This issue sees the Avengers fight Doctor Doom for the first time, which should have been epic, but ol’ Vic was not then the majestic villain we now know him to be. Furthermore, little of the material of interest to us here has to do with Doom, one of the few comics villains I find truly fascinating. (And it would kill him to know that the Fantastic Four’s guest appearance here is one of the most interesting parts of the book!)
As usual, the issue starts out, as many preschool classrooms due, with circle time, when the kids have a chance to talk out their feelings (or not). Here we see Wanda questioning her Cap-crush, Clint thinking about what he can do about it, and Cap oblivious to it but almost losing his temper with Clint… until, for once, he checks himself first.
The last panel is perhaps the most revealing, letting us know that even though Cap is once again leading the Avengers, he doesn’t want to, and remains only out of duty to the original team (as we saw above). He elaborates for us on the next page, as his identity crisis and existential malaise arise once again.
Ah, those cursed memories again (although of what, precisely, we don’t know).
Meanwhile, Doctor Doom wants to instill fear in the Fantastic Four, and to do that he plans to lure the Avengers to Latveria and defeat them. The first part he does easily: by sending a letter to Wanda and Pietro from a long-lost “aunt” in Latveria asking to see them. All four Avengers head to the mysterious Eastern European country and are immediately arrested. And then Cap realizes why…
Looks like someone doesn’t read their Fantastic Four comics!
Wanda easily breaks them out of the cell and they stealthily escape… in costume. No, that’s not conspicuous, not at all.
This short dialogue between Cap and Pietro brings up several truly interesting issues raised by this story: generally, the distinction between law and justice, and specifically, one’s obligation to obey the law when it is unjust (especially when you’re a outlaw superhero in a strange land). Cap frequently encounters such questions, as detailed in chapter 6 of my book The Virtues of Captain America, as do the Avengers, especially when they come under the purview of the United Nations (as reflected imperfectly in the movie Captain America: Civil War). This is a persistent topic in superhero comics, more so now than in the 1960s, where it was prescient, to say the least.
Interestingly, we see the issue of superheroes and national sovereignty treated more directly when the Fantastic Four appear. (They try awfully hard to work two catchphrases into the first panel, don’t they?)
Of course, this situation is unfortunately all too realistic, as democratic nations all too often find it in their interests to ally with morally reprehensible dictators regardless of human rights abuses in their countries. The fact that an agent of the United States government (operating out if the Capitol, strangely enough) would refer to the head of Latveria as “Dr. Doom” lapses into parody, though!
After the Avengers escape from their first tangle with Doom, the ruler traps them—and the rest of Latveria—inside an impenetrable dome, which also traps a peasant boy Doom pretended kindness too and whom now needs a surgeon outside the country. Doom will not allow it until the Avengers are defeated, and the Avengers’ scout, Quicksilver, learns, and which makes the team more eager to fight. And it gives Clint a chance to rib Cap for his haughty speeches (a recurring gag I always like to see).
They fight Doom again to a standstill. The two battles between Doom and the Avengers are frankly laughable, with Hawkeye doing most of the work with two trick arrows: an acid arrow to melt his armor, and a smog arrow to cover their escape. DOCTOR DOOM indeed.
(“You’ll see!” Doom says. “You’ll all see! Just wait until Secret Wars… and then the next Secret Wars!”)
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Avengers #21-24 (October 1965-January 1966)
NEXT ISSUES: Avengers #26-31 (March-August 1966)