This issue of AVENGERS was, you guessed it, another book that I bought during my trip to Heroes World in Levittown with my grandparents. It sported a very nice cover penciled by George Perez and inked by an infrequent collaborator, Terry Austin. Terry was at this point making John Byrne’s work look its best over on X-MEN, and he had a similar enhancing effect on this piece. The series was then in the midst of what would eventually become known as the Korvac Saga, though as a regular reader, that storyline felt to me like three or four shorter stories daisy-chained in sequence, albeit with a larger threat growing on the horizon. But it was an exciting period for AVENGERS, one that’s well-remembered and which came to be cemented in the minds of fans as the quintessential flavor for the series. Going forward, for decades when readers would talk about what they wanted from AVENGERS, this was it–this mix of big and small characters, sweeping menaces, running subplots and a bevy of characterization along the way. Not too difficult to reproduce, right?
AVENGERS writer Jim Shooter had embarked upon creating the Korvac Saga after a conversation with then-artist George Perez, who wanted (as he often did) to do a story that would involve all of the Avengers from over the years. Something that would stand alongside the Kree/Skrull War or the Celestial Madonna Saga in the annals of history. The Korvac Saga managed to do that, but it was a bumpy ride not without its problems. The first was that almost immediately, Perez began to suffer from burnout. He was juggling multiple assignments every month and dealing with personal problems as well, and inevitably, his books started to suffer for it. Fill-ins began to appear in AVENGERS, then emergency art jobs (as had been the case on the prior two issues.) By this point, apart from covers, Perez was gone from the Korvac Saga. he’d return to AVENGERS again in the future, but not in time to help finish out this storyline. Instead, Dave Wenzel was drafted as the new AVENGERS artist–and ironically, it fell to him to illustrate all of the chapters that featured a veritable army of super heroes rather than George.
Dave Wenzel wasn’t a bad artist at all, but he was another one of those guys for whom super heroes weren’t second nature. He did his best to channel Perez throughout the remainder of the storyline, but his work was a bit more stiff and wooden than his predecessor’s. The second difficulty that struck the Korvac Saga was that, just as it was getting under way, Jim Shooter was promoted to Editor in Chief of the entirety of Marvel Comics. This new job began to eat up much of his time, as you’d imagine that it would, and so he was forced to hand off scripting for several chapters of the saga to other hands–in this case, Bill Mantlo got the nod. Mantlo and Shooter had a contentious professional relationship, but he was still called upon to sub in for the new EIC in situations such as this one. (It may also be, honestly, that Shooter’s enthusiasm for this storyline waned with Perez’s departure, and so it was just easier all around to hand off portions of it to other people at that point.) Mantlo’s dialogue was often a little bit by-the-numbers, a general evocation of the Stan Lee/Roy Thomas style of scripting. But it was always serviceable at worst and occasionally crackled.
In this particular issue, the few remaining Avengers–Thor, Iron Man, the Wasp and Hawkeye–have discovered that the personage responsible for the disappearance of their allies all these months has been the Collector. As he had in the past, he’s been accumulating a full complement of Avengers in preparation for some coming catastrophe, and now his set is almost complete. The remaining heroes attack, but they’re within the Collector’s base, on his home turf, and he’s able to dispatch Iron Man, the Wasp and even Thor relatively easily. But he underestimates Hawkeye, who has no particular super powers but, as he makes clear to the Collector, is the most skilled of the Avengers. Hawk spends several pages warding off the Collector’s attack and giving back as good as he gets–a fine achievement and a nice spotlight for a character who would often get lost in the mix of more bombastic Avengers.
For all of his bluster and braggadocio, here we learn that Hawkeye has been nursing something of an inferiority complex, feeling himself overshadowed by his fellow Avengers. When the Collector unleashes his true cosmic power against the archer, even Hawkeye himself thinks that he’s had it. But he’s able to make one last desperate trick shot that turns the tide and takes down the Collector. From there, it’s a simple matter for him to free his fellow Avengers–so that, by the time the Collector regains his senses, he’s confronted by an army of angry super heroes who want some answers as to why they were all abducted.
It is here that the Collector begins to tell his story, and we get the first mention of him being one of the Elders of the Universe, the brother of the grandmaster. Despite his malevolence in earlier stories, here his quest to assemble a collection of the Avengers is framed as a bulwark against the coming rise of the now-defeated Thanos. But in the Mad Titan’s absence, another threat is looming–one so dangerous that the Collector sent his own daughter Carina to infiltrate and spy upon the mysterious Michael Korvac. But he hadn’t predicted that Carina would actually fall in love with Korvac and fail to fulfill her duty. And now, Michael, the mysterious Enemy, is aware of the Collector’s involvement. His plans require him to remain hidden from the great powers of the universe for some time still. So, in order that his existence and whereabouts not be disclosed, Korvac chooses to strike out at the Collector directly.
The Collector is vaporized from afar right before the astonished eyes of the assembled Avengers. This display of naked power staggers the heroes, who are only aware of their hidden adversary as “The Enemy”. So while they only have the barest inkling as to what is going on, they realize that they’d better figure it all out, and quickly! And that’s where this particular issue is To Be Continued! Even without Perez and with Shooter only plotting, it was a gripping issue, and it kept me enthralled as to what might happen next.