It’s now time for Part 2 of my history lesson on Earth’s Mightest Heroes, the Avengers. Again, as I pointed out in part one, this is only my understanding of the history of this historical superhero franchise, so if there are any bits I missed or forgot, please leave us comments!
In the early 90s, Bob Harras would show up and immediately throw the team into its darkest period: The Leather Jacket Era.
See…The X-Men at the time were the most popular characters in comics by a LONG ways, largely amped-up by Chris Claremont’s huge run gathering steam for over a decade, as well as the work of a revolving door of hot young artists who drew an increasingly bad-ass looking X-team. This would culminate with Jim Lee’s brilliant work, which also featured a lot of stylish brown leather jackets on people like Gambit, and popularized the “Bad-Ass Jacket Over Super-Hero Uniform” look.
In a sad attempt at copying this, the floundering Avengers title would latch onto the obvious VISUAL elements of the X-Titles, without mimicking any of the stuff that’d ACTUALLY MADE THE X-TITLES GOOD TO READ- Leather Jackets. And so we had Sersi the Eternal dropping her green onesie and wearing a black & red number… with a brown jacket. The Black Knight, still decked out in Arthurian Armor Plate, would throw on… a brown jacket. Hercules, bless him, wouldn’t wear one, but OH GOD DID HE EVER put on an ugly-ass shoulder-padded outfit.
I’ve even seen pictures of Captain America & The Black Widow wearing the ubiquitous brown jackets. Naturally, they all had an “A” logo on them, copying the X-Men’s “X” logo exactly. It was a move as pointless as it would be tragically-obvious.
Harras would add Crystal to the team, and the failed Event Story Operation: Galactic Storm wouldn’t gain much traction, despite basically ending The Kree as a threat for years. The West Coast team would be forcibly taken-down by the baseline team, which would then refuse the offer of “absorption” into the main league, and form Force Works instead. Unfortunately, Force Works was a failure of an EXTREEEEEEEEEEEME ’90s book, and would quickly fail.
The whole thing ended in disaster with The Crossing, a story line so hated that Marvel went out of its way to retcon it out of existence (it featured Tony Stark having been revealed as a double-agent for Kang, and replaced by a Teen Tony who was free of corruption), and finally Heroes Reborn allowed a Soft Reboot of sorts as all the mainstream heroes but Spider-Man died in battle against Onslaught.
With a year and so’s break, The Avengers came roaring back with an all-new volume, with the EPIC creative team of Kurt “Continuity King” Busiek & George Perez. Busiek, as enamored with plot threads as Gruenwald but a better writer, easily turned the team around and made a big success out of it, coming into the Post-Modern Era of comics (after the Comic Book Crash that accompanied the Leather Jacket Era) with great new stories.
Busiek & Perez’s team was The Big Three, plus a revived Wonder Man, The Scarlet Witch and former New Warriors Justice & Firestar, soon to be joined by The Vision, Silverclaw & Triathlon. By the way, does anyone remember Triathlon?
Yeah, the guy with the whole $cientology-themed arc that never really panned out? Yeah, I guess that left him forgettable.
Anyways, the run went for a couple years, and was a big hit, resurrecting Perez’s flagging career (thanks to his frequent illnesses and delays), and ending with a huge fan favorite Kang-themed arc.
After Busiek left, Geoff Johns would get a short, unpopular arc out (even he’s not impressed with it) before leaving to revolutionize DC.
And then came Chuck Austen. Bleh. All Bleh. The book was floundering again despite these runs adding Jack of Hearts, Scott Lang’s Ant-Man, and a new Captain Britain to the team.
But then some Indie writer named Brian Michael Bendis would take over and have a more long-lasting effect than anyone before or since, unbeknownst to everyone. Thanks to Bendis, the Scarlet Witch sets off a storm of events revolving around her broken psyche (a mostly-ignored thing ever since it turned out her children were living figments of her own imagination), kills Vision, Hawkeye, Jack of Hearts & Scott Lang, and removes a huge portion of the Mutants on Earth.
To say the least, Avengers: Disassembled was controversial as HELL, but effectively wiped the slate clean for Bendis’ new team.
Soon, Bendis combined several of Marvel’s “Big Name” characters onto one book: Cap, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine and The Sentry are joined by the ’70s Spider-Woman and Luke Cage, effectively making a franchise out of the team. This move allowed for the combining big-selling characters (Spidey, Wolvie), established Avengers (Tony, Cap) a big new character (Sentry) and a highly-visible minority characters (Spider-Woman & Cage), and became one of the hottest selling books at the time with “The New Avengers”.
This team soon splits up due to Civil War, with the Street Levelers siding with Cap and the others going with Tony because of the Superhuman Registration Act.
From there, The Avengers splits into two books once again, and suddenly characters who had never joined the team over the decades were now Avengers, guys like Iron Fist and Dr. Strange.
