Marvel Madness

That Time David Letterman Saved the Avengers



One of the things that I find most fascinating about plunging the depth of Marvel Comics history is when I come across strange repetitions. Things that they just seem to do a lot of, over and over. In the extreme there’s the fact that they seem to put every damn hero they have in a story where they face off against Doctor Doom. But, there’s also smaller, weirder running themes that pop up, and almost defy explanation. You know, like the fat that there are a handful of stories set in Rutland, Vermont where various Marvel Comics staff are present. Or the fact that there are three stories where Iron Man and Doctor Doom interact with Camelot in one way or another. It’s stuff like that that really stands out to me, and I can’t help but obsess over. And, this month I’m going to share just such a trend. Because I found two very fun, and very weird, stories that involve the heroes of the Marvel Universe interacting with late-night comedy shows. Which, while pretty strange, does make a certain amount of sense. One of the appeals to the Marvel Universe over the DC is that it takes place in a version of our reality. These characters are living in New York City. It doesn’t always resemble our New York City, but it still occasionally will give you reminders that these characters are supposedly rubbing shoulder with some pretty important people in this country. Such as the fact that New York City is the home to several prominent late-night comedy shows. So, I guess it makes sense that the Avengers would meet David Letterman, but I don’t think I would have expected it would be quite this silly.

The story begins with good old Clint Barton, better known as Hawkeye, happily marching into Avenger’s Mansion with his new wife, Bobbi Morse, the Mockingbird. They just got hitched after Hawkeye’s solo mini-series, and they’ve decided that the perfect thing for two newlyweds to do is to move into a weird superhuman frat house. But, much to Hawkeye’s disappointment, there’s no one waiting to greet them. Mockinbird would be meeting all of these people or the first time too, so it’s a little awkward that the entire Mansion appears to be completely empty. But, as the two wander around the vestibule wondering where the welcoming committee is, they’re surprised by the giant disembodied head of the Vision. Hawkeye’s a little confused why the Vision is appearing as a holographic head, and things aren’t helped by the fact that part of Hawkeye’s solo adventure required him to place a supersonic arrowhead into his own mouth, resulting in him losing a majority of his hearing, so he’s not quite able to understand Vision. But, Mockingbird is able to guide them both down to a control room where they find Vision in some sort of containment tube, where he’s been confined after a bad run-in with Annihilus. And, after some awkward catching up, Vision lets them know that basically everyone is busy on a mission on the West Coast. And, before they have to make any more chitchat, they get a phonecall.




The Vision has just gotten a call from Simon Williams, the Wonder Man. Now, I’m not a Wonder Man fan, and I feel like he’s become a fairly obscure character, so if you don’t know his whole deal all you really need to be filled in on is the fact that he has some vaguely defined superpowers dealing with “ions,” and when he’s not fighting with the Avengers he’s a middling Hollywood actor. Which, is why he’s called the Mansion this day. Because apparently in order to give a jolt to his fading movie career, Wonder Man’s agent has booked him on the Late Show with David Letterman. And, for some reason he also booked “the Avengers.” So, assuming that no one has anything better to do, Wonder Man has called Vision in order to see how many Avengers he can round up to go on a talk show.

And, because apparently they don’t have better things to do, Vision agrees and starts using his spectacular powers of technology to make a handful of long-distance phone calls to see who’s bored. And, because all the current Avengers are actually busy, he just kind of gets a bunch of reserve members. He calls up Black Panther who interrupts a meeting with his Wakandan advisers to agree to fly to New York and go on a talk show. Beast is just hanging out in his house, so he agrees to pop over. Black Widow is apparently just chilling in Manhattan, sunbathing on rooftops, so she’s fine to attend. And of course Hawkeye will go as well, since he’s the only actual current member of the team who’s around. So, it looks like it’s going to be a pretty chill evening, right? Just a bunch of superpowered colleagues hanging out with David Letterman, with no drama or creepy weirdos?




So, right after picking out the roster of Avengers who will be attending Letterman’s show we see that there’s a man angrily building a robot in his apartment with his mean old father who just demeans him. This guy is Fabian Stankowicz, a very sad man who at this point has built weird robots to try and kill the Avengers two times, only to be humiliated each time. He’s not evil, he just wants to be famous, and has assumed that building death-robots to kill the Avengers is the best way to accomplish that goal. And, thankfully, he’s apparently recently won the lottery, and has used that windfall to bankroll a new set of killer robots. And, thanks to David Letterman, he knows exactly where the Avengers are going to be.

We then skip ahead to the next afternoon, where the Avengers are meeting up at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in order to tape their interview. Since everyone is currently a reserve member of the team, they haven’t seen each other pretty recently, so they kind of all just mill around in the green room, catching up and being introduced to Mockingbird. Which, becomes a little worrisome for Hawkeye, since he used to date Black Widow for so long, but in true sitcom fashion the two women immediately bond by making fun of Hawkeye. Which, means he gets to focus on his other panic, the fact that he’s mostly deaf. And, since he’s acting as the spokesperson for the Avengers, most of the questions will be directed to him. So, he asks for Letterman’s questions in advance so that he can formulate his answers and just say them in the right order. Rather than just wear a hearing aid. And, with that taken care of, it’s show time!




