AVENGERS SCORE CARD
A Refresher Course in Marvel History from L.L. Soares
When X-MEN: FIRST CLASS came out last year, I wrote an article comparing the movie to the “real” first class of X-Men from the comics. People seemed to like the refresher course in Marvel Comics history, so I figured I’d do the same thing with THE AVENGERS.
So how accurate is the new movie version of Marvel’s THE AVENGERS in comparison with how the group really came together? Well, the movies are always going to rewrite history for their own reasons, but in some ways, things are pretty close to the source material this time around. Let’s take a look.
Back in September 1963, Marvel was just starting out, and had introduced a bunch of brand new superheroes on an unsuspecting public. Remember, DC Comics already had a bunch of characters from the past to draw from—like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman—but Marvel had to start fresh in the early 60s. They already had one superhero team, THE FANTASTIC FOUR (which was also the first official Marvel superhero comic book), but what about all those other characters that had been created in the meantime? Why not get a bunch of them and put them together in a team that could really kick the butt of any big-time foe? And so AVENGERS # 1 came out.
And the original AVENGERS were born.
(Note: They weren’t even the only AVENGERS back then! In the 60s, there was a popular British TV show also called THE AVENGERS (1961- 1969) starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg as classy super spies!)
So who was in that first team? Well, Thor was there, so was Iron Man. They were two of Marvel’s heavy hitters right from the start.
A lot of people either find it hard to believe that the Hulk was an original member, or they will scratch their heads and ask “But he was one of the DEFENDERS, wasn’t he?” However, both are true. Hulk was in the original Avengers, although he only lasted a few issues before he took off. He wasn’t really that much of a team player back then. And yes, the Hulk was also a member of DEFENDERS, another superhero team, which first assembled in Marvel Feature # 1, in 1971. That team was made up of some of the more “rebellious” characters in the Marvel Universe, including Namor the Submariner, Dr. Strange, and the Silver Surfer (and were eventually joined by memorable Defenders Valkyrie and Nighthawk, and a rotating cast of others). Somehow, Hulk was able to stick with the Defenders for a lot longer than his time in the Avengers. I was never sure why. He just never seemed like a very cooperative character to me.
Captain America didn’t join the team until AVENGERS # 4, when the supersoldier from World War II was discovered frozen in ice. But he became an indispensable member of the team very quickly and became the heart and the conscience of The Avengers.
Also in the original Avengers were Ant Man and the Wasp, a guy and a gal who could reduce themselves to the size of insects. Scientist Henry Pym and his partner Janet Van Dyne had previously appeared in the comic book called TALES TO ASTONISH, which would eventually showcase stories of the Hulk (and a little later, the Submariner as well). Pym was the one who would invent various cool weapons for the group. And by the time Captain America shows up in issue 4, he had already decided bigger was better and changed his superhero identity from Ant Man to Giant Man.
Where do the Black Widow and Hawkeye come into this? Well, they were both Avengers, just not right away. The funny thing is, both of them first appeared in the pages of TALES OF SUSPENSE, which was where Iron Man stories were published before he got his own comic book, and both of them began as Iron Man’s villains! In those days, most of Iron Man’s villains were either Russian or Chinese (making him probably the most political superhero of his day, even though, unfortunately, a lot of those storylines seem very dated now because of their timeliness back then). Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow was originally a Russian spy (and a bit of a seductress) with exceptional fighting abilities (she first appeared in Tales of Suspense # 52) and Hawkeye first appeared as a carnival archer with exceptional skill who was seduced by the Widow to help her in her attempts to defeat Iron Man (Hawkeye first appeared in TOS #57). So they do actually have a long history together. As you already know, both of them became good guys, with Hawkeye joining the Avengers in issue # 16. But since that time, he’s been one of the most recognizable and steady members of the Avengers. Meanwhile, the Black Widow would come and go, because she often had other matters to attend to (including a brief stint as Daredevil’s “sidekick” in the early 1970s).
And was Loki really the bad guy back then who brought the Avengers together? Well, yes he was! Except in AVENGERS # 1 he was able to take on the appearance of the Hulk to cause some chaos that brought the rest of the Avengers together to stop him, culminating in the rest of the team fighting the Hulk. There weren’t any aliens in the skies helping Loki back then.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander Nick Fury had nothing to do with the Avengers back then. In fact, he was just starting out as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. himself, after a stint in World War II (in one of Marvel’s few war comics, SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS). The movies have cleverly been using him as the one who brought the team together, but back in the 1960s, he was too busy fighting the evil forces of the secret organization HYDRA.
Throughout the 60s, there were lots more interesting members of the team, including the android The Vision (one of my favorites) who would control his density at will. And the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, two original members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants who started out as X-Men villains and came over to the side of good (there seemed to be a lot of bad guys turning good back then). Also members at different times were the Black Panther (an African prince turned superhero, who had first appeared in the pages of THE FANTASTIC FOUR), the demigod Hercules (who came from the pages of THOR) and the lesser known Swordsman, the Black Knight, and a one-shot character named Wonder Man (who first appeared and then “died” in AVENGERS # 9), but who would show up again a decade or so later to become a prominent member of the team.
By the time the 70s came around, the team expanded further and had a rotating cast of characters as various members joined, left, and rejoined again.
So the movie is actually more faithful to the source material than it first appears. But this is the “way it began” for the Avengers in the comic books, where they originated.
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares