What If... the Avengers Fought Evil During the 1950s? (Vol.1, #9)
It's time again for another terrific tale in the Mighty Marvel Manner, true believers! Sorry for not updating regularly, but I've been trying to balance school and regular comic reading with this and it's sort of a losing battle at this point. Anyway, let's get on with the issue. And this one's a right doozy! It breaks from What If...?
tradition, such as it was at the time of publication, quite a bit — focusing on characters the readership had likely never heard of! Obscure heroes from the 1950s, the days when Marvel was known as Atlas Comics. Not only that, but the Watcher isn't even the guy telling us the story — it's Iron Man! Not only that
, but this is one of very few What If...?
s to spark its own series: the Agents of Atlas
This does not
, however, mean that this issue is in 616 canon. If you're familiar with the Agents of Atlas, you'll know that 3-D Man is conspicuously absent from the team. That's because he wasn't an actual Atlas Comics character; he was created in the mid 70s as a tribute to a Jack Kirby/Joe Simon guy from that era. This forms the true "turning point" in the issue — but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Now, let's take a look at this cover. It's a real beaut, lemme tell you. Drawn by Jack Kirby, the Big Three of the Avengers (Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man) are afflicted with Floating Head Syndrome
as the 50s Avengers run towards the reader in a manner akin to the famous Giant Size X-Men #1. Our heroes are, in order from left to right: Venus, the (fake) goddess of love; Marvel Boy, the spacefaring teen hero; 3-D Man, whose powers are sort of hard to describe concisely so you'll have to wait; Gorilla Man, an ape with a man's brain; and M-11 the Human Robot, whose name is a flagrant contradiction in terms. I heard it got explained in Agents of Atlas
at some point, but I'm having a hard time not thinking any kind of explanation would go into Voodoo Shark
Anyway, our story opens and it seems like the Watcher is feeling lazy today - because he immediately hands off narrating/storytelling duties to the Invincible Iron Man! Iron Man has called a clandestine Avengers meeting... but only invited Captain America, the Beast, the Vision, and Thor. I'm guessing this is due to a thematic similarity between them and the 50s Avengers. If my calculations are correct, Thor:Venus (I'm betting being considered equal to a woman, much less from the Greek pantheon, won't sit well with ol' Goldilocks), Beast:Gorilla Man, Cap:3-D Man, and I'm not too sure about Iron Man and the Vision; you could argue either of them for both the Human Robot and Marvel Boy.
Anyway, Iron Man says he called the meeting for a reason: to show this specific group of Avengers something he saw via his version of the Squadron Supreme
's dimensional transporter. It allows him to catch glimpses of alternate Earths... and this one interests him, perhaps because he can't even tell if it actually is
an alternate. It's evident, from the scenes of Elvis Presley, Nikita Khrushchev, Sputnik, Dwight Eisenhower, the Korean War, and the stars of I Love Lucy
, however, that it's the 1950s.
The Beast gets petulant. He likes Happy Days
as much as the next guy, but he doesn't see what this has to do with any of them. Iron Man directs their attention to San Francisco's Chinatown, where young FBI agent Jimmy Woo awaits a contact. He's a little worried, because the guy's late - and he's usually very reliable. That's when he's beset by two local roughnecks from the vicious biker gang known as the Black Dragons! Jimmy guesses they want to mug him, but after leaping out of the way of a motorcycle he realizes they're out for blood! Jimmy knocks over some trash cans in that jump and is feeling a little dizzy. Lucky for him, then, that he's not alone; Hal Chandler, the 3-D Man, happened to be vacationing in San Fran that week, and in an even further coincidence happened to witness the attack when already 3-D Man.
3-D Man ably handles the Black Dragon punks, picking up a charging bike, rider and all, and tossing it to the ground. The rider's knocked out, and his friend wisely gets the Hell out of Dodge. I mentioned before that 3-D Man's powers are a little difficult to explain succinctly, and after his display this seems a good time to try: he has three times the absolute peak of human physical ability — but can only remain in his powered, 3-D Man form for three hours at a time. Anyway, Jimmy gets up and thanks 3-D Man for his help. He's also glad to see him because it means he won't have to use the bureau to track him down. 3-D Man doesn't get it, but Jimmy assures him he will, once one of the others arrive. What others? Well, here's one now!
