Avengers 168 was cover dated February 1978 and was on sale November 1977, sharing the spinner racks with Aquaman #60, Fantastic Four #191, Flash #258, Iron Man #107, Justice League of America # 152 and Man From Atlantis #1.
First Blood was written by Jim Shooter and drawn by George Perez and picks up right after the last issue with the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy flying to Earth in the quinjet, leaving only Vance Astro on board Drydock. Vance remains to avoid any temporal issues with being in the same time as his younger self. The Quinjet lands at Avengers Mansion, but there is no signal from their receiving station and when the get out of the jet, the alarms are going off and several of the rooms have been ransacked, but nothing seems missing. In the main room, sitting next to a bound and gagged Jarvis is a federal agent Henry Peter Gyrich.
Gyrich, representing the National Security Council berates the team for their lack of security, including a twelve food hole in the wall, cause by Nefaria. Gyrich then threatens to withdraw the teams security clearance and priority status, before departing pointing out that how can the protect national security when their own security is so very lacking.
For Captain America, this is the last straw. Whilst he is almost always field leader, the current chairman is Iron Man and Cap lays into Iron Man for his part time attendance and the team’srecent lack-lusture performance. Scarlet Witch puts an end to this argument before it devolves into a full battle, Cap walks away. During this whole thing, the Guardians of the Galaxy are in attendance and it all seems a bit awkward. Iron Man tries to bring the conversation back to Korvac and Nikki notices that Starhawk is gone.
Starhawk has swapped places with Aleta and has gone to confront Korvac, who is living in Forest Hills, a suburb of Queens in New York. Korvac, now living there under the name Michael along with Carina, the model from issue 167. Aleta and Michael square off and a battle is joined. Aleta and the human looking Michael battle on the physical plane, whilst Starhawk battles a glowing seemingly omnipotent Michael on other dimensional planes. The battle is fierce and many other Marvel characters who are more sensitive to the universe (Dr Strange, Silver Surfer, Spider-Man and Captain Mar-Vell) sense the battle and the danger it poses.
Whilst Starhawk battles valiantly, he is no match for the seemingly unlimitedly power of Michael. Michael destroys Starhawk, but sensing that this may cause more problems than it solves, he recreates him. Starhawk no longer remembers finding Michael, nor is he any longer capable of sensing his presence, he the flies off to rejoin the Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Avengers and Guardians decide the best course of action is to keep an eye on the 20th version of Vance and wait for Korvac to make his move, whilst in Queens Michael simply sits and plans.
Notes: This is a very busy issue, as well as all that happens here, there is a subplot with Hawkeye and the Two Gun Kid travelling across America and the Kid vanishes. This is part of a very serialized time in Marvel’s history with several plots running at once and it all feeling like a long continuing story and not a collection of two parters and single issues. The Avengers have had several high points in their publication history and I have often thought that this is slap-bang in the middle of one of their high points.
The next Avengers issue is a clear fill-in, with no appearances by Korvac or the Guardians of the Galaxy, so I’m going to look at issue 170 next.