Revisit a seminal tale of Earth's Mightiest Heroes with legendary writer Roger Stern
By Jim Beard
“And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born-to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand!”
As the Heroic Age dawns on the Marvel Universe and we prepare for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, each Friday Marvel.com will present a different column focusing on the one and only Avengers. From line-ups to costumes to villains to classic stories and beyond, we’ve got you covered on the history of Marvel’s most prolific team of heroes!
So let the call go out: Avengers Assemble!
In 1986, writer Roger Stern destroyed Avengers Mansion brick-by-brick, aided by a motley crew of villains the likes of which the Marvel Universe had never seen. Now known as “Under Siege,” AVENGERS #273-277 stands as one of the most devastating yet highly-regarded Avengers storylines of all.
“The thing I remember most is coming up with the idea for a group of villains tough enough to defeat the Avengers-not an easy task,” Stern recalls. “They weren’t called Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for nothing, after all. There’d been several incarnations of the Masters of Evil before, but up to that point, there’d usually been a certain number of Masters battling an equal number of Avengers. Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that the best way to make the Masters a real threat was to have them use overwhelming numbers. So I had Baron Zemo gather over a dozen of the toughest, meanest lowlifes he could find to reconstitute the Masters of Evil. There were six Thor-class villains in the new group.”
AVENGERS #273 introduces us to Zemo’s team: Mister Hyde, The Fixer, The Wrecker and the Wrecking Crew, Moonstone, Titania, The Absorbing Man, Blackout and villainous versions of Yellowjacket and Goliath. As Zemo said, they’d all known “the bitter taste of defeat” and wasted no time in their revenge on the Avengers. After prodding Hercules down the path of wine, women and song, the Masters stormed Avengers Mansion and overwhelmed its defenses, capturing faithful butler Jarvis in the process.
The Black Knight strode unknowingly into the vipers’ nest in AVENGERS #274 and Captain Marvel found herself trapped in Blackout’s “dark force.” Captain America and Avengers chairperson the Wasp uncovered the Masters’ plan but proved ineffectual in stopping a drunken and drugged Hercules from invading their own headquarters.
Therein, the Lion of Olympus received a beating the likes of which he’d never been party to before. When pressed about his guilt in this matter, Stern defends his storytelling choices, including Herc’s chafing under the Wasp’s then-leadership.
“Have you ever known Hercules to avoid strong drink?” the writer asks. “And has he ever enjoyed taking orders from anyone, much less from a woman a fraction of his age? A human woman, at that! Hercules, as you may recall, bristled at taking orders from Hera. The point is Baron Zemo knew how to manipulate Hercules. He had The Wrecker and Black Mamba make sure Herc had plenty to drink. As for the beating, I was hoping it would be a big surprise for the readers. I mean, how many heavy hitters had Hercules gone up against before that? Hundreds? Thousands? And how many had seriously defeated him?
“I looked on it as a way of establishing the power of the new Masters. Here’s how big a threat these guys are: they beat Hercules to within an inch of his life. They put a god in the hospital.”
While Wasp and guest-star Ant-Man watched over Hercules in the hospital-fending off an attack by The Absorbing Man and Titania en route-Stern once again provided readers with another scene of shocking brutality. In AVENGERS #275, while a captured Captain America looked on in abject horror, the hulking Hyde thrashed Jarvis like a ragdoll.
“Hey, I didn’t do it,” claims Stern. “Mr. Hyde did it, under orders from Zemo. All right, so I wrote the story. But Jarvis’ beating was important. Zemo had Captain America captive, and felt that just breaking him physically was not enough. He wanted to break Cap’s spirit, and he did it
by attacking those who were as close as family to Cap. Besides, I knew that Jarvis was tough enough to survive. And working for the Avengers, he had a very good health plan.”
AVENGERS #276 and #277 detailed the Avengers’ second wind as they laid siege to their Mansion with the aid of an angry Thor and the mysterious Doctor Druid. Having freed Cap and The Black Knight, they set about avenging their fallen comrades. Thor entered into furious battle with Goliath, Captain Marvel took on Moonstone and Blackout, and Captain America faced off against his old enemy, the architect of the destruction, Baron Zemo.
In the end, death reared its ugly head and tears fell over shattered memories. From the rubble would rise a new Avengers line-up and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes would never be the same again.
“I thought it was a pretty good story,” reflects Stern in the present. “I just wanted readers to believe that the Avengers had been through a hell of a battle. It wasn’t the first time that their Mansion had sustained damage, after all. As for shifts in the membership, I knew that The Wasp would eventually step down as group leader, and that She-Hulk would be returning. I tried to let those things grow organically.
“I also remember contributing a little art to the story along the way. Back in the day, writers received the actual penciled art boards when we wrote
the scripts. If a story element had gotten lost somewhere between the plotting and the penciling, we could note what needed redrawing in the margins of the penciled art. In this case, I personally added Goliath’s feet in one panel and an outline of Captain Marvel in another, knowing that [inker] Tom Palmer could take my rough sketches and make it look as though [penciler] John Buscema had drawn it. Yes, Tom Palmer is just that good.”
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