Authors: Otto Binder
Since the dawn of time man has ever striven for the impossible—sought the unreachable—pursued the unattainable. Spearheading the endless struggle for survival, the ceaseless quest for glory, have been the heroes among us.
Each age has had its crusaders…its Robin Hood and his Merry Men…its Knights of the Round Table—heroes all, and more than heroes—superheroes all!
Who among us can say which were fact and which were fancy? Who can say where legend ends and history begins? Who can deny that the myth often outlives the moment?
Today, a new group of superheroes has risen among us. As proud as the past-as courageous as the present—as unpredictable as the future. From the colorful pages of bestselling Marvel Comics to this great, block-busting Bantam Books edition, a new age of myths is born as we enter the glory-studded era of…the mighty Avengers!
The Avengers Meet
“Avengers, assemble!” rang out the cry from Captain America.
On their TV screens over a national network, millions of viewers saw that the leader of this famed group of costumed vigilantes was dressed most colorfully of them all. A blue form-fitting suit, huge white stars on chest and back, and a pair of red boots symbolized the meaning of his name by bearing the colors of the American flag.
Around his midriff above the belt were thirteen red and white stripes, carrying the patriotic theme further. Decorative white sleeves and red gloves completed the uniform, except for the hooded cap with an identifying A. Two small silvery wings at each side of the hood represented the American eagle emblem. Eye-slots cut in the lower front part of his hood allowed him to peer out. And his eyes were, though hardly by design, a patriotic blue.
This “burglar mask’ effect was necessary for a good reason. None of the multitude watching over TV suspected that in his everyday identity Captain America was Steve Rogers, ordinary citizen. The secret was jealously guarded from the world at large. As an Avenger, he had many enemies who might take him by surprise if his private identity were known to them.
Beside Captain America on the podium lay his ever-present round shield, more important to him than his right arm. Striped like a target in red, white, and blue circles with a central white star, the mighty shield was his chief defense. And chief weapon—as many a rueful opponent had found out in Captain America’s innumerable adventures against villainy.
First to make an entrance, in answer to the call, was Hawkeye. His uniform of blue leglets and black tunic, along with purple boots, shoulder pads, and hood, was of a swashbuckling style reminiscent of Robin Hood-purposely. Hawkeye was an archer supreme, his powerful longbow and quiver of unique arrows always across his back.
Hawkeye’s incredible skill with arrows had already cast in the shade all the great legendary feats of Robin Hood, William Tell, or any other master bowman of history.
Tall and lithe, his muscles rippling like steel springs, Hawkeye wore an impish grin on his face as he waved and spoke in a low bantering tone that the TV audience could not hear: “Hi, Winghead! Oh, sorry, Captain America. I should show more respect to my
“I won’t insist on it,” retorted Captain America evenly, “until you start shaving.”
“Ouch!” Hawkeye sat down, thinking over what quips he could next devise to sting his spangled companion, who had begun his fighting career way back in World War II.
TV cameras swung as two more costumed figures entered, Avengers known as Goliath and the Wasp. In private life they were Henry Pym and Janet Van Dyne.
Goliath’s form-fitting garment of bright blue was adorned with gaudy yellow stripes running in a Y shape across his chest, shoulders, and back, then down the sides of the legs, terminating in yellow sox-boots.
The Wasp—to the surprise of some uninitiated TV viewers—was a girl. But the Avengers had never been an all-male organization.
Often called the “Wonderful Wasp,” her shapeliness was hardly obscured by her skin-tight costume. A red tunic and shoes, blue leotards, and black-sleeved blouse were blended in a tasteful design to emphasize her lissome strength, yet without detracting from her femininity. Sparkling brown eyes, a pert nose, and a saucy curve of the lips hinted at the warmth of her friendly personality.
Oddly, neither Goliath—who was 5 feet 10—nor the Wasp looked “heroic,” as Captain America and Hawkeye did at the first glance. They simply looked like two ordinary people dressed up in masquerade costumes, who had wandered in by mistake. What would they be doing with the famed fighting team known as the Avengers, who had special abilities?
The answer to this paradox came when Captain America greeted them and added, “Please assume your Avenger forms before we officially open this meeting.”
“Yes, Cap,” nodded Henry Pym, stiffening with a concentrated look on his face, as if willing himself to do something. Suddenly and startlingly, before a million eyes on TV, he began to grow. Taller and taller he shot up, his shoulders broadening in proportion and his body expanding in unison. His suit of specially elastic materials stretched along with him. Seven feet…eight…nine feet he towered, and still kept growing, until…
“Ow! My head!” he growled. “Can’t they make ceilings high enough for a ten-foot man?”
Out over the land, there was a ripple of laughter. But it died swiftly as people stared in awe at the TV image of a ten-foot giant, and it was plain to see why he was an Avenger. Massive muscles over his mighty form spoke of the enormous power he now possessed, like an oversized Samson and Hercules rolled into one.
And now his voice had gone down several tones to a deep rumble as he boomed: “Goliath the Avenger, present!”
Meanwhile, the Wasp was also changing size, but the opposite way. She began shrinking steadily, becoming smaller and smaller, to the size of a dog…a cat…a mouse…and still tinier. Finally—as the TV audience could anticipate from her name—she was only the size of an insect, and the cameramen panned in close. Also, two gauzy wings had sprouted from her shoulders, so that she was as nearly like a “wasp” as a human being could be.
