With the huge popularity of The Avengers big screen debut in recent weeks, interest in The Avengers comic book series has also been increasing as some people are beginning to search back issues, trades and graphic novels to find out more about the team and what makes them so popular in the first place. Now, I am no expert in the field of The Avengers, but as a huge comic book fan (nerd, geek, mark, whatever you want to call me) and fan of The Avengers comic books and characters for just about 30 years, I believe I have some unique insight as to what makes The Avengers popular and appeals to so many people. So to try and help out the average moviegoer find out more about The Avengers by listing my favorite Avengers’ storylines over the past 50 years of publication. This list of 15 stories highlights just why The Avengers are the heroes they are and why their faults as characters lends to their appeal.
Kree-Skrull War; The Avengers (Vol. 1) 89 – 97
This nearly year-long story is one of the best Avengers stories ever told and establishes some character traits that would continue in the series for years to come. The Avengers, and Earth, are caught in the middle of a galactic war between the alien races of the Kree and Skrull empires. There is also a sense of foreboding in the storytelling with Captain Marvel in danger of dying from radiation poisoning. But the biggest story element to come from the Kree-Skrull War storyline was the developing romance between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch – a story element that still resonates with both characters unto this day.
Ultron Unlimited; The Avengers (Vol. 3) 19 – 23
I have always thought that Henry Pym (aka Ant-Man, Wasp, Yellow Jacket, etc.) was a dick, and this latest thrash with Ultron cements the fact. Not only did the one-time wife beater create the near-indestructible Android, but we learn here for the first time that he used his own brain patterns to program the killing machine. Does that make him responsible for the destruction this recent Ultron causes when it slaughters the entire population of the fictional country of Slorenia or when The Avengers must battle an army of adamantium clad Ultrons in one of the best throw downs in Avengers history? I certainly think so.
Breakout; The New Avengers (Vol. 1) 1 – 6
When Spider-Man villain Electro causes a massive breakout at the superhuman prison The Raft, a group of heroes comes together to stop the villains from escaping. Unfortunately, dozens of super powered baddies make it out, but the collected group consisting of Captain America, Iron Man, Jessica Drew, Spider-Man, and Matt Murdock, with the help of the Sentry, stop a majority of them. Realizing that Electro was hired to breakout Karl Lykos (aka Sauron), the team, minus Matt Murdock, travel to the Savage Land to find him. There, they encounter Wolverine who joins them in the hunt which leads to the new team forming and the discovery of a rouge SHIELD operation running the whole show.
Avengers Forever; Avengers Forever 1 – 12
This story is a for the die-hard Avengers fans only. You have to have a near intimate knowledge of the majority of The Avengers past storylines to really appreciate the true scope of this series. Uniting different members of the team, past, present and future, the collected heroes must battle the villain Immortus after being gathered by Rick Jones at the suggestion of the Kree Supreme Intelligence. The collected Avengers then battle Immortus across several different eras in time which brings them into contact with heroes from Earth’s past and future while trying to prevent the destruction of the human race as punishment for futures crimes brought about by the Terran Empire, a future human empire which expands across the universe devastating and destroying multiple alien civilizations in the process.
The Korvac Saga; The Avengers (Vol. 1) 167 – 168, 170 – 177, Captain America and the Korvac Saga 1-4
In one of the grandest Avengers tales ever, the team must battle the deranged and all powerful Michael Korvac, a villain from an alternate Earth’s future, who is imbued with the stolen powers of cosmic being, the Grandmaster and later becomes bombarded with Galactus’ own Power Cosmic. Korvac is forced into a battle with The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy where he manages to slay multiple heroes with his god-like powers. It is only when he discovers that his partner, Carina, doubts his true intentions, does Korvac revive the slain members of both teams before committing suicide. Decades later, in the Captain America and the Korvac Saga series, is the story revisited and adds a bit more to the story as Cap is again displaced in time before being brought back to the present by Korvac during the entire original run of the story.
Civil War; Civil War 1 – 7
While the Marvel superhero Civil War affected many of the company’s characters and titles, none were more affected than The Avengers. At the heart of the entire conflict, veteran Avengers teammates Iron Man and Captain America rally allies that support each of their stands on the Super Human Registration Act. Iron Man’s pro-registration forces battle Cap’s anti-registration forces. In the end, the entire Marvel landscape is changed and The Avengers are forever altered when multiple Avengers teams form up and Captain America is assassinated on the way to the courthouse after surrendering at the end of the Civil War. Ramifications of this storyline continue to affect the Avengers to this day.
