Top 5 Avengers Eras: A Look at Avengers Teams of the Past

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By Alex Wedderien The Avengers may be a massive name in comics and entertainment now, but that wasn’t always the case. Created in the early ‘60s as a way to fill a slot left by a late issue of Daredevil, The Avengers are a product of Stan Lee smashing together some of Marvel’s most popular heroes to form the company’s first super team. From those humble beginnings, the team grew from plucky upstarts to comic book icons.  

Now the basis for a multi-billion dollar movie franchise and a major part of Marvel’s most-recent publishing initiative under comic scribe Jason Aaron, The Avengers look to be in good hands for years to come.

In looking ahead, though, it’s important to also remember comics are a unique medium, and along with their headstrong march into the future, they always keep an eye on the past. With that bright future for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in mind, I'm taking a look today at The Avengers of the past, specifically at the best lineups of years gone by. These are the five bestin my humble opinion of course.

5. The Late '80s Avengers

By the late 80s, The Avengers team was in flux. Taking over for a beloved run which featured what many people feel is the definitive Avengers lineup, Roger Stern and John Buscema decided to mix in some lesser-known heroes to give their book a new dynamic.

Boasting a lineup that featured Monica Rambeau, Black Knight, Dr. Druid, and Namor among the likes of veteran Avengers Captain America and Thor, the run also includes classic storylines like Avengers Under Siege, which sees a Helmut Zemo-led Masters of Evil destroy Avengers Mansion.

4. The West Coast Avengers

If Avengers is the cooler older brother, West Coast Avengers was definitely the scrappier younger brother. Born in the early ‘80s, West Coast Avengers became the first ever spinoff of The Avengers, as well as an answer to the question, Why are all superheroes in New York City?

Based in Los Angeles and featuring a unique roster, the West Coast team was lead by Hawkeye and comprised of Wonder Man, Tigra, Mockingbird, Jim Rhodes’ Iron Man, and eventually even Moon Knight. West Coast Avengers served as a breath of fresh air alongside an Avengers lineup that had remained pretty consistent for the past decade, but by no means were they an inferior version of the main team.

Throughout their 10-year run, the West Coast team battled important Avengers foes like Ultron before it was eventually folded back into the main lineup.  

3. The Late '60s/Early '70s Avengers

Being the follow-up to a beloved debut run can be daunting, but when the duo you’re following is Jack Kirby and Stan Lee it might as well be an impossible task. That’s just what Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Sal and John Buscema walked into with their late ‘60s/early ‘70s run on Avengers.

When it was all said and done, however, they would create one of the best Avengers eras of all-time, their greatest villain in Ultron, iconic stories like The Kree/Skrull War and the debut of one of the team's most beloved heroes, the android Vision.

Along the way Thomas and crew would add a returning Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye, as well as the debuts of Hercules, Vision, and Black Panther to the team, leading the small core of heroes to some of their most classic storylines.

2. Captain America Returns

It was clear in the first three issues of The Avengers that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes would need a leader to rally its members. More of a ragtag group than an inspirational team of heroes, the original Avengers were a loose alliance who seemed like they could turn on each other at a moment's notice.   

That all changed with the discovery of the long frozen Captain America, who would shape not only the history of The Avengers, but superhero comics themselves. Almost immediately the team became a unified force under Cap’s tutelage and would go on to become the juggernaut it is today. Simply put, it all started here.

1. New Avengers Vol. 1

New Avengers came directly after the disbandment of the original team in Avengers: Disassembled, and it explored the idea of having a group of characters who had largely never been Avengers previously. Fan Favorites like Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, Iron First, and Ms. Marvel bolstered the popular lineup that quickly became known for its strong characters and frenetic action.   

Bringing the team back to the forefront in a big way after The Avengers had slipped out of mainstream comics consciousness, New Avengers was the start of The Avengers renaissance that continues to this day.

Alex Wedderien is a writer and pop culture journalist. Find him on Twitter @criticismandwit.

Best Debut Comics of May 2018

I could Tweet right now: “Marvel had four new No. 1s this month…” and the response from my followers (most of whom are passionate comic fans) would be a mix of “Ugh, stop it!” and “Let runs continue!” plus one guy who DMs to ask if I’ll send him Marvel digital codes (I won’t). Those first two reactions speak to an ongoing shift in superhero comics, one very much evident in May 2018’s debuts.

