Last night, David Letterman hosted his final late night episode. His career as a late night talk show host has spanned over 30 years and two networks. He’s set the standard in many ways for what a talk show host should be. And you’ll probably encounter any number of wonderful retrospective articles on his unique brand of comedy. But there’s only one appearance that matters to us. In January of 1984, just 2 years into his career as a late night host on Late Night, David Letterman hosted… the Avengers. Let’s take a deep dive into issue #239 of Avengers and see how this epic meeting went down.
The issue, written by Roger Stern and illustrated by Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott, focuses on Wonder Man’s new career as an actor. Previously, he was a wealthy industrialist, then a supervillain, then dead, then reborn as an ionic being, then an Avenger. Your average career path. It begins with Wonder Man phoning Avengers mansion to tell them he’s been booked on Letterman and that he wants the other Avengers to appear with him.
At this point in time, Vision had no physical body. He had basically infiltrated computers worldwide and was about to try to take over the world in an effort to protect it (he had a virus). I like that he’s happy just being a glorified receptionist in this issue. Apparently all the big name Avengers like Captain America, Thor and Iron Man are busy for this last minute invite (did Wonder Man’s agent really think they’d drop saving the world to appear on an 12:35 am show? What’s Wonder Man’s agent’s problem? How would having a whole Avengers team help promote that Wonder Man is now an actor? What a jerk. Anyway, Vision calls up some reserve Avengers to appear with Wonder Man.
Wow, Black Panther is the King of Wakanda but during a meeting in his consulate he’ll still take a phone call. And drop everything! Beast says he’s busy with his own team (The Defenders, not the X-Men) but it sure seems like he’s just hanging out alone in his apartment, so I’m sure he’s available. But what’s up with Black Widow? She seriously takes time to sun tan? I’d have guessed the gym or a dojo in her downtime. But nope! Also, why does she keep a wig of her old hairdo? That’s not a disguise. Just… have your new short hairdo, Widow. It’ll be fine. So now we have four Avengers ready to appear on Late Night, and Hawkeye is also invited (although not his wife Mockingbird for… reasons). This would have blown little me’s mind as a kid.
Hawkeye is insane. He had recently lost a bunch of his hearing. And he has to wear a hearing aid. But he refuses to wear a hearing aid on TV. Vain. By the way, there’s no real comedian named George Ferrari, if you were curious. But why use the real David Letterman and not a real comedian? No idea. All I know is that Hawkeye is the only active (not reserve) Avenger available. It’s almost as though the Avengers don’t really need a hearing impaired guy with a bow and arrow when they have super soldiers and gods on their team.
The writers give us some painful comedy and introduce the Avengers. I like how Beast is wearing a Hawaiian shirt. What a big fat party animal. I guess Black Widow decided not to use her wig. And Black Panther’s cape is a-flowin’, which makes me think he’s racing out to get the best seat.
Well done, Hawkeye. You fooled everyone into thinking you don’t need a hearing aid. Kinda sad to learn that late night talk shows are so scripted, right? Also, Beast should have told the Avengers he was about to quit before he told everyone on national TV. And even if he didn’t, maybe the Avengers shouldn’t have all flipped out in surprise. Kinda makes them look unorganized. Wondering why a bearded guy in the audience is cursing out She-Hulk? Well, he’s the “villain” in this issue. Yeah, I overlooked him on my recent ranking of every Avengers villain.
Hawkeye starts doing a shitty job of answering Dave’s questions by getting ahead of the order. I kinda love that the only person Letterman seems to care about is Hawkeye, and not the King of Wakanda or the actor who was supposed to be the main guest. Okay, so the guy in the audience attacks. His name is Fabian Stankowicz. He’s basically a dude that attacked the Avengers just to get attention. He could make robots and stuff and was a talented engineer. Once he went by the name the Mechonaut and once by the Mechano-Marauder. He never was much of a threat at all and actually got hired by the Avengers as a groundskeeper at one point.
Paul Schaeffer and The Most Dangerous Band in the World keep playing music and somehow the audience assumes it’s all just part of a show. This is a very stupid audience.
Fabian pulls off his beard and tries to be a guest on the show. I guess he figured there was zero chance the host and camermen would dare stop the show. He covers himself and Dave in a forcefield which keeps the Avengers from stopping him. So Lettermen pulls out a gigantic doorknob(?!) and knocks Fabian out, then turns off his forcefield. Crisis averted. The audience finds this funny.
So Wonder Man goes to Avengers Mansion with everyone but the episode is pre-empted by news of a nearby disaster. You might think that a TV show with actual superheroes that got in an actual fight would simply be played the next night. But… no. Wonder Man’s career didn’t really take off for a long time. Maybe his manager should talk him out of wearing green shades, blue turtleneck and a red jacket that looks like a dress. But what do I know?
Here’s a nice capper to the story. Letterman himself liked it. He wrote the below thank you letter to Marvel:
You can read more about this story in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Great book that tells Marvel’s history and has lots of amazing behind-the-scenes stories about the publisher, its editors, writers and artists.