A new crop of 3-Bags started turning up at the department stores and toy stores in my area, though they were beginning to become harder to find as more and more outlets used the space for something else that was presumably easier to keep in order and also brought in more revenue for the square footage. These would be among the last 3-Bags that I would pick up, though the format lasted in one form or another for many years hereafter. It was also that we were getting up to about the time when I had started reading Marvel books, and so anything that was in a 3-Bag would be something that I either already owned or had chosen to pass on previously, so the impel to buy it just wasn’t as strong.
This three-part story, of which this is the middle chapter, is rightly remembered as a high point for AVENGERS, and a classic in the midst of other classics. This entire run by writer Jim Shooter is held in high esteem, especially those issues in which he partnered with artists John Byrne and the late George Perez–which was most of them. Because this is about where I came in, this period is what I think of when I think of AVENGERS.
This story was based on a very simple idea: it’s the Avengers versus an evil Superman. Last time, Count Nefaria had recruited Whirlwind, Power Man and the Living Laser as a new Lethal Legion and sent them against the Avengers–but his real plan was to duplicate their individual powers within himself. So the Legion has gone down, but now the Avengers are confronted by an enormously powerful Nefaria. Nefaria had been a Maggia leader in the past, a schemer without any particular superhuman attributes to back him up against the Avengers and other foes. But now, he’s more powerful than any of the Avengers–a fact he proves by tearing through the team almost effortlessly.
Admittedly, this isn’t the strongest Avengers line-up to begin with. Thor isn’t present, the Vision is in a coma, and Iron Man, the team’s chairman, isn’t present. But still, Nefaria stands up to Wonder Man’s full-on assault, which isn’t nothing, and he bats the reborn hero away as though he was nothing, shredding his new costume in the process. I get the sense that somebody didn’t like the redesign that George Perez did for Wonder Man a few issues ago, and this was an easy way to get rid of it. After this, Wonder Man would wind up wearing simply a safari jacket, which gave him a much more unique look in those days. Anyway, Nefaria wraps up his utter domination of his foes by pushing a 40-story building over on top of them, crushing them (and presumably thousands of innocent people who were working and living in that building) to death.
Utterly triumphant, Nefaria begins to revel in his newfound might. This is where Shooter does some novel work in terms of getting inside a villain’s head and having them face the question of what all of their power and schemes are for. Nefaria casually smashes his way into a bank, scornful of the money that was once his power base. He has no need for it now, he can simply take anything that he wants. He’s utterly unstoppable–but he doesn’t have a purpose, a goal for his power. And he’s brought up short when the aged Whizzer, at this time thought to be the father of the Scarlet Witch, confronts him in an attempt to end his rampage. The Whizzer is no match for Nefaria, of course, but he does point out that the villain is middle ages, that his power is only going to wane as he grows older. That even if he does manage to work his will across the planet, this will only last another thirty or forty years, and then he’ll be dead like anyone else. Coming face-to-face with his mortality gives Nefaria a new goal.
Meanwhile, Iron Man finally shows up at the site of the Avengers’ last battle, kicking himself for not having been there. He hopes that perhaps Wonder Man is still alive, and begins to dig into the rubble–only to unearth the entirety of the team. The Scarlet Witch was able to hex them up an safe gap in the nick of time, they just needed to be excavated from it. Without a backwards thought for any of the other people dea, injured or trapped in the rubble (no mention is made of the building being empty or abandoned, even, as would have been done in the 1960s) , the shaken Avengers return to their mansion to regroup. A good portion of the team is injured, and Iron Man is thinking that maybe he ought to take on Nefaria alone–a thought that gets the Scarlet Witch right up in his face about his leadership style. But the point is moot anyway, because that’s when Nefaria comes crashing in to the building. The Whizzer has shown him his mortality, so he’s seeking out Thor, intent on wresting the secret of endless life from the Thunder God.
Despite Iron Man’s presence, the Avengers are on the ropes this time almost from the start of the fight. Wonder man hesitates in battle, discovering that, having come back from the dead once, he’s got a petrifying fear of dying again. This leaves Iron Man to dance with Nefaria on his own–and even after removing all of the safeties on his armor and jacking his physical power to unheard of levels, he doesn’t have what it takes to put Nefaria down. The less powerful Avengers are clobbered in no time at all, and it seems as though Nefaria has won. And then, the skies suddenly grow dark, thunder rumbles across the landscape, and from out of nowhere, Thor is there, hurling his hammer at the foe and pledging Nefaria’s destruction. It’s a hell of a cavalry moment, for all that there was a whole other issue to come in this story. I wouldn’t get to read the final part of it for many, many years after this, but that final splash page almost functions as a climax all on it’s own–yes, there’s going to be some fighting, but Thor is here now, Nefaria is finally outclassed. This was very much that moment from the AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR movie where Thor’s arrival in Wakanda suddenly turns the tide of the battle.