Before Thor, Iron Man and Captain America thrilled cinemagoers in 2012's “Marvel's The Avengers,” they were part of a comic-book series that's gone on for 50 years.
In “Avengers” No. 1, cover-dated Sept. 1963, the team of Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man, the Wasp and the Hulk formed “The Avengers.” Mainstay Captain America joined in issue No. 4.
Last week's “Avengers” No. 19 featured a variety of variant covers paying homage to the decades of adventures by the heroes. The variants were drawn by former Oklahoman John Cassaday, who most recently drew the series “Uncanny Avengers” for Marvel Comics.
“‘The Avengers' is a book that has undergone a lot of evolution over the years,” said local comics writer and critic Rob Vollmar. “Originally, it served as a place for Marvel's characters (who were not Spider-Man or already in a group ala Fantastic Four or the X-Men) to be able to get some extra face time.”
In the next decade, “The Avengers” brought in more original characters.
“In the 1970s, it seemed to attract more characters who couldn't carry a book under their own banner. I'm thinking particularly of Vision, Wonder Man, Captain Marvel etc. Obviously, Neal Adams' work on the title during that period would be considered a high point.”
Neal Adams was the artist for much of the “Kree-Skrull War,” which brought interstellar action to the pages of “The Avengers” in a well-remembered storyline.
Roger Stern and John Buscema teamed up for another storyline that's considered a high point of “The Avengers,” the storyline “Under Siege.” In that storyline, the Masters of Evil wreck Avengers Mansion.
“It shows how far they can be beaten and still come back from it,” said Brian “Buck” Berlin, of Oklahoma City's New World Comics. “It shows their resolve. And it has one of the coolest Captain America moments ever.”
The storyline ran from “Avengers” Vol. 1 Nos. 270-277 in 1986 and 1987.
Marvel relaunched “The Avengers” as part of a deal with Rob Liefeld (“Youngblood,” “X-Force”) in 1996, during which the characters left the Marvel Universe and were rebooted in a new world. In 1998, Marvel decided to bring “The Avengers” home to the Marvel Universe. The writer and artist for the “Heroes Return” volume of “The Avengers” were Kurt Busiek and George Perez.
“That's the first thing that I read consistently,” Berlin said. “It had all the characters that I liked, and it kept referencing all these past adventures.”
The success of the Busiek run led Berlin to purchase back issues of the title, until acquiring a near-full run of the series.
“It's everything ‘The Avengers' really is,” Berlin said of the series at that time. “It's very dynamic, and they work well together as a team.”
The 2000s and beyond
In 2004, Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis (“Ultimate Spider-Man”) was given the “Avengers” property, which he relaunched as “New Avengers.” The “New Avengers” added popular Marvel characters Wolverine and Spider-Man to the roster. Bendis steered “The Avengers” for nearly a decade.
“With the rise of Marvel movies drawing attention to Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, those founding members took on a new cultural value that I'm not sure they had ever fully enjoyed before,” Vollmar said.
Movies starring Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man were released in 2009, 2011 and 2013; Captain America and Thor joined in solo movies before teaming up in “Marvel's The Avengers.” A “Thor” sequel is set for November of this year, with a “Captain America” sequel following in spring.
As far as the comics, Jonathan Hickman (“Fantastic Four”) became the writer of “The Avengers” title in the 2012 “Marvel NOW!” relaunch.
“Ironically, my favorite period of ‘The Avengers' is right now,” Vollmar said. “The work that Jonathan Hickman is doing on the title is just mind-blowing and I feel like he brings a sense of scope and history to the title that gives it the kind of heft it should always have enjoyed.”