Avengers (1st series) #168

Issue Date: 
February 1977
Story Title: 
First Blood!
Staff: 

Jim Shooter (writer), George Perez (penciler), Pablo Marcos (inker), Phil Rache (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer), Archie Goodwin (editor)

Brief Description: 

The Avengers return to Earth with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Only Vance Astro stays behind in their spaceship, as he fears that any interaction with his younger self may harm the timestream.

When they Avengers cannot raise their butler Jarvis, they go in search of him and soon find Jarvis tied up by an intruder who introduces himself as Henry Peter Gyrich of the National Security Council. He sharply criticizes their security as a bad joke, considering all the privileges and clearances they enjoy, and tells them they will discuss this later. After he has left, Captain America berates Iron Man for his lackluster leadership, which has led to this. Before a fight breaks out, the Scarlet Witch gets between them and reminds Cap of his own recent failings. Ashamed, Cap steps out. Iron Man turns to the Guardians to apologize and finds that one of their number, Starhawk, is missing. Starhawk in his Aleta form has found Korvac, who is currently living a quiet suburban life as Michael with Carina Walters at his side. Aleta / Starhawk confronts Michael and soon a psychic battle on several planes of existence rages, a battle that ends with Michael utterly destroying Starhawk. However, to prevent raising suspicion, he raises Starhawk from the dead and erases his memory of the confirmation, as well as his ability to perceive Korvac. He also implants the suggestion that the Guardians are on the right track with their belief that Korvac means to harm young Vance Astrovik. Then he sends him back. Elsewhere, aboard a Manhattan-bound train are Hawkeye and the time-displaced Two-Gun Kid, who suddenly disappears into thin air.

Full Summary: 

Leaving the SHIELD orbiting platform behind, a Quinjet thrusts toward Earth, aboard seven Avengers and five beings from the distant future, five dedicated defenders of the 31st century who shall come to be called Guardians of the Galaxy in their own time. They have spanned the centuries in pursuit of their most cunning and dangerous enemy – Korvac – and now they hurtle toward a sinister and deadly confrontation.

Captain America informs the pilot Iron Man that, while they are cleared to land at the mansion, he cannot raise their butler Jarvis. In fact, their HQ’s receiving station seems to be shut down. Refusing to accept that, Iron Man urges him to keep trying, but to no avail.

Wonder Man and the Scarlet Witch are doing some small talk with the Guardians. Thor notices Yondu seems pensive. Yondu assures him he is marveling at walking with legends and even a god, but he is sad for his comrade Vance Astro, who they had to leave behind in their immense space station.

Astro looks earthward brooding that for most of his thousand years he has been lonely. So what else is new? But what troubles him is that, right now on Earth, his younger self is living his life, having the best days of his life. He wishes he could stroll through the old neighborhood one more time, but the proximity with his younger self could cause catastrophic disruptions in the timestream. So he’s stuck up here. Whoever said you can’t go home again doesn’t know half of it.

Still no word from Jarvis, as the Avengers are about to land at the mansion. Captain America passive-aggressively suggests Iron Man deploy an advance recon. He’ll make that decision when and if it’s warranted, Iron Man snaps back. They exit to find the alert blaring. Convinced that action is warranted yet? Cap pointedly asks Iron Man.

When they find the elevator doors don’t work, Thor tears them apart. The others fly or climb down to the first floor, while the Vision phases through the elevator to check the living quarters.

The Guardians stand back and let the Avengers go through their search procedure. Beast goes for the rec room and finds it wrecked. Vision searches the living quarters and also finds them ransacked, but nothing has been stolen, which doesn’t make sense.  Iron Man’s infrared sensor tells him someone is in the meeting room. The door is sealed from inside. He uses his repulsor too overload the electronic locks.

He and Thor step inside. What they find is not a villain but a tall civilian with a red crewcut and striking sunglasses calmly sitting there, while poor Jarvis has been gagged and tied to a chair.

Calmly, the stranger introduces himself as Henry Peter Gyrich of the National Security Council. They have a good bit to discuss. He orders Iron Man to bring all his colleagues in here. Seconds later, the displeased Avengers and Guardians are assembled and Vision frees Jarvis.

Iron Man wants to know how-the-hell he gets off breaking in here and tying up their butler. Calmly, Gyrich reminds him that the Avengers enjoy many special privileges by the government: special exemption from air traffic regulations, exclusive communication wavelengths and, most importantly, an A1 security clearance and a unique Avengers priority status. Only two men in the entire country can deny or override those privileges: The president and him.

