You can't keep a band together.
--Jazz legend Del Paxton
When you're six years old, you may believe that some things can remain stable, unchanging. At least that's what I thought when I was six, in 1966. The Beatles were The Beatles, four specific guys, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and they would always be The Beatles. The kids I knew on my block were the kids I knew on my block. Family was family: Mom, Dad, my brothers Art and Rob, my sister Nina, and an extended family of aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents. The death of my Aunt Connie, my Godmother, in 1965 was the first existential threat to my sense of comfortable consistency, but even though her passing shattered my little heart, and even though I now feared the possibility of more loved ones being taken away from me, I still had faith that things could remain in place, secure, unchallenged. Safe. When trouble appeared, Mom and Dad could chase it away. And on TV and in comic books, evil could be vanquished by superheroes. Like Batman and Robin, The Dynamic Duo--you could always count on those two. In the summer of '66, I discovered an entire team of superheroes: The Mighty Avengers!
It was a back issue, a copy of The Avengers # 13 from 1965, but any book you ain't read yet is a new book. It introduced me to my first superhero group, comprised of five characters I'd never seen before: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, and The Wasp. I was fascinated, and secure in the knowledge that this crusading quintet would always be there to thwart the machinations of nogoodniks like Count Nefaria.
And the next time I saw an issue of The Avengers, the old order had already, like, changeth-ed. What the...?!
Captain America--then and now, my favorite Avenger--was still there. The Wasp was still there. Dumbass that I was, I didn't realize that the big guy now called Goliath was good ol' Giant-Man in a different costume. Thor and Iron Man were gone. In their place were three more unfamiliar heroes: the archer Hawkeye, and a pair of siblings, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch.
Oddly enough, I think I took this confusing challenge to the status quo in stride. At six, I still didn't quite understand all the busy little business occurring in superhero comics, especially in the comparatively denser experience of Marvel Comics. I just kinda held on, and exulted in my best thing ever: More superheroes! I think this second exposure to The Avengers predated my first exposure to The Fantastic Four, so Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch were likely the first brother-and-sister heroes I ever saw (before The FF's Sue and Johnny Storm, The Invisible Girl and The Human Torch). A superhero family? I mean, I sorta knew Superman's pretty cousin Supergirl, Superboy's supposed older brother Mon-El, and had read a touching imaginary story about Lex Luthor as Superman's brother. But sibling superheroes seemed new, perhaps even reassuring. In tumultuous times, what could be more reassuring than family?
I don't recall which issue of The Avengers introduced me to Pietro and Wanda, the speedster Quicksilver and his pseudo-magical sister The Scarlet Witch; I suspect it was either The Avengers # 29 (June 1966) or the following month's The Avengers # 30. But I felt an immediate attachment to them, and to Hawkeye, too. I accepted this new group as The Avengers. My Avengers. My next issue was probably The Avengers # 33 (October 1966), then # 42 (July 1967), and I tried to keep up with The Avengers as often as I could thereafter.
In the '80s, writer and artist Mike Tiefenbacher said something to the effect that kids who are attracted to superheroes--and specifically to groups of superheroes--are drawn by the look of costumes as much as by any other factor. I agree. At six and seven years old, I thought Quicksilver's bold white lightning bolt against a green body suit was mesmerizing, enhanced by his silver hair and its unique horn-like tufts. The Scarlet Witch was basically wearing a bathing suit with a cape, but my affection for her look wasn't merely prurient, and it had more to do with her distinctive helmet, or whatever that was that framed her face. I didn't know anything about Jack Kirby, and Dashing Don Heck was the artist on my earliest Avengers adventures anyway. It would be a few years before I learned that Wanda and Pietro had first appeared as conflicted minions of the evil Magneto in the pages of The X-Men, designed and rendered by King Kirby.
Anyway. Although I continued to follow The Avengers as best I could, I missed more issues than I read. Somewhere in there, Wanda and Pietro slipped away, Avengers no longer. I found them again as antagonists in The X-Men, and involved in an inter-title X-Men/Avengers crossover serial. New Avengers joined. One of them, a synthezoid called The Vision, won The Scarlet Witch's heart, and they were married in the '70s. Quicksilver's costume coloring changed from green to a light blue. His mercurial temper and imperious nature resulted in Pietro not being an Avenger quite as often as Wanda was. I caught up on much of Wanda and Pietro's back story in 1970, when my sister's boyfriend gave me all of his old comic books, which included many early '60s Marvels. By then, I no longer called my sister Nina; I had begun calling her by her real name, Denise, as she left home for college.
Things change. When I was a kid, The Avengers was my favorite comic book. I still buy new comic books, often including The Avengers, but the current run just doesn't interest me, so I'm dropping it from my pull list this week. I've very much enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe interpretation of The Avengers, and look forward to many more MCU movies. I'm still a version of that six-year-old kid, enthralled when I saw Captain America throw his mighty shield, enthralled even now with the notion of good triumphing over evil, order over chaos, stability over disarray.
On Monday morning, I was a pall bearer at my Aunt Mary's funeral. It's okay; she is in a much better place now than she had been in the recent past. In the limousine, some of the other pall bearers were men who only remembered me from when I was a kid, their friend Maryann's weird and pesky little superhero-obsessed cousin. Aunt Mary was 94, the last of my Dad's siblings. They're all gone now, beginning with their little brother Arthur (killed in a car accident as a child), then my Aunt Connie in 1965, Uncle Danny in 1970, Aunt Helen, Uncle Tot, Aunt Rose, and then Dad in 2012. My mother is in a nursing home. She wanted to attend Aunt Mary's funeral, but decided she just wasn't up to the effort on Monday.
As the limo made its way from funeral home to church to cemetery and back, I heard these men talk about their memories of Aunt Mary. More than one of them said that they would have probably wound up in jail if Aunt Mary hadn't provided them with a place to hang out, a place to be, instead of being out there somewhere getting into real trouble. She was a superhero, as powerful with her Italian cookies and macaroni and meatballs as The Scarlet Witch with her hexes, and Quicksilver with his speed. Avengers assemble. Lemme tell ya: even the baddest of bad guys would have been no match for Aunt Mary's cookies.
The Beatles broke up. Robin went off to college, leaving his mentor to fight crime alone back in Gotham City, just as my sister Nina--Denise--matriculated her way out of North Syracuse. Some of the kids on the block moved away. Family and friends--so many have been claimed by time, circumstance, and mortality. I've welcomed newer members of those groups, too. "The Old Order Changeth." That was the title of the story where Captain America returned from an adventure to discover he was the last of the old Avengers, charged with the task of whipping these new recruits Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and The Scarlet Witch into shape. Things change. The only constant is change.
Our faith in the value of what we knew, though...well, that doesn't have to change. We remember. We believe. And we persevere, as our heroes taught us.
I may still have a tiny crush on The Scarlet Witch. She was just so damned cute in that helmet, or whatever the hell it was supposed to be.
|Oh, it was a tiara! Of course!|
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