It’s no secret that Stainless Steve Englehart is one of the best comic book writers from the Bronze Age (and maybe of all time?). One of his most important legacies is his work on The Avengers. Being only the third person to write that title (Lee and Thomas preceded him), is quite an honor in and of itself, but Englehart took what was there and built a mansion on top of that foundation. He took the team to new heights with his reality spanning story, The Celestial Madonna.
Kang, the main antagonist of the story, was elevated from a more simplified villain, to a complex character that had many layers. In this issue, we see him overpower not only another version of himself (Rama-Tut) but a third version (Immortus) all within mere pages! As if that wasn’t enough, Kang then summons (using the technology of the master of time, Immortus), six characters from the past- Midnight (from Shang-Chi), Wonder Man, Baron Zemo, The Ghost (from Silver Surfer), and Frankenstein’s Monster! He uses them as pawns to attack The Avengers inside a castle!
Top to bottom, Englehart, Sal Buscema and Joe Staton (artists), Tom Orzechowski (letters) and Phil Rachelson (colors), did a magnificent job on this book!
Let’s face it, villains are much cooler than heroes. Their ability to make us think, to challenge the hero, to explore boundaries, etc., is way beyond that of their counterparts. Take Kang the Conqueror for instance. He’s without a doubt a top-tier villain in any universe, and has proved that since 1964 (Avengers 8). This mag is a reprint of The Avengers 23, 1965, and the fourth appearance of the character in under two years! For any era, that’s pretty good, and shows what kind of staying power Kang would have for years to come!
In this issue, we see Cap leaves the team after some turmoil (he was a bit temperamental back then!), and attempts to take a job as a sparring partner for a boxing champion. That lasts about two seconds, and he returns to the team afterward. Just in time, as the rest of the team has been subdued by Kang! And immediately after taking down Earth’s Mightiest Heroes…Kang attempts to take Ravonna out on a date but her dad says no (panel below). No joke!
This epic tale was brought to you by Dashing Don Heck (pencils), Jazzy John Romita (cover and interior inks), Stan “the man” Lee (writer), Artie Simek (letters), and Jack “King” Kirby (cover pencils)!