The Avengers are everywhere these days, riding high on Marvel’s billion-dollar blockbuster and its sundry spin-offs. However, there was a time when they were almost unknown outside of the States. You rarely saw their comics in UK newsagents, so it was a surprise when I came across these issues in a jumble sale in a seaside town, sometime in the early 1990s. I’ve never been a fan of the Avengers. To me, the whole concept doesn’t make much sense. Their leader is Captain America, who is basically just a stronger-than-average grunt. He has an invulnerable shield that he chucks at people, but that hardly counts as a superpower. It also means that the writers always have to ensure that their villains get close enough to him so that he can lob the stupid thing at them. Little more than a glorified member of the military, Cap doesn’t have a lot going for him. Yet he ends up giving orders to a multi-millionaire businessman (Iron Man), an African King (the Black Panther) and, of course, an actual god (Thor). As deities go, Thor is obviously not of the arrogant persuasion since he is happy to be pushed around by a mere mortal. If that weren’t barking enough, we haven’t even yet got to the marriage of the Scarlet Witch and the Vision. The Vision is the perfect husband in many ways, except for one slight drawback. He happens to be a robot. Not much chance of kids there, you might think. Well, you’d be surprised… When it comes to The Avengers, it’s best not to ask too many questions.
This particular run features art by a guest penciller in the shape of John Byrne. These issues are from 1977, just before Byrne took up the reins on the revamped X-Men. As is often the case with Marvel, great artwork covers up a storyline that makes little sense, but involves a lot of punching and destruction of property. Basically, the evil Count Nefaria dupes three minor-league supervillains, “the Lethal Legion” into helping him. Nefaria offers to augment their powers, but the effect is only temporary. Nefaria is using a scientist, Professor Sturdy, to steal the Lethal Legion’s powers for himself. In the process, Nefaria becomes a supervillain that is strong enough to match the assembled Avengers.
It’s all a lot of brainless fun and conveniently, Professor Sturdy gets killed at the end, preventing anyone else from stealing other characters’ powers.
As a footnote, the story was written by Jim Shooter. It’s worth mentioning that he and artist Byrne would not always be on such good terms. In fact, at a party some ten years later, Byrne was present while Shooter was burnt in effigy.