This Avengers annual, which reunites the team with former members Hank Pym, She-Hulk, and the Beast, is most notable for its art team: Steve Ditko on pencils and John Byrne on inks, which makes for a very interesting combination, especially with a script by the Avengers writer at the time, Roger Stern, which helps maintain a consistent tone with other Avengers stories at the time.
Appropriate for our purposes, the opening splash shows Captain America helping the army protect Bruce Banner’s laboratory complex, Northwind Observatory.
This gives us the rare chance to see Ditko draw Cap in action…
…while he prevents the Fixer from getting his hands on Banner’s toys and lectures him on property rights (and basic decency).
It’s always welcome to see military personnel, especially the younger ones, react to seeing Cap, showing him respect and admiration despite his lack of official rank or status.
After checking in with the Vision and the Avengers’ National Security Council liaison, Cap accepts the assignment to assemble a team to oversee a gathering of the world’s top scientists cataloging Banner’s experiments (after the Hulk once again went savage and was exiled, not for the last time).
Of course, there are a few top scientists among the superhero community, including Reed Richards, Hank Pym, and the Beast, the last two being ex-Avengers as well, along with She-Hulk, now taking the Thing’s place in the Fantastic Four since Secret Wars. (The fella in the bowtie is Douglas Arthur Cartland from Cross Technological Enterprises, founded by Ant-Man foe Darren Cross. Cartland just gets in the way, mostly.)
(Where’s Tony Stark, you ask? Still working to reclaim his company and his superhero identity in his own book, I’m afraid.)
Before our adventure starts, the Wasp checks in with her ex-husband, who has an interesting update for her.
“About my age” is an interesting thing to note, given the significant age difference between Hank and Janet (accentuated by Hank’s rather middle-aged appearance above).
Soon, the last person they expected to see shows up, which at the same time seems completely natural.
A short battle ensues, and after the Wasp zaps the Hulk with a single “sting,” he’s suddenly fried to a crisp… but the appearance of the issue’s villain should assure us (if not our unaware heroes) that all is not what it seems.
While Reed, Hank, and the Beast investigate the fallen Hulk, and the other heroes comfort a guilt-stricken Wasp, Cap finds Cartland snooping around—which is sort of his job, but Cap harbors reserved suspicions nonetheless, especially given Cartland’s connection to Cross.
Cap returns to the fray to find the Hulk’s purple pants out of control…
…and immediately sees Zola’s handiwork.
Cap taunts Zola, who takes the bait and transfers his unconsciousness into the Hulk’s purple pants (which, if you haven’t guessed by now, are not the actual Hulk’s purple pants, but it’s still fun to say).
Zola admits that both the Hulk they defeated, as well as the Hulk’s purple pants, were his own creations, and after staking his own claim on Banner’s work, sends more fake Hulks (in purple pants) to fight the team. This gives Cap a chance to make an oddly precise estimate of the fake Hulks’ strength before he brings his much more considerable experience in judo and teamwork to bear.
After defeating the monsters inside the facility, the rest of the Avengers join Thor, who has been stemming the flow of fake Hulks (in purple pants) from outside, and who could use a word of encouragement from Cap (who also orders the civilians to stand back for their own safety).
It is the other Captain who has an epiphany that promises to turn the tide…
…although it is only a stop-gap, as the purple pants goo lives on.
Cap doesn’t have much to do with stopping Zola, so pick up the issue to see how this story wraps up… as well as the final fate of Douglas Arthur Cartland!
Collected in: Avengers: Absolute Vision Book Two.