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Sep 12

House to Astonish Presents: The Lightning Round Episode 16

Posted on Tuesday, September 12, 2023 by Al in Podcast

It’s crossover time, and Marvel’s Most Wanted are going to learn to play nice with other comics whether they want to or not. The Nefaria Protocols play out across Thunderbolts #s 43 and 44 and Avengers #s 33 and 34, and nothing will ever be the same again! Except almost everything actually will, but look, at least we get the perils of invisible furniture, regional Inhumans and Christopher Robin’s arch-enemy.

The episode is here, or available via the embedded player below. Let us know what you think in the comments, on Twitter (let’s be serious now) or Bluesky, via email or on our Facebook fan page, and if you’re not wearing one of our amazingly cool t-shirts while you’re listening then I’m afraid you’re technically in breach of the uniform code but it’s okay, we’ll cover for you with the brass while you get one.

Bring on the comments

  1. Bengt says:

    Nefaria’s motivations may seem silly to normal people but they are not necessarily unrealistic as it’s the same reason Elon Musk spent $44B to destroy Twitter…

  2. Josie says:

    This is probably the lowest point of both volumes of Thunderbolts and Avengers (at least until Chuck Austen comes on board), and a sad sendoff to George Perez, but yeah, this story was unforgivably dull.

  3. Mark Coale says:

    Trying to think of good Nefaria stories? Maybe that story in Avengers 180-something?

    What’s funny is when I was trying to remember stories with Nefaria, I was mixing them up with Graviton stories.

  4. Omar Karindu says:

    Nefaria is definitely a villain who had a single good story — Avengers #164 to 166 — which became the only thing anyone remembers him for.

    And it’s a story that doesn’t really allow for much in the way of an interesting sequel; there’s a reason Nefaria’s very next appearance unceremoniously killed him off, which stuck for decades.

    More broadly, he’s one of the least interesting villains of the Silver Age, right down to his name, and didn’t even have an especially consistent gimmick from story to story for a long time.

    This plotline strikes me as an example of nostalgia overtaking storytelling.

  5. CalvinPitt says:

    This was the storyarc where I started buying Avengers regularly, so I guess I couldn’t have found it too boring. All I knew about Nefaria was what Busiek (I don’t think I read the T’Bolts issues until years later) told us in the comic. If it was nostalgia, it was nostalgia I was oblivious to.

    He was strong enough to fight an entire team of Avengers, he thought he was better than everybody because of his bloodline or whatever and wanted the world to reflect that belief, which made him quite hateable. That was enough for me.

  6. Josie says:

    “when I was trying to remember stories with Nefaria, I was mixing them up with Graviton stories.”

    I feel almost exactly the same way – the “almost” stemming from the fact I like Nicieza’s Graviton story, which killed off the replacement Thunderbolts and kicked off the final split-story era.

  7. Andrew says:

    I really must get around to re-reading later period Busiek-era Avengers again.

    I remember finding it underwhelming during its final year and a bit during the Kang storyline which just kept going and going. It felt very underwhelming comparative to what we were seeing over in the X-Books at the time.

    I imagine this stuff, read in a vacuum and on their own merits may hold up better.

  8. Josie says:

    Andrew, I feel like a lot of the Kang Dynasty fatigue came from the rotating artists. The opening Alan Davis issues were quite good and are still enjoyable, but it nosedives once Garcia takes over, but then, it doesn’t help that those issues are about Firebird, the Master of the World, Thor, characters I don’t really care about.

    And I remember Kieron Dwyer took the criticism of his art on those issues so personally that he . . . quit comics? Or took time off? But his art really was a step down even from the fill-ins at that point. Those are just bad-looking issues, when they were released and to this day.

    And the Busiek for some reason starts getting 9/11 syndrome, so we have an actual Holocaust issue, several post-9/11-destruction style issues . . . it’s just bad.

    The Alan Davis issues? Still good.

  9. Si says:

    I recall enjoying the Hawkeye (Kate) story with Count Nefaria as a kind of street level vampire kingpin. I don’t know enough about the character to know how accurate it was, but it was nice and creepy.