This month brought new No. 1s for The Avengers, Black Panther, The Justice League, Superman, and Venom. In June, there’s another new No. 1 for Justice League, and in July another still for Superman. Also this summer there are No. 1s for Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, The West Coast Avengers, Fantastic Four, and so on and so on forever. So then, what does this all mean? Nothing. It’s just how the business of comics (which you probably don’t understand and neither do I) functions. Several years ago, then-Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso told Entertainment Weekly they were “slowly working into a season model that’s not too unlike what we see in our favorite cable TV shows: a seasonal model that offers accessible entry points for new readers and is respectful of long-term fans.”

It doesn’t mean early ends of runs. If runs sell, they live to the next season with the same writer (see Jason Aaron on Thor, Ta-Nehisi Coates on Black Panther, Charles Soule on Daredevil, etc.). It just means there’s a clear entry point for new readers (plus a hassle for you when you organize you books). And this month the list of best debuts was pretty thoroughly dominated by new superhero seasons, seasons that just like Alonso promised, build upon what was happening while also clearing the way for some new viewers—er, readers.

Let’s get to the lists!

Quick Hits

Death or Glory #1  is a beautiful-looking comic book.

Death or Glory #1 is a beautiful-looking comic book.

Barrier #1 would have without question made our list, but it’s hard in good conscience to call this book a debut issue, as it’s been available online via Panel Syndicate since 2015. Still, the first print issue hit retailers this month, and so we think this excellent comic from Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Munsta Vincente bears mention.

Rick Remender is one of those creators with a real knack for working with the best in the business, including Jerome Opena and Sean Gordon Murphy. His collaboration with Bengal for Death or Glory #1 is no exception, ranking as one of the best-looking debuts this month. The story, however, didn’t grab me right off. I felt like I’d been thrown into the action without yet having a strong affinity for the protagonist. Still, I’ll be back for the next issue.

Mark Russell is one of my favorite writers in comics, thanks to his work on The Flintstones, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, and recent backup stories in Superman specials. And now he’s tackling another character ripe for commentary in his new book, Judge Dredd: Under Siege #1, the first of a four-part story that I will read in its entirety.

Justice League: No Justice #1 of 4 was a very good comic (as was No Justice #4), but unlike some of the other superhero books this month, it felt more like a continuation of DC’s recently-concluded Metal than the debut of something new. That’s not a bad thing, not all. I really liked how Metal directly gave way to this and I’m excited to see the next iteration with June’s relaunched Justice League #1, but in a month with so many strong debuts, our committee of one puts this book here.

Quicksilver: No Surrender #1 from Saladin Ahmed and Eric Nguyen and Venom #1 from Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman were both close to making our list. Quicksilver picks up where Avengers: No Surrender ended, with fascinating art and a deep script, while Donny Cates, Marvel’s most bombastic new voice, takes over Venom. These debuts were strong, but I feel like both books have major jumps in their futures.

In a month heavy on fresh starts and new directions for the muscles and tights crowd, I for one was glad to also read a refreshing book like We Are The Danger #1 from writer/artist Fabian Lelay, which as I said in my review is a stylish slice-of-life comic that does a great job of making both teen life and live music visceral.

Best Debut Comics of May 2018

Jason Aaron's  Avengers #1  story spans history.

Jason Aaron's Avengers #1 story spans history.

Avengers #1 by Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness, & Mark Morales

I didn’t care much for last year’s Marvel Legacy one-shot, with its odd-timing a full six months or so before its content would be relevant. After reading Jason Aaron’s first issue on The Avengers, however, I’ve changed my tune, seeing as that book planted seeds that grew into this one.

For more on why I liked this book so much, check out this piece from earlier in the month. It’s reductive and simplistic, sure, but I think Jason Aaron just gets The Avengers. Also, Ed McGuinness art has been a wonderful surprise. I’ve always thought he was fine, but he’s really elevated his work to the occasion, although I suspect Mark Morales has really helped, too.

 

 

Black Panther #1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Daniel Acuna

I was a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates writing before he came to comics in March 2016, as poignant and thought-provoking as it has long been. When he started on the All New, All Different Marvel Black Panther iteration, I had high hopes, and, while I wasn’t exactly disappointed, Coates' first arc made it evident he was new to the medium. His issues were idea-heavy with little (or no) action.

