The way that the public has embraced the Avengers over the last decade, entirely due to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has really been fascinating. Because, for decades, the Avengers weren’t exactly the biggest thing going on at Marvel. The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Spider-Man were what dominated the comic book world, and the Avengers was just this odd little team book, full of some B-List characters, going on bizarre adventures. And, as a result, it seems like the old Avengers book was one of the most fertile sources of Marvel absolute insane stories, the exactly kind that I like to cover here on Marvel Madness. And just such an example of that is what we’ll be talking about today. Because as soon as I came across this story, which is really just a back-up in a larger, and frankly more dull, storyline involving most of the Avengers infiltrating an evil think tank, I was thrilled. Because not only do we get a story featuring an absolutely unhinged roster of Avengers, we get to take a deep dive into Marvel Comics’ history by looking at some of their oldest Western characters. And, it’s all to take down one of my favorite goofy villains, who serves as such a perfect foil for the Avengers. So, buckle up, because we’re taking a wild trip through Marvel history.
The story takes place at a transitional period for the Avengers. Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne are both currently in the hospital after sustaining injuries in the line of duty, Vision and Scarlet Witch have just recently married and returned from their honeymoon, and the team has just picked up two new members, the former X-Man Beast and the psychic from Titan, Moondragon. They’re also dealing with the fact that Hawkeye, longstanding member of the team, has vanished without a trace after seeking out the Black Knight to join the team. Dane Whitman had been lost in time at this point, and Hawkeye had claimed that he had a plan in order to track him down and bring him home, but he’s been missing for quite a while, while starts to worry some of the Avengers. Iron Man has been searching for Hawkeye, and ends up returning to Avenger’s Mansion with some dire news. It seems like Hawkeye is currently stranded in time, as bait to lure the entire team to their deaths. And, it’s pretty easy for them to figure out who is behind this time-kidnapping.
That’s right, it seems like Kang the Conqueror is up to his usual bullshit, and has taken Hawkeye captive, stranded in another time, all to draw the team out and defeat them once and for all. Unfortunately, and strangely, this doesn’t seem to be the highest priority for most of the team. They all get embroiled in drama involving Beast and the shady laboratory that he used to work at, Brand Corporation, which gets even more convoluted when we learn that the chief of security at Brand’s ex-wife is none other than Patsy Walker, a character from an old Marvel book all about her life as a model. She happens to know Beast, and convinces him and most of the Avengers to go with her on a mission at Brand, which eventually gives her her more famous identity of Hellcat. But, that story isn’t all that thrilling or weird. It does seem to become the lead story in the next few issues though, relegating the much more insane story we’re talking about today to a B-Plot running through the issues, which begins when Thor and Moondragon decide that they’re more interested in saving their friend and teammate from a time-travelling dictator.
But, they don’t know exactly where Hawkeye is. Thankfully, Moondragon has an idea on how to track Kang down. They’re just going to call up a different version of him! Now, in case you aren’t overly familiar with Kang the Conqueror, he’s complicated as hell. To explain Kang’s whole deal would take an entire article, and it would make very little sense, but the most important thing to make clear is that because he’s a time-traveler, there are multiple versions of himself active throughout the timeline. And, one of those versions is a character known as Immortus, a more benevolent version of Kang from further down his timeline, who occasionally helps the Avengers out when his younger self comes to cause problems. So, using her vaguely defined psychic powers, Moondragon is able to ring Immortus up, sending a mental blast through time in order to ask him for help. And, he’s immediately up for lending a hand, and even goes so far as to use his vast powers to transport the Thunder God and Moondragon through time without having to use a time machine.