Everyone is clearly very excited to have the Avengers guesting on the show, even if it is a weird team of C-Listers like this. And, perhaps due to the excitement going on in the studio, no one seems to notice that Fabian Stankiewicz has been wandering around, setting up his bloody vengeance. While wearing a series of fake facial hair he has snuck around the studio, getting the robots in position. Fabian then takes his seat in the audience, waiting for his chance to kill the Avengers. But, first he lets them get some talk-show shtick taken care of. Which, almost immediately gets derailed when the Beast cheerily announces that he’s permanently leaving the Avengers in order to join the Defenders. Which, is pretty interesting, so Letterman starts talking about that, completely throwing Hawkeye off of his prepared script, leading him to look like a lunatic.

And, perhaps realizing that Hawkeye is floundering and could use a distraction, Fabian decides that this is the perfect time to get his revenge. He activates his two robots, which immediately start attacking the Avengers. The first is a weaponized television camera which is able to fire laser blasts and launch out miniature grenades. And the second is a specially designed steam-roller, which was something that Letterman just had laying around for his various bits anyway. The Avengers begin trying to take down the camera while the steamroller starts bursting through the walls, causing Mockingbird to flee in panic from the greenroom as it’s destroyed. And, while all of this is going on the resident band just keep playing music, and the audience just assumes that this is all an elaborate bit that they don’t fully understand.




So, while the audience applauds and to the dulcet tones of “Wipeout” the Avengers begin attacking the robots. Beast leaps onto the steamroller, only for it to fire a series of miniature hunter missiles, causing him to race around the studio to avoid the missiles. Wonder Man then attempts to take care of the steamroller, only to find that his tremendous strength isn’t enough to halt its progress. So, figuring that his mind can outdo Wonder Man’s brawn, Black Panther leaps onto the steamroller and begins tinkering with its robotic innards. And, all the while Hawkeye and Black Widow are doing their best to take down the camera, which is keeping them at bay with its array of lasers and grenades.

While all of this is going on, Fabian decides to make his move. He saunters out of the audience, through the chaos, and just plops down on Letterman’s couch, introducing himself as the next guest. And, ever the consummate professional, David Letterman just starts interviewing Fabian, trying to figure out what’s going on. And Fabian is more than happy to tell him. He starts explaining that he made these robots in order to kill the Avengers on live television so that he can begin his career as a famous supervillain, likening himself to Doctor Doom and the Masters of Evil. He then begins explaining that his robots are very well-designed, pointing out that the steamroller is powered by some crazy gravity device hat’s making it stronger the more force Wonder Man puts against it. Which, eventually causes it to become so dense that it collapses the floor, taking Wonder Man with it. At which point Hawkeye decides to stop screwing around, and attempts to just shoot Fabian with an arrow. It doesn’t go well.




So, yeah, Stankowicz has revealed that he’s controlling all of the robots, and he even came prepared with a small force-field that he keeps on his person at all times. Both the force field and the robots are powered by the same battery-pack on his belt, so there’s no way that the Avengers are going to be able to stop him. At which point David Letterman decides to save the day. He grabs a giant novelty doorknob from under his desk, and smashes it into the back of Fabian’s head. Which, somehow penetrates the force field I guess. Letterman then rifles through Fabian’s pockets and finds the battery pack powering the robots, turning it off, and ending their threat.

The audience begins going crazy, figuring that the Avengers cooked up this whole thing to turn David Letterman into a superhero. And, now that the robots aren’t working, Hawkeye and Black Widow are able to shoot and destroy the camera, and Wonder Man ends up lifting up the wreckage of the steamroller, with Beast and Black Panther riding atop it. And, while the crowd is going hogwild over these feats of superheroics, Fabian comes to consciousness and attempts to flee, only to find Mockinbird guarding the exit. She takes Fabian down just in time for the police to arrive and arrest him, and the Avengers leave the studio, victorious. They then head back to the Mansion, and sit around until it’s time for the episode airs so it can save Wonder Man’s career. But, right as the episode begins it get preempted by news of a disaster at a chemical barge off the coast of New York. So, the Avengers race off to save the day, hopefully quick enough that the episode can still air on the West Coast.




I love comics so much, y’all. The idea that the Avengers would go on David Letterman is great enough, but to have them then fight a weirdo with a bunch of home-made robots only for David Letterman to save the day takes this story to the next level. And, the weird thing is, it makes total sense. Why wouldn’t David Letterman want to talk to the Avengers? They’re a bunch of superpowered celebrities, one of whom is literally a celebrity. Which, makes it all the more silly to see such a weird assortment of Avengers, most of whom were just doing Wonder Man a solid. Although, I was a big fan of seeing Beast walking around in a pair of slacks and a Hawaiian shirt. The whole thing is very ridiculous, and the issue makes several chances to remind us that such a goofy story is only happening because the main editors of the book were on vacation, and it’s implied that they just kind of slipped this one past them, but honestly I can’t buy that they wouldn’t just be willing to publish some hardcore nonsense. And, regardless of the team, the real star of the show ends up being David Letterman, who literally takes down the villain. Which, kind of makes me curious if David Letterman had any input in this issue. I’ve previously talked about two separate stories that featured Tom Wolfe, and ended up finding out that the folks at Marvel just started sticking him in their books to see if he’s notice. So, there’s a non-zero chance that David Letterman had no idea about this issue, potentially only finding out about it after it was published. But, it does look like he enjoyed it, even going so far as to sending a letter to the folks at Marvel afterwards. Which, makes sense. Who wouldn’t want to be seen showing up Wonder Man?


Avengers 239 “Late Night of the Super Stars” was written by Roger Stern, penciled by Al Milgrom, inked by Joe Sinnott, lettered by Jim Novak, colored by Christie Scheele, and edited by Michael Carlin, 1984.




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