Those concerns, however, are long gone. This issue was a mysterious and visual tour de force filled with characters we know in an odd situation—space, and while I’m not a fan of gimmicky outings to the stars, this doesn't seem to be one of those. Coates expertly teases deeper meaning within this intriguing script, which brings out the best in Daneil Acuna's art. This book was so good it reaffirmed my excitement to continue Black Panther, as well as for Coates' forthcoming run on Captain America, slated to start July 4….I know, right?!

Ether: Copper Golems #1 by Matt Kindt & David Rubin

The first volume of Ether was one of my favorite comics in ages, and I’m thrilled to see the series from writer Matt Kindt and artist David Rubin return to the narrative with Ether: Copper Golems #1, which picks up exactly where the story left off, a la Black Hammer last month.

This book may reappear on my forthcoming Top Comics of May 2018 (although I don’t normally like to double up). The point is, you should each and every one of you be reading this book. It’s so freaking good. Also, it shares some thematic ground with Black Hammer.  

Harbinger Wars 2 #1 by Matt Kindt & Tomas Giorello

Although far from most talked about, Harbinger Wars 2 #1 was the best start to a superhero event I’ve read in some time. I love that Livewire, a fantastic character, is at the heart of this thing, but more than that Kindt and other Valiant writers in recent months have done a great job developing their books in a way that gives all the publisher’s best characters real and believable stakes for being involved. This is refreshing, given that some other superhero conflicts in recent years have felt a bit contrived (cough...Civil War II...cough).

Read our review of Harbinger Wars 2 #1 here.

Man of Steel #1  marks the beginning of Brian Michael Bendis at DC.

Man of Steel #1 marks the beginning of Brian Michael Bendis at DC.

Man of Steel #1 by Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, & Alex Sinclair

A lot of really smart folks who write about comics have weighed in on Man of Steel #1 (Alex Lu at Comics Beat, Jarrod Jones at Doom Rocket, and GeekDad/GeekMom), rendering my own hot take sort of lukewarm. Still, this is a great comic, one that also represents Brian Michael Bendis’ officially move from Marvel (where he’s been nearly two decades) to DC, launching a new era for Superman as he does. In this issue Bendis makes a lot of really strong, really Bendis-y decisions, from the funny-but-not-too-funny banter to how a pair of hapless toughs discuss Big Blue in hushed tones.

Bendis' experience as a creator shines, especially when he lays track for a coming fight between Superman and his new villain, Rogol Zarr. On top of his experience, though, Bendis also shows himself to be an enthusiastic fan, a kid who grew up in Cleveland where Superman’s creators were from, and who has watched DC from afar, wondering what if. My only note is that he continues to make the curious choice of sidelining Lois Lane, which strikes me as odd. Like Jarrod Jones pointed out at Doom Rocket, this is a “pairing of creator and character that feels like a grand-slam.”

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

4 Things Jason Aaron Got Right About The Avengers

On Wednesday, Marvel Comics ushered in a new era for its flagship team book The Avengers, releasing a new No. 1 issue from writer Jason Aaron, artist Ed McGuinness, inker Mark Morales, and colorist David Curiel. The book built on plot points Aaron originally dropped in the massive Marvel Legacy one-shot last fall, and it marked the debut of this year’s new Marvel season, Fresh Start (although, no mention of Fresh Start was made by the book’s marketing, which I found interesting...).

Most importantly, however, this comic book was actually really very good. For real. The art team was cohesive and precise, giving the over-sized debut a polished feel, an almost high-budget aesthetic that seemed to declare this is THE Marvel book of the hour. What I found most engaging, however, was that Aaron’s plot and script seem to understand the enduring appeal of The Avengers in a way recent incarnations of the team have at times missed.

And that’s what we’re talking about here today. This book is not a throwback, not exactly—despite the traditional core of the team returning—but it does pay homage to some the most beloved and enduring aspects of The Avengers, without at all feeling dated in the process. Here are four of the major elements Aaron and the team simply get right about The Avengers... 

