Wright Stuff #4: Golden Age Originals – Original Avengers
Loyal fans of the Avengers know most of the many members that have graced their roster. Names like: Black Panther, Black Widow, Hercules, Iron Man, Thor, Vision, and Yellowjacket. Now, meet their predecessors…
The original Black Panther first appeared in Centaur Comics’ Stars and Stripes #3 in 1941. Appearing only the one issue, this costumed crime buster seemed to possess no extranormal abilities. Since this was his only appearance we never learned this hero’s secret identity. It was was a full twenty-five years before T’Challa, Prince of Wakanda first appeared in Fantastic Four #52.
In 1940, Claire Voyent made her macabre debut in Mystic Comics #4, published by Timely Comics. Claire was a Medium with a dark secret – she has been brought back to life and granted mystical powers by the Devil himself in exchange for being his servant on earth. Claire takes on the mantle of The Black Widow and sets about wreaking revenge on the man who killed her, and collects the souls of wartime profiteers leaving their corpses with the mark of The Black Widow. In 1961, Timely Comics became Marvel Comics, and by 1964, the name Black Widow was revised. This time the Widow was Natasha Romanoff, spy for the Russian government. Eventually Natasha defected and became a spy/superhero.
The mythological Hercules made his super heroic appearance in Marvel Comics’ Journey Into Mystery Annual #1. However, this was not the first time a Hercules had been a superhero. Quality Comics published Hit Comics #1 in July of 1940 which saw the debut of Joe Hercules, an incredibly strong young man who took on a costumed identity to fight the thugs responsible for his mother’s death. Inspired by a comicbook featuring Doll Man, Joe, a circus strongman, decided to use his mythological last name as the basis of his new heroic identity. While not the actual Hercules of myth, as the one in Marvel Comics is, Joe had a respectable twenty-one issue run as a superhero.
Iron Man is Canadian! Well, the original Iron Man was anyway. Better Comics #1 published by Maple Leaf Publishing (how Canadian can it get?) introduced the sole survivor of a ruined civilization. His people appeared to have been mutated and endowed with extraordinary powers such as invulnerability, superhuman strength, the ability to breathe underwater, and jump great distances, yet their civilization was lost to an earthquake. Being the only one left, this “Iron Man” was revived by a (Canadian) Major and two children into the second world war. Upon learning of the evil of the Nazis, Iron Man leaped into the fray. Some twenty-three years later Tony Stark cobbled together a suit of armor to keep his heart going in Marvel Comics’ Tales of Suspense #39 in 1963.
Deviating from mythology, the comic book Thor had long blonde hair and a smooth face. This God from Asgard first appeared in Weird Comics #1 by Fox Publishing in 1940. This Thor was a mortal named Grant Farrel who was bestowed the powers of Thor and a magic hammer by the thunder God himself. Much like his Marvel Comics successor, Thor could fly, control storms, and dispense lightning, as well as throw his magic hammer through almost any object only to have it return to his hand. While much younger than Marvel’s Thor, his long blonde hair and beardless face, and early helmet are astounding similarities. Given Fox’s Thor only made five appearances back in the forties, it’s highly unlikely Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, or Jack Kirby had ever seen it when they produced Marvel Comics’ Thor who debuted twenty-two years later in Journey into Mystery #83.
Much like modern day Black Widow, modern day Vision was a revamp of a golden age character from Timely Comics. The Vision’s first appearance was in November of 1940 in Marvel Mystery Comics #13. Also known as Aarkus, this strange visitor from another world was a cop on his home world. Drawn to earth by an unsuspecting earth scientist, Aarkus decides to stay and help fight the crime that is rampant here. This Vision is shown to be able to transport/teleport himself via smoke, fly, create illusions of himself, and generate extreme cold and ice. Once his successor had debuted in The Avengers #57 (October of 1968), the golden age Vision was dusted off by writer Roy Thomas in The Avengers #97 some four years later.
1944 saw the publication of Yellowjacket Comics #1 and with it, the debut of a hero of the same name. Crime fiction writer Vince Harley felt as though his stories were running flat, when fate dropped a mysterious, beautiful woman showed up at his home (as such things do). The woman fell unconscious, and while she was asleep, Vince rummaged through her purse and found expensive-looking jewels. As the night progressed, Vince fell asleep. He awoke to find Gangsters standing over him demanding the location of the girl. Vince refused to co-operate and the villains decided to teach him a lesson by setting Vince’s own bees on him. Once Vince’s body was covered in bees, the Gangsters left thinking their evil deed a sure thing. However, it turned out that Harley had a natural affinity for bees, and the bees simply returned to their apiary. Deciding to teach the bad guys a lesson, Vince donned a bee striped costume and pursued them to their lair as The Yellowjacket. Using his natural ability to communicate with bees, Yellowjacket defeats the Gangsters and decides to take up crime fighting. In 1968, Roy Thomas created a new identity for the Avenger known as Ant-Man. Debuting in Avengers #59, this Yellowjacket was one of several identities Hank Pym would adopt besides Ant-Man, including Giant Man, Goliath, and Wasp.