been allowed to continue on in his prior role. Your humble blogger happens to believe that that latter group of fans is misguided — but before I attempt to counter their argument, we should go ahead and look at the story itself, just to make sure we’re all on the same page.
Following the opening splash page, “Godhood’s End!” (the story’s title wraps up Thomas’ series of nods to classic science fiction works by alluding to Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 novel Childhood’s End) continues with two pages that recap the current status of all the principal players, courtesy of a vision experienced by Rick Jones — and then, it’s on with the action:
Poor Annihilus. The last time he turned up in Avengers (in issue #89), he got his clock cleaned within three pages. This time, if we skip the recap, it takes all of, um,,, three pages. Jeez, what’s a dread lord of the Negative Zone gotta do to get some respect around here?
At the end of the previous issue, when Rick was pulled into the Negative Zone, the Supreme Intelligence indicated that it was happening according to his plan. But now Captain Marvel is saying he did it, accidentally? Hmm…
You know, it’s funny how for all those months that they were switching atoms with each other, either Rick or Mar-Vell could be parked in the Negative Zone for, like, ever, and never have to worry about floating into an “explosive region”, or Annihilus suddenly showing up. Makes you wonder what’s changed around the old place.
“I spoke not of your personal birthright, Rick Jones,” the Supreme Intelligence explains, “but that of the entire human race from whose apish loins you sprang.” But further details will have to wait, as the SI suddenly senses that he’s been found out. And indeed, the usurper Ronan has detected an unlikely power surge emanating from the chamber where he’s imprisoned the former leader of the Kree Empire, and is even now dispatching a squad of soldiers to eliminate both him and Rick for good…
This scene calls back to the one in issue #92 where Rick had recalled the comic-book heroes of his childhood — but whereas in that instance Roy Thomas had instructed artist Sal Buscema to toss in a few non-Timely/Marvel heroes he figured had fallen into public domain, for this more robust treatment he opted to have Sal’s brother John draw only Marvel properties.
It’s easy — and natural, too, I suppose — for a contemporary comics fan, well aware of the deep fondness for Golden Age superheroes that Roy Thomas has demonstrated over the course of his long career in the field, to roll their eyes at the sudden shoehorning in of a quintet of obscure characters only the most dedicated and knowledgeable enthusiasts of 1971 would have been likely to recognize. But, at the time — years before the Invaders, the Liberty Legion, the All-Star Squadron, or any of the other WWII-era continuity grafts for which the writer would later be responsible — this was quite a novel development. Like I said before, it wasn’t at all what my fourteen-year-old self had been expecting — but that didn’t mean it wasn’t interesting.
Of course, I’d probably have found it all even more interesting if these old-timers had been “real”, rather than some sort of energy..
from Ultimate Comic Blog