Marvel Boy comes onto the scene, having arrived "just in time" (yeah, right) by way of his spaceship, the Silver Bullet. 3-D Man is surprised, since Marvel Boy hasn't been seen in years, but apparently he's back. Marvel Boy tries to make up for not being on time by using his psychic powers to scan the mind of the unconscious Black Dragon and discover just why he was trying to kill Jimmy. As it turns out, the Black Dragons were under the mental control of The Yellow Claw
Jimmy kicks himself for not realizing it sooner - especially since the Yellow Claw is the reason he's there in the first place! 3-D Man's game for taking on this creep, but is still pretty much in the dark. Jimmy decides that's for the best right now - and he's got an errand for Marvel Boy to attend to... in Africa! As for Jimmy and 3-D Man, they've got business "...On the Waterfront
It's now revealed that the Yellow Claw has been watching their every move via crystal ball from a secret location in Chinatown. Right about now I'd just like to note that while the Yellow Claw is a vile creature, his archenemy Jimmy Woo is portrayed as a completely normal action hero who happens to be Chinese-American - and was so even in the 1950s. Anyway, the Yellow Claw has company in his loyal lackey Fritz von Voltzmann, an ex-Nazi with a dueling scar and High-Class Glass
, and his niece Suwan - around whose heart Jimmy Woo has an iron grip! Voltzmann notes that Woo isn't alone this time, and the Yellow Claw agrees this could pose a problem for his take-over of the United States. With a flick of his wrist, the crystal ball's focus shifts to Marvel Boy as he arrives in Africa.
In the Silver Bullet, Marvel Boy has picked up Jungle Princess
Jann of the Jungle on Jimmy's advice that only she could locate their next ally. As they fly over a jungle, they see a gorilla fighting lions - and carrying himself in combat far more like a man than an animal! Jann jumps out of the Silver Bullet and launches into a Vine Swing
- there's no time to waste landing, their new friend may not have that long! Jann delivers a textbook Web Swing/Spidey Swing
, and after landing Marvel Boy blinds the remaining cats with his light jewel. Jann's glad that the situation didn't turn bloody, and guesses that the lions attacked Gorilla Man because they somehow sensed he was different.
My take? The lions had never seen a gorilla before because lions live on the plains and gorillas live on the mountains or in the jungles. What were the lions doing in the jungle? Uh... Anyway, Gorilla Man more or less agrees with her, and Marvel Boy is shocked that he can speak. Gorilla Man asks why they bothered to help in the first place and is told his skills are needed in the US. Gorilla Man is hesitant to go back home - he's got a wife there someplace and couldn't bear being so near. Marvel Boy tells him he'll try to develop a cure for him using Uranian science, and the two head off in the Silver Bullet. Jann would have gone with them, but feels her duty to protecting the jungle is more important.
Meanwhile, Jimmy and 3-D Man are at the docks, where 3-D Man's triple-sharp vision picks up something moving under the water - fast! It's Namora, the Sea-Woman, cousin to Prince Namor of Atlantis, the Sub-Mariner. Jimmy says the two of them need to work together to get something out of the water. 3-D Man dives in and marvels at Namora's ability to speak underwater. Soon the two uncover a mysterious robot on the ocean floor! As Jimmy waits on the dock, he gets an odd feeling... like when he first met Suwan! He realizes it could only be Venus, who's come as per his message. She didn't mean to make him swoon, but claims to have an on and off case of Power Incontinence
. Namora and 3-D Man bring "Tobor
or whatever its name is" topside, hefting him onto the dock. Namora would stay, but Namor's been missing for a while and she needs to keep looking for him. With that, she leaves.
The 3-D Man sees Venus and tries to put on the old Chandler Charm. Jimmy warns him that the Human Robot's programming has re-activated — and it's programmed to kill! 3-D Man's too enamored of Venus to notice, but Venus hits the robot with a love beam of some kind that eradicates violence from its CPU, turning the soulless weapon into an instrument of peace. Er, well, that was the plan - the poor thing is no longer murderous, but its confusion at being torn between the power of love and its programming quickly turns to rage! Marvel Boy and Gorilla Man show up about then, and Marvel Boy takes the liberty of shutting down the Human Robot until he can install a regulator to permanently curtail its violent programming.
Jimmy complements Marvel Boy for his quick thinking - when that's done, their little team will be complete. Though he'll probably always have reservations about the Human Robot. Well, and Gorilla Man. The Beast tells Iron Man to hold on for a second; this Gorilla Man character seems like a cool dude... why hasn't he ever heard of him? Thor agrees that this is strange. He knows of Venus, but all of the others he's seen so far are strangers to him.
