On My Affection For The Avengers

On My Affection For The Avengers 150 150 Paul Levitz

I came to Marvel relatively late: my comics reading began with the Weisinger-edited Superman titles in the early sixties, and moved from there to the broader DC line slowly.  I read a few Marvels along the way from friends’ stacks, but my mom limited me to three new issues a week in hope of preserving my eyes from the lousy print and tiny lettering, as well as focusing me on prose books.  That kept me squarely in DC’s grasp, with only a bit of dalliance with the few and short-lived THUNDER Agents.  It wasn’t until my father took a week’s vacation for my elementary school graduation (he was the PTA president, unusually enough for a man in those years in Brooklyn’s culture) that the turning point came.  That was June of 1968.   Dad was happy to indulge me more, I think the comics vaguely reminding him of the pulps of his youth.

Now that was a fascinating moment to be let loose.  The DC line was getting shaken up radically, largely by the influence of Carmine Infantino changing editorial and freelance assignments that had been frozen for much of the last decade.   Neal Adams and Jim Steranko were introducing new visual styles to the heroic titles.  And there was a real feeling of wonder, not simply because I was approaching 12 years old.  (I heard the “The golden age of [science fiction] is 12” quote as attributed to Sam Moskowitz, but no longer am certain it was his first.  Regardless of authorship, I think the principle of imprinting on popular culture around that age is very sound.)

Group books had long been my favorite: The Legion of Super-Heroes especially, but Justice League and Teen Titans as well.  In part it was the sheer quantity of characters, I think, and maybe the visual diversity?  (Notice that the THUNDER heroes all dressed differently too.). In any case, it was The Avengers #54 that caught my eye in a candy store/soda fountain store on Clarendon Road, a few blocks from home.  Fantastic Four never had, perhaps because they all wore the same uniforms (notice Challengers hadn’t made my DC fave list either), notwithstanding that my childhood friend Alan Leiblich had good enough taste to select a subscription to it as a birthday present.  But that issue of The Avengers had 8 different costumed characters on the cover!

There was no going backwards once I was unleashed.  Sorry, mom. 

The Avengers quickly became one of my favorites, not surprising as I came in on a peak period of Roy Thomas and John Buscema’s work, just as they introduced The Vision.  I went backwards too, collecting the earlier issues and discovering the unique dynamics of how heroes moved in and out of the line-up, utterly differently than any of the other group books of the period.  (I wouldn’t learn much about the Justice Society for a while, and anyway, although their heroes changed frequently, it wasn’t because of story-driven reasons, just the invisible editorial hand guessing at popularity.). My not very mint Avengers #1 cost $5 from a used bookstore off Church Avenue.

One of my first fanzine efforts with lifelong pal Paul Kupperberg was devoted to an index of The Avengers, focusing on the first 60 issues or so, clearly showing that my collecting had been effective and my passion unsated.  Thankfully, almost no one saw that Xerox copied un-masterpiece, or at least have been kind enough not to embarrass me with it since.

Anyway, I started writing comics a few years later, and not long after got the chance to try my hand at groups, starting with the revived JSA.  Being an analytic type, I went back and studied The Avengers, particularly how the line-up changed and plots moved through the series.  I charted it all out (and no, none of those charts survive), with particular focus on Roy’s long run, which seemed to me the model I wanted to emulate.  My tonal style was definitely heavily influenced by Stan, Roy and particularly Gerry Conway, whose assistant I was for a short stretch when he came to DC as an editor.

My affection for the series is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that it was my bound volume of Avengers #1-16 that I took along on my second trip to Stan’s home, promising to be a grown-up at dinner with Joan but imploring him to inscribe it for my inner child.  He, of course, graciously did, though thinking back I wonder if that’s why the rest of our meals together involved meeting at restaurants?  Hmmm…

In any case, despite having the first 30 years of Marvel neatly bound on my shelves (along with the far larger DC collection, naturally), I never worked there.  The opportunities at DC simply came my way more appropriately and delightfully, ultimately leading to the long partnership with Jenette Kahn, my tenure running the company, and a period of writing exclusively for them.  By the time I had the freedom to do anything for Marvel, I certainly wasn’t the hot writer I’d been in the ‘80s, and the characters and mythos had evolved beyond my knowledge.

So it was a particular pleasure when Mark Waid opened the door for me at a Marvel writers’ summit, reminding their powers-that-be of my love of The Avengers, and motivating Tom Brevoort to and give me the opportunity to do The Avengers:War Across Time.  It wasn’t originally planned for The Avengers’ 60th, but in so many ways is appropriate to kick that off, as stylistically it’s a love letter to those early issues.  (It gave me the reason to do a Douglas Wolk-style re-reading of the first few years of the whole Marvel line, in order of publication, to try to get the dialogue and details right.). The icing on the cake was the chance to work with Alan Davis, whose beautiful art and sense of whimsy I’ve loved since DR & Quinch.

I’m not sure if War Across Time will lead to anything further at Marvel, but at the least it feels like a beautiful bookend to the No-Prize I have sealed in Lucite, earned by a letter expressing my childhood joy in Jack Kirby’s Inhumans in AMAZING ADVENTURES (again, a bunch of characters with very diverse looks…I never thought about that before today).  And if I get a chance to follow it up, so much the better.  Time, as Kang might say, will tell.