Monday, April 30, 2012

Avengers Assemble

In the early 1960s, the publishers from National Comics and Timely Comics used to get together regularly to play golf. At one of these games, the guy from National told the guy from Timely that one of his top-selling comic books was a superhero team-up called the Justice League. After that, the guy from Timely, Martin Goodman, called his editor and told him to create a new superhero team.

It had been years since Timely had tried to publish a superhero book, They had several hits in the Golden Age but efforts to revive them in the 50s flopped. So the editor couldn't have established heroes team up. He had to create some new ones. He called the newest staff artist and they came up with some characters - mainly recycled from previous characters. Since this was so different from anything that Timely was publishing at the time, the editor came up with a new name for the line - Marvel Comics.

Obviously I am talking about Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and the Fantastic Four. As it turned out, there was a huge, untapped market for superheros. Stan followed the Fantastic Four up with The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Ant Man (who was Giant Man by the second issue) and the Wasp. Then he gathered them into a second team called the Avengers.

The Avengers was a different kind of team. The Fantastic Four was an extended family. The Avengers was a collection of solo heroes who didn't necessarily get along. In fact, the team was formed to fight the Hulk. When it turned out that Thor's brother, Loki, was the real villain, they decided to keep meeting - even the Hulk. But by the end of the second issue the Hulk quit and spent the third issue fighting the Avengers alongside the Sub-Mariner. Captain America joined in the 4th issue and became a mainstay.

Stan thought of the Avengers as being like a baseball team with members changing. In issue 16, the original members all quit and were replaced by three misunderstood villains - Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

Hawkeye has started out wanting to be a superhero but got off to an inauspicious start. After stopping a bank robbery, he was the one holding the money when the police arrived. Not long after that he met the Black Widow, a Russian spy, who wanted his aid in fighting Iron Man. After the Black Widow vanished, Hawkeye reformed.

Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were members of Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. They joined because they felt they owed a debt to Magneto for saving the Scarlet Witch's life. After Magneto was abducted by an alien, they declared their debt satisfied and reformed.

The "New Avengers" were one of the weakest teams ever. Their most powerful weapon was an explosive-tipped arrow. That put them on par with the Dukes of Hazard.

After a few months Giant Man came back as Goliath. Hercules came and went a few times. The Black Panther added more manpower if not more muscle. Thor and Iron Man were came and went. The Vision was the first original character in the Avengers. He was an android who could control his density.

Other characters started out as villains and later became members. The Swordsman and Power Man started as one-shot inside agents and later reformed and joined as trusted members.

Somewhere in there the Avengers became Marvel's top-selling team, rivaling Spider-Man and burying the Justice League (whose publisher was now known as DC).

By the late 1970s, the Avengers was amde up of two camps. There were the heroes with their own books (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America) who were mainly in the team to boost sales. Then there was the core group (Scarlet Witch, Vision, Swordsman, Mantis) who had all of the character development.

In the 1980s, the team picked up several new characters and most of the characters with their own books dropped out.

There was even a spin-off book, the West Coast Avengers. A third, Great Lakes Avengers made a couple of appearances but never got off the ground.

The team has been rebooted several times in order to boost sales. Fan favorites such as Spider-Man and Wolverine were added.

More recently there were multiple groups of Avengers. The "official" group was composed of super villains under Norman Osborn. A resistance version was also formed. Currently the team also includes an academy where new superheros are trained.

No comments: