Avengers Vol. 1 No. 7

AVENGERS Vol. 1 No. 7
August, 1964
"Their Darkest Hour!"
Magnificently written by: Stan Lee
Majestically illustrated by: Jack Kirby
Masterfully inked by: Chic Stone
Meticulously lettered by: Art Simek

As the story opens, the Avengers have convened a special board of
inquiry. Iron Man stands accused of failing to respond to an Avengers
summons several days ago (a footnote refers readers to IRON MAN &56
for an explanation... presumably they meant TALES OF SUSPENSE!). Iron
Man offers no defense for his actions. His teammates offer to help him
with whatever situation is troubling him, but he insists that there is
nothing they can do. The other Avengers announce their decision: Iron
Man is found guilty, and suspended from the team for a week. Which
seems pretty mild, all things considered, but it does establish that
the Avengers is a team with strict rules and procedures, something
that will come into play in other stories in the years to come.

While Thor is passing sentence on his teammate, his father Odin is
performing the same duty in the legendary realm of Asgard. The ruler
of the Norse gods is banishing the Enchantress and the Executioner for
their attacks on Thor (in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #103 -- the footnote
gets the title right this time!). The Executioner is stripped of his
axe and helmet, and he and the Enchantress are sent across the Rainbow
Bridge to Earth. Watching from the shadows, Thor's half-brother Loki
ponders that it's a good thing no one suspects that he was the real
mastermind behind the attacks. He also points out something that Odin
apparently didn't consider: That sending them to Earth just makes it
all that much easier for the Enchantress and Executioner to attack Thor!

The two Asgardian exiles appear suddenly in the middle of a busy
intersection, and a policeman chews them out for blocking traffic. The
surly Executioner is spoiling for a fight, but the Enchantress
convinces him to back off. They know nothing of the ways of Earth, and
they will need an ally to help them formulate a plan. The Enchantress
notices a newspaper headline announcing that the evil Zemo has escaped
custody and fled to South America. Perhaps he is the partner they're
looking for?

On the other side of the city, Captain America is working out at the
gym, sparring with a group of five burly wrestlers. Cap encourages
them to go all out, but he easily defeats them. When he suggests a
rematch tomorrow, the battered wrestlers say they're going back to the
ring, where it's safe. Back home, Rick Jones decides to surprise Cap
by putting on Bucky's old uniform (Rick says he found it in Cap's
closet... but where the heck did Cap get it from?). Captain America
reacts in anger; he still hasn't forgiven himself for what happened to
Bucky, and he refuses to put another partner at risk. He sends Rick
away, and thinks about the escaped Zemo, swearing that he won't rest
until Bucky's killer is brought to justice.

Down in South America, we see that Zemo has returned to his hidden
kingdom, where he rules the tribesmen with an iron fist. Suddenly, he
is confronted by the ghostly figures of the Enchantress and the
Executioner; she has used her magic to project their images to him.
They offer to help him defeat Captain America, in exchange for his
help in their battle against Thor. Zemo agrees, while the Enchantress
thinks that her true goal is not to destroy Thor, but to seduce him to
her side.

Some time later, Thor, Cap, and Rick are bidding farewell to Giant-Man
and the Wasp, who are flying to New England for a scientific study.
After their helicopter takes off, Thor likewise leaves to attend to
matters of his own. Walking home, Cap and Rick are confronted by a
mysterious figure who introduces himself as Hans Grubervelt, former
second-in-command to Dr. Zemo. Cap's first instinct is to haul him in
as a war criminal, but Grubervelt says that he has repented, and wants
to help him find Zemo. He tells Captain America about Zemo's hidden
kingdom in South America, and Cap immediately takes off to pursue him.
After he leaves, Grubervelt removes his disguise, revealing his true
identity as the Executioner. With Cap, Iron Man, and Giant-Man all out
of the way, he says, they will have a clear shot at Thor.

And indeed, as the god of thunder is flying over the city, he hears a
haunting voice calling his name. He follows the voice to a penthouse
apartment, where he is confronted by the Enchantress. Taken by
suprirse, Thor falls victim to her hypnotic gaze. The Enchantress
knows that her power cannot hold him long, so she backs it up with a
magical potion. Thor drifts off to sleep, and she begins casting her
spell. In his dreams, Thor sees the Avengers -- not as friends and
allies, but as demonic menaces that he must defeat. The dreams repeat
over and over again, and by the time he wakes up, Thor is convinced
that they are true.

Meanwhile, a determined Captain America has travelled by jet to South
America, and is parachuting down to the jungle where Zemo is hiding
out. But Zemo is ready for him, and launches a gas-filled missile to
subdue his foe. Cap quickly wraps his parachute around himself to
protect him from the fumes; once he is clear, he slashes through the
fabric and uses his shield to absorb the impact of his landing.
Immediately, he is attacked by tribesmen armed with machine guns. He
hurls his shield at them to scatter them, and Zemo orders more of his
men to retrieve the shield before Cap can. But using a branch as a
makeshift pole vault, Cap hurtles over the tribesmen and snatches the
shield with his feet. But his victory is short-lived; when he lands,
he realizes that he has fallen into a camoflauged pit.

