Warning: SPOILERS for U.S.Avengers #11 ahead.
For decades, comics book creators have taken inspiration from art, film, and, of course, other comics. Sometimes, characters and situations refer directly (or are at least homages) to their favorite tales. As such, big names like DC and Marvel will feature personalities and tales similar in style to one other or from the pop culture world around them. These influences certainly weren’t limited to the so-called “big two” publishers, either, as classic creators like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and their signature styles also heavily impacted other pop culture.
In U.S.Avengers #11, scribe Al Ewing, along with artist Paco Diaz, toss in plenty of fascinating references for fans of classic comics. The most striking callback is to Archie comics, which inspired the popular CW show Riverdale and have long been staples in teen culture. However, Ewing is known for his deep dives into Marvel’s history, and in this particular treasure hunt, he digs up with some fun connections to the Silver Age Fantastic Four.
A Piece of the Kral IV Action
The classic Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “A Piece of the Action,” explores the importance of the Prime Directive. The Enterprise discovers a primitive culture which grew obsessed with Prohibition-era gangsters after an Earth ship crash landed on their world. Storyline-wise, the 1968 episode appears eerily familiar to an old Marvel storyline which ran a year later. Fantastic Four #91 (1969) deals with an actual 1930s gangster who’s “liberated” by a Skrull slave ship while escaping prison. Later sold to the rulers of Kral IV, the planet becomes overly fascinated by the same mob culture. After slavers capture Ben Grimm (the Thing), they sell him to a hoodlum named Lippy Louie (an enemy of Biggie Smalls, no relation) and send him to the goodfellas’ paradise for to meet their champion.
In the gladiatorial matches – shades of the TOS episode “Gamesters of Triskelion” – the Thing battles their Torgo (who's definitely not related to the useless villain from the 1966 z-grade flick Manos: The Hands of Fate). Eventually, Ben’s Fantastic Four cohorts show up and rescue him, but Kral IV and its unusual society turn up in a number of other escapades, including Marvel Two-In-One and Black Panther. Several Marvel guides even implied the planet was merely one of several populated vacation spots along the outer edges of Skrull territory.
Glenbrook Is the Ginchiest
Sam Guthrie (aka Cannonball, a founding member of the New Mutants) is a man torn between two worlds. His wife and child, a former Avenger and current Shi’ar Guard Izzy Kane, reside within the Shi’ar Empire. Meanwhile, he moonlights as an U.S.Avenger. During Secret Empire, the Chitauri warriors attacked Earth without mercy. Fortunately for the planet, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s energy field protected it. However, Captain Marvel and Alpha Flight Station weren’t so lucky. Sam was caught in the fray on his way home for a visit and joined the battle, only to be injured and presumed dead when a Chitauri dragon exploded. He survived the blast, though, and was picked up by interstellar scavengers, who sold him to the Skrull of Glenbrook.
Glenbrook is an idyllic community, perfect for raising a family or enslaving a mutant earthling. Its citizens live on Kral X, another Skrull amalgam world, much like Kral IV. Unlike their cohorts, everyone here looks like a malt-shop patron from an Archie comic gone awry. Guthrie remains a “guest” under the easily irked eye of fictional reality-obsessed Prince Ritchie Redwood – who the space gangsters describe as a ruler who’s “colder than a malt milkshake.” Coming from an interstellar hoodlum, that's pretty cold.
Naturally, Sam doesn’t appreciate being a captive player in Ritchie's game, so he escapes using his mutant-powered rocket legs. Displeased with his far-flung captive, dispatches the Glenbrook version of Moose, or Biff, who transforms into a confusing mishmash of several X-Men and drags him back to earth, er Kral, securing him inside Sabine the Teen Sorceress’ magical castle. There, he discovers he’s not the only resident to fall afoul of the mad prince’s wrath, as Bugface Brown and a sea of Riverdale rejects are also trapped inside the pseudo-dungeon as well.
If nothing else, U.S.Avengers #11 is a paean to amalgamated comic events, as well as the unusual, American-throwback-obsessed elements of Skrull culture. With cosmic gangsters running around the space lanes, butting heads with Roberto Da Costa (or Sunspot) and his U.S.Avengers and Riverdale thugs holding Cannonball hostage, the team certainly has a lot to contend with. While the Avengers did defeat Big Rico and his thugs, taking on Archie, er, Ritchie and his warped Skrull crew on their home turf might take more than a quick brush-up on ‘50s teen etiquette.
Of course, many of them aren’t so peachy keen on the enforced ruse. Perhaps there's a teenaged rebellion brewing. Hopefully, the Avengers make it there in time to keep Sam from becoming an anachronism. No matter how they escape their scrape, Ewing’s pseudo-crossover is an enjoyable throwback to the days when DC and Marvel joined forces on occasiona. More so, it’s kitschy and engaging read with some killer Archie-inspired artwork from Diaz, as well as through Ewing’s unique brand of comic book malarkey channeled through Marvel greats like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
U.S.Avengers #11 is currently available.