Someone below asked what was the worst issue ever and someone else below said it was the one with a child with a gun to his head on the cover. That got me thinking. I suppose the guy didn't like that book because of that image (I may be wrong, he might have just been identifying the book without knowing the number). Anyway, here's my feelings on the gun to the head thing...
I was a kid when I read that book (probably came out in the 1970s, around the 217 mark). If you look at the cover it kind of hints that if you want the attention of four superheroes you should threaten to kill yourself - so hey, you want your parents' attention, why not try the same thing? I never spotted that when I was a kid - but then I was a happy little chap.
Should the book have had that cover if there was a risk anyone would actually kill themselves because of it? Obviously not. Now I'm going to risk contradiction by guessing that no one ever put a gun to their head because they saw that image. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the comic did result in some suicide attempts, which I never heard of. On the other hand, some suicide attempts could have sprung from that book and no one would ever know.
I don't think the book went out to shock. I think Marvel was quite naive back then, with stories and covers that were often simplistic. Cap fights the Trapster - put that on the cover. If they did it now it would be for one purpose only - shock value. Of course we are all so used to images like this now that I don't think anyone would really complain about it.
Wasn't there an issue where a kid got a hero's attention and then shot him/herself? Got a feeling that happened somewhere along the line. There was that time a boy killed himself trying to become the Human Torch. A very moving story, but it ended with the words: I think he was better off (or something like that).
So as you can see I'm not sure if I'm pro or anti the image, but I'd love to hear from the rest of you. Do you American's feel strongly that freedom rests with being able to put whatever you want on the cover of the Avengers or that children shouldn't have these kinds of ideas put to their heads?
I am anti-censorship on general principle although I thought the story Harlan Ellison tells about trying to get comics to pull bee-bee gun ads was pretty funny. (Recently reprinted in the Comics Journal Library).
As for that image, no idea, never seen it or heard the controversy. It's hard to judge comics nowadays anyhow. Back in the old days when the genre was clearly aimed at children and young adults, I think the industry was right to limit the graphicness of violence and sexuality.
Nowadays, however, do kids even buy comics? They're mostly fighting over a market of thirty-year olds and a spattering of teens. Given my own views on this audience (not a particularly flattering one) I think graphic violence and the like is what draws them in. Limiting it, from a market perspective, would be suicidal.
On top of that, even if we do assume young people are the principle audience, it's hard to see how anything in comics is much worse then what they now see daily through TV, film, and music videos.
So...no, comics can't really afford to be the only industry with high standards.
PS - I think you're wrong about Marvel being "naivete" back then or somehow less savvy then it is today. The Marvel of that era was much more of a thriving business then it is now. They sold far more books and wrote for a larger audience. Covers have always been about grabbing readers attention.