Avengers Anniversary Assemble!

Originally written May 19, 2004

The Earth’s Mightiest Heroes celebrate their 40th anniversary

By Avi Green

And now, I’d like to celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of Marvel’s most exciting teams: The Avengers!

Many years ago, there came a day, or a week, or a month, whichever sounds best, in which Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, two of comicdom’s most famous writers, united to lay out the framework for what would become one of Marvel’s most colorful teams. An elite task force for guarding the safety of the country and the planet that would be recognized and respected by many nations across the globe, battling supervillains and other sinister foes whom no one superhero could take on alone.

The team as it was first formed consisted of at least six characters: Iron Man, the main founding member, Thor, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and even the Hulk, who’d been shoehorned into the book sometime after his own book, when first launched, went on hiatus for 5 years after failing initially in sales, as well as Rick Jones, the college student and longtime pal of Bruce Banner who’d been trying to serve as a guide for him ever since he’d been transformed into the jade giant. Tony Stark, the chairman of Stark Industries and Iron Man’s alias, was also the financier for the team, and provided them with their very first headquarters in New York, where Edwin Jarvis, his butler, would perform double service as butler for both Tony and the Avengers, and would also assist them in communicative needs and forge many great friendships with the many members as well.

But while Iron Man certainly proved to be a good team leader at the beginning, he would soon be surpassed in the leadership by Captain America/Steve Rogers, who’d been thawed out of an iceberg in which he’d been frozen since an accident he’d been through near the end of the Second World War. Upon his return to the world as we know it, he resettled in New York and prepared to resume his duty to the world as the Sentinel of Liberty again.

Cap, while he’s certainly got super-human strength, is still far from being as powerful as some of the other heroes to join the Avengers, but that’s not what makes him a leader – it’s his brains, strategic planning and experience as a fighter that do. And that’s what’s made such a great chairman for the EMH when he ascended the position years ago, and the great character he is.

Rick Jones even became an assisstant to Cap for sometime as well as the Hulk. This was during the time that Loki, Thor’s half-brother and leading archnemesis, had framed the Hulk for committing sabotage in order to draw the attention of the God of Thunder. Rick was trying to contact the Fantastic Four, who became good friends and allies themselves with the Avengers, but thanks to some interference from Loki, he ended up meeting Thor and the Avengers instead, and they came to deal with Hulk, subsequently exonerating him of any charges, and invited him to join the team as well.

Cap tended to treat Rick to some extent with extreme caution, due to the knowledge that his late teen sidekick, Bucky Barnes, had perished in the explosion that ended up causing him to be frozen on ice, and opposed letting Rick become a full time member. And while there was one time when Rick did wear a costume in Cap’s own book, most of the time, he went around wearing his own plain clothes! It sure does sound odd, but, that’s how it was for Rick Jones back then.

As for Ant-Man, Hank Pym, he teamed up with Janet Van Dyne, the daughter of one of his science collegues, Vernon Van Dyne, who’d been murdered by an alien villian from the planet Kosmos. Using his skills, he gave her superhuman abilities too, and she took on the crimefighting career of the Wasp. He later became Giant-Man, coming possibly second to Thor in terms of strength. The Avengers would later go on to aquire new members, even sometimes switching current cast members for other ones. These included the twin children of the X-Men’s archnemesis, Magneto, that being the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, alias Wanda and Piotr Maximoff (they’d been raised by a family in Europe other than Magneto, whose real name is Erik Magnus Lensherr, hence, their last name is different from his). The two former members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants joined in Avengers #15, vol 1. after quitting their father’s crooked gang during the same month, May 1965, in issue #11 of The X-Men. Back then, Wanda’s “semi face mask” was drawn rather wide, but luckily wasn’t too detracting from the character design. Piotr still wore his green-colored costume, but subsequently changed to a gray-colored one that suited him more in the role of former baddie turned good. Both would go on to become some of the most popular members of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, both are among my top favorites too. They’re among the liveliest and most appealing of the EMH, and both even show that mutants and metahumans can work well together.