Back in New York, Thor has summoned Giant-Man and the Wasp back to the
city. As soon as their helicopter arrives, he attacks, smashing it to
pieces with his hammer. Giant-Man expands to forty feet to survive the
fall, but the strain leaves him weak and all he is barely able to flip
out of the way of Thor's attack. He can't understand why his teammate
is trying to kill him.

Elsewhere, Tony Stark is kicking back with a cigarette, watching tv
while he recharges his armor. He sees a news bulletin about the
Thor/Giant-Man fight and decides that, despite his suspension from the
team, he'd better investigate. Back at the battle, Thor is about to
deliver the coup de grace to the weakened Giant-Man, but the Wasp does
her patented "fly around the bad guy really fast and distract him"
routine. This buys enough time for Iron Man to arrive, and he sends
Thor spinning in circles with his magnetic repulser.

The Enchantress and the Executioner are watching the fight from a
nearby rooftop. They wonder how Zemo is doing against Captain America,
and the Enchantress uses a crystal ball to check on them. She sees Cap
trapped at the bottom of a pit, and decides to make sure he doesn't
escape by magically causing a cave-in. Cap deflects the falling rocks
with his shield, and manages to climb back out to the surface. Zemo
and his men are waiting for him, with a large cannon called the
"vibra-gun". But before they can fire, Cap bends back a tree, then
releases it; it snaps around and knocks Zemo and his crew for a loop.
Cap then grabs the vibra-gun and uses it to destroy Zemo's palace. Cap
takes a moment to double-check the magnets that he uses to hold his
shield to his glove, but then hears the sound of an aircraft taking
off. Zemo is trying to flee back to New York, but Cap uses his
magnetized shield to grab hold as it flies by.

In New York, Thor manages to stop his spin by hooking his hammer onto
a nearby chimney. He hurls his hammer at Iron Man, but doesn't notice
Giant-Man coming up behind him. Giant-Man grabs Thor, but is unable to
stop his hammer from returning to Thor's hand. Not wanting to get a
face-full of Mjolnir, Giant-Man drops back down to a lower ledge. Iron
Man has figured out that Thor must be hypnotized. He reflects the
sun's rays off his armor, and the blinding light stuns Thor and breaks
the spell.

Seeing that the jig is up, the Enchantress uses her magic to take
control of Zemo's airship and draw it towards them. Zemo sees the
Avengers, and prepares to fire on them with his ship's giant stun gun.
But Cap is still clinging to the outside of the ship, and uses his
shield to smash his way into the cockpit. As Cap and Zemo battle, the
Enchantress brings the ship down to the roof, where she and the
Executioner can join in the battle. The Executioner clamps his hand
onto Captain America's shoulder, and the sheer pressure is enough to
make Cap pass out. Tossing Cap aside, the three villains climb back
into the plane and take off.

But Thor is having none of it. Whirling his hammer, he creates a space
warp that envelops the ship, causing it to vanish. Even Thor isn't
sure where they might end up. Gathering back together, they determine
that Cap isn't seriously hurt. Thor ponders that the combination of
Zemo, the Enchantress, and the Executioner might be a match even for
them. But a recovered Captain America vows that they will find them
wherever they are, and defeat them.


Definitely an action-packed issue, although for all the smashing and
bashing, nothing is really resolved. As with their earlier battles
with the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk, the enemy simply escapes to fight
another day. Thor's use of the space warp at the end doesn't make a
whole lot of sense, and seems like just an excuse to allow Zemo and
co. to get away. Odd ending aside, the way Stan and Jack bring the
villains together, then coordinate their assualt on the heroes, is
handled very cleverly.

Captain America's lengthy solo sequence really shows off his acrobatic
and fighting ability, and in retrospect it's obvious that he was being
groomed for his own series.

The concept of heroes fighting each other (either due to
misunderstanding or mind-control) is a gimmick that Stan and his
successors turned to many times over the years. You still see it
today, for instance in Marvel's current CIVIL WAR miniseries. Fans
seem to love speculating about "who could beat whom", and Stan was all
about giving the people what they want (Though he was careful to make
the battles inconclusive, so as to keep the debates going!).

Wasp Watch: Aside from one panel of distracting Thor, the Wasp is
pretty much a non-factor in the battle this issue. She's back to the
v-neck vest (at least in some panels), and more of her hair shows
around the edges of her cowl.

On the letters page, Stan apologizes for not delivering the promised
Hulk guest-appearance. But he tells the readers that ol' Greenskin
will soon have a regular feature alongside Giant-Man in TALES TO ASTONISH.

- JKC -