With the new Avengers Infinity War movie dropping later this week, I thought it would be an awesome time to start priming everyone’s pump as it were. That is to say, here’s a read pile entry on one of my favorite Avengers story lines in order to get everyone in mood for the much anticipated Marvel Hero cinematic orgy to come later this week (Who says I’m not a sucker for foreplay).
I’m talking about this 3 issue arc from Avengers 164 to 166 in which the Avengers battle an uber powerful Count Nefaria. Flat out, I love me some Bronze age Avengers. They had one of the all time greatest line ups with all of the real heavy hitters you expect in this book: The big 3 of Cap, Shell Head, and Thor, the dynamic power couples of Yellow Jacket/Wasp and Scarlet Witch/Vision, and the incomparable buddy picture double act of Beast/Wonder man. Hawkeye makes regular guest appearances as does Black Panther and later they will add Ms. Marvel rounding out the proceedings.
But more importantly than the all star roster, this run also boasts some of the all time classic Avengers stories ever told such as the Celestial Madonna arc, the Korvac saga, the rise/fall/rise of Hank Pym, and others. So good are the overall stories from this period that even the fantastic mini arcs like the one I’m about to talk about are often times glossed over and missed. It’s definitely a shame because they really represent some of the finest storytelling Marvel has to offer.
This tale in particular, penned by the legendary Jim Shooter, is basically the story of what would happen if the Avengers fought Pre Crisis Superman? Yes, as you’ll see Jim makes it a point to give Count Nefaria all of Superman’s main powers but with extremely villainous intentions. The resulting epic fisticuffs as the Avengers fight for their lives against such an irresistible force is nothing less than comic gold. Especially when you factor in the fact that the entire proceedings is drawn by 70s John Byrne who was not the normal artist for Avengers at the time given that he was illustrating his epic run on X-men. So it’s almost as if we’re getting an extra treat by his presence for this very special story.
The story actually slow builds starting with issue 164, as Count Nefaria, who was last seen in the pages of X-men getting blew the heck up, still alive and attempting to reform the Lethal Legion, kind of a poor man’s version of the classic super villain team, The Masters of Evil. To this end, he does his best Nick Saban in recruiting perennial Avengers punching bags like Whirlwind, Living Laser, and Power Man (aka not the Luke Cage “Power Man” but the original Ionic powered Erik Joston) and promising to multiply their pre existing powers 10 fold through the use of some special process cooked up by one of Baron Zemo’s flunkies. Thus at first the story just seems to be another Avengers puttin’ a whoopin’ on some beefed up members of its rogue’s gallery.
But as the terrible trio stage a bank robbery to draw the Avengers out in the open, suddenly their Mountain Dew style x-treme powers completely fade, leaving both hero and villain alike confused as to what just happened. Then pow, Count Nefaria shows up sporting some seriously classic tights/cape duds, and some incredibly potent powers to boot. It turns out that he did indeed increase those other super villains powers not just 10 fold, but 100 fold, but only long enough for them to be then transferred into his own body. Thus, he does have Superman level strength thanks to Power man, Superman level laser vision thanks to Living Laser, and well, ummm…Superman level..umm..spinning powers thanks to Whirlwind? I’m not 100% sure about that one…
In any case, Count Nefaria doesn’t really have an grandiose plans for what to do with these new found powers, just one: Kill all the the Avengers. I like a villain that just cuts to the chase. No showboating no revelations or delusions of ruling the world. Just the simple “hey, you monkeys ruined schemes of mine in the past and its payback time”, and indeed that’s what he does by dropping a skyscraper on Cap and his gang.
The only one to walk away from that is the newly resurrected Wonder man who decides to test is Ionic powered super strength against this Eastern European powerhouse. I mean it should be a fair fight what with Wonder man having the strength to knock out Thor right?
..Urrr..umm..I guess not…
In any case, it actually takes Thor showing up at the end of issue 165 to really start turning the tables in favor of the Earth’s mightiest, and it is truly a treat to see any super villain go toe to toe with God of Thunder in a good old fashioned donnybrook.
From there Vision and Iron Man also show up and their combined power plus Count Neferia’s own insecurities about his own mortality ultimately serve to be the villain’s undoing.
As a Vision fan, it’s also a plus to see him in these Bronze age stories as unlike today, you can see how much of a heavy hitter and core member of the Avengers he is. Really, the team revolves around him as much as it does Cap, or Iron Man, or Thor. In fact, Yellow Jacket goes on to say how Vision is one of the Avengers most powerful members and actually takes the time in the middle of the battle to fix him because he knows what a game changer his presence will be. This proves to be the right call as it’s actually Vision who ultimately delivers the finishing blow, doing for the first time his whole fly really high, change density to the heaviest, and drop like a 200 ton load right on the villain’s head.
For a character that in recent years has been regulated to the sidelines for the most part, it’s so good to see him being used to his full potential and taken seriously as the heart and soul of the Avengers.
Overall, this story may only be 3 issues in length, but it’s impact is actually pretty profound. Pretty much this arc sets the table for an even bigger rematch to come later in the pages of Kurt Busiek’s epic run on Avengers volume 3 as seen in issues 32 through 34. If you have an opportunity to read both stories, I definitely couldn’t recommend them more. Like Ultron and a small minority of other solo villains, this uber powered Count Neferia is more than a match for the combined strength of the Avengers and makes for a very interesting and dramatic confrontation.
Andy’s Read Pile Rating: A++