The Watcher mans up and takes the helm for a moment. He explains that none of these guys have any reason to be familiar with the 50s Avengers; Cap went missing in 1945, and so forth. So four our
benefit, he explains the origins of these characters. Ken Hale was once an Egomaniac Hunter
tracking a mythical "Gorilla Man" in the jungles of Kenya... only to learn upon slaying the creature that You Kill It, You Bought It
, becoming the Gorilla Man himself! 1n 1934, Prof. Matthew Grayson's wife and daughter were killed by the Nazis. Using an experimental atomic spacecraft, he took his infant son and fled to the stars to escape Hitler's tyranny - only for the moon-bound ship to mysteriously veer off course and land on the (inhabited!) planet Uranus. There, his son grew to become Marvel Boy.
Wow, that one's kind of hard to swallow, isn't it? Seriously, the Hell was that about? Moving on. An unnamed scientist had nearly perfected his robot when his unscrupulous business manager sabotaged the project, programming his creation to kill him! It did so... but without the missing part, the regulator, the command to "kill" remained! Killing the business manager, the Human Robot sought more victims. It didn't get far, short-circuited by water while trying to reach a fisherman by the docks. Interesting sidenote: the Agents of Atlas
series gave the Human Robot the alternate name M-11, a reference to his first appearance, Menace
Venus renounced all her godly attributes save the power of love to dwell among mortals. This got rectonned in Agents of Atlas
: Venus is a Siren who imitates the true goddess of love. Air Force Pilot Chuck Chandler was kidnapped by Skrulls... but after their flying saucer exploded, he and his brother Hal were mysteriously empowered. Now, whenever Hal dons his special glasses, they join to form the 3-D Man!
Whew, this is tiring me out. Seriously, these early double-sized What If...?
s can be a chore sometimes. Anyway, the Watcher returns us to our regularly scheduled story, and if the Beast and Thor got their answers we sure don't get told. The day after the Human Robot was salvaged, the team meets in an abandoned warehouse on the shore. Fighting starts to break out, but Marvel Boy comes in with the Human Robot in tow, having upgraded him with Uranian technology to the point that he can think for himself and speak - though he does neither very well. Still, he's strong, snapping a solid steel bar in half to demonstrate. Gorilla Man thinks this clown's even stronger than him!
Jimmy finally explains himself to everyone. He's recently been appointed as a personal bodyguard to Eisenhower himself. In the past month, three attempts have been made on the President's life, all of them tracing back to... the Yellow Claw, a 100-year old mystic from the foothills of the Tibetan alps. His efforts are far from random; he wants to take over the US, and thereafter the world! Woo thinks that a group dedicated to fighting the Yellow Claw could end his menace forever. They decide on calling themselves "the Avengers" for a reason that' way too stupid for me to acknowledge.
A month later, at Washington, D.C., the Yellow Claw sits in his underground lair. Voltzmann tells him the task he had been given is completed, "vith the same
efficiency I used vhen I vas Karl von Horstbaden
, Commandant at Auschwitz.
" I just thought that line was important as a sign of exactly what degree of evil we're dealing with here - the Big Bad
's simpering crony
was the head honcho at Auschwitz
. The Yellow Claw is pleased, for now his plan to kill Eisenhower can't fail! Voltzmann agrees - how can it, when his "Nazi ingenuity" has called together the most powerful threats the country has seen since the fall of the Third Reich!
Pulling back a curtain, Voltzmann shows us just what he means. Our Legion of Doom
, ladies and gentlemen. Left to right, we have Skull-Face, the skeleton of an alleged demon burned at the stake centuries ago and restored to life in this
century by 50 million volts of electricity
! Speaking of electricity, one of his compatriots asserts himself as its master - the Russian assassin Electro. Who shouldn't be confused for the Spider-Man
villain or the Fin Fang Four member. Electro demonstrates his power by zapping the ground; another villain, the Cold Warrior
, perceives this as a threat and responds by similarly directing an ice beam near Electro's feet. Finally is the Great Video, who gained X-Ray Vision
and a deadly prolonged stare in a lab explosion. Using his powers, he's shocked to find that Skull-Face isn't a guy in a costume, but a real living skeleton.
