Avengers #181-185 and Doctor Strange #35 (March-July 1979)

Most of the “action”—as far as this blog is concerned, that is—in this post comes in the first issue, when government liaison/busybody Henry Gyrich imposes conditions on the Avengers for official privileges, the most controversial of them regarding membership, with one requirement that the Falcon is distinctly uncomfortable with. Actually, it is Sam’s issue with this that generates most of the panels from the rest of the Avengers issues here, which explains (and, I hope, justifies) the odd bunching of issues in this post (not to mention the stray issue of Doctor Strange). As for the covers above, Cap only appears on the covers for Avengers #181 and #182, but I included #185 because it’s gorgeous—even if George Pérez was taking a break from the interiors, at least we still have great covers from him.

Of course, we do have the great John Byrne on pencils for this run of issues, aided on the first page of Avengers #181 by a little bit of Warner Brothers cinematography, circa 1938:


The movie that Wonder Man and the Beast are watching is The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Tony Stark Errol Flynn and the radiant Olivia de Havilland. If you’re wondering—as I did—why Simon and Hank seem to be watching this early Technicolor masterpiece in black and white, comics scholar Sean Kleefeld reminded me (via Twitter) that:

It’s a printing issue. With the presses that comics used at the time, printing color photos was notoriously difficult because of the separations process. Color photos didn’t start appearing in newspapers with any regularity until the late 1970s.

Thanks, Sean!

The movie also prompts an interesting discussion between the heroes, similar to a question I’ve been asked many times since the explosive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Why are superhero movies so popular these days?


Well, OK, Simon, although Hank’s closer to nailing it. But I think it’s more than a welcome distraction from ordinary life, which could be satisfied by any fantastical cinematic experience—it’s an intrinsic desire to see people putting their own self-interest aside for others, especially in a world where the most celebrated figures are so rarely seen doing that. (The fancy costumes, gadgets, and powers are just frosting on the cake.)

Anyway… when Simon and Hank finally get to Avengers Mansion, they meet another budding movie star: Scott Lang, the future Ant-Man, in his first comics appearance. (He’ll first meet the Avengers as Ant-Man in issue #195.)


While Gyrich gets ready to bureaucrat like only a bureaucrat can, Tony has some strong thoughts about government interference, which would be appreciated more if they weren’t ultimately pragmatic in nature (as we will see in his about-face on superhero registration in the days leading up to the “Civil War”).


Hey look, there’s Captain America, the subject of this blog, at the bottom of the next image. (I wondered when he was gonna show up.)


Of course, Gyrich is begging the question here, assuming the National Security Council has to keep track of them, but what do you expect. What’s more, nearly half of the heroes above were not even considered Avengers: Some are Guardians of the Galaxy, some are Champions, and some are independent heroes. So a bit of a straw man fallacy there as well, which adds to the impression that, to some extent, Gyrich and the NSC are creating the very problem they will be “forced” to solve.

It’s Cap’s turn to be pragmatic below when Tony bristles at Gyrich’s usurpation of his leadership.


Gyrich announces his Big Seven (as well as his decision-making criteria, for transparency’s sake, no doubt), and one of them isn’t even a current member.


(I can’t figure out Cap’s expression above, but I like to think it’s a combination of “of course I’m on the team” and “shucks, really?”)

Tony joins Clint in objecting to Gyrich’s surprise pick—albeit on a more reasonable basis—but Gyrich has his reason…


…although it really doesn’t hold water, as pointed out by Brian Cronin in his CBR column on this storyline: Equal opportunity hiring only requires that minorities are given the same consideration for a position, not a guaranteed slot as in an explicit quota system. (I always wondered what T’Challa thinks of this issue, given his pensive stance above.)

Tony and Pietro take all-too-familiar positions in debates over affirmative action: Tony argues that minorities include more than just African Americans (as Gyrich’s choice implied) while Pietro argues that merit and desert should only be the only factor for inclusion on the team. Cap, again, is pragmatic—which suggests merely that he holds no strong position on the issue at hand, likely seeing both sides as deserving of consideration.


Pietro doesn’t get to finish his point when he collapses, followed soon by Wanda, both in a deep comatose state in which their bodies have completely stopped functioning but… they are still alive somehow. (Hey, Donald Blake said so—are you gonna argue with him?)

