Keller's Comics Corner: Royals Stadium hosts the Avengers!

Keller's Comics Corner - where creative alliteration is NOT our friend.

The year was 1986. The Kansas City Royals were reigning World Champions! Naturally, everyone wanted to attach their names to the greatness of Brett and Bret, so a comic book was written that took place in beautiful Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium!

(No, not this one)

The comic book in question was none other than the Avengers, the hero team that has in more recent years become a record-breaking movie franchise and a household name to anyone outside of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences! But in the world of comic-book readers, the Avengers were already big. They trailed the X-Men and Spider-Man in popularity, but lasted for over twenty years at that point, and grew to the point where a successful spin-off title was launched.

Background, Part 1

How did that happen? Since their beginnings in the 60's, the Avengers have had constant roster turnover. The Hulk quit the team after just two issues, Captain America joined in the fourth (despite many thinking of him as an "original" essential, iconic one, certainly, but not one of the founders), and then the entire roster minus Cap left and were replaced by three newcomers just one year later. As years went on, old members returned, new members continued to be added, and eventually the number of characters became almost unmanageable for new readers to start picking up the title. In 1979, in an issue whose cover featured no fewer than 23 Avengers (and it's still 18 if you subtract the 5 Guardians of the Galaxy, future super-heroes who were made honorary members during a visit to the 20th century), the United States Government, who sponsored the Avengers, mandated that there could only be seven active Avengers at any given moment. Two years later, the limit was lowered to six (for reasons that didn't really make much in-story sense). This number stuck pretty well, although fans constantly clamored for their favorite inactive Avengers to appear in the book, and the writers were happy to oblige. The title was getting cluttered and unweildly again. The January, 1984 issue featured at least seven non-active Avengers plus one "trainee" in addition to the six who were supposedly the stars of the issue. The Vision came up with a solution to the "too many Avengers" problem: open a west coast branch in Los Angeles, which would be allowed to have its own six members. Hawkeye gathered together five Avengers (getting a sixth member turned out to be a persistent problem for the California team) and Marvel tested out the West Coast Avengers with a 4-issue limited series. It proved to be a big enough hit that the team got its own title alongside the original Avengers book (which was somehow never re-named "East Coast Avengers." East Coast bias at work, I guess).

So if you have two teams of Avengers, what's more natural than having them play a baseball game against one another?

Yes, it happened in Avengers Annual # 15:

And obviously, the Avengers being top-tier heroes, they carefully selected a stadium that was renowned for its beautiful fountains and uniquely-shaped scoreboard, not to mention being the home of the reigning World Champions.

Hah, just kidding! Kansas City was just the first Midwestern city that came to the writer's mind, because the Midwest is naturally where an East Coast team and a West Coast team would meet. Perhaps some other artists might have considered actually trying to make Royals Stadium look like its special self, but instead of a caring artist, this issue was thrown to Steve Ditko, respected for his past work as the man behind the visuals of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, but since then a cranky old hack drawing in his outdated style for anyone who would take some pity on him. So the action takes place in a generic-looking baseball stadium, but hey, the captions say it's Royals Stadium.

The game itself is a 5-on-5 (the West Coast team, as mentioned earlier, hadn't ever gotten a sixth member, and the East Coast team had recently lost their sixth to a personal quest). We only got to see three batters plus half a pitch of action, with the East Coast in the field as follows (annotations for those who know the Avengers only from movies and who don't want to bother reading a Wikipedia link):

Pitcher Captain America
Catcher The Wasp This is Janet Van Dyne, played in the MCU by Michelle Pfeiffer. Hope Van Dyne, the active Wasp in the MCU who is played by Evangeline Lilly, does not exist in the mainstream Marvel comics universe.
First base/right infield Hercules The legendary super-strong Greek demigod, who has not yet appeared or announced to appear in the MCU
Shortstop/left infield Black Knight Wielder of a magical sword, to be portrayed by Kit Harington in The Eternals later this year
Outfield Captain Marvel This is Monica Rambeau, portrayed by Akira Akbar as a young girl (daughter of Lashana Lynch's Maria Rambeau) in the MCU Captain Marvel movie and due to be portrayed as an adult by Teyonah Parris in the Disney+ series WandaVision. She had the power to turn into various forms of energy and was later known as Photon, referenced in the name of Maria Rambeau's plane in Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers, the active Captain Marvel played by Brie Larsen in the MCU, was going by the name "Binary" in the comics at that time and did not take the name in the comics until 2012.