Moondragon is able to use her powers to locate Hawkeye’s mind, and acts as a divining rod, guiding Immortus as he carries her and Thor through the time-stream. But, as they feel themselves getting closer to Hawkeye the suddenly find a trap being sprung. Kang the Conqueror is floating in the time-stream, waiting for them, and immediately begins attacking them. They all have a very strange fight, floating in the ether of time, while Thor is irritated to realize that he’s pretty inefficient against the Conqueror. Kang has some sort of force field that saves him from Mjolnir’s might, leaving them all pretty unable to do anything to stop Kang. But, things quickly turn in their favor when Kang fires a bolt of energy at Thor, hoping to kill him. Because, strangely, Thor is able to absorb the energy with Mjolnir, and launch it back at Kang, which is somehow able to breach his force field. And, just like that, Kang is thrown out of the timestream, blipping into a different era.
At which point, Thor informs Immortus and Moondragon that they’re going to track his ass down and finish Kang off once and for all. Moondragon raises the idea that this all could be a trap, but they decide to follow him anyway, just in case they can stop Kang. So, Immortus opens up the time-line and they follow Kang, finding themselves in what appears to be the American West. Moondragon is weirdly able to identify that they’re in 1870’s, somehow, which is immediately confirmed when this trio of heroes find themselves getting jumped by a quartet of famous Marvel Western characters. That’s right, it’s time to talk about the Rawhide Kid, the Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, the Ringo Kid, and Lincoln Slade, the character here being referred to as the Night Rider, but who is also considered a version of the Ghost Rider.
So, yeah, it’s time to dust off your Marvel encyclopedia and look up some obscure cowboy characters. As you were maybe aware, the time before Fantastic Four #1 was a very strange time for the company that would come to be known as Marvel. Superheroes weren’t quite in vogue anymore, and the industry was desperately trying to find anything anything that would sell, and as a result they created quite a few strange characters that latched on to a whole manner of different genres. Once the Marvel Universe as we know it started to form these characters were largely abandoned, but by the mid-70’s the comics were being made by folks who grew up on the books they were now making, and as a result they have quite a bit of nostalgia for these forgotten characters, and as a result found ways to slide them back into Marvel continuity. Hell, even Patsy Walker who we mentioned earlier fell into this category.
But, putting aside continuity nonsense, we have our heroes suddenly surrounded by a bunch of gun-toting cowboys who certainly are put off by these three incredibly strangely dressed strangers. The cowboys start to threaten these Avengers, to which Thor responds by skipping straight to summoning thunder and scaring the shit out of them. These cowboys start to freak the hell out, and Kid Colt ends up calling out that they must be friends of Hawkeye. Thor immediately ceases the storm at that point, realizing that these guys are their only lead to finding Clint. They make it clear that they’re looking for Hawkeye, and the various cowboys agree to take them to where Hawkeye currently is, which just so happens to be Tombstone, Arizona. So, the crew ride into town, and head to the office of Matthew Hawk, attorney at law, who just so happens to be the Two-Gun Kid. And, inside they find a shirtless Clint Barton, who is thrilled to see his good friend Thor Odinson!
Clint then gets to work explaining how the hell he ended up in Tombstone in the 1800’s. And it’s a doozy. Like I said earlier, this all came about because Hawkeye wanted to find Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, who had previously been stranded in the 12th Century. And, when you’re a character in the Marvel Universe who wants to mess up the time-space continuum, there’s only one place you can go. Doctor Doom’s castle! Apparently Hawkeye broke into Castle Doom, gained access to his Time Platform, and sent himself careening into the past, only to encounter Kang waiting for him in the timestream, just as he was waiting for Thor and Moondragon. The two started fighting, and Hawkeye used a special arrow that he’d devised for the prior time they dealt with Kang, which was able to wound the Conqueror, sending them both sailing out of the time-stream and into Tombstone.