This was now the Era of Events, as big story after big story hits, resulting in multiple shake-ups that last a couple years. Despite Avengers now being a big-name franchise (if anything, Bendis succeeded in making them a bigger deal than The X-Men was), it was now mostly used as a “Talking Heads” book revolving around whatever Big Event was going on- Secret Invasion, Dark Reign and others.
In the wake of those events, Iron Man & Carol Danvers set up a new team of Mighty Avengers using some OTHER no name characters such as Ares, but soon the whole shebang was taken over by Norman Osborn as part of aforementioned Dark Reign.
In that event, Osborn forms The Dark Avengers comprised of nutcases and barely-controlled villains in place of the regular Avengers (Wolverine’s evil son Daken, Moonstone as Ms. Marvel, Bullseye as Hawkeye, insane Marvel Boy, plus The Sentry…because well he was always more than a little off.
While that was going on, Hank Pym got back into the action leading a new team of Mighty Avengers as The Wasp (a notorious attempt at Mary Sue-ing him back into credibility that only backfired and made people hate him more).
Yup, as the decade came to a close, there were seemingly 900 Avengers books out there, with more on the horizon.
The decade started with Siege which was an awful, stupid event, that crapped on the entire Dark Reign concept of “Villain takes over, but slowly grows more corrupt and obvious, and the heroes take him down” by making Osborn a ludicrously-stupid idiot who attacked Asgard for no damned reason.
The disappointing story-line (someone I know said something like “this is supposed to be the triumphant return of Captain America to bring down the villains, and the best they can do is a panel of him leading The Young Avengers?”) capped off with a whimper and really went nowhere.
This was followed with The Heroic Age which was at least less of an event and more of a New Status Quo, with all the teams of split-up Avengers making nice. It was at this time about 10,000 more Avengers books sprouted up once again, making keeping track of them impossible, but hey, that’s the price of Franchising! We even had a Secret group that added a bunch of guys in as one-shots.
From there the Avengers fought The X-Men in one of the stupidest events in comics history (and that’s SAYING SOMETHING), because the entire point was dumb! But at least that’s my opinion…
We should protect Hope!
NO! YOU GUYS SUCK!
LET’S FIGHT AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
After that, Bendis FINALLY left which I was happy about. He was good at building from one event to the next, but I got REALLY sick of him writing his David Mamet-Speak style for EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER, making entire groups of teammates sound identical to each other.
This led to Jonathan Hickman writing his giant Myth Arc which culminated in the second Secret Wars event.
Infinity was alright in parts, but WAY too long and rambling, leading to a lot of redundancy, Filler Issues and meaningless crap in between all of the awesome fights and some great dialogue. He JSA‘d the team into a giant, bloated roster that made characterization of anyone impossible, thus negating potentially-interesting new characters & Avengers like Manifold, Cannonball, Sunspot & Smasher into one-note forgotten background people. He was also too critically-vague about many other things as well, like The White Event mentioned at the beginning being important, but it then gets ignored for other stories for YEARS.
In the end, Hickman’s stories have a tendency towards some great moments and bad-ass acts, but… they’re light on characterization (to the point where I didn’t realize Shang-Chi was on the team until he got a focus issue, nor do any of the new characters have any kind of real “character” to them that makes them worth cheering for or hating), and he has a MAJOR weakness regarding clarity. And clarity is quite possibly the MOST important, MOST underrated aspect of any writer’s talents. If people can’t figure out what the hell is going on due to lack of (or vague) explanations, then they’re going to get out of the story.
The old Illuminati group got back together in the New Avengers series, making dark plans behind everyone’s backs, because simply being up-front and going all “oh hey this is going on- any help?” is UNACCEPTABLE and they have to do all this stuff to commit Genocide to protect their Earth (I mean, I get that it’s better than letting BOTH worlds die, but still- why hide the problem from EVERYONE ELSE?). And it was about that time that I jumped off the book, so I don’t have much more to say.
For me though, it’s been a crazy run, with varying levels of success. I mean, the book’s been EVERYWHERE. Its status as a major-league Marvel title gave it a great pick of creative teams, with icons like Thomas, Buscema, Steve Englehart, George Perez, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid and others all trying their shot, and though the Cap’s Kooky Quartet team was viewed with some derision, it set the standard.
While other books had constant rosters, The Avengers had EVERYBODY.
At any given moment, a half-dozen guys would leave the team, and be replaced with rarely-seen or unheard-of characters. And although many of these characters utterly flopped, it still gave The Avengers the biggest roster in all of comics, with characters bursting at the seams. One of the biggest teams in history, with all sorts of major names and jobbers alike, legends and forgotten people on the same roster (often at the same time).
In closing if you’d like some information on some of the Avengers periods that happened after the Hickman era, you can check out these links below by fellow Ghosts of the Stratosphere, on Mark Waid era culminating in the “No Surrender” event, and the current Jason Aaron run.