Other notable members over the years have included Vision, a red skinned character described as a “synthezoid” created by the Avengers’ robotic foe Ultron to use as a weapon against them but who instead defected to join them, who’s also been one of the many hearts that give the Avengers their driving force. And then, there’s Warbird/Carol Susan Jane Danvers, a former USAF officer and intelligence agent for NASA who first gained superpowers on an adventure with the first Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell of the Kree, now deceased), and began her career as Ms. Marvel (love that codename!). Later, after losing her initial set of powers to the mutant Rogue, later a member of the X-Men, she gained new ones after an encounter with the alien race known as the Brood, and could manipulate stellar energy. She then adopted the codename of Binary for some time, and finally, her current one, Warbird, which may very well be the best one she’s had in her whole crimefighting career. And then, most notable of the many de-facto alien characters to join the Avengers, there’s Quasar, aka Wendell Vaughn, a guy with a costume that looks like a window to the star-studded galaxy, a former SHIELD agent who was gifted with powers by an ancient, wise alien named Eon, who appointed Quasar to be “Protector of the Universe”.

Unlike DC’s own superteam, the Justice League of America, where the idea is simply to have some good, clean fun and excitement, and where the personalities are secondary to the action, many of the members of the Avengers, just like Spider-Man and the X-Men, had realistic problems and other matters to deal with. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver sometimes contemplated how they were once persecuted refugees in Europe, Ant-Man and the Wasp married but later divorced, and Hank Pym even suffered a series of mental breakdowns, ended up in bankruptcy, and even got jailed for treason after being framed by one of his old foes, Egghead, who’d tricked him into helping him in an allgedly non-criminal action before finally recovering both his mental and financial stability. Warbird even became addicted to alcohol a few years ago, which led to her facing a court-martial by the Avengers and briefly resigned the team before returning and even attending an Alcoholics Anonymous program.

Over the years, the Avengers aquired not only a flamboyant list of members, but also many awesome and menacing enemies too: Ultron, Baron Zemo, Korvac, Nefaria, Melter, the Grim Reaper, the shape-changing Skrulls, Ronan the Accuser, Morgan Le Fay, Absorbing Man, the Lava-Men, Gray Gargoyle, some of whom formed a rogues gallery group called the Masters of Evil. But their most menacing foe of all to date is surely Kang the Conqueror, a warlord from the 30th century who wanted to rule time in its entirety who first made his debut in Avengers #8, September 1964, vol 1. Kang is said to be a future decendant of the Fantastic Four’s own archnemesis, Doctor Doom, and he even once met with him in the 20th century. The earliest period in the Marvel universe in which he spent time was ancient Egypt, travelling there in a time machine shaped like a Sphinx, where he ruled as a pharoh named Rama Tut. He even subsequently conquered several other timelines as well in the far future. But it was not enough for him, and so he came back to the 20th century, where he came face to face with the Avengers, and has lost his battles with them every time, but not without giving them a hard time, every time he fought them.

Some of the Avengers’ most famous battles to date include the Kree-Skrull War, in which, thanks to a series of events masterminded by three cunning members of the Skrulls, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and even their allies from SHIELD and the Inhumans find themselves caught in the middle of a very complex battle between the Skrulls and the Kree. And there’s also Celestial Madonna, in which three “wise men” from tomorrow, being in this case three villains from the future, try to possess the power of the cosmic being, the Celestial Madonna for themselves, and only the Avengers can stop them. And much kudos must be given to Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, and artists Neal Adams and Sal Buscema for the steller writing and drawing jobs they did on this book. The Thomas/Adams/Englehart era is probably by far the best of the Avengers’ run to date.

There have also been some bad times in the history of the Avengers’ publication history, however. Former Marvel editor Jim Shooter’s run on the book from the late 1980’s is probably by far the weakest period, and if there’s anything most notably awful about that time, it’s that all the women characters were treated very badly under Shooter’s writing. Luckily, along came Kurt Busiek a few years later and jazzed up the Avengers again. Busiek’s run in the recent years since the post-Heros Reborn era is probably the best, and one of the things I liked best about it was that in contrast to Jim Shooter, Busiek wrote some very strong characterizations for the women in the team. In the Kang War, the best by far was the issue that spotlighted Warbird. And the artwork by Alan Davis and Mark Famer –oh my!- was some of the most colorful and appealing from the past years.

All in all, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have had their ups and downs, but overall, it’s one of the most consistently entertaining team titles from Marvel, and with some of the best artwork too. And I hope for there to be many more exciting adventures for years to come. If you’re not reading the Avengers yet, please do. It’s a wonderful ride you’ll enjoy tremendously with many facinating and appealing characters to grace its many team lineups over the years.

Copyright 2003-2004 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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