The West Coast team's field alignment is unseen and unmentioned. All we know is the order in which they come to bat. I haven't used the words "batting order" because, as we're dropped into a game in progress with no hint of what inning it's in, we don't really know who the leadoff hitter is:

Wonder Man Super-strong and invulnerable. He has not yet appeared in the MCU, although his civilian identity, actor Simon Williams, was meant to be depicted by Nathan Fillion in movie posters in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, however, those scenes were cut from the final release.
Tigra A woman who became half-tiger, who has not yet appeared or been announced to appear in the MCU
Mockingbird Former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Bobbi Morse, portrayed as such (i.e., without codename or costume) in the MCU television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Adrianne Palicki. In the comics at this time, she is married to Hawkeye; the family Hawkeye has in the MCU does not exist in the comics.
Iron Man

The umpire (behind the plate only) is Hank Pym, the disgraced former Ant-Man and Avenger, since divorced from the Wasp (unlike the version of him played by Michael Douglas in the MCU), who'd been hanging out with the West Coast team for the prior year's worth of comic books.

Play Ball!

All we know of the game prior to the opening of the issue is that the East Coast team has a two-run lead and that Hawkeye had struck out at least once. Whether it was in a prior inning (if there was a prior inning) or earlier in the same inning, we are given no clue. Only one out is recorded on the page, it could have been either the first or second of the inning.

First up to bat in the book is Wonder Man. After taking a strike, he whacks one out of the park. Home run? Not quite. How is Captain Marvel able to play the outfield all by herself? She can turn herself into light and travel at light speed to where she needs to be! (As the West Coast Avengers have no one with such powers, one has to wonder how they managed with one outfielder...or perhaps they aligned their five players differently.) She turns to light to catch up with Wonder Man's ball, turns herself solid to catch it, throws it back down to the ground, beams back down as light, and catches it back down on the ground. A leaping catch worthy of the Kansas City outfield indeed! However, Wonder Man protests that the ball was already out of play when it was caught and it should be ruled a home run. Displaying the wishy-washiness that characterized his super-heroic career, umpire Hank Pym splits the difference and declares the batted ball a ground-rule double.

With Wonder Man in scoring position, Tigra steps up and bunts the ball down the first base line. Unfortunately for the East Coasters, the rules and strategies of baseball are all Greek to Hercules, and he waits for the ball to come to him. Before it does, Tigra, with her cat-like agility, has pulled a Gathright and jumped over Hercules to reach first base, Wonder Man scoring on the play. While Hercules cluelessly holds onto the ball, Tigra continues to run. At Captain America's urging, Hercules throws the ball to the Black Knight to try and get Tigra at third, but he's too strong and throws it into the stands, allowing Tigra to score the tying run.

Next up is Mockingbird, who bats with her metal "battle-staves" (joined together as one long rod) rather than a standard bat. I suppose that this is fair enough, as those with powers are allowed to use their powers, but Captain America is still pitching a standard baseball rather than his shield. Nonetheless, she grounds out to the Black Knight, who throws it to Hercules, who steps on first base with excessive vigor, creating a fissure in the ground that runs along the first base line. George Toma certainly earned his Royals Hall of Fame membership by managing to fix that.

This brings up Iron Man, but Captain America's first pitch to him is interrupted by the sudden appearance of the issue's antagonists, one of whom catches the ball before it reaches home plate. Game Result: a tie (though we don't know what score the tie was at, except that it was no less than 2-2), predictable for Marvel to not wish to imply that one of its Avengers teams was an inferior product.

