With this run of seven issues of Avengers, issues #34 through 40, we reach a rather fallow period for Captain America as far as ethically interesting content is concerned—in fact, Cap does not appear in issue #39 and in only one panel in #40, warning his fellow Avengers about something that happened in his own feature in Tales of Suspense! (It was a toss-up whether to include the latter at all.) As a result, this post will cherry-pick from the issues, giving even less synopsis than usual. But we do have a bonus story at the end from a tiny, cult comic featuring a superhero no one remembers, so there is that.
In Avengers #34, we see the team training, with Cap dispensing some wisdom while Hawkeye ribs him, but lightly enough to reflect their more congenial relationship of late…
…which is reinforced in issue #35, when they look like goners, with Cap reminding Clint of the importance of resilience in the face of impossible odds (one of his specialties).
(I should also note that Roy Thomas takes over scripting duties with issue #35 and plotting from issue #36.)
At the end of the issue, Cap reinforced the Avengers’ reticence to interfere in domestic affairs in the fictional Central American country of Costa Verde, after the Living Laser was “helping” a rebellion…
…after which Cap dwells on his own life of duty and the loneliness thereof.
In Avengers #36, Hawkeye presents the Black Widow for Avengers membership, but it seems the team has gotten quite gun shy after opening their doors too quickly in the past, particularly Hank, while Cap is more measured, emphasizing procedure more than Natasha’s qualifications (or disqualifications).
After the Avengers are captured by Ultrana and her Ultroid hordes, acting at the behest of Ixar—don’t ask—in the beginning of issue #37, Cap is defiant as always. (I really like these scenes when the Avengers are captured and Cap still tells the villain, “we’ve got you now!” For the classic, see New Avengers, vol. 1, #5, May 2005. We’ll get to it… soon.)
Later, faced with a man held hostage by Ixar—who, surprise, ends up being Ixar himself—Cap states the “Avenger Code,” or at least part of it. I appreciate the spirit, but harm seems awfully broad in this context, especially for a team that hits people a lot. I assume they mean to prohibit killing or causing death; if not, Cap will have to put some bubble-wrap around that shield before he throws it again!
Next we see a cute bit of joking humility from Cap about his age.
In the following page, we get a fascinating scene with the Black Widow that establishes a pattern for her as the outsider who’s willing to cross lines the other Avengers won’t.
This reminds me of a scene from Secret Avengers (vol. 1) #7 (January 2011) that I wrote about in The Virtues of Captain America (p. 130), in which Cap refuses to torture a captive villain for info, but Widow and Sharon have “no such qualms.” (The fact that Rogers was willing to let this happen is much more problematic, even if he technically wasn’t Captain America at the time.)
Back to 1966… Natasha didn’t make good on her threat, but Hawkeye takes it very seriously nonetheless, aware that the others would not accept her tactics.
As Ixar leaves in his spaceship, Cap once again muses on his life of solitude, while Hank shows why he’s always the life of the party.
Cap remains sparse in the next three issues. He’s present at the beginning of issue #38 while the team waits for Black Widow to be considered for membership, but after she gets sidetracked by Nick Fury and the others leave to get a bite, he responds to an emergency call from an old friend, a story told in Tales of Suspense #88 (as shown below).
Cap doesn’t appear in Avengers #39, but he Skypes with the team in issue #40 to let them know about the Cosmic Cube, which was lost after his battle with the Red Skull in Tales of Suspense #81. (He returns to the team in Avengers #42.)
We also get a nice acknowledgement in the last panel above of Hawkeye’s improved esteem for Cap.
The rest of the issue deals with the Avengers (with their new friend Hercules, whom they met in issue #38) trying to find the Cube. Cap’s fellow relic Namor manages to get his hands on it but loses it in a fight with Hercules, after which the Cube falls into a crack in the ground, only to be found—and discarded—by the underground’s most infamous (and clueless) resident.
(Don’t worry, we’ll see the Cube again in Captain America #114 before you know it.)
Finally, the Avengers also appear in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #3, the first of many “will Spidey join the Avengers?” stories, helpfully collected in the trade paperback Spider-Man: Am I an Avenger? Like those above, this story is not especially Cap-centric, but we do seem him trying to manage an induction process that no one actually bothered to develop.
The story jumps right into it from the opening splash page. (Oh yeah, the Hulk’s in this too. And another guest we’ll meet soon!)
“We’ve studied that photo of Spider-Man long enough?” I hope by “long enough” they mean two seconds, because what good does… oh, never mind. Cap’s insight about Clint appreciating Spidey’s “outlaw” status is on the nose, as Clint confirms later, but leave to Hank to state the obvious: Spidey must be tested. (Maybe he remembers when they all too enthusiastically almost admitted Kang’s robot Spider-Man in Avengers #11!)
But before they can test him, as the Sentinel of Procedure recognizes,
they need a test they need to decide if they even want to test him, and they also need to pick a leader—and who should they pick but Cap, not because of his inherent virtues and inspirational qualities, but because… he’s next.
And Clint comes up with a good idea… who’d have guessed? (On the finer points of Daredevil’s hearing, which obviously were much less developed at this point than they are now, see Christine Hanefalk’s post at The Other Murdock Papers.)
“That’s all… Jarvis will show you to the door.” Poor Matt… I imagine he thought they might be inviting him to join.
After an exhaustive Spider-Manhunt, culminating in a rather forceful invite from Thor—you’d have thought that “I have spoken!” wouldn’t do the trick—Spidey answers the call, only to be overwhelmed by Avengers plenty. (Note how Cap is very specific about his title… very clear, thank you.)
“We have to test you.” “What kind of test?” “We… umm… haven’t figured that out yet.”
To be fair to Webhead, even though he shouldn’t have lost his temper, the Avengers asked him to submit to a test that they weren’t prepared to administer. Just listen to Iron Man and Thor in the middle panel above… “be quiet so we can think of a test,” really? And you too, Cap… if the test were that important, you would have thought of it before inviting Spider-Man to take it.
(Sorry to harp on this. I’m not a superhero, but I do give tests for a living, and I don’t ask my students to sit there on exam day while I write the exam.)
But then Spidey goes and thinks that this all is the test, and that losing his temper is the right answer. (Hint: It isn’t, Brett.)
It looks like Cap got a judo lesson himself this day!
Now for a twist: “Umm, maybe this was the test after all… yeah, it was! And you passed! Now… run an errand for us.”
The rest of the story deals with Spider-Man confronting the Hulk… not only fighting the behemoth (for the second time), but seeing him temporarily revert to Bruce Banner and appreciating the Hulk for what he is, more a beast or a child, lashing out in fear more than hatred, much less evil. Even after capturing him, Spidey decides to let him go, especially because he assumes the Avengers want to punish him.
So when he returns to his team…
…but he doesn’t realize that the Avengers saw the same thing in their former teammate that Spidey himself just came to appreciate. (And just ignore Quark… I mean Hank.)
While there’s a lot of absurdity of this story, the underlying intent on the part of our heroes to help the Hulk is a pleasant surprise (and long-lasting, although it rarely turns out well, as exemplified by his exile to space many years later).
Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 1) Annual #3, November 1966, “…To Become an Avenger!”: Stan Lee (writer), John Romita, Sr., and Don Heck (pencils), Mickey Demeo (inks), ??? (colors), Artie Simek (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Avengers #32-33 (September-October 1966)
NEXT ISSUE: Avengers #42-44 (July-September 1967)