I’m taking this kooky quartet of Avengers issues together because, honestly, there’s not a lot of ethical interest to Captain America here. The most interesting thing to me about these issues is that they feature the Avengers breaking up and getting back together, for the first time but definitely not the last, and Cap’s tortured feelings about it. BONUS: The wedding annual of Fantastic Four, in which Cap… fights.
(Warning: This post will contain even less synopsis than usual. Instead, I’ll just highlight the interesting parts of each issue.)
Issue #21 opens with Cap and Hawkeye bickering, as is their wont—and it’s so bad that it falls to Quicksilver to give Cap a lesson on being a leader.
Even the Scarlet Witch reaches the end of her rope with Clint and lashes out at him, earning a reprieve from Cap… not that she hears it. (Wanda’s crush on Cap in these early Avengers issues doesn’t last long, but it is revived to good effect several decades later in 2004’s Captain America and the Falcon #6.)
Most of the actual story in issues #21 and #22 deals with the Enchantress and her new lackey, Power Man—not Luke Cage, but a former henchman of Baron Zemo’s whom she transforms using the same tech that created Wonder Man in Avengers #9. The Asgardian sorceress creates a series of illusions that the Avengers battle, only find that they’re fighting air but destroying much more—and earning the ire and distrust of the populace in the process.
Our heroes start to catch on, but it’s hard to do anything about it when they can’t stop fighting each other, Cap behaving just as badly as the rest.
It’s interesting to see Clint admit to himself that he’s too hard on Cap, even if he refuses o let up.
When Cap finds Power Man—before realizing he and his partner are behind the Avengers’ troubles—the Enchantress uses a spell to make Cap less effective, making Power Man’s job easier, but not easy enough, judging from his admiring remarks about his foe.
Even this battle was a set-up, though, and Hawkeye doesn’t miss the chance to needle Cap about it.
Eventually, things go too far and the New York City city council passes the Sokovia Accords or something.
Hawkeye lays into Cap again, and Cap isn’t sure he’s wrong.
Clint sure is merciless, isn’t he? Even when Cap takes responsibility, Clint accuses him of hogging it! Cap can’t win. With friends like that…
As issue #22 opens, the team is fighting about breaking up—not about whether to break up, but whether to do it without fighting. (I think it’s too late for that, people.)
Even the Scarlet Witch dresses down Cap, but he’s just as petulant with her as with the rest. (Not Cap’s proudest moment.)
But don’t worry, he beats himself up plenty after the others leave.
After his poor performance in front of the others, we see the old Cap back here, regretting that he failed his original Avengers in losing the team they bequeathed to him, comparing it to losing Bucky—not really the same thing, not even close, but oh well—and, most interesting, feeling that he let down the name Captain America itself.
Meanwhile, the public reacts to the Avengers’ downfall, and we see what fanboy arguments looked like before the internet.
Most of the rest of the issue is spent with the other three Avengers joining a “circus,” actually a Circus of Crime (seriously) run by the Masters of Menace. (I’m not kidding; see their previous appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #22, ’cause you ain’t gonna see ’em here!) Meanwhile, a press agent suggests to the Enchantress and Power Man that they become the new Avengers. (Hmm, almost like a team of Dark Avengers, what an idea…)
Much to the villains’ surprise, the agent was none other than Captain America, who recorded them confessing how they set up the Avengers, and then took care of them in a decidedly more direct fashion.
Cap makes a similar comment about being the weakest Avenger in his first solo story in Tales of Suspense #59, although it makes less sense now, with Hawkeye on the team!
And my, look how quickly the city council changes their tune—in the name of tax revenues.
Even though the Avengers came back together to defeat the Enchantress and Not-Luke-Cage, our story ends with a surprise, as Cap has not forgotten how easily the team fell apart earlier.
Issue #23 starts with the team down to three, just in time to meet Kang, their most confounding foe (in the opinion of this reader, at least). But before, they are continuing the fine tradition of Avengers bickering, this time about how much they lost when Cap left, a loss Wanda feels in her own way. (Note the elder’s John Romita inks over Heck’s pencils in this issue.)
What is the newly solo Cap up to? Following in the footsteps of an actor from his youth, Burgess Meredith, apparently.
As satisfying as his new job may be, however, giving fighting lessons to people who actually asked for them, we see that Steve is not happy, still battling his memories, these more recent than most.
Meanwhile, Kang takes the Avengers Three to his time in the future, and when Steve hears of their disappearance on the radio during a fight, he knows he must rejoin his pals.
So Cap actually taunts Kang into bringing him into the future as well.
Pietro is the first to greet Cap and is obviously happy to see him.
In fact, Cap’s short time away from his team—or, as Pietro surmises, their being reunited—seems to restored his confidence and his effectiveness as a leader, as we see in the panels below from issue #24, where he tries to rally Princess Ravonna’s forces against their common foe, Kang.
Kang is victorious but then suffers a coup from those who demanded he kill Ravonna… whom he loves. (Even a Kang can love!) He makes a deal with Cap and the Avengers to save her life, provided Kang free his people when it’s done.
Cap gets a chance to makes a rallying speech…
…before they overview the coup, after which Kang keeps his promise to free his people and sends the Avengers back to the Swingin’ Sixties. (After our heroes are gone, one of the rebels tries to kill Kang, but Ravonna takes the shot for him, apparently killing her but truly plunging her into a coma, as we learn in Avengers #69.)
Finally, in Fantastic Four Annual #3, Reed Richard and Sue Storm finally tie the knot, but of course someone can’t leave the happy couple well enough alone.
Gotta love early Doom in all his wacky pettiness and petulance!
Most of the issue deals with nearly every Marvel hero of the day helping fight Doom’s veritable army… and they couldn’t leave out Cap, a blue Avenger, who shows up with a new Avenger and an old one. (Just needs a borrowed one!)
First up is the Cobra (a Thor villain), followed by the Executioner and the Enchantress (more familiar to Avengers readers).
Needless to say, none of them poses much of a threat for our hero, who satisfies himself by critiquing their fighting skills and generously giving them free lessons.
The next king-sized panel is like “Where’s Waldo?” but for Cap. Can you find him?
By the final page, the villains have been defeated, and the wedding can proceed. (We can just assume Cap is in one of the pews.)
The last row of panels is priceless (and, of course, was echoed in the second Fantastic Four movie).
Fantastic Four (vol. 1) Annual #3, October 1965, “Bedlam at the Baxter Building”: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (words, plot, and pencils), Vince Colletta (inks), Stan Goldberg (colors), Artie Simek (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Avengers #19-20 (August-September 1965)
NEXT ISSUE: Avengers #25 (February 1966)