And now...the rest of the story

So aside from the baseball game, what was this comic book about? The overall plot is that a former Avenger has accused the current Avengers of being traitors to the United States of America. The government sends their team of super-powered operatives, called Freedom Force, to arrest the Avengers. Most of the members of Freedom Force were originally the team of X-Men villains known as the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; those unfamiliar with the comic books might know them from the Fox X-Men films: Mystique, their leader, has been a fixture in that film series, and Pyro and the Blob (he's the one who catches the aforementioned ball) have made minor appearances in some films of that franchise. The Avengers of both coasts, not trusting the former villains, fight them until Captain America confirms that they are acting under proper authority and gets the team to surrender. After subjecting themselves to Federal custody to hear the accusations, the Avengers, with some help from a more heroic Freedom Force member, escape from the prison. The story continues in West Coast Avengers Annual # 1, where the fact that a former Avenger was their accuser makes for a nice excuse to list every person who has ever been a member of the team, and to gather together five of those former members (Thor, Black Panther, Black Widow, Falcon and James Rhodes, known at the time as a second Iron Man and not yet as "War Machine") to join in the hunt for the Avengers traitor. The villain turns out to be Pietro Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver.

Background, Part 2

In the MCU, Pietro (no last name given and no code name used) made just a brief cameo appearance at the end of Captain America: the Winter Soldier and then had a major role in Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which he died. (Yes, a version of the character also appeared in the Fox X-Men films, but it's the Avengers association that matters here.) In the comics, he was an Avenger years before Ultron even existed, and has a long (if intermittent) history of Avengers membership. When his sister Wanda, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, started falling in love with the android Vision, he objected to their relationship, and his eventual acceptance of it was never more than grudging. In an Avengers story in 1972, he is wounded in battle and the other Avengers couldn't find him. He was rescued by Crystal of the Inhumans (depicted in the MCU by Isabelle Cornish in the not-well-received Inhumans television series) and evetually married her. In the year prior to the story under discussion, she had an affair with a neighbor of Wanda and Vision (who were living as civilians in the suburbs). Wanda tried to convince him to forgive Crystal and try to work on their marriage, but Pietro, who always had an angry streak, refused. Writer Steve Englehart, who was writing West Coast Avengers, Fantastic Four (in which Crystal was appearing regularly) and a Vision and Scarlet Witch limited series at that time, had a long-term plan for Quicksilver as a mad villain, and this story was part of it. Crystal's betrayal and Wanda's telling him to forgive turned all past events, in Quicksilver's mind, into a pattern of betrayal, which he was now turning back on the Avengers.

...and now, back to our regularly scheduled program

After Quicksilver reveals himself as the traitor and outlines his paranoid version of his history with the Avengers, he informs them of three places significant to his and Avengers history where he will attack. The Avengers split up into three teams - the East Coast team, the West Coast team and the five reserves - to handle the three places, and each team defeats a quartet of Zodiac-themed villains led by Quicksilver (due to his speed, he could zip from battleground to battleground). At the final battle site (to which the other two Avengers teams arrive for the climax), Pietro is on the verge of killing them all with an experimental weapon (that last site being a military lab) when the Vision shows up unexpectedly (Hank Pym contacted him while the in-costume Avengers went off to fight) and tugs on Pietro's heartstrings with images of his nephews, the twin sons of Vision and Scarlet Witch. Pietro is suitably moved and runs off without killing anyone.

Hawkeye, showing that a true leader never loses sight of what's important, closes the issue by suggesting resuming the baseball game (and drafting Thor for his team) that was the jumping-off point of this article, and being roundly rebuffed by the other heroes.

Whatever became of these plot points? Comic book publishers became notoriously allergic to character development. Quicksilver, after Englehart stopped writing for Marvel, was revealed (along with Crystal) to have been mind-controlled by the Inhuman villain Maximus (MCU version played by Iwan Rheon in the aforementioned Inhumans TV series) and was restored to being a hero and Avenger in good standing (though his status as a hero would waver back and forth over the years in X-Men-related comics). The sons of Scarlet Witch and Vision, whose images moved Quicksilver to mercy, were revealed to actually be parts of the demon Mephisto's soul given human form by her powers. These parts were re-absorbed into said demon, but they were changed by Wanda's power in a way that caused Mephisto to be (temporarily) destroyed, and in turn, became re-incarnated into Young Avengers heroes Wiccan and Speed.

And the Avengers would hold another East Coast vs West Coast baseball game a year later.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.