  10. Person of Con says:

    Admittedly, I don’t know if I’ve ever read a Count Nefaria story beyond the one where Thunderbird dies, but from the description here, his flamboyancy doesn’t sound that off from the current interpretation of Mr. Sinister. That approach can be done in modern comics, but it needs a careful touch. (And even then, maybe works better as a comedic inclusion than central villain.)

    I tried my best to come up with an organic way to add a “butte of the joke” pun to this post, but I just couldn’t get there.

  11. Chris V says:

    Speaking of Count Nefaria, remember in Tales of Suspense when he leveraged Morgan Stark’s outstanding gambling debts at his Monte Carlo casino in order to force Morgan to sabotage his cousin?
    Nefaria gave Morgan a machine to make Tony Stark hallucinate in order to discredit him. Iron Man thought he was hallucinating green space aliens from the Moon named after types of cheese, but it turned out that it was actually Stan Lee on mind-altering substances allowing Al Hartley to publish that story. Ah, good times.

  12. Andrew says:


    No I didn’t know that about Kieran Dwyer. That’s a really shame. The message boards online could be incredibly cruel and nasty at the time of the early 2000s. I remember all the awful things people wrote about Igor Kordey, among others for the various fill-in jobs they had to do to get several of those books back on schedule again.

    The Avengers pre-Bendis in the 2000s is really weird. We got the second half of the Busiek run which had a mixed reaction, particularly as noted for the long Kang Dynasty.

    After that we got 18 months or so of Geoff Johns which Marvel pushed really hard (including running his entire first issue for free in Wizard in mid-2002) but I recall it getting a very ho-hum reaction from fans at the time. I read it intermittently but found it underwhelming and very paint-by-numbers.

    Chuck Austen’s run is rightfully considered the absolute nadir of the Avengers line. Those issues are just awful.

    Bendis’ run has a lot of faults with it but goddamn was it better than what preceded it and it did something notable – it made people actually read the book and engage with its characters again for the first time in years.

  13. Josie says:

    “I read it intermittently but found it underwhelming and very paint-by-numbers.”

    To be fair to Johns, this was Marvel kicking off the “everything has to be a six-issue story arc” era, which to be fair, Johns had a couple four-issue stories and single issues, but his run kicked off with awful Dwyer art, then he got Coipel doing Ultimates-lite (Ultimates had just launched recently), and by the time Kolins came on, the run was ending.

    “it did something notable – it made people actually read the book and engage with its characters again for the first time in years.”

    I think Bendis deserves zero credit for this. The credit goes entirely to editorial and marketing, and maybe even to Brubaker and Ellis for having newly launched solo Avengers books that genuinely engaged readers.

  14. Josie says:

    To illustrate my point, NOBODY talks about a single story Bendis wrote from his Avengers run, except maybe Secret Invasion (and then they’re talking about the event, not the New Avengers series).

    But people still frequently and fondly talking about the Winter Soldier saga and Extremis.

  15. Mike Loughlin says:

    @Josie: these days, Bendis’s Avengers has a (deserved) bad reputation. At the time, though, “Avengers Disassembled” and New Avengers were a shot in the arm for the title sales-wise. I think you’re right that marketing had something to do with it- the hype was everywhere- but I chalk the early success to:

    – the new approach to writing the series. No one had ever written a team super-hero comic the way Bendis had. “Naturalistic,” snarky dialogue and more “character beat” scenes than action were rarer in super-hero comics back then.

    – Bendis’s success on Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil meant that he had a good reputation at the time.

    – The New Avengers line-up was unique, and included Marvel’s 2 most popular characters (Spider-Man and Wolverine).

    – “AD” was an event in a time before events became common again.

    – DAVID FINCH’S ART. I can not emphasize enough how perfectly his art captured what super-hero fans wanted. Busy, detailed surfaces and tight figure work, his art was like a cross between Jim Lee and John Buscema. His successors (Steve McNiven, Mike Deodato, Jr., etc) had similar strengths.

    Older fans hated it, and went on message boards to complain about it, but Bendis’s Avengers sold really well for a significant time. I dropped New Avengers some time before Civil War, but I remember it having buzz at least up through the Hood storyline. I can see the considerable flaws in Bendis’s writing and I never loved Finch’s art. Still, New Avengers was huge for at least a few years, and I’ll give most of the credit to its creators.

