When folks think of Civil War, the seven-part Marvel Comics event that inspired the new film Captain America: Civil War, they think of superhero against superhero in an all-out war. But Civil War is by no means the first time that happened. Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on a Silver Age story from back in the day where the then-current Avengers fought the original Avengers.
Not something that’s really done that much any more, but comics used to feature ads for other comics in them, showing the cover with some blurb to entice the reader to hunt that other comic down. I saw one such ad while spending the summer with my cousin, we were both awestruck by the cover in the ad. The comic in question was Avengers Special #2, later retconned in the title as being one of the Avengers Annuals, but to us, the name was spot on, as it was very very special.
The design was one that had been done before and would be done dozens of times again in comics – two teams hurling themselves at each other, one opponent facing his opposite number, just seconds away from impact and combat. In this case, it was the legendary Sal Buscema depicting the ‘old’ Avengers vs. the ‘new’ Avengers, or more accurately the original roster facing off against the then current team.
The image is one with which to conjure, and fire the imagination of any kid. First and foremost there’s the shield vs. the hammer, Captain America against the mighty Thor. Then we have the mind-boggling duel between the Wasps, and the current Goliath vs. the original Giant-Man. Iron Man squares off against his old foe Hawkeye, and the final showdown on the bill has the Black Panther standing back, wondering how he’ll handle the Hulk. Wow, did T’Challa draw the short straw?
Out of Time
The Roy Thomas-penned story takes place between two landmark events in Avengers history. After Ultron, disguised as the Crimson Cowl, leads his new Masters of Evil against the Avengers, and before Ultron returned with a new weapon to use against Earth’s mightiest heroes – the Vision – Captain America and the Avengers took a short trip through time. Cap had returned to the team after several months, and wanted the Avengers help in soothing his guilty conscience. Using Doctor Doom’s time machine, Cap hoped to see if there was any way to save Bucky in the final days of World War II. Although the mission failed, and no one at the time knew Bucky had in fact survived to become the Winter Soldier, it is the return trip that concerns us here.
Once back in the 1960s, their present day, the Avengers are on their way back to their mansion headquarters and are getting some weird looks, even for New Yorkers. It’s as if no one knows who they are. And they don’t. The time machine did not bring them back home to their home, but to an alternate timeline where they never existed… and where the original Avengers rule…
Old vs. New, Round One
As they make their way through the streets and into Avengers Mansion, something’s not right. When the security system attacks them, and they find the original Avengers at their meeting table, it becomes vaguely more clear, something is indeed wrong, especially when the homeowners defend their home against these invaders. Captain America is recognized, but as a deceased hero of World War II, and Goliath sees himself as Giant-Man, but as far as the ‘old’ Avengers are concerned, the ‘new’ Avengers are imposters and intruders.
While Hank and Jan are nearly equally matched by their counterparts – Captain America, Hawkeye, and the Black Panther are certainly no match power-wise for Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk. Superior power is on the side of the originals, and the new guys won’t last long against them. The ‘new’ Avengers must flee, and hope the ‘old’ Avengers don’t pursue. Obviously something has gone wrong in time, but how can our heroes fix it?
The Scarlet Centurion
Once the intruders have retreated under cover of Hawkeye’s smokescreen arrows, the old Avengers consult an armored figure in red, someone they regard as a savior, and call the Scarlet Centurion. It was revealed by the Watcher at the close of this adventure, but we know today that the Scarlet Centurion – much like Rama-Tut, Immortus, Victor Timely, and even DC Comics’ Lord of Time – is just another identity of Kang the Conqueror, from there it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s been messing with time, and the original Avengers’ heads.
At the end of Avengers #2, just before the Hulk leaves the group, that’s where the Scarlet Centurion butts in and alters the time stream. He not only convinces the Hulk to remain with the Avengers, the time demon convinces our heroes that the only way to save this planet is to abolish the imbalance of super-powered beings on it… yeah, you got it… the Scarlet Centurion commands the Avengers to eliminate everybody else in the Marvel Universe.
The Avengers vs. Everybody
In short order, illustrated by the dashing Don Heck in just a few pages, the Avengers take on and defeat the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the original X-Men, the Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury and his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the yellow-garbed Daredevil. Then they turn their attention to the super-villains, including the Masters of Evil, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and the rest. It is only Doctor Doom, along with the Mandarin, Electro, and Doctor Octopus who figure that Doom’s time machine might be the best way to reverse these circumstances, before they themselves are defeated by the Avengers.
The fugitive new Avengers, breaking into a super-computer to view the history of this world, see all of what has happened, and know that they must reassemble Doctor Doom’s time machine to do what Doom himself could not and set things right, but to do that, they must face the old Avengers again… the old Avengers who have been commanded by the Scarlet Centurion to destroy these new intruders.
Old vs. New, Round Two
The time machine was in three parts, so the teams separate to obtain and protect those parts. The first piece once again pits our Hawkeye and the Black Panther against Iron Man and the Hulk. Luckily the new Avengers know their enemies as the old Avengers have very little experience with these new invaders. Hawkeye is the hero of this fight, stopping Iron Man with anti-metallic acid, and reverting the Hulk into Banner with sonics before he smashed the Panther.
At another site Captain America manages a similar trick by separating Thor from his hammer long enough so he changes back to the lame Don Blake, who is easily felled. Goliath and the Wasp beat their doppelgangers by knowing, and that’s half the battle, or knowing themselves to be precise. Opponents vanquished, and time machine built, the Avengers still must deal with the Scarlet Centurion.
Once the time machine is reassembled and ready to go, the Scarlet Centurion makes his presence known to the victorious new Avengers. In typical James Bond villain style, he reveals his plans and machinations. It was he who prompted Cap’s interest in saving Bucky, and he who caused the Wasp to doze at the controls and materialize the Avengers in World War II – allowing him to alter the time stream. It was all his plan, to get the new Avengers to do what he could not – defeat the too powerful original Avengers.
The Scarlet Centurion dispatches the Avengers easily, but Goliath escapes his wrath and uses the man of steel’s tactic from the end of Superman II to stop the villain. While he was safe inside the time machine at ant-size, he turned the machine on on everyone outside the device – sending the villain back from whence he came and reversing the timeline. The Watcher, ever watching, then erases everyone’s memory of the adventure, while revealing to the readers the identity of the Scarlet Centurion.
This adventure is indeed a product of its time, as evidenced primarily by the Wasp’s behavior and dialogue. Writer Roy Thomas has a long way to go before he understands women the way he writes them a decade or so later in comics like All-Star Squadron and Wonder Woman. Hopefully if you revisit this tale, you won’t cringe too much. Otherwise this story is classic Avengers, and well worth the read.
Unlike Civil War, the superhero war is only between two sets of Avengers, with just a few pages of the heroes fighting everyone else. Although two teams of Avengers fighting does indeed conjure images of what we’ve seen so far in trailers for the Captain America: Civil War film. I hope this journey into the past of superhero wars has whet your appetite for the film, can’t wait for it to open…