Iron Man orders him to get to the point. Gyrich points out that he strolled into Avengers Mansion through a twelve-foot hole in the south wall. It wasn’t difficult then to subdue their butler and gain access to everything in the entire building, including their records, virtually tons of sophisticated, classified hardware and their computers which are tied to the US security network. If he were an enemy agent, he could have left with a bushel of their nation’s secrets.

Wanda notices how Gyrich’s words are striking a raw nerve with Captain America.

Gyrich continues he turned on the alert and waited for them and they turn up with these strange people, none of whom have security clearance, he wagers. For that matter, some of their own aren’t cleared. Wonder Man realizes Gyrich means him. Gyrich turns to the door. How can they expect to be trusted with nation’s top security clearance when their own security is a joke? Iron Man asks him to wait. He’ll be back, Gyrich announces and leaves.

Nikki and Charlie-27 feel for the embarrassed heroes.

The freed Jarvis apologizes to Iron Man for allowing Gyrich to get the better of him. Iron Man replies he never would have gotten that far, if Nefaria hadn’t blasted that hole in their wall and damaged their electronic defenses. It’s nobody’s fault.

Captain America clearly disagrees. The fact is they should have beaten Nefaria before he ever got near the mansion. But this team’s been a pushover since Iron Man became leader! It’s Iron Man’s fault because he is treating the leadership like a part time job! Mercilessly, Cap presses that is what it means to Iron Man! He is moonlighting as an Avenger because he has a full time job as Tony Stark’s personal bodyguard!

Iron Man doesn’t reveal that he is Tony Stark, but sharply tells Cap that is enough. Cap is entitled to his own opinion, but he won’t let him tear this team apart. His dealings with Stark are his own business! Or has Cap forgotten, all Avengers are guaranteed their personal privacy in their charter?

Cap hits him in the face and calls him a low life mercenary. Don’t the Avengers pay him enough for his services? He has managed to make Iron Man mad. Thor holds him back .Cap goads him to let Iron Man go. He has trashed plenty of armored foes. When Iron Man gets worked up, the Scarlet Witch levitates a chair between the two of them and orders them to stop. Iron Man begins that he doesn’t need her help. She cuts him off. She has something to say to Captain America.

She agrees that they have had rough times lately, and it’s easy to blame all this on the leader, but she brutally reminds Cap he hasn’t been any help recently either. All he did was get in her way and prevent her from taking out Ultron. There is silence, then Cap walks out telling her she has made her point.

At that moment, on board of an eastbound train high among the Colorado Rockies, two familiar figures – Hawkeye and the time-displaced Two-Gun Kid – provide some impromptu entertainment in the club car by showing off Hawkeye’s archery skills. Afterwards, the two have a drink. Hawkeye admits he has always been a show-off. Started out in a carny. And since they are rejoining the Avengers, he thought they ought to look the part. He still wishes Matt had been okay with them flying, but the man from the past refuses to get into a plane. And being on a train reminds him of his own time. Sometimes he gets homesick for it. Hawk’s time isn’t bad though. And he has no choice but to stick around.

That moment, he disappears without warning.

Back at Avengers Mansion, Iron Man apologizes to the Guardians and announces they should make plans about protecting young Vance Astro from Korvac. Nikki notices that Starhawk has secretly taken off. Amused, his teammates remark you get used to that with him.

Just then, in a quiet street in Forest Hill Gardens, a beautiful blonde wearing a dress that is reminiscent of Starhawk’s costume stops before a large comfortable home. She stares at the dwelling, knowing what awaits her within. She rings the bell and Carina Walters opens the door and informs her the master of the house expects her. Perhaps, the blonde concedes, but not so soon and therein lies the hope of the universe.

Wrong, the man replies. He is the hope of the universe. Forgive his wife for not introducing herself. She is Carina. He has taken the name Michael and the stranger is called Aleta in this form, is she not? He informs Carina that Aleta is far more than she appears and asks his wife to leave. They have business. Nervously, Carina Walters obeys but, as she leaves the room, she feels part of his power enveloping and protecting her.

Coldly, Korvac (or Michael as he currently calls himself) informs Aleta that of all the great powers in existence she alone knows of his presence here. He cannot allow that knowledge to spread. Then one of them must die, Aleta replies equally coolly.

