This week sees the debut of the new Avengers comics featuring a new line-up of the classic team. Originally formed as a kind of answer to the Distinguished Competition’s Justice League of America, the Avengers consisted of Marvel’s headliners; Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Ant/Giant Man and the Wasp. The team mainly squabbled amongst themselves and often mistrusted one another. Thor’s mystical background clashed with Iron Man’s technological edge, Giant Man’s ego demanded that he take every opportunity to prove himself, the Wasp flirted with everyone to get Giant Man jealous and the Hulk… well… he hated everyone. The Avengers operated in large part thanks to the leadership and financial support of the Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark.
After fighting the Hulk and Sub Mariner in the arctic wastes, the Avengers discovered Captain America’s body trapped in a cake of ice. The arrival of Captain America drastically changed the team dynamic and team leader Iron Man could recognize this right away. In time, the team disintegrated, leaving Captain America as the only member. An emergency membership drive attracted the attention of both the Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver who sought to mend their ways from villainy and saw this as the perfect opportunity to re-brand themselves as heroes. The misunderstood brash bowman Hawkeye joined up for the same reason and soon the group consisted of an unlikely assemblage soon nick-named ‘Cap’s Kooky Quartet.’
This line-up lacked the firepower of Iron Man, the muscle of Thor and the brains of Giant Man, causing many villains (most likely mirroring the reaction of readers) to view this as a sign of weakness. This demanded that the team get their act together and operate as a team for once.
Captain America’ leadership formed the awkward team into a trim fighting unit. The blustering blow-hard Hawkeye often butted heads with the star-spangled avenger but in truth he respected the man he called an ‘old war horse.’ The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver struggled with their belief that as mutants they were superior to humans and outcasts. Both possessed abilities that were often unpredictable and difficult to manage, but again the leadership and tactical skills of Captain America came into play to use their powers to the team’s advantage.
If pressed, I’d say that this is my favorite Avengers line-up. The team was constantly struggling against overwhelming odds and had only their reliance on each other and trust to co-operate as a team to get through their many challenges. This formed the basis of what made the Avengers unique from this point on. They were not the strongest or most powerful heroes but when they worked together the Avengers were a formidable force to be reckoned with.
As is often the case, the line-up shifted several times with the biggest alteration being the departure of Captain America. The arrival of Black Panther, the Vision, Hercules, and return of Giant Man as the ‘man mountain’ Goliath and Iron Man fleshed the team out again making it seem more like an all star cast of heroes similar to the original line-up. But the inclusion of Hawkeye always kept the book feeling like the Avengers to me. With members of the team consisting of mythological gods and super-powered androids, Hawkeye kept the book grounded somewhat with his street-level approach.
I became a fan of the book in the 80′s when the Beast and Wonder Man formed a kind of double act in the team and the sultry Ms.Marvel brought a kind of sexy allure to the series. The artwork of George Perez made the Avengers a knock-out series for me. The decade closed with a wonderful run by Roger Stern and artist John Buscema. As team leader the Wasp was in a constant struggle to gain the acceptance of the team as Hercules resented her and the Black Knight was hopelessly attracted to her (and considering she was drawn by Buscema and Palmer who can blame him!?). The mansion itself was invaded by the Masters of Evil and the humble butler Jarvis assaulted. It was a major upset for the team and paved the path toward darker times. Dr. Druid arrived and in time was revealed to be a villain who threatened the lives of the Avengers after allying with the time-traveling despot Kang the Conqueror. Even considering the events of recent years, this remains the most dynamic run on the Avengers that I have read to date.
The 90′s saw another major upset in the line-up. No longer an agent of the government, Steve Rogers was known simply as ‘The Captain’ and his new team included Thor, Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman as members along with Gilgamesh, the Forgotten One. It has to be the weirdest line-up I have ever seen but in some ways it worked because it was so odd.
The 21st Century Avengers promised to be an entirely different beast and it delivered. Both traditional and new team members blended together forming what would be a completely new way of looking at what the Avengers were all about. After Wolverine and Spider-Man were revealed as members, it was clear to readers that this was going to be something different. The Civil War and death of Captain America split the team in two.
The take-over of Norman Osborn’s Cabal of villains split the team in three as a new distorted image of the team called the Dark Avengers was revealed. Villains Bulleye, Daken, Venom, and Moonstone posed as the time-honored heroes Hawkeye, Wolverine Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel. Joined by Ares the god of war and the cross-dimensional champion Captain Marvel, this team was led by Norman Osborn in a bastardized version of Stark’s armor as the Iron Patriot.
The events of Siege have brought the heroes of the Marvel Universe back together again to usher in a new Heroic Age. History repeated itself as Steve Rogers was born again and landed a much-needed left hook on Osborn’s jaw, thus ending the Dark Reign of the Cabal. With this tonal shift in the MU, a new iteration of Avengers is on its way. Promising a return to the hey day of adventure, Brian Michael Bendis will be helming two series with Ed Brubaker on Secret Avengers and Christos Gage’s Avengers Academy filling out the four slots left open by the previous series.
The new line-up of the Avengers is still under wraps, but images of Wolverine, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America (Bucky Barnes), the Thing, Spider-Woman and Spider-Man have been shown as members. Fans of the Avengers have been frustrated since Bendis arrived with his story that disassembled the team entirely only to reform it anew. In time the direction of this new Avengers became clearer and the title was hailed as a major success, eclipsing the X-Men in sales to everyone’s surprise. The Heroic Age will now challenge the sensibilities of those readers who enjoyed the darker more sophisticated tales as swashbuckling adventures take the fore once again.
Make sure to check out the new Avengers this month!