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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo NewsThe Syracuse New Times, Big Stir magazine, and AHOY Comics.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Earth's Mightiest Heroes

If you're a kid (of any age) who loves superheroes, what could be better than more superheroes?  Yeah, I know I've posed that rhetorical question a lot, but it's relevant. More! The desire among superhero fans to see costumed crusaders in groups has driven the creation of super-team after super-team over the course of decades, ever since The Justice Society of America's debut in 1940. MORE! And it's certainly appealed to me time and time again.

The Mighty Avengers was not quite my first super-team; technically, that honor belongs to a DC Comics combo called The Metal Men. The Metal Men were six (actually seven by the time I came along) super-powered robots with quirky personalities: Gold, Iron, Lead, Mercury, TinPlatinum (aka Tina), and the later addition Nameless. The Metal Men # 16 was my first and my favorite MM, published in 1965 (though I may not have seen it until '66, when I was six). Many more super-teams would follow.

And the first super-team that followed was indeed The Avengers. Before The Justice League of America, before The Teen Titans, before The Legion of Super-Heroes, The Fantastic Four, The Fab Four (from Dell Comics), The X-Men, The Inferior 5, and even before I started reading World's Finest Comics (home of Superman and Batman, "Your two favorite heroes in one adventure together!"), The Avengers # 13 introduced me to Captain America, The Mighty Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, and The Wasp, assembled to fight evil in "The Castle Of Count Nefaria!" This 1965 comic book was more than a year old when I read it on vacation in Missouri in the summer of  '66. I was six. And I discovered that superheroes knew other superheroes. I suspected it before this; I had seen an ad for a Superman-Batman 80-Page Giant, even if I hadn't seen the comic book itself. But here? Here was proof. Avengers assemble!

The Avengers # 13 was not my first Marvel comic book; I had read some issues of Tales To Astonish (with The Sub-Mariner and The Incredible Hulk appearing in separate stories), and probably an issue or two of Strange Tales, with separate-but-equal representation by Dr. Strange and Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. But man, I was into Marvel with The Avengers! I would never forsake DC, of course, and DC would ultimately be my favorite comics publisher. There was undeniably something extraordinary and exciting about Marvel in the '60s.

I don't remember precisely when I saw another issue of The Avengers, but it was probably later in '66 (though perhaps still an older issue, like The Avengers # 24 pictured above). Whenever it was, the old order had already changethed in the interim. Gone, gone, the God of Thunder! No more Iron Man, either. The Wasp was still there (or about to be), along with a big guy named Goliath in Giant-Man's place; it would take me a couple of years to realize that Giant-Man and Goliath were the same character. But thank God for Captain America, who was my favorite anyway. Cap provided continuity to me for his new batch of assemblers, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and The Scarlet Witch, and soon Hercules, too. This never happened to The Justice League! Good ol' durable, reliable JLA. I remained hooked on The Avengers nonetheless.

As I bought and read more and more comics in the '60s, The Avengers and The Legion Of Super-Heroes (starring in DC's Adventure Comics) were clearly my favorites. In The Avengers, I learned that The Hulk had been a founding member, and I wished he were still in the fold. I mourned the departures of Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch, I welcomed new recruit The Black Panther, and I considered The Black Widow a de facto Avenger who just didn't participate in the assembling as often as I would have preferred. 1968's Avengers King-Size Special # 2 brought back the original Avengers, albeit in an alternate-world scenario. The Vision joined. Goliath became Yellowjacket. Hawkeye became Goliath. Yellowjacket returned to his original non du biff-bang-pow Ant-Man, and the then-new Goliath reverted to being Hawkeye. Plus ca change. I think The Black Knight signed up somewhere in here, too. Thor and Iron Man returned. Comings and goings. In 1972's The Avengers # 100, all Avengers past and present united for one adventure, even including The Hulk and renegade Avenger The Swordsman. I was twelve. I was in Heaven.

I won't attempt to recount all the twists and turns The Avengers have taken since then. It seems like nearly every Marvel superhero has been an Avenger at some point or another. Spider-Man has been an Avenger (yay!), Luke Cage has been an Avenger (also yay!), and so have past and present members of The Fantastic Four and The X-Men. I've dropped in and out of ongoing Avengers comic-book continuity, going through extended periods where the book has been on my purchase list and others where I don't read it at all. A new Avengers series is set to begin shortly with (of course) a new # 1. I'm undecided about that one.

But I'm not undecided about the Avengers movies. As I write this, I have seen all but one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, missing only Spider-Man: Homecoming (which I have on Blu-ray, but haven't yet found time to watch). The newest one, Avengers: Infinity War, is supposed to be the culmination of everything that came before it, and my pervasive and prevailing inner six-to-twelve-year-old is stoked beyond easy description. I wish the DC movies got some of the love the MCU entries routinely receive--I adored both Wonder Woman and Justice League, liked The Man Of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, and would sadly concede that Suicide Squad sucked--but it doesn't dilute my affection for the MCU. The most recent entry, The Black Panther, currently edges out Wonder Woman and The Dark Knight as the greatest superhero movie I've ever witnessed. I hope to have seen Infinity War by the time you read this. It's something I've been waiting for ever since Earth's Mightiest Heroes defeated Count Nefaria when I was little. My hopes are assembled. My expectations are mighty. And Captain America is still there.

POSTSCIPT: I saw Infinity War on Thursday. No spoilers. Just...wow. Wow.


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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin' pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins' BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. 

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