  16. CalvinPitt says:

    I’d agree there was a ton of hype for New Avengers. Spider-Man and Wolverine were gonna be on the team, together! Wow-wee!

    I was still buying Avengers thru Disassembled, so I went ahead and bought New Avengers up through “The Collective”, the last story Bendis did before Civil War tie-ins commenced.

    It seemed like it was going to be Bendis’ attempt at a classic Avengers story/threat, and the result was, to be kind, lackluster.

    That helped me realize Bendis didn’t seem able to write an Avengers book like I wanted, so I should probably stop buying the book.

  17. Andrew says:

    Yes the marketing and the hype around it was huge and the whole relaunch, talking in both the Ellis and Brubaker Cap/Iron Man books was overall excellent in getting eyes back onto those books again.

    Similarly to Heroes Reborn, it got people to pay attention and pick up books which had largely been relegated to mid-table books in the top-100, that few people actively cared about and rarely attracted top-level creators.

    Sometimes the best thing Marvel can do is to do the exact opposite of what long-term fans want if it ends up giving the books a big kick in the arse.

    That relaunch put the Avengers characters and books at the forefront of Marvel’s agenda and made them central and (for lack of a better word) more accessible than they had been in a long time.

    It’s the difference between than and DC’s repeated failures at trying to make the Legion of Super-Heroes a thing in recent decades. Those various relaunches are so impenetrable because they make little to no attempt to introduce the concept, the characters or the world they live in and go straight for deep, deep lore.

  18. Josie says:

    I don’t know why you guys keep defending it WHILE admitting it was bad.

    There was no plot. I don’t mean for the first story, or the second. I mean throughout the entire series, there was basically no plot.

    There were no character motivations. Villains vaguely wanted to grab power, and the heroes vaguely wanted to prevent them from doing this.

    David Finch is a terrible, ugly artist. Bendis got much luckier with later art teams that did all the heavy lifting for him.

    Nobody remembers those books because nothing actually happened in them. Even though characters stood around and talked the whole time, no one remembers any lines from those books either, except maybe Wolverine alluding to having relations with teenage Squirrel Girl.

  19. Mike Loughlin says:

    @Josie: I’m not defending Bendis’s early Avengers work on merit, just noting the reasons it was popular beyond marketing. Yes, it’s mostly (justifiably) ignored/forgotten now, but it sold really well for a good chunk of time.

  20. Re: Fake solicitations: It’s not quite the same thing, but there were false solications for issues #197, #198, and #199 of WALKING DEAD, which ended with a surprise triple-length issue #196.

    Re: Avengers Disassembled: I was already souring on Bendis after realizing I accidentally skipped an issue of POWERS and literally *nothing* happened in it. Disassembled was, to my eye, a shitshow of “let’s wreck things for no discernible reason”, and I just gave up him entirely. (That was also right after the hiatus in his DAREDEVIL run, which went from brill to naff in the five months he was away.) Never really looked back.

  21. To be fair, there are three skrull stories, if you include “what happened to those skrulls that turned into cows and forgot they were skrulls?”

  22. “This plotline strikes me as an example of nostalgia overtaking storytelling.”

    I think Perez drew that original Nefaria story, so it’s possible that he requested the villain for his big farewell story.

    I have no idea if that’s the case, but if it was Perez’s own nostalgia that drove it, I will allow it.

  23. Busiek’s Avengers did sort of dribble to a halt, but I did enjoy the preamble and setup to the Kang Dynasty arc, even if it was a bit choppy and seemed to change focus somewhere around the middle.

    (It started out as this sort of Authority-esque pre-emptive superheroing thing, but then Kang turns up which I think was supposed to illustrate that such an approach is what villains do, except that doesn’t really come across, and then it goes into standard Kang is Bad stuff with a side order of post-apocalypse, and ends with a giant Captain America fighting a giant Kang in space. Very odd.)

    And I’d still take it over what followed. I was fairly excited about Johns, going by his reputation at DC at the time, but my gosh it was dull at best and garbage at worst. Austen’s run is probably the worst run of Avengers comics I’ve ever read, and I only say “probably” because Bendis was pretty awful too.

  24. (Oh, and I vaguely recall that a handful of other comics *did* acknowledge that Kang flattened DC and conquered the planet, but I don’t remember the details. One of the lesser Spider-Man titles maybe?)

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