Ahead of ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ brush up on the Marvel squad’s comic book origins.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one superhero group brings an assortment of popular superheroes together. No, not the X-Men, who sadly cannot participate in the epic Marvel universe due to licensing issues. We’re talking about the Avengers, who allow Marvel’s ambitious cinematic efforts to feel like one large and ever-expanding group.
By now, you’ve probably seen at least a few Marvel flicks in recent years. They are everywhere, after all. If so, you’re already at least somewhat familiar with the Avengers. Chances are you’ve even seen a dedicated Avengers movie…or two.
Soon you can see the Avengers in action in their third movie. Avengers: Infinity War comes to theaters April 27. If you watched 2012’s Avengers and its 2015 sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron, you’re probably well-versed on the team that brings some of Marvel’s most popular heroes on-screen together.
But how much do you know about the team’s comic book origins? Long before they made their film debut, the Avengers were duking it out with villains in panels eagerly digested by Marvel fans around the globe.
Ahead of Avengers: Infinity War, check out the Avengers’ rich and sprawling comic book history.
The making of the Avengers
While Marvel’s biggest rival was and is DC Comics, the Avengers might’ve never come to fruition without DC. Marvel’s publisher, Martin Goodman, noticed the popularity of the Justice League and called upon Stan Lee to create a superhero squad filled with Marvel heroes to compete with the Justice League. With the help of fellow comic book legend Jack Kirby, the Avengers were born.
The Avengers #1 released in September 1963. Marvel chose to use preexisting, already popular superheroes when creating the team. The debut issue centered on Thor’s severed relationship with his brother, the Asgardian god Loki. Rick Jones, the Incredible Hulk’s sidekick, rounded up Ant-Man, Iron Man and the Wasp to help save the Hulk and Thor from Loki. After Loki was defeated, Ant-Man proclaimed that the five heroes should start working together more often. Interestingly, it was the least-known hero of the time, the Wasp, who came up with the team’s name.
Together they were a formidable force to be reckoned with. With Iron Man’s intellect and powerful suit, Ant-Man’s stealthy electronics skills, the Hulk’s ridiculous strength, Thor’s beyond-godlike power and trusty hammer, and the Wasp’s electric powers and size-manipulation skills, the Avengers were poised to take on any and all villainy.
Weirdly enough, the original group stayed together for only one issue. In the second, Ant-Man started going by another alias, Giant-Man, and the Hulk left the squad after realizing his presence made the other heroes a bit anxious (an ally turning into an angry green giant can apparently make even superheroes feel uneasy).
Marvel used the Hulk’s departure as an opportunity to reintroduce Captain America, who had been absent from Marvel’s books for the past decade. Captain America made his official return in The Avengers #4.
The mansion home of Tony Stark (Iron Man) served as the official headquarters for the team.
Early adventures and disbandment
The Avengers’ early adventures saw them up against lesser-known Marvel villains such as Vuk, Lava Man and Count Nefaria. They even wound up joining forces with the Fantastic Four in battle against the Hulk, who was having trouble controlling his superpowers.
The team’s first major challenge was a team of supervillains dubbed Masters of Evil, which consisted of Baron Heinrich Zemo, Black Knight, Radioactive Man, Melter, Enchantress, First Executioner and Wonder Woman (no, not the Wonder Woman you’re thinking of — that’s DC). The conflict between the Avengers and Masters of Evil raged on for numerous issues before Captain America led the team to victory.
Interspersed throughout this epic duel were conflicts with Kang the Conqueror, which led to one of the more interesting arcs in the book’s early history. Kang created a Spider-Man robot to fool the team into submission. But with impeccable timing, actual Spider-Man arrived to foil Kang’s plan.
The back and forth between Masters of Evil and Kang drained the Avengers. In a shocking move, the Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and Giant-Man called it quits, but not before finding new members to replace them — Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. All three were former villains looking to turn a new leaf. Hawkeye had previously battled with Iron Man, while Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, children of supervillain Magneto, left the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
The odd assemblage of new heroes led by Captain America were appropriately known as Cap’s Kooky Quartet.
Part of the allure of the Avengers was that team members shifted around constantly. The Black Knight, Black Widow and the Black Panther joined throughout the 1960s. Original members Wasp and Giant-Man also returned. Virtually every Marvel hero was fair game to make appearances in the series, but not all flagship heroes officially joined the squad. Although invited to team up with them, Spider-Man initially declined membership, preferring to fight his battles solo. Marvel’s most successful hero wouldn’t join the Avengers until 1991, when the series had surpassed an astounding 300 issues. Even then, he came on only as a reserve member.
While the first two Avengers movies featured a core cast of well-known heroes — Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye — by the time the original series wrapped with The Avengers #402 in 1996, the team had cycled through dozens upon dozens of team members.
Avengers: Infinity War
The spirit of the comic series, which brought Marvel’s disparate array of heroes together into a constantly intersecting shared space, has slowly but surely been represented in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Avengers: Infinity War looks to capture that more than any Marvel film before it.
Infinity War takes place four years after the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The Avengers were deeply fractured in Captain America: Civil War. In order to stop Thanos from taking the mythical Infinity Stones and ultimately destroying the universe, the Avengers squad needs to work with the heroes from Guardians of the Galaxy.
Infinity War is particularly exciting because we will finally see Spider-Man, Black Panther and Doctor Strange in action outside of their respective franchises. We may also finally see founding member Ant-Man, who was noticeably absent in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
That would leave the Wasp as the only founding member to not appear in an Avengers film to date. It’s reasonable to assume Marvel left her out because the Wasp is costarring in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp this summer. If there’s a fourth addition to the lineup of Avengers movies (there probably will be), there’s a good chance all the founding members of the Avengers will be in it.
The combination of the comedic nature of Guardians of the Galaxy and the comparative seriousness of the Avengers is certainly something to look forward to as well.
If you want to read up on the events leading into the movie, Marvel recently released Avengers: Infinity War Prelude, a two-part comic mini-series.