These three issues of Avengers (and two related issues of Iron Man) see Captain America return to the team for some alternate world/time travel fun, during which our heroes meet some familiar faces from the Distinguished Competition as well as a trio of World War II heroes that you’d think were invading something.
A warning before we start: this will be a rather disjointed post because Cap appears in bits and pieces of these stories, which also bear some explaining (more than usual), although there isn’t a lot of ethically relevant material here. So bear with me!
In Iron Man #18, we see the titular hero, Cap, and Nick Fury taking down some Hydra goons. Cap tells Shellhead they’d all love to see him back at the ranch, but little does he know this isn’t actually Iron Man, but a renegade Life Model Decoy who plans to take over Tony Stark’s life.
At the end of the issue, Tony dons his original armor to fit the LMD, defeating him but at terrible strain to his heart. Several Avengers find him and rush him back to Avengers Mansion to use Hank Pym’s… checks notes… Ultra-Rejuvenator, which basically sounds like a defibrillator. (Maybe in the Marvel Universe, Hank invented the defibrillator, but gave it a much cooler name.)
Avengers #69 sees all of the Avengers rush to get Tony to medical help he needs: Thor gets the doctor while Cap leads them to his hospital room. (Because he’s a leader, you know.)
Before the doctor can treat Tony, though, a gigantic being known as a Stimuloid abducts Tony from his bed and fights the Avengers until they are all transported through space and time by none other than Kang.
By the way (because I don’t think we’ve mentioned it here yet), the big blonde fella in the lower-left-hand corner in the two-page spread above is Clint Barton, who took on the identity and powers of Goliath after Hank Pym abandoned the identity to become Yellowjacket full-time after his mental breakdown and wedding to Janet in issues #59-60. (Not that those are necessarily related!)
Soon, the Avengers are joined by another teammate with very pragmatic intentions (and you know who is alarmed the most by that).
Kang explains that the Grandmaster offered to save the life of Kang’s beloved Ravonna if Kang could defeat him in a game—and if Kang lost, Earth would be destroyed (which Black Panther knew already).
After Tony is returned and gets the medical attention he needs, he recovers, and in Iron Man #19 we see Cap delivering the news of Tony’s successful operation. (Apparently, Cap returns to Earth after the conclusion of the Kang storyline in issue #71, after which Tony joins the fight in the middle of issue #70, thanks to Kang’s time-travel shenanigans.)
I like how the cameraman in the top panel can’t read Cap’s emotions through his mask, while the famously sensitive Happy Hogan has no problem.
At the end of the issue, the three mightiest Avengers are transported back to Earth, where they meet the Grandmaster’s warriors: the
Justice League Squadron Sinister!
The Squadron Sinister—better shown in very spooky letters—were writer Roy Thomas’s tongue-in-cheek doppelgängers of the Justice League. A couple years later, Mike Friedrich would do the same thing with several Avengers in Justice League of America #87, but whereas these faux-Avengers have been mostly forgotten, the Squadron have become mainstays of the Marvel Universe, especially in their heroic version, the Squadron Supreme.
In Avengers #70 the battles begin, the Avengers and… umm… Sinister people pairing off (as you do) at various sites around the globe. But first, Iron Man—the real deal, not the LMD—joins the fight.
As always, the rest of the Avengers are utterly clueless. “Don’t ask questions that might allow us to see what’s before our very eyes!” commands Cap.
Thor uses his hammer to transport the four Avengers to their assigned destinations, and Cap’s is all too appropriate, giving him a chance to wax patriotic about the value of Lady Liberty (which cannot be emphasized often enough or strongly enough).
Cap’s foe is Nighthawk, who would later reform and become a longtime member of the Defenders (an earlier incarnation of which we will meet soon). For the time being, though, he’s trying to destroy the Statue of Liberty… as if Cap needed more reason to fight him!
Thanks to his shield, Cap destroys Nighthawk’s detonator (above) and blocks another explosive (below), subduing Nighthawk in the process and ending this part of Kang and the Grandmaster’s game.
In the rest of the issue, Iron Man defeats Doctor Spectrum, Thor defeats Hyperion (another version of whom becomes an Avenger and a close friend of the Odinson), and Goliath, with the help of the Black Knight (don’t ask), defeats the Whizzer (who gets his name from a Golden Age Timely hero in another wink-wink from Thomas).
Unfortunately, the Grandmaster assumes Kang brought in the Black Knight—”Penalty! Too many players on the field! Ineligible receiver!”—and he recalls everyone back to the future to play another round in Avengers #71. But this time, the Squadron Sinister is out, and instead, Black Panther, Yellowjacket, and the Vision are transported in 1941 occupied Paris, where they’re more than happy to beat up some Nazis.
But as the Vision suspects, the Grandmaster has more up his sleeve. Meet… the Invaders!
This was actually the first time Cap, Namor, and the Human Torch are shown to have worked together in World War II, although their 1940s adventures would be chronicled (and the team actually named) in the mid-70s beginning with Giant-Size Invaders #1, written by… you guessed it… Roy Thomas (who would write a similar Golden Age book at DC Comics in the 1980s titled All-Star Squadron, which was my favorite comic as a kid).
Again, the heroes pair off, with Black Panther conflicted about fighting his good friend (albeit an earlier incarnation)…
…and the Vision fighting his fellow synthezoid, whose body he later finds out was used to make his own. (That might have been awkward if he had known at the time. Or not.)
Actually, Stan, he already had it: In Invaders Annual #1 Roy explains why Cap was using his shield-shaped shield in his story when he already had his circular one at the time. (We’ll get there, just wait!)
After the three Avengers defeat the Invaders, Kang proclaims victory and transports them back, only to find that the Black Knight has redeemed himself by freeing Janet and the four Avengers who fought the Squadron Sinister. Rather than save Ravonna, Kang gets power from the Grandmaster to use against the Avengers.
Who keeps his chin up in the face of such power? Not Cap, who decides this is the time to become defeatist.
In short, Kang subdues the Avengers but falls before the Ebony Blade of the Black Knight—cue Nelson laugh—who then becomes a British reservist of the Avengers.
Oh sure, Cap, now you’re all “go team!” Too little, too late.
ONE FUNNY THING
We get it, Vision, you’re special.
NEXT ISSUE: Avengers #72 (January 1970)