Avengers (Covers) Assemble!

With Marvel Studios ongoing releases, I thought it would be fun to trace the graphic chronology of “Earth’s Mightiest Super-Heroes.” Next to The Silver Surfer (another character that, like the Avengers, started with Jack Kirby and later fell into the talented hands of John Buscema), The Avengers was my favorite comic book title as a kid. It was also the only comic title that I had every issue of, from #1 through the end of the 1960’s—AND the first comic line that I actually read cover to cover.

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For the most part, I was like most of my friends. My comic book interests began with the more innocuous DC Comics (Superman, Batman, The Justice League, etc.) and later transitioned to the output of editors Stan Lee’s Marvel “Bullpen” (The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, etc.). In general, Marvel’s galaxy of superheroes had more edge and the writing was also more engaging—and funny! By the time I reached my teens, I was also ready to expand my exposure to more artists, and I basically used comics as a home drawing course. Previously, my DC elementary school “teachers” had been artists like Curt Swan (Superman and Jimmy Olsen), Carmine Infantino (Batman and The Flash), Kurt Schaffenberger (Lois Lane), and Gil Kane (Green Lantern). By the time I was of Middle School age I was learning Marvel’s “curriculum,” introduced to me by Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, The Avengers, etc.), Steve Ditko, (Spider-Man and Dr. Strange), John Buscema (The Silver Surfer and The Avengers), and Gene Colan (Daredevil and Dr. Strange). (I’d always been amazed by Neal Adams’ work and followed the comics he drew no matter what publisher he was doing it for.) My drawing “mentor” during my college career was Will Eisner…

I’ve kept all my comics and use them for reference all the time. Their influence has helped spawn our studio superhero characters like The Ambiguously Gay Duo, Captain Linger, Red Defender, Tek Jansen, The Golf Gods and 2015’s TradeCentre Team…

So, below I present my personal collection of The Avengers. These are the copies I read as a kid and they pretty much show the wear and tear that’s to be expected from years of reading, trading, and studying the drawing from. It should help acquaint those heretical comic book non-believers with the culture that spawned one of the most successful superhero theatrical franchises. And if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ll appreciate the entertaining graphic impact all these covers present.

Why did I choose issues #1-68 ? Because I wanted to show how the characters and the team evolved over the six years from September 1963 to September 1969—ending with the original Ultron saga that inspired the new film.

Excelsior!

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers The original team, including Iron Man in his old bulky armored suit. Paul Rudd stars in the upcoming “Ant-Man” motion picture from Marvel Studios premiering this summer on July 16th !

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Artist: Jack Kirby Ant-Man is now Giant-Man.

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Artist: Jack Kirby

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Artist: Jack Kirby – This is the first appearance of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s Captain America since he was frozen (and his comicbook title was cancelled) in the early 1950’s. He’s been alive and kicking since his 1964 resurrection.

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Artist: Jack Kirby

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Charles Stone. A new helmet for Tony Stark’s Iron Man.

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Charles Stone

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers

Avengers009

Artist: Jack Kirby/Charles Stone

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Charles Stone

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Charles Stone. Spidey !

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Charles Stone

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Tom Raney

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Charles Stone. M.M.M.S. stands for “Merry Marvel Marching Society”.

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Charles Stone. A new helmet for Giant-Man this time.

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers. A new Avengers line-up !  This issue introduces Hawk-Eye, Quicksilver and his sister The Scarlet Witch.

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Artist: Jack Kirby

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers This cover also inaugurates the short-lived 4 issue “Pop Art Productions” line, inspired by the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s. DC Comics had its equivalent later in 1966-67 with its “Go-Go Checks” checkerboard design at the top of their comic covers.

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A Go-Go Checks ad designed by Ira Schnapp.

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DC Detective Comics with Go-Go Checks motif. Carmine Infantino art.

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Artist: Jack Kirby

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Artist: Jack Kirby

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Artist: Jack Kirby

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Artist: Jack Kirby

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Don Heck

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Frank Giacoia

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Frank Giacoia. Welcome back Hank Pym, Giant-Man and a brand new costume !

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Artist: Don Heck/Frank Giacoia

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Don Heck

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Artist: Don Heck

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Artist: Don Heck

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Artist: Don Heck

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Artist: Don Heck

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Artist: Jack Kirby/Don Heck/Stan Goldberg/Frank Giacoia/Art Simek

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Artist: Don Heck/Stan Goldberg/Sam Rosen

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Artist: Gil Kane/Stan Goldberg (Giant Man’s mouth belies the Gil Kane touch)

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Artist: Gil Kane/Stan Goldberg/Sam Rosen. Hercules becomes an Avenger.

