These three issues of Avengers fall between Captain America #125 and #126—that is, between the end of the “Secret Empire” storyline, in which he was confronted with how high corruption could go in the American government, and the beginning of the next storyline, in which… well, I won’t spoil that for you. As such, the two “regular” issues covered in this post reference Cap’s current identity crisis, while the Giant-Size issue touches on Cap’s “missing years” between WWII and the Great Defrosting (while leaving a particular mystery unsolved for the time being).
Issue #125 is really the culmination of two stories: one, the ongoing mystery of Mantis, and two, a year-long story featuring Thanos that had been building in the pages Captain Marvel, which we touched on in the post on Avengers #110-115 and Captain Marvel #27-28, and which will continue in Captain Marvel #33 (but with minimal involvement from the Avengers).
But the content that is interesting for the purposes of this blog mainly touches on his personal problems from his own book, beginning with his less-than-dramatic entrance in the lower lefthand corner of the opening splash.
There’s a lot going down in Avengersville these days, so we can’t blame them for not noticing Cap earlier… and when they do, they thank their lucky stars that they watch television.
Vision’s words to Cap echo many philosophical aphorisms, including Socrates’ saying that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” as well as the inward contemplation and reflection recommended for sage in many traditions, both Western and Eastern. In fact, he will spend much of Captain America #176 doing this very thing, with the help of his closest friends and colleagues. (And Tony Stark.)
Speaking of whom, ol’ Shellhead responds to Cap’s request for meaningful conversation as only he can: with pointing out how Cap was wrong to be suspicious of Mantis and the Swordsman back in issue #114.
“Thanks, pal.” Cap was probably glad to be interrupted by a visitor, in a recreation of the scene from Captain Marvel #27 that brought the Avengers into the Kree warrior’s battle with Thanos.
Nothing particularly interesting happens for the rest of the issue, as the Avengers manage to repel the invading space fleet sent by Thanos to conquer the Earth. (Little do they know that was part of Thanos’ plan, but that will be borne out in Captain Marvel #33.) In the meantime, Thor is full of revelry and a thirst for battle, while Cap is a bit more circumspect, due to his own recent experiences.
We’ll come back to Cap’s ennui soon, but first enjoy the diversion of Giant-Size Avengers #1, which is a more pivotal tale for the Scarlet Witch (and her absent brother Quicksilver), as she meets a man she believes (for a while) to be her father.
In this issue, longtime Avengers scribe Roy Thomas revives a character from the Golden Age of Timely Comics, introducing him to the Avengers as a mysterious invader after their Chrono-Module, who seems to know more about Cap than Cap knows about him.
The intruder turns out to be none other than Robert Frank, aka the Whizzer, a man endowed with superspeed after being injected with mongoose blood. (Don’t try this at home, kids.) But why does he think Cap isn’t himself, I wonder?
Turns out Tony is wondering the same thing, and Cap thinks he knows the answer…
…but he’s only partially right. The Whizzer did work with a different Captain America in the All-Winners Squad in 1946, but it wasn’t William Burnside, the 1950s Cap that our hero met and fought in the above-mentioned issues of Captain America (see the posts beginning with issue #153). Instead, as we will learn in What If? #4 (August 1977), the Cap that fought alongside the Whizzer in the All-Winners Squad (for all of two issues in 1946, both summarized in Giant-Size Avengers #1) was actually two men:
In All Winners Comics #19 (Fall 1946), Captain America was William Naslund, originally a member of the Crusaders named the Spirit of ’76. Both the Spirit of ’76 and the Crusaders were retroactively introduced in the WWII Marvel Comics history by Thomas in the late 1970s in the Inavders title (#14, to be specific), and were pastiches of the DC team the Freedom Fighters, itself a team introduced in 1973 but made up of Golden Age Quality Comics characters DC had acquired, including Uncle Sam, on whom Naslund’s superhero identity was based. We’ll see more of Naslund, although not much more, later.
(And it gets even better, because the Whizzer whom the Avengers met in issue #69 as a member of the other-dimensional Squadron Sinister—itself a pastiche of the Justice League of America—was a pastiche of the Flash, albeit with the name of an existing Timely hero. All thanks to whom? That’s right: Roy Thomas.)
But by All Winners Comics #21 (Winter 1946), Captain America was Jeff Mace, originally the first superhero known as the Patriot, whom we’ll meet in Marvel Premiere #29 in a crossover with the WWII-era Invaders title, and who became Cap after the death of William Naslund, recounted in What If? #4 in a part of the story that takes place between the two issues of All Winners Comics (perhaps taking the place of issue #20, which was never published).
Got it? Good. Because that’s about all of interest to this blog in this issue. The Chrono-Module that the Whizzer was after contained his son, who had been irradiated and kept in the module until he could be cured, but instead escaped, went wild, and had to be defeated by the Avengers. The son, now named Nuklo, splits into three identical Nuklos, one of whom fights Cap and Iron Man, who makes a casual dig at Cap but immediately regrets it.
Tony’s on a roll these days, isn’t he?
While the rest of the Avengers work to capture Nuklo, Wanda and the Whizzer realize that he may be her and Pietro’s father (although Magneto is later revealed to be their true father, at least until Marvel Comics decided they didn’t want the twins to be mutants anymore). Naturally, Wanda ends being the one to bring down her “other” brother, and Cap offers a thought of hopeful compassion to end our coverage of this issue.
Finally, back in Avengers #126, Cap sits… a lot… while Thor and Iron Man do most of the talking. (Cap wanted just this kind of thing in issue #125, and I think he regrets it now… or at least misses T’Challa, who probably would have offered wiser counsel.)
I just really like the panel to the right, showing our hero in quiet contemplation. And while he does that, let me address the question that is undoubtedly burning you up right now…
WHY DOES IRON MAN’S FACEPLATE HAVE A NOSE???
I’m glad you asked. As the story goes, Stan Lee saw a cover with Iron Man, thought his helmet looked too small, and asked where the nose was—that is, how would Tony’s nose fit under a faceplate so close to his face. But the Marvel Bullpen took him too literally, and henceforth added a nose to Iron Man’s actual faceplate from 1974 to 1976. (For more, check out the NerdSync video on this very topic.)
But this blog is about Captain America, lest we forget, and when he finally gets up to fight the Klaw and Solarr, he does so with the knowledge that it may be his last adventure as the Sentinel of Liberty… and Tony gets yet another chance to be a jerk to his best pal.
At least, when the battle is over, Cap does not let Tony’s jab go unmentioned (and restrains himself from asking about Shellhead’s ridiculous schnoz).
At the end of the issue, it’s parting time for the Black Panther, which leads Cap to ponder his own fate, to be explored much more in—you guessed it—Captain America #176.
For reasons that were revealed in Captain America #176, our hero will be absent from Avengers for the most part until issue #141 (notwithstanding two brief appearances in between, which will be included with the relevant issues of Captain America).
All collected in: Avengers Epic Collection: The Avengers/Defenders War and Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Volume Thirteen. (For what it’s worth, both of these collections also include Captain Marvel #33.)
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Avengers #121 and Captain America #171 (March 1974)
NEXT ISSUES: Avengers #131 and Captain America #181-182 (January-February 1975)