These guys aren't referred to as such in story, but since they fight the first Avengers that probably makes them the first Masters of Evil; I'll thus be calling the group "the Masters" for the sake of simplicity from here on. I should also mention that the Masters are under some kind of hypnotic suggestion - otherwise the virulently anti-Communist Cold Warrior would never work with Electro, for instance. The Yellow Claw is pleased with Voltzmann for assembling such a vicious bunch; as his reward, Voltzmann will be the one to finally finish off that accursed Jimmy Woo. Voltzmann is very
happy to hear this - too
happy for Suwan, whom the Yellow Claw notes is upset by the prospect of Jimmy dead. This is hardly enough, however, for him to reconsider his decision to see the resourceful young FBI agent put in the ground.
Soon, the Masters, led by Electro, rapidly tunnel their way underneath a golf course, where President Eisenhower is playing. One of his Jimmy thinks this public appearance was a little unwise, but Ike doesn't agree at all. What could the Yellow Claw do to him on an open golf course?
. Well, uh, he could send the world's deadliest criminals after you. Skull-Face's hand bursts through the ground, grabbing Ike's ankle and pulling him underground. The Great Video and Cold Warrior do their parts by taking on the Secret Service; the Cold Warrior tries his best not to kill any of them, considering himself an American hero, but the Great Video has no such scruples and unleashes his fatal stare.
Jimmy slips through the hole unseen in the melee, but after the Masters have sealed the ground up, but Eisenhower starts complaining of chest pains. Uh oh, that's not good. Cold Warrior thinks on his feet and uses an ice slide to expedite their return to the Yellow Claw as much as possible. Meanwhile, at the Avengers' warehouse, the group has turned once again to infighting. Gorilla Man bullies the Human Robot, Marvel Boy tries to get Venus to admit that there's no Olympus and no gods... 3-D Man breaks the tension by showing up. Gorilla Man interprets an innocuous comment of his as an insult towards him (touchy touchy), and a for real fight breaks out!
Gorilla Man tosses a wicked punch to 3-D Man's chest; 3-D Man thinks if not for his triple-everything, that probably would've killed him! 3-D Man tries to turn the others against Gorilla Man, saying he's nothing but a talking monkey. He accidentally bumps into the Human Robot, who mistakes the contact for an attack. Just when things are about to really explode, Marvel Boy uses his light jewel to disorient them while Venus placates them with the power of love. Now that everybody's calmed down, Marvel Boy plays back a message he received from Jimmy mere minutes ago, bringing the Avengers up to speed on everything so far. The problem: Jimmy has no clue where this tunnel leads. the Avengers decide to simply make a guess, and head off on their first real mission with their agreed upon battlecry: "Go Avengers, Go!" HA HA HA OH WOW.
Anyway, the Yellow Claw has Eisenhower... well, he's not even tied up or anything, but the Yellow Claw probably knows he's not stupid enough to try anything. The Yellow Claw has a good laugh when Ike implies that he serves Communist China - the Yellow Claw serves no one
. Voltzmann can back him up on that. Eisenhower is filled with dread, remembering the name as the alias of the world's most wanted war criminal. Voltzmann is overjoyed that Eisenhower remembers after all these years.
The Yellow Claw dishes on his plan, which is actually fairly simple: he's kidnapped an extremely popular President and is holding him for ransom. "The price
— complete sovereignty over one of your populous Eastern states!" It's a ludicrous proposal, but you have to admit that the Yellow Claw isn't giving the government much choice; should Eisenhower die because they refused his terms, the civil unrest will be catastrophic. The Yellow Claw plans to expand his territory from that single state to the entire US, then the West, the East... the entire world! Frankly I'm skeptical, but to be fair it looks like his plan's going pretty well do far.
Suwan thinks to herself that her grand-uncle is insane and needs to be stopped... but he's also family. Just then, she hears a voice beckon her to come over. It's Jimmy! He hands her a pocket communicator in case he gets found out, but as he explains how to use it, he's zapped unconscious by Electro! When he comes to, he's met with the homely visage of the Yellow Claw... and Eisenhower, who worries that his heart can't take much more stress. Walking in, Voltzmann suggests that the President look away as he tests Jimmy's endurance with techniques he perfected on "those verdammt inferiors
at the concentration camp
." Suwan had been sulking in a corner up to this point, and now leaves the room in tears. The Yellow Claw understands her despair, but he's kind of got his arch enemy right where he wants him.
The Avengers have taken the Silver Bullet to Washington, making the trip in a manner of minutes! Marvel Boy isn't very comfortable with the fact that they can only guess at the President's location... when he gets a transmission from Jimmy's communicator. Suwan guessed at the controls, and she's ready to spill on where the Yellow Claw's hideout is. On the condition that no harm come to the Yellow Claw himself, that is.
