BHOC: AVENGERS #164

This issue of AVENGERS was another book that I got in coverless condition from my local drug store and their new Bundles of Coverless Older Comics. Which means that I never got to see this George Perez cover in my youth–and it still looks slightly strange to me, for all that this was an issue that I read a lot. Also, I seem to think that this book was in a bundle that I passed up on at least one occasion before buying it, because I have an impression of looking at the splash page at some pre-purchase point and thinking that it depicted Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner on his throne. I weirdly still get that momentary hit every time I look at that page. Take a look for yourself–maybe it was the green trunks that gave me that impression.

This was a very good period for AVENGERS, with writer Jim Shooter getting his feet under him on the series and working out interesting things to do with a number of the characters. Shooter was most often paired with George Perez, who came to be identified with the series during this time–but even in issues such as this one when George wasn’t present, he was allied with John Byrne, the only other artist of the era who stood on the same level in terms of super hero comics. Point being, AVENGERS was a really good looking series right then.

Shooter had inherited a bunch of oddball puzzle pieces from the previous writers Gerry Conway and Steve Englehart, and by this point, he began arranging them into a pattern that suited him. He sets up in this issue the Beast’s new status quo as a woman-magnet and ladies” man, establishes that Wonder Man’s chrysalis state of many years has transformed him into a new form of life, and brings in the Whizzer, who had been revealed by Roy Thomas (of course) to have been the father of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch–one of several fathers they’d have over the years. Shooter also takes a second to deal with small continuity gaffes, such as the fact that artist John Buscema had drawn the Scarlet Witch flying in one recent issue–here chalked up to an “experimental Stark flying belt” she had been testing. Well, it’s an explanation at any rate.

As far as the central plot goes, a clandestine monocled figure recruits Erik Josten, formerly Power Man, along with Whirlwind and the Living Laser. This figure is revealed to be Count Nefaria, the Avengers’ old enemy and a Maggia chieftain who promises to increase his underlings’ powers in exchange for service on their behalf. Power Man in particular is still smarting from having his name stolen by Luke Cage, so he agrees to Nefaria’s terms. The pan, though, seems to be nothing more complicated than robbing a bank. When the Whizzer hears about it on the news, he races to climb into costume and go confront the villains despite his recent heart attack, only to be rebuffed by his daughter Wanda. The Avengers confront the trio of marauders at the scene, but are unable to prevent them from getting away–a fact that stings Captain America, who has been unhappy with Iron man’s absentee leadership of the Avengers for a few issues now.

It turns out, though, that Nefaria’s plans for his new Lethal Legion are all a sham. What he’s really done is to recruit the scientists who helped Zemo in creating the device that gave Power Man (and before him, Wonder Man) his powers, and gotten them to craft a device that will allow the powers of his underlings to be duplicated in himself. Nefaria is as surprised as anybody when the three villains make it back with their ill-gotten gains, but he has his scientists give them a quick booster shot, then sends them out to attack Avengers Mansion, figuring that this will get rid of them. They start by throwing a car through the window, which winds up injuring the Wasp. Fortunately, by this point both Wonder Man and the Beast have returned, so the Avengers have the numbers still.

What follows is a protracted fight scene, of course. Wonder Man dives into combat with Power Man, whom he’s heard tell of. He figures that since Power Man didn’t go through the same process of chrysalis that he experienced, he can’t be as strong–but Nefaria’s treatments have souped Power Man up–and faced with a superior foe, Wonder Man hesitates, suddenly afraid for his life. In fact, all of the Lethal Legion members (they’re never called this in the story proper, but they are on the cover) are firing on all cylinders, and they’re winning their war of attrition against the Avengers, taking them out of the battle one by one.

But just as the Legion is on the verge of taking the battle, suddenly their newfound might deserts them, and they wind up clobbered, their powers giving out just at a crucial moment. The Avengers are confused by this, but they’re beaten up and scattered enough that they don’t really care why it happened, they’re simply happy that it did. But that relief is short-lived, as the regrouped team is scattered as a figure bursts up in their midst from underground–a figure that they recognize as Count Nefaria. The Count has succeeded in transplanting the Legion’s powers into his own frame, and so he’s essentially become Superman, with Power Man’s strength and durability, Whirlwind’s speed and the Living Laser’s ability to unleash energy. And he figures that he might as well kill all of the Avengers for funsies. To Be Continued.

4 thoughts on “BHOC: AVENGERS #164

  1. I didn’t discover these issues until seeing The John Byrne Marvel omnibus recently. This collected all the oddball issues Byrne had done at marvel and some shorter runs. (Remember when 8 issues was a short run?)

    These three issues are some of my favorite of Byrne’s Avengers work. Not as polished as some of his later work, there is a muscularity to the figures and a dynamic storytelling I really like.

    I recently asked Byrne about this on his forum and he indicated that doing an Avengers fill-in was a big moment in his early career and the pages look like he was really giving it his all.

    Avengers 164-166 is IMHO a perfect ‘bronze age’ comics arc.

    It’s a shame this is only 3 issues and not quite enough to warrant a stand alone printing.

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  2. Seeing that splash page took me straight back to 1977 and the strange thought that shot thru my 15 year old mind that day: why has Wonder Man got a hairy chest?
    Then, as I looked to the credits at the bottom of the page, the answer was revealed: the artist was (my then favourite), John Byrne, and all his male characters seemed, at least to me, to be suddenly more hirsute than when drawn by other artists.
    Weird, I know, but at least I learnt another word for “hairy” that has stuck with me for over four decades.
    On a related note, I have just discovered Kurt Busiek’s “Thunderbolts” after buying the Omnibus edition and reading your review of Avengers 164 reminds me of how twenty-odd years later he would breathe fresh life into the Erik Josten character.

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  3. Loved this issue (and the trilogy it kicks off). This may have been around the second issue of Avengers I ever encountered when my older brother lay out his collection on the floor one day. I became in an instant fan of Beast, Wonder Man, and Whirlwind, of all people.

    In hindsight it does seem like an odd Perez cover (Cap’s expression always seemed off a bit). And for years I didn’t get who the two outstretched hands in the foreground were supposed to belong to. I think I figured it was Nefaria, watching his machinations unfold. Only recently noticed the “Not All of Them” caption and figured out that’s the Scarlet Witch preparing to attack. It’s kind of funny ’cause that dramatic caption seems to set up that Wanda will provide a dramatic rescue and turn the tide, but she doesn’t do much more than soak Living Laser’s head, as seen in the panels above.

    Still, definitely agree with the praise commenters are giving to this Avengers era. These are certainly the issues that I remember most fondly.

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