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Artist: Don Heck/George Bell/Stan Goldberg/Art Simek

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Artist: Don Heck

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First cover by John Buscema. Buscema was my favorite Avenger artist and did a bitchin’ Silver Surfer as well !

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Artist: John Buscema/George Bell/Stan Goldberg/ Art Simek

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Artist: John Buscema/George Bell/Stan Goldberg/Art Simek

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Artist: John Buscema/Vince Colletta/Stan Goldberg/Art Simek

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Artist: John Buscema/Vince Colletta/Stan Goldberg/Sam Rosen

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Artist: John Buscema/Stan Goldberg/Art Simek. Hank’s back to being Ant-Man.

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Artist: Don Heck/Frank Giacoia/Stan Goldberg/Morrie Kuramoto

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Artist: George Tuska/Sam Rosen. The Black Knight returns !

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Artist: John Buscema/Sam Rosen

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Artist: John Buscema/Sam Rosen

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Artist: John Buscema/Joe Sinnott/Sam Rosen. Ant-man becomes Giant-Man, becomes Ant-Man again and now is Goliath. Makes sense, right ?

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Artist: John Buscema/Sam Rosen. Enter T’Challa – “The Black Panther !

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Artist: John Buscema/George Tuska/Sam Rosen

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Artist: John Buscema/George Klein

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Artist: John Buscema

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Artist: John Buscema/Frank Giacoia/George Klein/John Romita. Cap’s pal “Bucky”. . .

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Artist: John Buscema/George Klein. The Vision – this is the beginning of the Ultron saga.

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Artist: John Buscema

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Artist: John Buscema. Don’t even try to figure out the Goliath/Yellowjacket issue. . .

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Artist: John Buscema

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Artist: John Buscema

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Artist: John Buscema (1st issue utilizing “The Mighty Avengers” title logo)

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Artist: Gene Colan. Welcome back Goliath. . . in a new get-up.

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Artist: Gene Colan

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Artist: Gene Colan

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Artist: John Buscema

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Artist: Sal Buscema/Sam Grainger. Ultron returns ! (Thanks to The Vision. . .)

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Artist: Sal Buscema/Sam Grainger

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Artist: John Buscema/George Bell/John Romita/Stan Goldberg/Artie Simek. Once a cmic title (Marvel and/or DC) proved successful it got its own 25 cent “Giant Sized/King-Size Special” annual. We all looked forward to these !

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Artist: John Buscema/Frank Giacoia/Sam Rosen

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Artist: John Buscema/Frank Giacoia/Sam Rosen

In 1967 and 1968 the paperback publisher Bantam Books published two Avenger related novel-like softbound books. The first, “The Avengers Battle The Earth-Wrecker” was penned by comics and science fiction writer Otto Binder with a cover by Robert McGinnis.

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Artist: Robert McGinnis

The next year Bantam published “The Great Gold Steal” by Ted White, starring Captain America and featuring an appearance by The Avengers. The cover of this novel was painted by Peter Caras and represents what I consider to be a true landmark image when it comes to superhero illustration technique. This looks tame by today’s standards but imagine the reaction this depiction of Cap received when originally released in 1968. As far as I know, there was never a mainstream superhero illustrated so realistically before. There was the H.J. Ward Superman painting and various Fawcett covers portraying characters from their Captain Marvel family, but even they don’t compare in technique to this.
What’s fascinating also (and shows how the outrageous steroid-laden physique has become so commonplace) is how lean he looks. He’s ripped, to be sure, and the veins showing through the material is a bit over the top, but nothing to compare to how the superhero build is treated today. Even Alex Ross’ painted realism shows more exaggerated muscle development than Caras’ Cap.

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Artist: Peter Caras (This illustration has also been attributed to Mitchell Hooks and Lou Feck but has since been confirmed as Caras’ art)

Finally, in 1975 Marvel published a large format “Marvel Treasury Edition” of The Mighty Avengers. It contained four reprinted stories, one of them being issue #57’s Vision/Ultron saga.

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If you’re interested in vintage comics, you’ll find these past Imprint articles interesting:

S0553The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio

If you’re interested in comic books, chances are you’ve heard the names Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. After all, their partnership paved the way for the Golden Age of comics beginning in the 1940s. With The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio by Mark Evanier, learn more about the duo who invented noteworthy characters like Captain America and Sandman, conceived the idea of romance comics, and created a new standard for the genres of crime, western, and horror comic books. Take a look inside the various aspects of their career, and see some of the works that defined them. Get it here.

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