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Thursday, May 3, 2012

To Better Know a Team: The Avengers

Unless you've been living under a pop culture rock lately, it's no secret that tomorrow marks the debut of Marvel's much-hyped, years-in-the-making blockbuster feature film starring the Avengers. In an effort to piggy back on that hype and to enable our readers to nod approvingly at whatever winks to the fans are included in the movie, here's a look at Earth's Mightiest Heroes (and here are links to past "To Better Know a Hero" profiles on the various Avengers appearing in the film: Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, and Iron Man).  

First Appearance
The Avengers #1, Sept. 1963

Roll Call
After nearly fifty years of history, the Avengers have at one time or another, called a vast number of heroes members, making their roster a veritable Who's Who of the Marvel Universe. Founding Members: Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man (Pym) and the Wasp. Honorary Founder: Captain America. Members: Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman, Hercules, Black Panther, Vision, Black Knight, Black Widow, Mantis, Beast, Moondragon, Hellcat, Two-Gun Kid, Whizzer, Wonder Man, Ms. Marvel, Falcon, Tigra, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel (Rambeau), Starfox, War Machine, Mockingbird, Thing, Firebird, Moon Knight, USAgent, Human Torch (Hammond), Living Lightning, Spider-Woman (Carpenter), Machine Man, Darkhawk, Sub-Mariner, Ant-Man (Lang), Doctor Druid, Demolition Man, Gilgamesh, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Quasar, Sersi, Spider-Man, Stingray, Rage, Sandman, Crystal, Thunderstrike, Justice, Firestar, Triathlon, Silverclaw, Jack of Hearts, Lionheart, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Sentry, Echo, Iron Fist, Dr. Strange, Ares, Captain America (Barnes), Spider-Woman (Drew), Amadeus Cho, Maria Hill, Speedball, Ant-Man (O'Grady), Nova, Captain Britain, Flux, Red Hulk, Quake, Storm, Daredevil, Venom. Honorary Members: Rick Jones, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell), Jocasta, Moira Brandon, Marrina, Yellowjacket (DeMara), Swordsman (Javert), Magdalene, Deathcry, Masque.


Headquarters
Current: Stark Tower, midtown Manhattan. Former: Avengers Mansion, 890 Fifth Ave, Avenger's Island (aka Hydrobase), Avengers Compound (headquarters of the West Coast branch), Dr. Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum, and Steve Roger's loft.


Nicknames and Aliases
Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Assemblers. 
Weaknesses and Achilles' Heels
Government oversight, internal strife, members with a proclivity for creating killer robots and/or going crazy and endangering the entire team.

 
Gadgets and Accessories
The Avengers chief mode of transportation is the Wakanda-designed Quinjet. Some members also occasionally use Stark-designed Sky Cycles.


Friends and Allies
Edwin Jarvis, longtime butler of the Stark family and keep of the Avengers' headquarters, The Fantastic Four, SHIELD, occasionally the X-Men.


Foes and Antagonists
The Masters of Evil, Ultron, Kang the Conqueror, Loki, A.I.M, HYDRA, Lethal Legion, Legion of the Unliving, Graviton, the Wrecking Crew, Count Nefaria.


Movies and Appearances
TV-wise, though stalwart members like Captain America and Iron Man have been featured in various cartoons since the 60s, and a good chunk of the West Coast branch of the Avengers appeared as the supporting cast in the mid 90s Iron Man cartoon, the Avengers didn't headline their own show until Avengers: United They Stand. It was besotted with the trappings of the 90s (ie lots of armor and bad character designs), and wasn't very good.


Currently, the Avengers are featured in the fantastic Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes on Disny XD, which does a masterful job of telling entry-level Avengers stories with a variety of characters while still drawing on the team's vast history.


And, of course, the Avengers' live action feature film opens in theaters tomorrow.


One Sentence Origin
Brought together by chance to defeat the evil of Loki, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp, the mightiest heroes of the day, decided to band together against the foes no single hero could withstand as the Avengers!


Memorable Moment
Ultron has conquered the Eastern European nation of Slorenia, purging it of its human population, capturing a contingent of Avengers and threatening to conquer the world. Captain America leads a smaller force into the country and they proceed to fight their way through an army of nearly indestructible Ultron duplicates. Finally, battered and broken but unwavering in their resolve, the Avengers reach Ultron:


Fun Fact 
It wasn't until issue #14 that the Avengers' famous rallying cry ("Avengers Assemble!") was used; prior to that, Stan Lee had tried several other variations on the phrase, like "Avengers attack!" before settling on the now famous catch-phrase.