But, when Hawkeye began exploring, he found something worrisome. Kang apparently slipped through a little earlier than he did, and was able to quickly establish himself as a new powerhouse in the region, building a massive compound and enslaving a lot of the local populace. So, Hawkeye headed into town, ready to find alleys. Unfortunately, the people of Tombstone have become rather suspicious of people in insane costumes, and assume that he’s a compatriot of Kang, attacking him instantly. So, Clint takes off his mask and tunic, thinking that makes him look more normal, and ends up seeking out Matthew Hawk, knowing him to be the Two-Gun Kid from his history classes as a child. He then ingratiated himself with the other heroes, and began building a resistance, which will now be made much more powerful with the help of Thor, Moondragon, and Immortus. Which, is a good thing, because it turns out that Clint has a plan cooked up already. Apparently Kang’s first course of action was to begin forcing people to mine uranium for him, and Hawkeye and the cowboys have decided they’re going to track down some of Kang’s men who are hoping to rob a train full of uranium. And, now that Thor and Moondragon are here to help, they get to be added bait!
Thor and Moondragon have gone under-cover, hoping to appear like normal citizens, while Hawkeye and his army of cowboys stand watch in the forests outside the train, looking for Kang’s men. And, sure enough, a group of outlaws who work for Kang arrive, ready to rob the train, and our heroes are ready to attack. Hawkeye fires off a flare arrow, signaling that it’s time for things to pop off. The various heroes attack the outlaws, stopping them from robbing the train, and taking them all out. The Rawhide Kid hides in the coal reserve of the train, stopping an outlaw from commandeering the train, Kid Colt just straight up body-checks two outlaws off their horses, Hawkeye shoots several of them with his trick arrows, the Night Rider stalks one of the outlaws into a cave and does magical things to him, Ringo saves Hawkeye from a cheap shot, and the Two-Gun Kid manages to chase down and tie up the leader of the gang.
And, with the outlaws defeated, our heroes round them up and begin threatening them until one of the men spills his guts, telling them everything there’s to know about Kang’s operation. And, with that information, they decide that it’s time for them to assault Kang’s citadel, because they’re convinced that Kang’s new plan is to take over the 19th century so that he won’t have to deal with the 20th century heroes any more, and become all-powerful with relatively less interference from superheroes. So, our heroes decide to disguise themselves as normal citizen of Tombstone, and begin making their way to Kang’s compound. They seem to think that this will trick the Conqueror into not realizing what a threat they are, but that doesn’t seem to go well.
The heroes begin poking around the Citadel, looking for some way inside, even though Moondragon begins warning them that she thinks Kang is aware of their presence. Which, obviously, turns out to be correct. Because while poking around they find a hidden door suddenly open up by itself, luring them into a massive room where a giant screen of Kang’s face starts yelling at them. Kang is pleased that he’s getting a chance to kill some Avengers, even though he apparently set this whole thing in motion in order to lure everyone there to be destroyed, as retribution for them foiling him during his whole scheme to capture Mantis and control her destiny as the Celestial Madonna. Which…I don’t even know. Steve Englehart’s Mantis comics are borderline incomprehensible, at least to me. Kang’s mad at them, let’s leave it at that.
And, with the confirmation that their plan has been blown, Hawkeye decides to start things off, and rips off his disguise, ordering the Avengers to Assemble. But, Kang doesn’t have time for their shenanigans, and immediately presses a button which begins bombarding them all with energy, paralyzing them while Kang begins giving his villain speech about how he’s going to destroy them once and for all, travelling through time and wiping out the entire legacy of the Avengers. And, with the Avengers nice and wounded, Kang decides to show them a little science experiment he’s been working on, mutating a coyote into a massive monster that begins attacking the heroes.
The coyote monster begins attacking the heroes, where the cowboy characters are all quickly outmatched. They’re used to dealing with cattle-rustlers, not giant mutant monsters, and it looks like things are going to turn very dire, very quickly. And, while the Avengers are getting their asses kicked by a giant monster, we see Kang just sitting in his control room, laughing to himself as hard as he can. But, his laughter ends up distracting Kang enough that he doesn’t notice one of the men has entered his room. The bearded stranger slinks right up behind Kang, takes out his walking stick, and smashes it onto the ground, transforming poor little Donald Blake into the Mighty Thor.