Under Siege; The Avengers (Vol. 1) 270 – 271, 273 – 277
Under the leadership of the new Baron Zemo, a new group of the Masters of Evil devises a plan in which they invade Avengers Mansion and completely dominate the team in their own home. Severely injuring the hero Hercules and torturing the team’s butler Jarvis to the point of near death, the Masters of Evil have finally won the day. Until The Avengers do what their name suggest – Avenge! Even in the midst of their greatest defeat and humiliation, The Avengers muster what strength they have left and fight until their last breaths defending their friends and routing the Masters of Evil from their home.
Operation: Galactic Storm; The Avengers (Vol. 1) 345 – 347, Avengers West Coast 80 – 82, Captain America (Vol. 1) 398 – 401, Iron Man (Vol. 1) 278 – 279, Quasar 32 – 35, Thor (Vol. 1) 445 – 446, Wonder Man 7 – 9
As Rick Jones is kidnapped by Shi’ar agents looking to build a massive weapon from ancient Kree artifacts, Captain America discovers that hostilities have begun between the alien Shi’ar and Kree empires. Use of a stargate in the Earth’s solar system begins to destabilize Sol, the Earth’s sun. Trying to keep the sun from being destroyed The Avengers gather and plan to stop to warring empires from causing further damage by mediating a peace agreement or by diverting them to another stargate. Negotiations prove to be a failure as it is revealed the Shi’ar have completed their weapon and the majority of the Kree’s military leadership is assassinated by the Shi’ar agent Deathbird under orders from Skrulls who have secretly infiltrated Shi’ar Majestrix Lilandra’s court. The weapon goes off in Kree space, killing billions instantly, and the team is divided on how to deal with the Kree Supreme Intelligence who had been revealed to orchestrate the entire ordeal, with some members defying the vote to spare the Kree leader and killing him for his crimes.
Red Zone; The Avengers (Vol. 3) 65 – 70
In a rare work for Marvel by DC scribe Geoff Jones, this story involves a devastating flesh eating virus that is engulfing the U.S. and The Avengers are sent in to investigate. When it is discovered that the Red Skull orchestrated the leak of the biological weapon after he infiltrates a position within the U.S. government and seemingly blaming the attack on the nation of Wakanda, The Avengers must deal with the hysteria and devastation the outbreak has caused as well as find the Red Skull – because the only way to develop a cure for the airborne disease is by analyzing the Red Skull’s own blood. It is in this story that Iron Man and Black Panther, king of Wakanda, manage to put aside their distrust of one another and eventually come to terms of mutual respect for one another.
The Kang Dynasty; The Avengers (Vol. 3) 41 – 55, The Avengers Annual 2001
Earlier Kurt Busiek delivered what many consider the ultimate Ultron story in Ultron Unlimited. He would also deliver one of the most powerful and moving Kang stories with this story, The Kang Dynasty. In this story, the future warlord Kang, along with his son Marcus, manage to completely take over the Earth. In doing so, they caused massive devastation throughout the globe including the destruction of the U.N. building and the total loss of life of the Washington, D.C. area. Stranded in space, The Avengers manage to reach Earth and begin fighting back against Kang and his forces. After a complete defeat, and with the aide of numerous other heroes, The Avengers emerge victorious, but at the cost of so many lives, including the near devastation of Maryland when Kang’s warship crashes down onto it and Kang murdering his own son, the victory is a bitter one to swallow.
