A Brief History of the Avengers
With the release of the newest Avengers film, I feel it’s only necessary that we take a look back. Way, way back into the very beginnings of a certain superhero team that call themselves the Avengers. There is over six decades of history to read into there, so I’ll try to keep this as concise as possible. Just remember though, the Avengers are a team that has had many, many different rosters and I probably won’t cover every single one of those teams. Instead, think of this as a bit of a highlight reel of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. And, for the sake of my own sanity, I’m only going with the 616 universe here. That means you won’t be reading about the history of the Ultimates or any of that jazz. Just good old Avengers lovin’.
The 1960’s, the time of the counter-culture, Vietnam and the Cold War. Also, the decade that birthed the Avengers. When a group of heroes that included Iron Man, Ant Man, Wasp, Thor and Hulk all came together to defeat Loki, they realized how effective they were as a team. Hank Pym being the incredible intellectual mind that he is, dubbed the group Avengers because it totally made sense. Probably. But of course, everyone knows that this line up is missing one very important central figure: Captain America. But you have to remember, at this time Cap was still frozen in a block of ice somewhere in the Arctic. It would take the entirety of the Avengers fighting an enraged Namor the Sub-Mariner after chasing a missing Hulk to find the old Cap-sicle, thaw him out and offer him a permanent position on the team. Oh yeah, this was about four issues in to the original run. So in that time, the team had already seen one member flee and another be thawed from a block of ice and offered a job. It truly was a simpler time.
And would you believe me if I told you that the Avengers first fought Ultron in this decade. Granted, it was against a very different team that really only had a single member of the founding five: Captain America. This story line did lead to a rather iconic character joining the ranks of the Avengers. The android Vision (making his first appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron!), although created by Ultron, turned on his father/creator and fought the good fight with the Avengers.
The 1970’s was a time of change for the Avengers. This decade saw many, many lineup changes as well as different sorts of fights for the Avengers. For one, the Avengers started dabbling in alternate dimensions as well as interstellar battles. In fact, they were pretty integral in the Kree-Skrull War. This period also saw the romance between Vision and Scarlet Witch blossom, which, as serious Marvel fans know, went on to have some very, very serious implications for the Marvel Universe down the line.
All of the shakeup with Kree-Skrull War took its toll on the team as the government began to pay closer attention to superheroes as a whole. This lead to the departure of several members such as Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye, but the arrival of some classic characters such as Ms. Marvel and Falcon. And I kid you not, Falcon is literally an affirmative action hire. How utterly time period appropriate.
The 1980’s was a good time for comics in general, and the Avengers were no different. This decade brought about some pretty awesome, emotional and bizarre story lines that actually brought some interesting focus to individual members of the team. Vision and Scarlet Witch continued to be an important element as well. The duo, thanks to some weird reality manipulation by Scarlet Witch, have a couple of children. That’s right. An android and a woman have children together. Comics, man. But things get even weirder when it is revealed that the children aren’t even real and were in fact a creation of the demon Mephisto. So with the children gone and Vision being disassembled by the government after going a bit egomaniacal, Scarlet Witch went pretty much insane. As I said before, the Scarlet Witch/ Vision saga makes shockwaves in the Marvel Universe for decades. This was only the first ripples.
The 1980’s also saw some division in the Avengers in that there was literally another Avengers team, called the West Coast Avengers operating concurrently with the main team. The 1980’s also saw some pretty standard story threads for the Avengers as well. Loki attempted a grand plan and was foiled. The government got in the way of the teams operations. Several random heroes came and went as members. Spider-Man tried to join again. You know, the normal stuff.
If you asked some old school comics readers, they may tell you that the 1990’s was a pretty weird time for comics. A lot of writers felt the need to write much darker story lines filled with super-violence, death and despair. You might identify any comic frame from the 90’s by the incredibly muscular men, impossibly busty women and a ridiculous amount of pouches on everyone’s super suits. Hey, they were just trying to match the popularity of Wolverine and Punisher. This effect definitely bled over into the Avengers.
