It's Avengers Day, but I’m going to start off with a confession - I wasn’t too interested in the Avengers from my first impressions. I’ve typically been drawn to the underdogs, thus the X-Men or Doom Patrol or whatnot, so the bright, government approved and packed with tier-one powerhouses Avengers just didn’t grab me. Yeah, I know that there have been iterations that haven’t been partnered with the government, or haven’t had major league players, but I wasn’t familiar with them when I began reading comics in 1990.
One of the first Avengers stories I’ve read, though, retains its place as one of my favorites, and proved why the Avengers fully deserve to be called “Earth's mightiest heroes." I'm thinking of the climax of the Korvac Saga, Avengers 176 or 177. I had picked up the trade paperback collection because the Guardians of the Galaxy guest starred in the storyline, and I'm sticking with blaming their 1990s series with getting me into superhero comics, and Marvel in particular.
The Korvac Saga has a couple of points that raised it above my expectations. Firstly, the villain isn't an idiot. He'd gained ultimate power, and then concentrated on hiding himself to give him time to acclimate to the powers. Secondly, the villain wasn't evil. Arrogant, yes, but like most of the best written villains, he had some good intentions. Actually, in a reversal of the typical story trope, he became more mellow and nicer as his power increased. I'm not saying he was a friendly kitten, but by the end he was a far cry from the angry, power hungry cyborg that he'd started out as. Thirdly, all the little adventures the team had had the Korvac subplot developed had nothing whatsoever to do with him. He wasn't fiendishly manipulating them every step of the way, which is how most of these sorts of stories go. Hell, they were beneath his notice. The climatic confrontation of the story wasn't the result of intricate plans on either side. No, instead the heroes pretty much stumbled upon him as he was hiding out in suburbia... and then carnage ensued.
This was a pretty powerful group of Avengers, featuring not only the big three (Cap, Thor, Iron Man), but also Vision, Wonder Man, Hercules, Beast, Ms. Marvel, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and more. Still, even their combined power was vastly outclassed by their opponent, Michael Korvac. Korvac slaughtered them in mere moments in the kind of one-sided battle rarely seen. If he hadn't been taken by surprise, and if he'd had more of a chance to acclimate to his powers, there probably wouldn't even have been a fight. But as the Avengers pressed in he struck back in the only way he knew from his harsh life, with death. And they did die. The big, shiny, so-powerful-it's-not-fair heroes actually lost.
But they went down fighting. And that was what saved them. Despite the fact that they had no hope of winning and were seeing their allies and friends easily struck down, they remained dedicated to fighting for freedom from Korvac's fascist rule. Witnessing their unwavering determination, and the growing horror in his lover's mind towards his violent acts, Korvac killed himself and resurrected all that he had slain. So the heroes did win, they won by example. That's what defines a hero, and it's what defines the Avengers to me.