It was not black magic. It was the biological “magic” of scientist Henry Pym, who had originally devised the amazing bio-serums that could swiftly change himself and the girl to a giant and a midge, at will.
The wonderful Wasp’s forte lay not in deeds of valor and strength, as in the case of the men, but in feats of tiny cleverness that often turned the tables against their powerful adversaries when all seemed lost. Far from looking down at her as a “weak female,” the male Avengers respected the Wasp for her performance of miniature miracles when sorely needed, particularly to evade dangerous traps. She had as rightful a place in the roster of Avengers as the men did.
Attaining her final wasp-sized tininess, she flitted gracefully through the air to land on Goliath’s shoulder, sitting there pertly.
“Mind if I park here, High Pockets?” she piped in a thin buzzing voice.
“No parking charge,” rumbled Goliath with a straight face. “Anyway, not for a cute cricket like you.”
It took no Sherlock Holmes among the TV viewers to see that the glance between the two pairs of eyes, gigantic and miniscule, was the look lovers give each other.
As their appointed leader, Captain America rapped a gavel and spoke in authoritative tones. “Avengers, we are assembled not for an emergency, but to…”
“Hey, wait,” interrupted Hawkeye irreverently, glancing around. “One member is missing, Cap—where’s old Rust Pot? Pardon me…Iron Man?”
“Don’t shoot your arrows before you draw your bow,” said Captain America dryly to Hawkeye. “I was coming to that.”
Into the hanging mike he said, “As many of you know, one member of our group is not here yet—Iron Man, or the Golden Avenger. However, he might be called a part-time Avenger in that he is closely associated with Anthony Stark’s scientific work. He joins us only on special missions, but he was invited here and has not arrived yet.”
Cap held up a telegram. “The reason is stated here: TESTING NEW TRANSITORIZED JET PROPULSION FOR MY IRON SUIT. WILL BE DELAYED ATTENDING THE AVENGERS’ MEMORIAL MEET.”
Glancing at the TV director nearby, Cap added, “But since we can’t hold up the televised schedule, we’ll start the proceedings anyway. Iron Man should show up any moment.”
Mount Everest Mystery
But Captain America was wrong.
Far across the world in the Himalayas, a golden-armored figure glinting in the sun was soaring through the azure sky, circling, darting, swooping among the tallest mountain peaks on earth.
“Treacherous downdrafts and updrafts here are the best test for the new transistorized jet-propulsors in my boot-heels,” he thought, zooming at 500 miles per hour toward a mountain cliff, then veering sharply upward to sail safely over its jagged edge. “It’s all working fine.”
To any watcher, it would have been an unbelievable sight—a heavy metallic form gliding through the air with buoyant ease. The steel suit was gilded over the arms, legs, and face-plate, while the torso, gloves, and boots were tinted crimson. In general appearance, it was nothing like a knight of old, but more like a modern manlike robot.
Yet this was no mechanical being. Within the iron “uniform”—unknown to the world at large, and even to his fellow Avengers—was Anthony Stark, millionaire playboy and weapons inventor. His armored costume was not only an outer protection against harm, but an inner protection against death. Without his steel suit, except for brief periods of time, Anthony Stark would die…of heart failure!
It was a strange story…
During a visit to the Vietnam war theater, to demonstrate a transistorized super-weapon, Stark had fallen prey to a Vietcong booby trap—a buried land mine. The blast mangled his body, but skilled surgery by the enemy saved his life and restored him to normal activity—except for his heart. Pieces of shrapnel had lodged so close to his heart that the surgeons could not remove them. And they had warned that any strenuous move on Stark’s part might dislodge the bits of metal to pierce his heart and bring death.
Bitterly, Anthony Stark had resigned himself to face a lifetime as a near-invalid…if he lived any kind of lifetime.
All this while Stark was an enemy prisoner. They had saved his life in order to wrest from him his scientific secrets and gain newly invented weapons. By a stroke of fate, a famous oriental biologist was also a prisoner at that time, in the same stockade. In secret collusion with him, Stark devised a daring plan—to build a magnetized iron suit that would continually pull outward at the pieces of shrapnel within his body and keep them from working inward toward his heart. Also, the knight-like armor was planned as an aid toward their escape from imprisonment.
Pretending that they were collaborating and building a fantastic new weapon for the Vietcong to use, the two prisoners were given free rein in a laboratory to carry out their ruse. Finally, one day, Stark had stepped forth in an iron suit, suitably magnetized to save his heart from puncture, and ingeniously powered by transistorized technology to allow Stark to walk, manipulate his arms and carry on all other normal human activities—plus one other that was unique. By means of miniaturized power-packs in his boots, he could jet-propel himself into the air and fly at supersonic speeds, faster in fact than any jetcraft known. Through this, he had escaped from imprisonment and returned to America.
In order to join the Avengers and battle science renegades and their insidious weapons, Iron Man had later incorporated a wide variety of rays, forces, and devices as his own built-in weaponry.
Now he was proving out the latest advanced design in his flying system: “Mount Everest is the final test,” he thought to himself. “Braving the chilly blasts and roaring winds around its peak, piercing six miles high into the air, will prove whether I really have the all-weather flying ability I want. So, here goes….”
Iron Man jetted upward as the majestic peak reared before him…higher…higher…higher. A fierce canyon gale knocked him 500 feet sideways, but he recovered. A sudden downdraft, like a smashing blow, made him gasp as he plummeted a thousand feet down toward jagged ice blocks. But with a surge of his drumming boot-blasts he jetted back upward into the teeth of the howling downwind.