Classic superhero action from the 1970s! Mike-Dell assembles again to discuss Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!
The Avengers 191 (January 1979)
Writer: David Michelinie
Penciler: John Byrne
Inker: Dan Green
Colorist: John Costanza
Letterer: Bob Sharen
Editor/Plot: Roger Stern
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
In a recent episode of the Comic Book Syndicate, G.I. Jolie, Mike-EL, and I discussed Avengers issue 189, in which Hawkeye gets laid off due to government bureaucracy and finds work as a security guard. Two issues later, the Avengers are back to fighting evil, this time clashing with the nefarious Grey Gargoyle.
When our story opens, Grey Gargoyle and the Avengers are mixing it up on a New York City street, and Gargoyle has just turned Iron Man and Daredevil to stone. Yeah, I don’t really get why Daredevil was there either, but it’s a boon to the neighborhood pigeons.
Vision steps up to settle the score and belts Gargoyle in the yap, noting Thor has defeated him singlehandedly, so he stands little chance against the assembled might of seven Avengers. Gargoyle shrugs off the blow and tells the jewel-headed synthezoid he’s no Thor, cracking him with a right cross that sends Vision soaring through the air into a nearby building. Scarlet Witch is horrified to see her mechanical sex toy — er, I mean boyfriend — caught inside the building’s wall, his unconscious phasing leaving his upper torso inside the building and his legs outside on the sidewalk. While it would make for a great magic trick, the Vision’s predicament distracts Scarlet Witch long enough for Grey Gargoyle to K.O. her with a shot to the back of the head. Beast tries to intervene and gets tossed into Captain America for his troubles. Grey Gargoyle then buries Beast and Cap beneath an awning he turns to stone. Ms. Marvel manages to snare the rampaging rascal and slam him to the ground, but when she tries to press the advantage, Grey Gargoyle knocks her loopy with a kick to the face. If you’re scoring at home, that’s five Avengers beaten in the span of two pages. Wasp and Falcon just kind of watched quietly. No sense everyone getting their heads caved in.
His enemies defeated, Grey Gargoyle splits. Sure, he says he could kill them all if he wanted, but he’s very busy. He has to get to his old apartment where he has his supply of chemicals stashed. See, the Grey Gargoyle is actually Paul Duval, once the most brilliant chemist at the Paris Institute of Scientific Studies, or PISS for short. I hear they have a wonderful urology program.
One day, Duval spilt an experimental mixture on his right hand, and the accident gave him the power to transform anything he touched with that hand to stone. The effect lasted one hour. And keep in mind, this was years before Viagra.
Because the experimental chemicals were absorbed into his body, Duval transformed into living rock when he touched himself, gaining the strength and durability of stone to go along with remarkable quickness and agility. After numerous failed schemes, including an attempt to steal Thor’s hammer, Grey Gargoyle returned to New York to gather his secret chemicals and augment his powers.
Unfortunately, he’s been away a pretty long time, and there’s a lady named Margot Neil renting his old apartment. Margot just happens to be a foxy dame who likes to lounge around in a pink negligee, so that’s pretty cool. She’s freaked out by her unwanted guest and tries to escape only to have the Grey Gargoyle turn her front door to stone and regale her with his life story. Worst blind date ever. When Grey Gargoyle finally attempts to retrieve his chemicals from their secret compartment behind a wall mirror, he discovers nothing but bourbon and champagne. Margot chucked the “smelly” chemicals when she moved in, filling the shelves with booze instead. I think I’m in love.
Not amused, Grey Gargoyle is about to snap when Falcon shows up to save the day. Falcon had tailed the Grey Gargoyle from their previous fight. I guess he had time to come up with the plan when he was watching all the other Avengers getting their asses whipped. Falcon does what he can to protect Margot and draw the Grey Gargoyle’s ire, but he’s in way over his head. Even the arrival of his trusty chum Redwing proves disastrous, as Grey Gargoyle quickly turns the pet bird into a stone hood ornament.
Ah, but never fear, true believer! Just when all seems lost, the rest of the Avengers arrive and bust out some super-powered teamwork. Captain America announces their presence with a shield strike. Then Wasp slips in a bio-blast to the noggin, enabling Ms. Marvel to swing Grey Gargoyle into a Vision uppercut. Scarlet Witch follows with a hex bolt that turns Grey Gargoyle into flesh and blood, and then Beast drops the curtain with a crisp left hook. Boom. Goodnight, nurse.
The issue’s epilogue shows Iron Man and government stooge Peter Gyrich at a Senate hearing on the fate of the Avengers. The Senate Committee is so impressed with how the Avengers saved New York from Grey Gargoyle, it decides to lessen the government restrictions, kicking Gyrich to the curb and giving the Avengers more freedom to run the team as they see fit. Happy days are here again. Until, you know, next issue.