The 90’s saw even more shake up than the 80’s. For a few years, things went pretty smoothly with the various Avengers teams. Black Widow became a pretty key figure during this team, even becoming a true leader for the Avengers. However, nothing ever lasts in comics and disagreements began to grow between members. With the darker, more violent elements of the 90’s in play, the Avengers began to face more murderous foes and some members felt it necessary that they break the no-kill rule. But of course, the feuds don’t end there. The big battle occurred when Iron Man, backed by other heroes, actually executed a villain called the Super Intelligence. This went against Captain America’s staunch policy against killing, and the team fractured. The West Coast Avengers soon shuttered. When trying to stop the murderous rampage of the villain Onslaught (a combination of Charles Xavier and Magneto’s consciousnesses), many heroes were killed, including most of the Avenger’s members. Although Franklin Richards was able to protect the heroes by sending them to parallel universes, Black Widow was forced to disband the remaining Avengers, fearing that her friends were dead.
Maybe I should stop referring to each decade by how much it shakes up the team, because this will be the third consecutive decade that has usurped the last. The 2000’s literally feature a story line called Avengers Disassembled. As a series of random attacks rattle the Avengers, members start to battle their own personal demons. By the time that the team is able to figure out that an insane Scarlet Witch, mourning the loss of her children, was responsible for the attacks, it is too late. Ant-Man (the mantle belonging to Scott Lang), Hawkeye, Vision and others are dead, and the team has lost its credibility. With Tony Stark’s actions affecting his company, he realizes that he can no longer support the Avengers and the team disbands. Of course, new Avengers teams pop up, most notably the New Avengers. However, the universe is rattled by the House of M story line as Scarlet Witch finally snaps and changes all of reality and eventually removes mutant powers from most of the mutants on Earth.
All of this madness leads right up the what is probably the most important event in Marvel Comics of the past thirty years: Civil War. With the government demanding the regulation of vigilantes, Captain America and Iron Man disagree on whether heroes should be forced to divulge their secret identities to the government. There was a division of heroes as some sided with Tony Stark and the government while others sided with Cap’s rebellion. All of this madness lead to the death of Steve Rogers and the shake up of the entire Marvel Universe. In fact, the effects of Civil War are still in play to this day in the comics. The dissolution of SHIELD, the inception of Norman Osborn’s HAMMER, Siege, etc all are incredibly important moments from this decade, though they are not necessarily Avengers-specific. With all of this government interference, in-fighting amongst heroes and villains in power, the Avengers became a more liquid idea. There was the New Avengers, an underground team consisting of those who opposed the Registration Act; the Mighty Avengers, a government-sanctioned team led by Iron Man; the Dark Avengers, a team led by Norman Osborn and filled with super-villains posing as their heroic counterparts; and finally, Hank Pym started his own team of heroes, formally titled GRAMPA (not kidding), one he deemed the true Avengers as he was the only founding member currently on one of these teams. So yeah, the 2000’s were absolutely, incredibly crazy for the Avengers and Marvel as a whole.
And here we are. The decade in which we are currently smack dab in the middle of. It’s been a good decade for Marvel. While the 2000’s may have started the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it truly flourished in the 2010’s. When it comes to comics, well… It’s hard to say how successful this decade has been. We’ve had years to look at other decades and judge them as a whole. But as of now, we are smack dab in the middle of some great story lines that may or may not be remembered in 10 years. Sure, Avengers vs. X-Men was important. And yeah, Axis has some ongoing implications, but it’s hard to say what exactly we will and won’t simply gloss over when writing an article like this in the future. And if you want to judge for yourself, you know what you should do? Head out to your local comic book shop. It’s even Free Comic Book Day on May 2. Or download the Marvel app. Or sign up for Marvel Unlimited. There is so much good stuff out there to read right now, including a pretty solid Avengers run with Falcon Cap, Lady Thor and more! But hey, don’t take my word for it.