Avengers Vol. 1 No. 2

Welcome to part 2 of our 535-part series, "Better Know An Avengers

AVENGERS Vol. 1 No. 2
November 1963
Written by: Stan Lee
Drawn by: Jack Kirby
Inking: Paul Reinman
Lettering: Art Simek

The story opens with our heroes holding a meeting at Anthony Stark's
mansion. Thor makes a crack about the Hulk's choice in wardrobe (look
who's talking), while Ant-Man shows off his new costume and a refined
shriking formula (he and the Wasp now use pills instead of a gas to
change size).

While all this is going on, a mysterious egg-shaped object arrives
from space. It turns out to be a shape-shifting alien called the Space
Phantom. In the grand tradition of evil aliens, he is scouting out
Earth's defenses in preparation for an invasion. The Space Phantom
figures that if he can defeat the Avengers, the rest of the population
will be a pushover. He then demonstrates his powers on a passer-by:
the Space Phantom transforms himself into an exact duplicate of the
bystander. And since the same person can't exist in two places at
once, the original person is automatically transported to "Limbo".

In his guise as an ordinary human, the Space Phantom arrives at
Stark's mansion. The security cameras see him coming, and the
ever-eager Hulk runs out to confront the intruder. The Space Phantom
then takes on the Hulk's form, sending the real green goliath to
Limbo. His plan is to turn the Avengers against each other, and he
heads back to the meeting room to pick a fight with Iron Man. Thor
breaks up the skirmish, and the Phantom-Hulk leaves in a huff,
smashing through the wall.

The phony Hulk begins menacing people on the street, only to be
confronted by the Hulk's pal Rick Jones. Jones tells the Hulk that
they should retreat to his secret lab. Not knowing who Rick is, the
Space Phantom plays along, and leaps into the air with Rick on his
back. But Rick suspects something is wrong when the Hulk heads in the
wrong direction. His cover blown, the phony Hulk leaves Rick behind
and jumps off to commit more mayhem elsewhere.

The Space Phantom sees some workers testing Tony Stark's new "mutliple
anti-missile missile gun" and jumps down to destroy the device. Word
of the attack immediately goes out to Stark, who puts his Iron Man
armor back on and flies to intercept the rampaging Hulk. After a brief
struggle, the Space Phantom decides that discretion is the better part
of valor, and takes on the form of a passing insect in order to get
away. This causes the real Hulk to be pulled back from Limbo. Not
realizing that a switch has occurred, Iron Man continues to press his
attack on the genuine Hulk.

Meanwhile, Rick Jones has once again used his trusty ham radio to get
in touch with Ant-Man and tell him about the Hulk imposter. Using a
growth pill, Ant-Man takes on his more powerful Giant-Man form, and he
and the Wasp go to break up the Shellhead/Greenskin battle. While
Giant-Man tries to calm his teammates down, the Wasp senses an evil
presence nearby. And sure enough, the Space Phantom in his bug form
attacks her and carries her off.

Luckily, the cybernetic circuitry in Giant-Man's hood picks up on the
Wasp's distress, and the Avengers follow the impulses to Tony Stark's
factory nearby. Unfortunately, the heroes make the classic
horror-movie mistake of splitting up, making them easy targets for the
Space Phantom. He takes on the form of Giant-Man, but the nearby Hulk
witnesses the change and attacks the imposter. Iron Man joins the
battle, but the Phantom then takes on his form.

As the other heroes fight among themselves, the Wasp has flown off to
fetch Thor. The two of them arrive back at the factory in time to see
the false Iron Man holding the other Avengers at bay. Realizing that
he must be the Space Phantom, the Wasp slips inside his armor and
disables his weapon. Thor follows up by summoning a rainstorm that
instantly (???) causes the armor to rust, immobilizing the imposter.

But the Space Phantom doesn't have to move in order to use his power;
he decides to take on Thor's form. However, his powers suddenly
backfire, and instead of sending Thor to Limbo, it's the Space Phantom
himself who gets exiled. Thor observes that his power only works on
humans, not gods. So, with the Space Phantom gone, and all the
Avengers back from Limbo, it's a happy ending, right? Not quite. The
Hulk feels that his teammates showed their true colors while fighting
his imposter; that they never really liked or trusted him. Fed up, he
quits the team and leaps off for parts unknown.

This is a strange story, in a lot of ways. The nominal villain, the
Space Phantom, is really just a catalyst for getting the team members
to fight each other. It almost reads like a critique, or outright
parody, of the whole concept of superhero teams. Could it be that Stan
and/or Jack were not crazy about the idea of doing a JLA-style
"supergroup", and were venting some of their frustration out on the
page? Or perhaps they were just trying to be as different from the
competition as possible. Having the Hulk quit after only two issues
was certainly a suprising move, and set the precedent for the frequent
membership shake-ups in the years that followed.

This story doesn't have as many cool set pieces as the previous issue,
but we do get some neat Kirby gadgetry, such as Iron Man's
sledgehammer attachment and the tank-like moon rover that the Space
Phantom uses to run down the Hulk. Paul Reinman's inks aren't quite as
refined as Dick Ayers', but he does an ok job here. Curiously,
throughout the issue the Hulk is drawn with either 3 or 4 toes on each
foot, instead of the normal 5. I guess Kirby was confusing him with
the ever-lovin' 3-toed Thing.

So, will the team continue to fall apart, or will they get their act
together? Stay tuned!