Thor’s Day Flashback: The Avengers #239

There is no trace of the Mighty Thor (or Tony Stark or the good Captain) in Avengers #239 from January 1984. But, who is that on the front cover surrounded by Hawkeye, Black Widow, Wonder Man, the Black Panther, and an upside-down Beast? Why, none other than your pal and mine, Mr. David Letterman, early on in his original late night run on NBC.

Letterman made several cameo appearances in Marvel Comics over the past thirty years, but this one was the first, and the only appearance where he was actively involved fully in the plot of the comic. In 1984, Marvel held an event called “Assistant Editors’ Month,” in which many, if not all, of their regularly published monthly titles had a certain amount of weirdness going on in the pages due, supposedly, to the fact that Stan Lee, Jim Shooter and Mark Gruenwald (Marvel’s normal editors in those days) were off at some comic convention on the West Coast, and thus unable to oversee the people working for them at Marvel’s offices in New York.

Thus, presumed chaos ensued. We see the backs of the Avengers heads in the corner box instead of their faces (and since none of these characters -- bonus points if you can name all six of them -- appear in this issue, it seems appropriate). In the opposite upper corner, there is a circular Marvel Comics logo that bears an "MC," which is meant to be reminiscent of the old DC logo from the Silver Age. And there is a rubber-stamped box stating "Beware: It's Assistant Editors' Month! Don't say we didn't warn you!" Oh, horrors...

David Letterman ends up accidentally teaming up with the Avengers to stop some nebbish named Fabian Stankowicz, one of the lamest characters ever perpetrated upon the comic buying public. Early on, he was known as the Mechano-Marauder, and had already annoyed the Avengers twice before in the preceding two years. A mechanical genius and a lottery winner, he is obsessed with getting famous by testing his creations against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and uses his winnings to support this goal.

Wonder Man is trying to get his foot in the door in Hollywood, and scores an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Not confident enough to appear on the show by himself, he convinces the Vision (who has “shut down” and only appears in holographic form -- I won’t explain) to contact several reserve members to appear with him, as the regular team are all away for a variety of reasons. The only active Avenger in the book -- Hawkeye -- opens the story with a nice splash page by carrying his new bride, Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse (whom you might know from the S.H.I.E.L.D. tv show, though her character dates back to 1971), across the threshold of Avengers Mansion, having been married recently in the Hawkeye 4-issue limited series that Marvel released. Hawkeye’s hearing has become impaired during his recent adventures, and this provides some very clumsy comedy during the Letterman show after Hawkeye secures the list of questions Dave will ask the team so he can prepare his answers.

Marvel does a fairly decent job of detailing the stage atmosphere of the show, and Letterman gets to come across as clever and heroic but still remains a smart-ass, staying true to his basic character. While the Avengers battle Fabian's machines, Dave figures out Fabian’s game, tricks him into revealing a key weakness, and then bashes Fabian over the head with the giant doorknob Dave famously used to keep on his desk back in the day.

But, the aforementioned clumsiness defines the rest of the book. Fabian is exceedingly grating (oh, the voice I put on him in my head while reading his lines) and his motivations are pouty and ridiculous (nowadays, he would just trick someone into giving him a reality show). A series of Fabian’s poorly conceived contraptions attack the Avengers during the show and give them barely any trouble at all (as they should, given that they are created by such a clod). Paul Shaffer, wearing a Captain America jersey, gets to say the word “nutty” while he tries to divert the audience’s attention with music. Don’t even get me started on the Black Widow sunbathing scene. And the artwork by Al Milgrom, apart from that splash page, has that “Marvel in the mid-’80s rush job” feel, that proved especially disappointing to me back in the day when I got suckered into the Avengers with back-to-back runs by George Perez and John Byrne, and then was stuck with lesser lights on pencils for a long, long time (with occasional highlights from the likes of Don Newton and Michael Golden, for example). (Luckily, “Big” John Buscema was on his way back not far down the road.)

The worst part? Through 1999, Fabian Stankowicz made somewhere around 50 appearances in Marvel Comics titles, mostly The Avengers and Captain America. He keeps kicking around, sometimes being villainous, then appearing to reform, trying out for but getting turned down by the Avengers, then getting a serious drug problem, cleaning up his act again, etc., etc. To be sure, I have not read some of these issues, as I no longer collect comics, so I cannot speak to their overall quality. But, based solely on his early appearances in the Avengers (and another couple dozen issues I do own which feature him), please, please, please, Marvel: do let me know if you plan to do a 35th anniversary "The Death of Fabian Stankowicz" issue (2017 by my estimate). Because I not only want to buy 300 copies of that issue and read each and every one of those copies, one after the other. I want to write that fucker into his grave.

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