In these issues we see Captain America’s first two adventures leading the Kooky Quartet with Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch. Much of these early stories are spent laying out the three new members’ attitudes toward Cap and each other, as well as Cap testing out his new leadership role, tested for real for the first time (not counting the occasional turn as rotating Avengers chair earlier).
This panel from issue #17 lays out the four (and a half) members’ attitudes very well.
As will be reflected throughout this period of the Avengers, Wanda is deferential, whereas Pietro and Clint are both cocky and skeptical of Cap’s qualifications and abilities—although we’ll see both warm up to the idea of Cap as leader, but Clint keeps the pressure on him for longer.
(Oh, and Rick… well, he’s just hurt, so much so that he disappears from the title for a good while.)
Cap can’t hear their thoughts but he can read the doubt on their faces.
Hawkeye is the first to express his doubt openly, but Cap shuts him down (with support from Wanda and Rick).
The new Avengers’ first task? Training, where Cap can demonstrate his leadership qualities as well as his generosity in admiring the skills of his new partners—even Hawkeye, his most vocal critic.
He also call Pietro out for praise…
…and once again admires Clint’s promise as an Avenger (while Clint shows that he’s a world-class cad).
Their exercises become all too real when they’re attacked by a giant robot in their own headquarters, promising clues to the Hulk, whom Cap wants to find to boost the strength of the team.
Cap rushes into the danger, showing his courage and impressing his colleagues with his skill—but as we’ll see later, this tendency will also draw off-base criticism for showboating.
After they defeat the robot, it reveals that the Hulk in the desert, where the Mole Man has laid a trap for them to face the deadly Minotaur. As the Avengers fall into said trap, we see Hawkeye silently acknowledging Cap’s commanding leadership.
Pietro scouts ahead for the threat and returns—as the kids say—shook.
“I’ve got to face it first,” again—and even though he rallies the Avengers to assemble, Clint feels he has to remind his leader that this isn’t a solo act.
I included that entire page to show you the Minotaur, whom they eventually defeat (of course), for which Wanda gives the credit to… well, just guess.
Before they deal with the Mole Man, however, the Fantastic Four’s favorite subterrestrial foe traps them in—basically—an elevator, which takes them to the surface. Once back in their plane, Cap tells them that the thing they were searching for… was inside them all along.
Despite their successful outing as a team, Cap still harbors doubts, which are played in future issues.
Issue #18 opens with a full page of Cap ruminating over his role as Avengers leader, waiting for the call to action, without a private life or his own home—or even a separate identity, all concerns familiar from earlier Avengers issues as well as his solo feature in Tales of Suspense.
Despite his existentialist angst over not being to control the path of his own life—and despair over Nick Fury not returning his message—Cap accepts his duty to lead the Avengers, much as he accepts the call to duty at his expense of his own concerns, which are always put on the back burner—which is noble but also tragic, as his own needs deserve consideration as much as anyone else’s.
Lucky for him, action soon calls!
But his motivation to answer the call for aid has less than pure motives…
We shouldn’t be too quick to judge Cap, though—many of our actions have mixed motives, and as long as we would have done the right thing regardless of additional, selfish concerns, those concerns are not bad. (On the other hand, we never do know…)
Not all the Avengers, however, are so eager to go on such an odd mission.
Even though Hawkeye is his normally snide self to begin with—“glamour pants,” really?—he takes a more generous view toward the Avengers’ mission than Wanda and Pietro do. They do have a point, though, and one that would be taken more seriously in later periods: can the Avengers get involved in domestic political disputes? As we’ll see, this becomes sticky once the Avengers become an agency of the United Nations, which creates the kind of conflict that we saw the cinematic version of Cap anticipate in Captain America: Civil War.
But when Cap tries to thank Clint for the back-up…
…he finds it just isn’t worth it!
After they land in Sin-Cong, they discover the “distress call” was simply a ploy to attract the Avengers there so the nation’s military dictator, the Commissar, can defeat them and spread his fame throughout Asia (as well as quell the rebellion in his own country).
The Avengers fight themselves in fight mode once again—and once again, we see that Wanda is the strongest supporter of Cap’s leadership, both before the initial battle…
…as well as after it. (Hawkeye, naturally, is more critical.)
But the danger has not passed: Wanda falls in a trap and is captured, after which the Commissar reveals himself to the other three. Cap rushes into action once more, getting a reaction from Clint.
Clint has a point, though not for the reason he thinks. Cap is used to working alone or with soldiers (without his own unique chemical enhancement), and needs to learn to pull back and consider the skills of his team, which are formidable even if their experience doesn’t match his. His protective instincts and natural courage propel him forward when danger strikes, but as a leader he must know when others might better lead the initial charge.
The Commissar reveals that he is holding the Scarlet Witch captive, and demands that each of the three other Avengers fight him for her release. He points out the audience, and Cap realizes he’s been duped into the Commissar’s propaganda machine.
Surprisingly, however, the Commissar easily defeats each Avenger, but when he declares victory, Cap presents one more challenge—“the girl” the Commissar dismissed as a true threat. His mistake, as we shall see!
While Wanda’s being taken captive early in the issue seemed like yet another contrived “damsel-in-distress” situation we all too often see our heroines placed in (including the Wasp and Sue Storm, among others), it was nice to see this turned around so she was the one to defeat the villain when the men could not. (And to be fair, Quicksilver was the captive in the last adventure, although I didn’t show it.)
And lest he miss the chance, Cap gives a rousing speech—against tyranny and/or communism—at the end, followed by a jab from Hawkeye that will become an Avengers tradition.
Avengers (vol. 1) #17, June 1965: Stan Lee (writer), Don Heck (pencils), Dick Ayers (inks), Stan Goldberg (colors), Sam Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Avengers (vol. 1) #18, July 1965: Stan Lee (writer), Don Heck (pencils), Dick Ayers (inks), Stan Goldberg (colors), Artie Simek (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Both collected in: Avengers Epic Collection: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Volume Two
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Avengers #15-16 and Journey into Mystery #116 (April-May 1965)
ALSO THESE MONTHS: Tales of Suspense #66-67 (June-July 1965)
NEXT ISSUES: Avengers #19-20 (August-September 1965)
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