It’s finally here. After ten years, eighteen movies, hundreds upon hundreds of hours of television; on Thursday we will finally get to witness the culmination of the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And in honor of the release of Avengers: Infinity War, I thought I would take a look at the titular team in this edition of The Franchise.
Core Concept: “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” Its a bit cliche, but nothing sums up the Avengers better than this tag-line. And it may not seem like that separates them from other superhero teams, but this is when the genius of Stan Lee and Marvel Comics kick in. The Marvel “feet of clay” approach to storytelling means that every single hero in its universe is a flawed individual with baggage. Unlike their DC cousins the Justice League, who are portrayed as Gods among men, the Avengers are very much mortal men. And as such, they are prone to being human and making mistakes. Many times the greatest foes they face are the consequences of their own actions. They are often soundly defeated, only to rise and regroup and eventually claim victory through their tenacity and humanity. That is the essence of this team, that being a hero doesn’t mean being perfect or always winning. It means correcting your mistake and striving to be better today than you were yesterday.
Essential Moments: Pulling Captain America out of the frozen ice in issue #4: Captain America is the heart and soul of the Avengers, their leader and their moral compass. Bringing him back is what really set this franchise on the path to greatness. “The Old Order Changeth!” Issue #16: The team lineup changed for the very first time, setting up the tradition of heroes coming and going as the story dictated. Avengers Disassembled: Scarlet Witch goes mad and the Avengers completely fall apart, with more than one death of a beloved character. This event served as a climax for over 40 years of Avengers stories and cleared the deck for the New Avengers relaunch which took the team into the 21st century.
Rouges Gallery: As with any assemblage of comic book heroes it’s tough to establish real threats that are more than simply a gathering of the heroes individual foes. And while it is true there are some epic Avengers stories that result from borrowing villains from other corners of the Marvel universe such as Loki, Dr. Doom, or the Red Skull; the Avengers do have some foes that are uniquely associated with them. The deadliest of these being the trio of Kang, Ultron, and Thanos. Kang’s time traveling and status as a master manipulator give story-lines involving this villain an air of suspense and surprise that are hard to come by in a fifty-plus-year-old continuity. Ultron and his ever-evolving nature provide a new challenge every time he appears to battle the team and his familial ties with certain members of the roster always provide a healthy amount of angst to ratchet up the tension. And Thanos the Mad Titan is as powerful and as ruthless as they come, a being with god-like power and an obsession with Death. The stakes are so high in those battles that it is the perfect opportunity to push the Avengers to their limits. But perhaps the teams greatest threat comes from one of their own. Scarlet Witch’s unstable mind has killed about as many Avengers as any other villain on this list. Not to mention that one time she got rid of (almost) all the mutants.
Best Stories: With so many amazing stories to choose from its hard to narrow this list down. If you want to go old school, the Korvac Saga and Kree-Skull war still hold up even after a few decades. For the Avengers at their most desperate, the Ultron Unlimited and Under Siege storylines show the Avengers beaten and broken and having to overcome some of their greatest foes. The Ultimates is a modern day re-imagining of the Avengers taking place in the Marvel Ultimate universe. It is a fantastic run and many of its elements made their way back into the main Marvel universe and into the Avengers movies. The first of which is another great interpretation of this franchise and worthy of two hours of your time.
NEVER DO IT THIS WAY AGAIN: “The Crossing”, The storyline was supposed to be the second entry of a three-part saga that began in the raved about Celestial Messiah arc. It was also raved about. In the sense that it left fans raving mad. It was a mess. It made Tony Stark a traitor, then made him a teenager because….. no ones actually explained that because to me. It was so bad that it resulted in the relaunch Heroes Reborn. Which is also another train wreck of an Avengers story that mercifully ended after twelve issues (just as was always intended *wink* *wink*) Oh and the sooner the MCU moves on from Age of Ultron the better.