It occurred to me that, many times when I bring up forgotten Avengers moments, they all seem to come from the same general era: the run written by one-time Marvel editor-in-chief Bob Harras, with much of the artwork done by Steve Epting. Not everything that was screwy about the Avengers came from the book, such as Captain America forced to wear a mech suit to move around when the Supersoldier Serum stopped working or Eric Masterson’s time as Thor, but those things happened then. Alternate dimension Swordsman? Yeah. Sersi’s insanity and forced bonding to the Black Knight? Yeah, that was then. Crystal joining and being one side of a love triangle with the aforementioned Black Knight and Sersi? Yes. The Black Knight basically ditching his Ebony Blade in favor of what looked like a lightsaber? Yes. The majority of Rage’s time on the team before he left when they figured out he was too young? To be fair, Harras didn’t write the issue when Rage left, but it was during that run.
Well, everyone has to start somewhere, and Harras’s first storyarc was a six issue story involving new villains the Brethern and their leader Thane Ector.
Thane Ector’s first appearance, along with the rest of the Brethren, was in Avengers #334 in May of 1991. Harras was the new writer, and this was the special six-part, biweekly storyline that some Marvel books did back then, essentially producing 15 issues a year, and with a six-parter in the summer with new issues coming out every two weeks instead of the usual monthly. And while Epting would be the artist on the majority of both this storyline and Harras’s run as writer, Andy Kubert handled art chores for the first issue.
Anyway, on the Blue Area of the Moon near where the Inhumans called home, there’s a disturbance and a group of four is sent to investigate in the form of two Inhumans, one of whom was Karnak, one Alpha Primitive who may or may not be an Inhuman but I’m not sure, and Quicksilver, a member of the Royal Family through his marriage to Crystal. There’s a downed ship in there, and when the group found a forcefield even Karnak could find no weaknesses for, they were all ambushed and captured by the Brethren and their leader Thane Ector. Most of them were just a motley collection of weirdos, but there was also Ector’s bethrothed Sybil Dorn, and this kinda monkey-lookin’ guy who was just Ector’s Fool.
Since both Gorgon and Blackbolt were unable to get through the forcefield, Crystal and Lockjaw went to the Avengers for help. Combining powers got the forcefield down, and Quicksilver tried to warn the people coming in.
Ector grabbed him. Dude grabbed Quicksilver running at superspeed without breaking a sweat.
The initial battle with the Avengers and the Inhumans seemed to hit a stalemate even without Ector’s help, so after killing the Alpha Primitive as a way of declaring war or something, the Brethren teleported to Earth to cause more trouble. The Avengers then checked inside the ship and discovered the Collector unconscious inside, so whatever these guys were, they knocked out an Elder of the Universe. Captain America figured they needed to do something on both ends, so he had Quasar act as support for reservist scientists Hank Pym (who could only grow and shrink anything other than himself during this period), Black Panther, and Beast to look into the ship while the others took on the Brethren. The first battle in Paris went so-so, particularly when Cap took on Ector alone and was beaten almost to death…and oddly enough, with a lot less microbes in his body.
Without Cap’s leadership, the Avengers didn’t do very well. But back on the Collector’s ship, oh man, was there an origin story. Hank shrunk the others because, well darn, the Collector found the Brethren once and added them to his collection of shrunken alien races. But they didn’t stay in their exhibit and broke loose, invading other spaces until they broke out and attacked the Collector himself, landing on the Blue Area of the Moon. So, who were the Brethren? Deep in the bowls of the Collector’s species collection was a spot where there wasn’t anything alive except for a single, very old member of the Brethren, the oldest one of his race, and he spilled the beans.
The Brethren were germs.
Yeah, that’s their secret.
See, the Celestials made them as a balance to the Eternals, using them to clear planets of all life if said planet was judged to be unworthy of continued existence. The Brethren, somewhat able to alter their form as needed, fed off microbes, and when they were done, there was nothing left. After a while, the Celestials apparently stopped using them, so the Brethren just did what they always did until the Collector found them.
Oh, and being essentially a sentient disease is a huge shame, so most of the Brethren don’t know this. The Thane does. And Thanes always have a brother. When the two are told the secret, the one that goes insane becomes the fool and the one who doesn’t becomes the leader. So, yes, the Fool was Ector’s brother. Ector, it should be worth noting, while strong enough to smack Hercules around without much trouble, felt deep shame and didn’t want to eat, leading to a curious scene where he resisted as long as possible when he and the Fool were in a New York City sewer before stooping down and starting to drink the water.
You know, this is a lot of material for a group that basically only appeared in exactly one storyline.
Of course, if they only appeared once, it doesn’t mean the Avengers defeated them. How did they lose in the end? Simple: the Brethren weren’t the bad guys here. They were just doing what they were built to do. No, the real villain was the Collector since he was faking the whole “they beat me and left” bit so he could wreck Earth enough to collect both Earth and the Brethren.
It actually came down to Ector to save the day. The Collector reduced the other Brethren to formless blobs, so Sersi helped Ector form a Uni-Mind to defeat the Collector. Since the Brethren were built by the Celestials, they could do that, but the stress of the process killed all the Brethren, even the Thane.
So, yeah. After something that bonkers, it was decided to leave Harras on the book for a while. To be fair, the Avengers were not then what they are now in terms of recognition, but yeah. That was the start of a lot of crazy.