Eisenhower has begged the Yellow Claw to stay Voltzmann's hand, even offering his own life in exchange for Jimmy's. The Yellow Claw admires the President's bravery, but obviously he can't toss out his trump card like that. Suddenly, the Human Robot bursts through the wall, followed in short order by the rest of the Avengers. The Masters see the Human Robot — the Great Video is shocked by the sight of it, Skull-Face feels an odd kinship with it due to also being born of electricity, and Electro and Cold Warrior have this great exchange: "It is a robot
— but primitive
compared to what scientists in my homeland
might devise." "Is that so, Ruskie? Well, what would your Commie scientists do to stop that
The Yellow Claw orders the Masters to attack. Cold Warrior gets the drop on the Human Robot, encasing him in a block of ice with no trouble. They remaining Avengers pair off with the Masters - Gorilla Man has trouble getting close to Electro due to his use of keepaway tactics. Marvel Boy tries to blind Skull-Face, but you can't blind what doesn't have eyes! As he bears down on Marvel Boy, Venus tries to help him, only to be frozen solid by the Cold Warrior. Suwan secretly cuts the ropes keeping Jimmy bound.
Venus is freaking out; in her mortal form, she'll freeze to death soon. Gorilla Man turns his focus on the Cold Warrior, breaking his concentration and shattering Venus' ice prison. Marvel Boy gains the upper hand against Skull-Face, and throws him at the Cold Warrior — breaking the former into pieces and knocking the latter right out! Unfortunately, it's not over yet - the Great Video's been focusing his deadly gaze on 3-D Man this whole time. He's only still alive due to his triple-endurance. Marvel Boy blinds him with his light jewel, and Gorilla Man finishes the job using one of Skull-Face's bones! That just leaves Electro, who is being pestered by 3-D Man running circles around him. He keeps missing his blasts until he lands one — that frees the Human Robot!
3-D Man grabs Eisenhower while the Human Robot grapples with Electro, eventually causing his powers to short circuit by absorbing his electrical energy and giving it all back to him with interest! Jimmy notices the Yellow Claw, Suwan and Voltzmann making their escape shortly afterward. The Avengers survey the results of their first mission, and 3-D Man is pleased with their work - despite his lingering prejudice against both Gorilla Man and the Human Robot. Venus and Marvel Boy suddenly get all cozy and Eisenhower thanks the Avengers for saving him. But what happened to the real bad guys?
Jimmy followed them as they escaped, but lost them quickly. He comes to a dark room where the Yellow Claw sits, as if waiting for Jimmy to grab him. Dilemma: This is probably a trap and will thus likely kill him. However, if it isn't a trap, he'll have let the world's greatest villain slip through his fingers. 3-D Man rushes in, having heard a ticking noise with his triple-hearing - that "Yellow Claw" is a bomb! The Human Robot shields Jimmy and 3-D Man from the blast, only getting a few dents in the process.
Later, the Avengers are gathered in the Oval Office... where Eisenhower tells them to disband and that he intends to cover up the fact that they ever existed! Why? Well... people may not be ready for a talking gorilla, a creepy robot, a mysterious "alien", a goddess, and whatever 3-D Man is to be national heroes. Marvel Boy ultimately agrees that it's for the best.
We now cut back to the modern Avengers, and the Vision sees why Iron Man only called the four of them to join him for this little show. Turns out I was right earlier with the thematic similarities thing. Beast-Gorilla Man, etc. For the record, Iron Man was Marvel Boy and the Vision the Human Robot, though I'm not entirely sure if I agree with that one so much.
The Watcher closes out the story, pretty much refusing to clarify whether this happened on Earth-616. Canonically, it was established later that it didn't, because that's kind of the entire concept behind the series. The End?
SO IT WAS ON THIS WORLD. BUT WHAT IF...?
You know, that ending really makes me think about how I'd react if I lived in this kind of universe. I mean, I'd certainly be as confused as the next guy if I had to rely on a rather large ape to save the country from total destruction. But if I knew that he was fighting against the animate skeleton of a freakin' demon, I'd probably let the whole 'non-human' thing slide. When it comes to what little prejudice I have, it stands no chance when you put the forces of the netherworld into the equation. Then again, I could just be babbling nonsense.
I get where you're coming from, but frankly I think Eisenhower's decision makes sense given the setting and time period. Well, to a certain point; I really don't see why the Avengers had to stop working together. Couldn't they just stay under the radar or something?