BHOC: AVENGERS #168

Continuing to follow up on my reading experiences from SON OF ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, this was the first issue of AVENGERS that I purchased new (I had prior bought one issue of MARVEL TRIPLE ACTION featuring the team.) It’s the second part of what would someday become known as the Korvac Saga, a high water mark in the history of the series. But I didn’t like it at all, and in fact it would be another three months before I’d try the book again. And in fact, I soon after found the previous issue still on the racks of a further-off 7-11, and passed it by,

The problem that I faced here was very similar to what greeted my in the first issue of UNCANNY X-MEN that I ad read: we were in the middle of a complex story, there were dozens of guest stars, and I couldn’t even make heads or tails of who the lead characters in the book were supposed to be–I was completely lost. But somehow, the X-MEN issue worked for me despite that, Here, it all felt like a crazy mish-mash. It’s a little bit ironic that this was my reading experience because writer Jim Shooter, who would go on shortly to become Marvel’s Editor in Chief, was so hardcore about making sure that a new reader could jump into any issue and understand and enjoy the story. For me at least, in this instance, he failed. (Or, more to te point, I understood the basics of what was going on, but I was indifferent to the story, and didn’t want to come back for more.)

One thing that I couldn’t complain about was the artwork, by George Perez, who was becoming a real favorite of mine on FANTASTIC FOUR. But in many ways, AVENGERS was a series more suited to George’s strengths as an artist. This issue opens with the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy returning to Manhattan in a Quinjet from some exploit off in space. As they approach Avengers Mansion, there is no response to their hails, and upon landing they become aware that the intruder alarm has been tripped. In typical Marvel fashion, they race for the interior of the Mansion, doing all sorts of damage to their own headquarters along the way. As an aside, while the blue, furry guy identifies himself as the Beast on this page, he was so different from the character I had read about in X-MEN #1 in SON OF ORIGINS that I didn’t think he could be the same guy.

Making their way to the meeting room, the Avengers and co. confront the person responsible for the alert: Henry Peter Gyrich, a government agent who is investigating the team on behalf of the national Security Council. In later years, Gyrich would be depicted as more of an out-and-out villain, but in these early appearances, for all that he’s a hardass, he really does have a point: he tells the Avengers that he walked into their headquartes through a gaping hole in the wall, overpowered Jarvis and set off the Intruder Alert deliberately–and then waited for hours for any response. The Avengers have a security clearance that gives them access to sensitive information and technology, all of which Gyrich would have had access to had he been an enemy. Gyrich also takes issue with the fact that the unvetted Guardians have been given access to the Mansion as well, as has Wonder Man. Having made his point, Gyrich takes off–but not before setting the Avengers against one another.

As a running subplot, there’s been tension building between Avengers chairman Iron Man and Captain America for several issues now–and here the situation comes to a head, with a snappish Cap taking a punch at shell-head. If you’re wondering, some of the seeds of CIVIL WAR were no doubt planted in my mind upon reading this sequence. The other Avengers manage to separate the two squabbling super heroes (squabbling of this sort between heroes wasn’t something I dug in those days as a reader–I liked my heroes to get along for the most part.) and the Scarlet Witch gets into Cap’s face, telling him off but good.

From there, we get a page cutaway to Hawkeye and the Two-Gun Kid, who are traveling across the west by train. As they talk, suddenly Two-Gun vanishes before Hawkeye’s eyes. This was a subplot that would play out over the next few issues, but all it did for me here was to add more characters into the mix. But then the book gets down to its main conflict for the issue, as Aleta/Starhawk of the Guardians seeks out Michael/The Enemy and his wife Carina in Forest Hills Gardens. I didn’t know who any of these characters were, and they all seemed to have backstories that confused me. But for whatever reason, Starhawk and Michael were going to mix it up.

In a sequence that’s pretty clearly trying to channel the sort of psychedelia that folks such as Jim Starlin were bringing to their cosmic opuses of the period, Starhawk and Michael battle one another on every plane of existence simultaneously. This should have been trippy and mind-blowing, and yet somehow it was a bit pedestrian–with a feeling like straights trying to describe a drug trip that was outside of their own experiences. In typical Marvel style, there are cameos throughout this sequence from other characters from across the MU, all of whom feel this “disturbance on the Force” as Starhawk and Michael battle one another.

Ultimately, Michael is able to best Starhawk, disintegrating him utterly. But then he reconstitutes his foe, but removes from him the ability to perceive Michael in any manner. This will wind up being a crucial plot point in half-a-dozen issues. And the issue wraps up with Starhawk returning to Avengers HQ none the wiser, where the Avengers and the Guardians are talking about their mission to locate Korvac. And in Forest Hills, Michael sits in the dark in a sinister fashion. To Be Continued. I know that, for myself, a guy in a short-sleeved shirt and shorts didn’t represent an especially compelling foe, and I didn’t really connect with any of the heroes here–they all seemed angry and bitter or ineffectual and confused. So AVENGERS became a pass for me–ironic, given that I’ve gone on to edit the series for 20 years, easily more than double the length of the second most tenured editor on the title. But so it goes.

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