Kang is pretty shocked by this bit of duplicity, having no idea about the whole Donald Blake thing, but he still doesn’t think that Thor is going to be that much of a problem. The Conqueror mocks Thor, reminding him about his force field, to which Thor hits Kang so goddamn hard that he goes flying through a wall,and right out of the citadel. Kang comes crashing down into Tombstone, and starts trying to catch his breath, baffled at how easily Thor was able to beat him, when the God of Thunder arrives to continue the beating. We pop back into the Citadel to see the rest of the team take care of the coyote monster, largely thanks to Moondragon using her mental powers to destroy the beast’s mind. Hawkeye tries to give the Two-Gun Kid a chance to bail on this whole insane scenario, but the man says that he wants to see this through to the end. Which, may be coming quickly, because Thor is not taking any prisoners.
Thor is busy beating the absolute hell out of Kang, giving him the ass-whupping of a lifetime while also just casually mocking everything that Kang holds dear. And, despite all of his advanced technology and gadgets, Kang isn’t able to withstand the power of Thor’s fury. He tries every trick still at his disposal, including hitting Thor with his most powerful energy weapon. But, much to Kang’s shock, Thor ends up struggling to his feet, ignoring the strength of the beam. Which, absolutely stuns Kang. He can’t accept defeat though, and his only thought to defeat Thor is to just keep increasing the power of his beam far outside he bounds that it was meant to occupy. And, as Kang is wracked with fear, something starts to happen to his technology. Because apparently he has now used so much power to his weapon that it’s causing problems with his time machine, making Kang get swallowed up in his own gadget, blinking him out of existence.
And, when Kang becomes unstuck in time it ends up causing a cascade of effects with ends up causing his entire Citadel to vanish. The heroes all meet back up, just in time for Immortus to show up and fill them in on what happened. Apparently Kang’s time device malfunctioned and sent his atoms scattering through the time-stream, as if he never existed. Which, unfortunately also causes a ripple effect, because if Kang never existed then he never became Rama-Tut after being defeated, and Rama-Tut never devoted himself to the study of time to eventually become Immortus. Which, ends up making Immortus blink out of reality too. So, the Avengers decide to take control of Kang’s discarded time-sphere, and return to their own era. But, as they get ready to leave the Old West behind, the Two-Gun Kid has a request. He’d like to come to the future and see the crime-fighters that he helped inspire. And, after some very minor quibbles, the Avengers agree to take him to the twenty-first century. But, with one caveat. Hawkeye is quitting the Avengers! Again!
It’s a fairly common opinion that the reason Marvel comics succeeded as much as they did when they first began publishing superhero comics was because they were a perfect hybrid of basically every other type of comic book genre popular at the time. Before Marvel Comics became Marvel Comics, they published whatever was popular, and when it came time to start their superhero universe the same folks who had been making all of those other genres just moved over, taking the storytelling skills they’d acquired with them. And, Marvel has always been more than happy to delve into their past, and mine the characters that helped build their brand, bringing them into the fold. In the 1950’s Western comics were all the rage, so they of course built up a whole litany of cowboy characters, and the way that this storyline takes all of them and throws them into the mainstream Marvel Universe is a whole lot of fun. Especially with the small retcon of the idea that these masked crime-fighters ended up inspiring the various superheroes we’re familiar with. And, it’s also a great chance to tell a Kang the Conqueror story, one of the favorite types of insane Marvel stories. Especially this one, which gives us even more complicated nonsense with the presence of Immortus and an explanation of Rama-Tut. It’s all just so goofy and weird, and seeing this absolutely insane roster of Avengers team up with Marvel’s greatest Western characters to fight Kang, who has taken over Tombstone, Arizona is a hell of a good time.
Avengers #141-144 were written by Steve Englehart, penciled by George Perez, inked by Vince Colletta, Sam Grainger, and Mike Esposito, colored by Janice Cohen, George Roussos, and Petra Goldberg, lettered by Tom Orzechowski and Denise Wohl, and edited by Marv Wolfman, 1976.
Categories: Marvel Madness
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