Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Another bit of Silver Age deconstruction

As I mentioned last year, Batman #166 was one of the earliest times I’ve seen a superhero book deconstruct superhero cliches, pointing out the absurdity of putting Batman (or by implication, anyone) in a deathtrap rather than killing them.Since then in my Silver Age reread, I’ve seen humor series such as the Inferior Five do it — a penniless mad scientist wondering how Luthor can afford all his tech — but straight books, not so much. Then comes 1967’s Avengers #44 (Roy Thomas, John Buscema) which does a nice job mocking another cliche.“The Valiant Also Die” resolves a running B-plot taking place over several earlier issues. Acting on SHIELD orders, the Black Widow apparently turns traitor, stealing a high-tech jet and delivering it to a joint Soviet/Red Chinese base. The USSR and China were not on the same page in 1967 but the popular presumption was that all communist nations formed a monolithic alliance united by their opposition to the United States.

In the previous issue we learned the base has developed the Psychotron, an illusion-casting device with which they plan to push the US into a state of collapse. We also met the Red Guardian, communism’s answer to Captain America — and, it turns out, the Black Widow’s husband. This proved a major shock to Hawkeye, who after shaking down some New York informants to learn where she’s being held (no reason given why an underworld stool pigeon would be the go-to guy for knowledge of national security matters), had flown there with Hercules to rescue her.

Herc is now fighting illusions in the Psychotron while Hawkeye is locked up next to ‘tasha. Fortunately the Avengers are in pursuit, which pleases the Russian General Brushov no end. Col. Ling, the base commander? Not so much.

Needless to say, the Red Guardian gets his wish.“What matters a hollow victory over one lone man” is a perfectly sensible sentiment under the circumstances; even though the Guardian cracks Cap’s shield (no small accomplishment) and proves himself a worthy adversary‚ he loses. Then the entire Psychotron project goes down the tubes. Ling was right

His thinking, however, was ontrary to the spirit of Silver Age Marvel, where the Reds were constantly shooting for propaganda victories by proving their chosen champion could beat up a Yank. Curiously, Captain America never did get many of those foes but Iron Man did, facing the Crimson Dynamo, the Titanium Man——and the Cuban supervillain the Crusher, just a couple of months before Avengers #44.

Cap’s Kookie Quartet got in on the act when the Commissar tried using them for a propaganda victory. For that matter, the Nazis thought having Baron Strucker beat up Sgt. Fury would prove which side was cooler.This makes me appreciate the Avengers story that much more. Not to mention the ending reminding that building lairs inside a volcano may not end well.Good advice for everyone in the evildoing business, no?

#SFWApro. Batman cover by Carmine Infantino, Iron Man covers by Gene Colan, Sgt. Fury panels and Avengers #18 cover by Jack Kirby. Everything else is Buscema.


  1. Alaric

    To be fair, during the Cold War, propaganda victories were in fact a big deal, worth spending a huge amount of money on. In fact, if landing on the Moon hadn’t been counted as a huge propaganda victory for the U.S., and therefor worth throwing enormous amounts of money at, it not only wouldn’t have happened then, it still wouldn’t have happened by the present time, decades later. We’re just reaching the point where ordinary amounts of space program funding are enough for a manned lunar landing to be feasible. The amount that was spent on the Apollo program was much, much more, and the only reason that amount was spent on it was because it was considered a major propaganda victory.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    Commies always stick together, like dirty little rats! Not like us brave, freedom-loving westerners, with our shining NATO alliances, and SEATO Alliances and mutual defense treaties and ………

    Hey, wait a minute…………..

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