1. The Threat

The Avengers were formed originally because there was a threat that demanded they exist. In recent years, however, I think the concept has become a bit perfunctory, taking a wink-and-nod attitude that the team exists because the publisher, the fans, or whoever else expects/demands it. This book immediately gets away from that, establishing a convincing and compelling threat that spans millennia and brings our team together, even if some of them would rather not (more on that in a second).

This galvanizing threat is what made Avengers #1 work so well for me as a reader. I enjoyed Mark Waid’s preceding run on the franchise. I mean, he’s Mark Waid, and he just gets superheroes, but under Waid the book always seemed like an auxiliary title, rather than the publisher’s flagship, as that honor seemed to go to whatever event was beginning, middling, or ending (usually middling—boom, roasted!). In summation, Aaron’s run seems to be at the forefront of the publisher, giving it an exciting and dynamic sort of energy.

2. The Reluctance

Reluctance has been part of The Avengers DNA since the early years, when the original lineup minus Steve Rogers quit, leaving Cap to marshal a group that included Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch, all of whom were at that time villains. We get that reluctance here early and often, starting with a great buddy-buddy-buddy scene where Steve Rogers, Tony Stark and Thor Odinson meet in a bar for a beer, a shirley temple, and roughly three giant flagons of mead, respectively.

Just a few old friends, not wanting to be Avengers while having a drink at a bar called Aaron's.

Just a few old friends, not wanting to be Avengers while having a drink at a bar called Aaron's.

Not only is this reluctance foundational to The Avengers, it is in many ways the heart of Marvel superheroes all together, the main thing separating them from DC, whose heroes mostly run, fly, or grapple-hook eagerly into battle. Marvel heroes by comparison are more real and more flawed, like all of us, and they don’t always rise immediately to the occasion, like all of us again, with, of course, a few exceptions—thinking here of Carol Danvers. Aaron gets that right throughout, and his debut issue of The Avengers is better for it.

3. The Relationships

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All great teams have iconic relationships, be it the antagonistic banter between The Thing and Human Torch in Fantastic Four or the love story between Midnighter and Apollo in The Authority. I think it’s fair to say, however, that The Avengers have slightly more characters with special connections to their teammates, characters like Giant Man and The Wasp, or The Vision and Scarlet Witch, or Wonder Man and The Beast.

Right off in this debut issue, Aaron makes great use of existing bonds, specifically those between Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, while also laying groundwork for some new ones. My favorite scene in this entire book was actually when T’Challa and Doctor Strange used their individual expertise together to investigate a shared concern. It’s a somewhat odd pairing, I suppose, but it yielded surprising chemistry. I’m really hoping for more of that kind of interaction.

4. The Rotation

My all-time favorite run on The Avengers was by Kurt Busiek and George Perez in the late ‘90s, and part of what I liked about it so much was the feeling that week-to-week the team’s roster was dynamic, that new members could be incoming and existing heroes could be on their way out of the mansion. Mark Waid did a bit of this in his run, although it really amounted to just one big splinter when the younger heroes departed to form The Champions.

Going into this book, however, Aaron has said in interviews that one slot on the team will be essentially reserved for a rotating member, and for this first arc that slot goes to Doctor Strange. I like that idea, although my hope is that the rotating concept is a wider one, not limited to a neat one-in, one-out setup that takes place like clockwork each time we start a new arc. I’d rather see roster churn happen organically (and maybe even surprisingly) as a result of our plot.

Plus, One Minor Complaint

So, I guess everyone—characters, writers, publisher, fans—is just fine now about the whole Hydra Steve business? I know this is comics and change is the only constant and HUGE events one month have little impact the next, but this man was seething with evil to the point he oversaw the destruction of a major American city, like as recently as last year, which is even shorter in comic book time.

Obviously, we have to get this behind us, and Secret Empire did the heavy narrative lifting after its climax to explain what happened and get us moving in a better direction. Plus, we got a brief and rehabilitative Captain America run from Waid and superstar artist Chris Samnee. Still, all I’m saying is a bit more of a grudge held by other heroes might feel cathartic for us all, regardless of what our feelings were toward Secret Empire as a concept. The good news is this is just one issue, and there’s still time to dive deeper into that idea, plus other dynamics. I know I, for one, am looking forward to Aaron unpacking the presumably large baggage between Tony and Carol following the second superhero Civil War.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at@zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.