The mystery of Wanda and Pietro leads to an exploration of their true origins that underlies the rest of the issues in this post (and the next), but the panels relevant to this blog primarily reference the membership issue. In Avengers #182, Gyrich finally realizes that Jocasta, like Vision, is sentient, and sees more opportunity… I mean, need… for oversight. But Jocasta turns his logic on its head, which is not the last time he’ll be shown up in this storyline (as we’ll see in the next post).


Wanda and Pietro are revived by the end of issue #182, but Wanda asks for a leave of absence to go to Europe with Pietro to look into their past (something Cap should definitely be able to sympathize with, given his own issues with missing memories recently in his own title). In Avengers #183, Gyrich meets Wanda’s replacement, but finds her somewhat resistant to the clearance process.


Meanwhile, Sam and Cap have a talk about the purpose behind Sam’s induction into the Avengers, with Sam resentful over the impression that he was chosen only to fill a quota, and Cap again pragmatic (to the point of appearing callously indifferent to his friend’s heartfelt concerns).


Sam continues in the same theme when he meets Gyrich in Avengers #184, and Cap plays along for a bit…


…until the action starts and he asks Sam to set it aside—very practical advice but still a bit cold to my ears, to the point that I feel a little defeated when Sam concedes the point, at least for the time being.


When we join with the rest of the team fighting Crusher Creel, a.k.a. the Absorbing Man, Cap makes a huge tactical blunder. You see, there’s a reason they call Creel the Absorbing Man…


I mean, when Hank McCoy—brilliant scientist but class clown the rest of time—knows it was a bad idea, it was a bad idea.


No, we still don’t know the secret of Cap’s shield yet, but that won’t stop the writers from teasing it whenever they have a chance. And I assume the Absorbing Man couldn’t care less, enjoying his new form by showing Iron Man what he’s made of (literally) before grabbing a hostage and turning back into flesh and blood (and eventually getting away).


The only panel of relevance in Avengers #185 captures the aftermath of the battle, where Cap consoles his friend (and new teammate) while Hawkeye continues to fume behind the scenes.


Oh, and there is this quick scene in which Ms. Marvel flirts with Tony Stark. (Never, never, flirt with Tony Stark. That should really be in the handbook they give new members.)


All joking aside, Tony and Carol do form an interesting bond a couple decades later over their shared problem with alcohol. (I once again refer you Brian Cronin and his column on Carol’s history with alcoholism for more on this.)

Finally, Doctor Strange #35 sees Cap and Iron Man pay a visit to the Sorcerer Supreme to tend to a broken statue of former Avenger—and fellow Defender to Doctor Strange—the Black Knight.


Strange manages to reassemble the statue but at considerable cost, so Cap lends a hand (and an old-timey phrase).


Strange finds what seems to be the Black Knight’s sword, the Ebony Blade, with the statue, and spends the rest of the issue—after Cap and Tony leave—with his protégé/partner Clea determining if it is the real Ebony Blade, and if it is, why it isn’t with the actual Black Knight in the past.


Avengers (vol. 1) #181, March 1979: David Michelinie (writer), John Byrne (pencils), Gene Day (inks), Francoise Mouly (colors), Gaspar Saladino and Elaine Heinl (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

Avengers (vol. 1) #182, April 1979: David Michelinie (writer), John Byrne (pencils), Klaus Janson (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

Avengers (vol. 1) #183, May 1979: David Michelinie (writer), John Byrne (pencils), Klaus Janson (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Jim Novak (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

Avengers (vol. 1) #184, June 1979: David Michelinie (writer), John Byrne (pencils), “Diverse Hands” (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

Avengers (vol. 1) #185, July 1979: Mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant (plot), David Michelinie (plot and script), John Byrne (pencils), Dan Green (inks), Roger Slifer (colors), John Costanza (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

All collected in: Avengers: Nights of Wundagore and Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Volume Eighteen.

Doctor Strange (vol. 2) #35, June 1979: Roger Stern (plot), Ralph Macchio (script), Tom Sutton (pencils), Pablo Marcos (inks), George Roussos (colors), Clem Robins (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

All collected in: Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange Volume Seven.

PREVIOUS ISSUES: Avengers #174-178, Avengers Annual #8, and Iron Man #114-115 (August-December 1978)

ALSO THESE MONTHS: Captain America #231 (March 1979), Daredevil #157 (March 1979), Invaders #38-40 (March-May 1979), Black Panther #14-15 (March and May 1979), Captain America #232 (April 1979), Captain America #233 (May 1979)Captain America #234 (June 1979), and Captain America #235 (July 1979)

NEXT ISSUES: Avengers #186-187 and Iron Man #25 (August-September 1979)

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