Acts of Vengeance; The Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) 326 – 329, The Avengers (Vol. 1) 311 – 313, Avengers Spotlight 26 – 29, Avengers West Coast 53 – 55, Captain America (Vol. 1) 365 – 367, Iron Man (Vol. 1) 251 – 252, Quasar 5 – 7, Thor (Vol. 1) 411 – 412
Loki, in disguise as a stranger who calls many of the world’s villains, including Doctor Doom, the Mandarin, Magneto and Kingpin, Loki engineers a massive breakout at the metahuman holding facility the Vault. From here, The Avengers and other heroes try to contain the breakout but are slightly confounded at having to face villains they haven’t faced before. The team quickly manages past this and Loki’s plan quickly falls apart as many of the villains, powerful and not, begin infighting, highlighted by Magneto, a mutant, Jew, and Holocaust survivor, defeats and imprisons the Red Skull, a former high-ranking Nazi, in a buried crypt. In the end, even Loki’s own Tri-Sentinel is defeated by the heroes, mainly Spider-Man who was in possession of the powers of Captain Universe, and is once again beaten back by the gathering of Earth’s heroes.
Avengers Disassembled; The Avengers (Vol. 4) 500 – 503, Avengers Finale 1, Captain America (Vol. 4) 29 – 32, Captain America and the Falcon 5 – 7, Fantastic Four (Vol. 2) 517 – 519, Iron Man (Vol. 3) 84 – 89, The Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 2) 15 – 20, Thor (Vol. 2) 80 – 85
Almost everything that has happened in the Marvel Universe over the past eight years owes a lot to this story here. It is in Avengers Disassembled that the dark turn the Marvel Universe had gone through began. Systematically, The Avengers are taken apart by a nightmare scenario come true. Ant-Man Scott Lang is killed by a revived Jack of Hearts, the Avengers Mansion is obliterated, the Vision unleashes a wave of Ultron killing machines, She-Hulk loses control and rips the Vision in half, Hawkeye is killed in a surprise Kree attack – anything and everything that could go wrong just did. At the root of the entire ordeal, someone who was intimate with all of the Avengers’ weaknesses and nightmares, the Scarlet Witch. Having lost control of her mutant reality/probability altering powers, she attacks those closest to her in the worst way leading to the dissolution of the team – and doesn’t even remember doing so.
Dark Reign; Dark Avengers 1 – 8, numerous other Dark Reign tie-in issues
In this company wide crossover, one that takes place in nearly every single Marvel series, Norman Osborn has become the new head of HAMMER, the replacement for SHIELD, and forms his own team of Dark Avengers to enforce his own kind of law and order throughout the US superhuman community following the Secret Invasion storyline. He also creates a new Illuminati type group known as the Cabal to oversee the entire Dark Reign regime. While the Cabal quickly falls apart, the Dark Avengers remain a loyal team and carry out numerous shadow and public operations across the Marvel Universe. My main reason for including Dark Reign on this list is not because of what The Avengers do fix the situation but because of their failure to work as a cohesive group. Bitter sentiments linger that make the Mighty Avengers and New Avengers teams work on their own and this failure to come together is what allows Osborn’s team to reign for so long. It isn’t until the Siege (of Asgard) storyline that both teams finally come together and Osborn is deposed and revealed for the villain he truly is.
Avengers: Prime; Avengers: Prime 1 – 5
Immediately after the Siege (of Asgard) storyline, and with resentments from Civil War still brewing in the Big Three of The Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor), the trio of the team need to mend fences fast because Asgard and reality as a whole are in danger and only these three can fix it. As the three are transported to different areas of the 9 Realms, they must make their way to find each other were they must work together, despite lingering feelings to save Thor’s home world. As the bonds that once existed begin to emerge in the three heroes, they quickly begin working as the heroic team they once were and show why the three of these heroes are the heart, mind and soul of The Avengers.
The Children’s Crusade; Avengers: The Children’s Crusade 1 – 9, Avengers: The Children’s Crusade – Young Avengers 1
An emotional tale of family and teams, The Children’s Crusade pits The Young Avengers, The Avengers and The X-Men as Magneto, his apparent grand-children, Wiccan and Speed, and his son Quicksilver, try to find Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. This brings them into conflict with Doctor Doom, Kang and the Scarlet Witch herself. Tensions run high as the X-Men and Avengers argue over how to deal with the Scarlet Witch and her role in The House of M, M-Day and Avengers Disassembled. For Magneto, Quicksilver, Wiccan and Speed, the story is all about the bonds of family; for the Avengers, it is about dealing with one of their own who had betrayed them; and for the X-Men it is about dealing with the person responsible for decimating their numbers to the point of extinction. And it is these events that begin the threads of this year’s current Avengers’ storyline - The Avengers vs. X-Men.