She gestures in defiance as her persona is submerged and her alter ego and husband Starhawk takes over the body they share.

Michael too gestures, warning Starhawk they shall do battle on every plane of existence, for he must destroy him utterly. “So be it. We are prepared!” is Starhawk’s reply. On the physical plane, he strikes first, hitting Korvac hard. Somewhere in the subconscious of his mind, a planet shatters and billions of souls in his mind scream. Pain reaches through the enemy’s soul as Starhawk’s attack includes the astral planes.

The fragile nature of our reality is distorted by his suffering. In a nearby shopping district, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are almost hit by a flying tree, as a storm breaks loose. She asks him to tell her this is not the end of the world. He tries to calm her, saying it’s a freak storm, but his spider-sense is screaming at him there is danger like never before nearby – but where?

The Enemy has gathered his resources and admits that Starhawk is more powerful than he thought. Starhawk retorts that Korvac has to protect the woman from their battle. The Enemy calls him pitiful. Thanks to Starhawk’s awareness, he knows he is doomed to fail, yet nevertheless clings to hope.

Korvac strikes him down physically and in a subconscious mirror realm attacks his beloved Aleta. With their union shattered, Starhawk’s strength dwindles.

Starhawk changes the battlefield to the cosmic void but finds he cannot even touch the Enemy who has subdued Aleta, Starhawk’s physical self and now finally his spirit. Defeated, Starhawk snarls that he doesn’t not want mercy.

Nor dare he risk it, is his foe’s reply. He gets ready to kill him but Starhawk struggles with all his might against his shackles… to no avail. But the cosmos shudders once more.

In his Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village, Dr. Strange senses a tremor, a great upheaval in the fabric of reality. He wonders what could cause this. And high above Manhattan, the Kree hero Captain Marvel senses the conflict of powerful forces but, despite his comic awareness, he cannot pinpoint its origins, as if it were somehow shielded from his perception.

Korvac figures that execution is not enough. Starhawk must be obliterated. He converts his ethereal spirit into basic substance to then shred it with talons of naked energy.

Elsewhere, the Silver Surfer senses a shock and a cosmic voice like a death moan, while Korvac tears Starhawk’s ethereal form apart mocking he is as dust to him. And dust he shall be!

It is finished, he announces, and while some Earth dwellers sensed the conflict, none could devise its origin and thus remain unaware of his presence. Thus, those who would oppose him do not yet array themselves for war, though indeed the war has already begun… and he has drawn first blood.

Korvac has returned to his mundane body and looks at the heap of dust where Aleta /Starhawk stood moments before. His next action is a surprise. In order to secure his secrecy, he restores Starhawk back to life, but henceforth he will not remember these events nor the fact of Korvac’s existence, and never again shall his senses be able to perceive Korvac.

He orders Starhawk to aid his friends on their petty mission, to tell them it is imperative. Starhawk flies off. A few moments later, he notices his location in the sky but has no idea why he is here. He does have a firm sense of purpose though. He knows what he must do.

At Avengers Mansion, the Avengers and Guardians have been planning. The Guardians are to watch out over young Vance Astro. Tony Stark will buy a house in the neighborhood to act as their headquarters and the Avengers will help, should Korvac strike. Iron Man points out they’ll have to keep a low profile and Beast offers his help as a disguise expert.

That moment, Starhawk joins them and the others want to know where he was. Searching. Seeking truth, is the evasive answer. Nikki accuses him of just liking to sneak out and orders him to grow up. Iron Man asks if he found out anything. Only that their mission is imperative, is the reply. Accept the word of one who knows. Iron Man is puzzled by the reply. Nikki suggests he believe him. He’s weird but real.

Nighttime falls over a Forest Hill Gardens, where in a dimly lit office a man ponders and plans…

Characters Involved: 

Beast, Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Thor, Vision, Wonder Man (All Avengers)
Aleta, Charlie-27, Martinex, Nikki, Starhawk, Vance Astro, Yondu (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Two-Gun-Kid

Jarvis
Agent Henry Peter Gyrich

Korvac / Michael
Carina Walters

Spider-Man I
Mary Jane Watson
Dr. Strange
Captain Marvel I

Story Notes: 

While Gyrich had two previous cameos, this is his first named appearance.

Nefaria damaged the Mansion in issue #165.

The team fought Ultron in #161

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