We get treated to three memorable clashes. First, Grey Gargoyle decimates the Avengers, registering three knockouts and incapacitating two other foes. Then he goes one-on-one with the Falcon, nearly crushing his nimble opponent with a stone candy dish and a stone sofa before dropping him with a leaping right cross. But in the end, the Avengers prevail in a short, one-sided brawl.
David Michelinie is most famous for his two runs on Iron Man, in which he explored Tony Stark’s flawed character and penned the iconic “Armor Wars,” and his eight-year run on Amazing Spider-Man, which made him the second-most prolific Spider-Man writer in history behind only Stan Lee. Michelinie’s Spider-Man contributions included creating Venom and scripting Peter Parker’s wedding to Mary Jane.
Michelinie wrote the Avengers from 1978 to 1982, which coincided with his first stint on Iron Man. In fact, just a couple months after Avengers 191, Michelinie authored the legendary “Devil in a Bottle” storyline that dealt with Tony Stark’s alcoholism.
It should be noted editor Roger Stern is credited with plotting Avengers 191, so Michelinie may not be solely responsible for the issue’s best elements, including the three fight scenes and the decision to feature the underrated Grey Gargoyle. Michelinie’s dialogue includes some classic 1970s references, like name dropping former NFL defensive lineman Rosie Greer, and more than a few cornball jokes. We also get treated to the villain deciding not to kill the heroes because he’s very busy and more than a full page of blatant exposition as Grey Gargoyle takes the time to explain his entire scheme to the lady now renting his former apartment. Oddly enough, we also dip into Margot Neil’s POV, which seems an odd choice for such an insignificant supporting player.
“I could kill you now, all of you, but why bother?” – Grey Gargoyle
“One hunk is all I can handle at a time.” – Wasp
“When muggers start dressing up like pet rocks and crashing in through twelfth floor windows, I’m moving to Montana!” – Margot Neil
“Why, you dimwitted witch! I’ll crush your silly head into jelly!” – Grey Gargoyle
“Oh, sure, and Rosie Greer sings soprano!” – Margot Neil
“Now the dude’s madder than a centipede with bunions!” – Falcon
This issue marked John Byrne’s last on the Avengers. He initially did a three-issue arc (164-166) in 1977 and then returned for an 11-issue run through the end of 1978. His Avengers tenure coincided with his career-defining work on Uncanny X-Men, where he collaborated with Chris Claremont on “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.”
I wouldn’t say this is Byrne’s best work; panel compositions are fairly static and don’t offer much in the way of variety. But even ordinary Byrne is still awesome. He shines in depicting Grey Gargoyle as a fearsome fighter, using strong choreography and fluid movements to bring the action to life. And Byrne’s rendition of the blue furry Beast is always tops in my book.
George Pérez actually handled the cover. Grey Gargoyle is front and center blasting Vision senseless while looming over the petrified figures of Daredevil and Iron Man. The perspective on Beast is completely off, but it does little to detract from an otherwise eye-catching cover.
This issue is loaded with quality ads. There’s a pitch for Crosman air rifles, Hubba Bubba, and the customary Hostess commercial, this time starring Human Torch versus some fella named the Icemaster. The Icemaster may be a cold-hearted jerk, but even he can’t resist Hostess Fruit Pies. Marvel was also pushing ROM pretty hard, running three separate ads for the robotic spaceknight.
Yet the most notable advertisement is a two-page spread for Star Wars toys. Boba Fett. Snaggletooth. Greedo. It’ll being a tear to the eye.
Billed as “Avengers Assemble,” the letters page for this issue confronts the elephant in the room: the Vision and Scarlet Witch’s sex life.
Steve Lowther from Kent, England, argues the Vision is essentially human, except for his “synthetic composition,” and suggests the “mystical, mutant energies within the Scarlet Witch” could lead to making a baby. He ends his letter with an impassioned plea to “Please, please DO IT!!!!” Wow. That brings back a lot of memories from high school.
Anyway, it turns out Steve’s idea had already been playing out. The previous few issues had shown Scarlet Witch acting distant and preoccupied, and issue 191 ends with her and Vision huddling in the corner, clearly dealing with some sort of emotional dilemma.
In response to Steve’s letter, editor Roger Stern hints at the ongoing events and states:
“But more than wondering if she and the Vision would be ABLE to have children, she now has to confront the question of whether or not she WANTS to. Wanda has a lot of things to figure out about herself, both as a heroine and as a woman, and what she finds out may not be what you expect.”
I’m guessing she finds out she’s a freak who likes getting it on with robots, machines, and assorted household appliances.
We have a great villain, lots of punching, and some classic John Byrne art. This is as good as it gets for a superhero team book.
Enjoy the sample pages below!
Mike-EL is a Co-Producer and Founder of the Comic Book Syndicate TV series. He is an independent filmmaker, professional videographer and holds a PhD in Superhero Fun.