Avengers # 164 (Oct. 1977)
"To Fall By Treachery!"
writer: Jim Shooter
penciller: John Byrne
inker: Pablo Marcos
Karen: Welcome to the first of a three-part Avengers extravaganza! These issues - 164 through 166- show an Avengers team at both their worst and best. Despite a solid line-up of veterans, this team was having difficulty coming together, which would eventually lead to a serious confrontation between Captain America and Iron Man. But this very sense of disorder allowed for some excellent tales to be told.
Karen: This is old-style comics at their best: besides the main story, which involves Count Nefaria beefing up the powers of three has-been villains, Power Man, Whirlwind, and Living Laser, we get a ton of sub-plots that move the Avengers forward. We see the team's scientific minds trying to figure out how Wonder Man's body works, and the Beast feeling like a fifth wheel as they ignore his input; Wanda visits her 'father', the Whizzer; Cap expresses frustration with how the Avengers are operating; and Wonder Man shows a lack of confidence in battle. Shooter really gave the reader a lot of character moments - and a couple of great slug-fests, too!
Doug: This was indeed a fantastic issue. As we've said, with today's trend of decompression, this book was such a treat. Action, characterization, set-ups -- books like this take around 20 minutes to read! I really wish today's authors were made to take a course in writing based on the work of Lee, Thomas, Shooter, Englehart, Conway, etc.
Doug: I thought the way the Beast was ignored at the beginning of the story, when the scientific-types were doing the diagnostic work on Wonder Man that you mentioned, was an interesting plot twist. It had only been a few adventures ago (issue #140, actually) when the Beast had saved Hank Pym from basically exploding due to out-of-control growth. As Hank was now in the lab (along with T'Challa and Tony Stark), it seemed odd that he'd not acknowledge McCoy's biochemist-skills. T'Challa especially seemed to "big time" him. But this scene really paved the way for the fun-loving, free-wheeling Hank who'd later spend many an evening on the town with Wondy... that would be the Beast that I think many readers our age remember. So, for a lasting characterization, kudos to Shooter (even if it seemed odd at the time this transpired).
Karen: Count Nefaria is in pretty dire straits - he's so broke he can't even afford a chauffeur! But he's decided upon a plan of action that will change all that. The first part involves getting a ton of cash by having the 'Lethal Legion' (three bad guys is a Legion?) rob some banks. Unfortunately, despite a great line-up of Captain America, Black Panther, Yellowjacket, the Wasp, and Scarlet Witch, the Avengers are unable to catch stop the villains and they escape. Shooter makes it clear that the team is not firing on all cylinders, and this is bugging Cap. We'll see more of this in the issues to come.
Doug: You know what's cool about those three crooks? They're always nostalgiac when they show up, they really do have dangerous powers, but in the end you just know they're going to be had by the good guys! As we go through these old stories, the Silver Age mentality of having the good guys lose their heads, attack the baddies one-by-one, and get beat down does start to get a little tired. I mean, come on -- you have Captain America and the Black Panther around and everyone just jumps in without a plan? Same thing in the FF and the X-Men of this time. You'd think after all of that time spent training they'd have a maneuver for any possible nasty who might show up. But, I guess stories that finished in three pages wouldn't be any good, either.
Doug: I also really like the line-up here -- classic feel to it. Not the most powerful group ever, but a time-tested winner in many respects. Once Thor shows up in a couple of issues (sorry -- should have given a spoiler warning!), it'll really feel nice!
Karen: At the end of our tale, the three baddies decide to bring the action back to Avengers mansion, with Power Man announcing their arrival by throwing a car through a window! I love Beast's line here: "Couldn't find the bell, guys?"
Doug: I always liked the wise-cracking characters when I was a kid!
Karen: This time Wonder Man is with the team, and he flies off right after Power Man, only to get a fast fist to the gut. Wondy is stunned, not expecting his foe to be so powerful, and he freezes up in battle. I have to say, I really enjoyed what Shooter did with Wonder Man in this time period. Here's a guy almost as tough as Thor, yet he is plagued by self-doubt and fear. This was something quite different, and very interesting.
Doug: Wondy was played as that "man out of time" to a small extent, but you're right -- most of his issues stem from not knowing what he's made of and how his powers work (or don't work, as the case was from time-to-time). I think here in the first year or so of his revival, there was a lot of tinkering with him so far as how he'd fit in without duplicating what some of the other "power guys" did.
Karen: The fight goes on, when suddenly the villains find themselves so weak they cannot fight back. All of a sudden, the ground rumbles with a huge shockwave- Yellowjacket thinks, "Not even the Hulk could make one like this!" - and bursting from the ground is Nefaria, now wearing a costume, and proclaiming that he can now do anything, including killing the Avengers!
Doug: Yeah, definitely not looking good for our heroes!
Karen: What a fantastic issue. The pacing is great, we get a lot of nice character bits throughout, and Byrne's art is energetic. This is a real standout issue of Avengers, with the best yet to come!
Doug: This is shaping up to be a fun story! One comment about the art, though. You are spot on in your compliment of Byrne's pencils; I'd like to express that I've never warmed to the inks of Pablo Marcos. He's a bit heavy, and it's my feeling that books he worked on always tended to have a bit of a "muddy" feel to them. I know the printing techniques weren't as good then as they are now, but I just never cared for Marcos' work...