Fans my age tend to have a fondness for the hunt and discovery of of back issues in a time before every moderately-sized city had a comic shop. In the part of North Carolina that I grew up in, the big mother-load of back issues were usually flea markets.
I would find some gems at the flea market, whether it was the one off the Interstate that coated the family car in dust, or the one just outside of town that had only a few booths. In that last one, the comic seller had a really good selection of back issue Marvel comics. I seem to recall one in particular he had was Avengers #157, which sported a Jack Kirby cover. Of course, at the time. I had no clue who Jack Kirby was. Nevertheless, the cover had all of the Avengers taken out by one foe, and all I could see of him was his boots.
As an aside, on the copy that I bought, someone had blacked out one of Captain America’s teeth, which is probably why I got it so cheap.
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Don Heck
Inker: Pablo Marcos
Colorist: Don Warfield
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Cover Art: Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott
In Avengers Mansion on Christmas Eve, Iron Man, Yellowjacket and the Beast are attacked by an enemy breaking through the wall. They are knocked out in short order by their foe, who revels himself to be the Black Knight, turned into stone, and out to kill the Avengers for abandoning him. He remembers back to being awakened by a metal hand reaching through a glowing portal.
The Black Knight then goes on to attack Captain America and the Wasp in the kitchen. He takes them out quickly as well, but they’ve given their butler Jarvis time to escape and warn the other Avengers. Remembering back to just after he was turned to stone by the Enchantress, he recalls that it was this that brought the Avengers and Defenders together to fight each other as part of a deception by Loki. For leaving him behind as a statue, he wants revenge.
In midtown Manhattan, the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man are doing some Christmas shopping, each trying to cheer the other up after harsh interaction with the Witch’s husband, the Vision. Suddenly, they leap into action to stop a runaway bus. This sparks a mad rush by fans, which drives them to rush away in a cab. When they return to Avengers Mansion, Jarvis tries to warn them about the Black Knight, only not soon enough to stop him from attacking the pair, and defeating them.
He deposits them in the lab where he first launched his attack, waiting to defeat the Vision before he destroys them all. Vision walks through the wall. Vision compels the Black Knight to remember back.when he was turned to stone and left in Dr. Strange’s Sanctum. He recalls finally how Dane Whitman’s soul left the body transformed to stone and eventually summoned to reside in the body of his 12th century ancestor by Merlin.
Enraged, the stone Black Knight shatters his fists against the diamond-hard form of the Vision. The Vision wants to know who imbued his form with false memories, setting him against the Avengers. Irrational with rage and with both arms shattered, the Black Knight throws himself against the Vision head-first, shattering himself into rubble. In the clearing dust the Vision questions his own humanity as a creation of synthetic flesh.
Gerry Conway has always been a hit-or-miss writer for me. He does do one thing here that works nicely for me. He has the Avengers in banal, ordinary settings. Christmas shopping and cooking in the kitchen are places where they’re not expected to be. However, with the Black Knight surprising them, they have to be off their guard. This stone Black Knight just takes out the Avengers so quickly, it seems like he’s as powerful as he needs to be to get where Gerry Conway wants him. Gerry Conway wants him to destroy himself against the Vision, and to do so, he defeats Iron Man and Wonder Man in short order.
The big flaw that I always saw, even as a child, was that we never learn who awoke the statue. It’s a metal hand, and it resembles no known foe of the Avengers. I believe it later turns out to have been Ultron. Why he did it still baffles me. He also goes after the Avengers first, but the Defenders would have been just as likely a target. That would be more logical since he woke in Dr. Strange’s house.
Don Heck is an admirable artist, and works in the Marvel style quite well. The only real flaw is where he has the stone Black Knight throwing his head against the Vision. It just seems so static and unnatural that I’m momentarily taken out of the story.
There’s also an arrow on page four to direct the reader to the correct panel. This is a major flaw in storytelling. However, I don’t place the blame on Don Heck, and more on a combination of Gerry Conway and to a lesser extent, Gaspar Saladino. That panel is so filled with dialogue, and it’s placed at the bottom of the panel. If you look at the page without focusing on the dialogue, it flows perfectly. Traditionally in Marvel style creation, the scripter indicates the placement of word balloons and captions, so I think the fault there lies with Conway. That three panel fade at the end of the chapter is brilliant, though.
Finally, I just noticed that this story is only seventeen pages long. It seems much meatier than that. For that, I give the creative team a lot of credit.
If you’re looking for the issue itself, then you may need to search just a little. I wouldn’t pay too far into the double digits. If you want to read it digitally, then you can find it on Comixology and Marvel Unlimited. It hasn’t been collected in color, but it is included in Essential Avengers Vol. 7 (ISBN: 978-0785144533), which is sadly, out of print.
Final Rating: 6.5 (out of 10)