Teebore's Take
Within the Marvel Universe, the Avengers have long been billed as the "Earth's Mightiest Heroes", counting amongst their ranks the best, smartest, most skilled or most powerful of heroes. But until recently, the Avengers were never Marvel's flagship characters. In the early days of Marvel, that honor fell to Fantastic Four, the title that launched the modern era of Marvel Comics. Once the home to the best collaborations between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, for many years that was the title up-and-coming writers and artists wanted to cut their teeth on. Then, as the X-Men grew in popularity starting in the late 70s and into the 80s, eventually becoming Marvel's best selling title, they became the bread-and-butter of the company. Only within the last ten years, beginning with Brian Michael Bendis taking over the title (and quickly "disassembling" the team in favor of an even more all-star lineup that included Marvel mainstays but Avengers neophytes Spider-Man and Wolverine) and, arguably, climaxing in the release of the Avengers' feature film, have "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" also been Marvel's mightiest heroes.


The existence of an Avengers feature film is, in and of itself, mind-boggling, even in this day and age of comic book blockbuster films. That it came about the way it did is even more amazing. The Avengers of the comics were, unlike the Fantastic Four or the X-Men, comprised from the beginning of characters assembled from other titles. Like the Justice League over at DC, it was an all-star team comprised of characters who had a made a name for themselves in their own books before banding together as a team. Once Marvel launched their own film studio, enabling them to control the film rights of the vast majority of their characters, they set about replicating that approach on film: debut the various Avengers characters in their own movies before ultimately putting them all together in one movie as the Avengers. Whether the film itself is any good (and I have high hopes) the fact that it even exists, and that Marvel's plan has worked thus far, is amazing. It's a risky business model for movies, one with as many chances (if not more) to fail as to succeed. But Marvel pulled it off, and that's pretty amazing.


The Avengers have always been my second favorite "franchise" in comics (after the X-Men, of course). Whereas I was always drawn to the thematic core of the X-Men, the appeal of the Avengers was a lot more visceral: they were simply the best and the brightest heroes in the Marvel Universe facing larger-than-life foes. Avengers took the all-star approach of the Justice League and added a touch of that patented Marvel angst that even the most respected heroes in the Marvel Universe couldn't avoid (of course, The Avengers also came with a complex and sprawling back story of character histories and significant events that made the promise of exploring the team's history all the more exciting to this new reader). But one of the other appealing things about the Avengers comes from reading stories in which wildly disparate characters, not just in temperament but in genre, work together. The original Avengers were an odd mix of characters drawn from magical, sci-fi, horror and traditional super-heroic backgrounds that all somehow managed to function in the same stories. That eclectic mix continues to this day, and for me, watching the Avengers go from, say, battling an army of super-villains to Greek gods to robots is a huge part of the series' charm.
  


5 comments:

Sarah Ahiers said...

Man, he hit her pretty hard there... ;-)

Also, i love that quote from Thor. Best Thor Quote EVAH.

Finally, we're seeing this tomorrow (natch) with our parents (natch) who still haven't seen Thor.
I know we're going to have a lot of questions to field after the movie

Dr. Bitz said...

I have this thought in my head of Tony Stark going out to bars late and night, getting smashed and then making random people who buys him a drink an honory Avenger.

Also...you said climax...

Jeff said...

The last hour of Avengers might be the most awesome thing ever.

Teebore said...

@Sarah: Man, he hit her pretty hard there... ;-)

NO ONE TALKS BACK TO HANK PYM!

@Dr. Bitz: I have this thought in my head of Tony Stark going out to bars late and night, getting smashed and then making random people who buys him a drink an honory Avenger.

Ha! Given some of the people who've been named Honorary Avengers, I wouldn't be surprised if that's what happens sometimes.

"Thanks for the Jag Bomb! Welcome to the Avengershhh! Avengershhh memberships for all!"

Also...you said climax...

Giggity.

@Jeff: The last hour of Avengers might be the most awesome thing ever.

Pretty much, yeah.

Harry Sewalski said...

Only within the last ten years, beginning with Brian Michael Bendis taking over the title (and quickly "disassembling" the team in favor of an even more all-star lineup that included Marvel mainstays but Avengers neophytes Spider-Man and Wolverine) and, arguably, climaxing in the release of the Avengers' feature film, have "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" also been Marvel's mightiest heroes.

With due respect, I'd argue that they've been Marvel's Mightiest Heroes since the Busiek/PĂ©rez run, since that's by far one of the most popular runs (if not the most popular).

It's a bit of a pity that the Avengers haven't had many amazing runs - aside from those that have already been mentioned, Roger Stern's run and (arguably) the first #100-odd issues are the only ones which really stand out to me from the top of my head. (Although come to think of it, I think that Englehart's run is supposedly not too bad).