Doug: Welcome back to our second journey to the 1980s Marvel Handbooks and DC Who's Who (which we will get to next week). Karen and I thought it would be a kick to revive a question she posed many a'moon ago, namely, are the Avengers an elite team or is joining the team as easy as getting a Costco membership? Using a visual roster of Earth's Mightiest Heroes from the first issue of the 1986 Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, we're going to explore that again. Here's what Karen wrote on September 3, 2010:
Karen: There was a time when the Avengers were considered to be the elite team of the Marvel universe. To be an Avenger was a mark of honor. While the Fantastic Four was a family, and the X-Men were united by their common genetic status, the Avengers was sort of like a pro sports team: not everyone would make the cut. But currently, just about everyone in the Marvel universe seems to be a member of the Avengers.
Karen: Sure, you could point back to the 80s and characters like Deathcry and Rage being brought on the team, and say, "Hey, it's been going on for years!" Well, to some degree, that's true. There were some bad calls along the way. But the biggest explosion in the team has occurred in the last few years.
Karen: Nowadays it's actually easier to name the characters who aren't Avengers than the ones who are, because essentially everyone is an Avenger. They've grown to the size of the Legion of Super-Heroes! While I enjoy team books, it sort of takes away from the specialness of being an Avenger if everyone can be an Avenger. And I like characters like Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Dr. Strange,Valkyrie, Nova, etc, but where do you stop? The only characters who really haven't joined up en masse are the X-Men. Most of them are just X-Men only. Except for, of course, Wolverine, whose healing power apparently also enables him to appear in 20 books a month - I hear he's joining the Justice League next week.
Doug: And, as promised above, below are the four pages that represented the Avengers' history and roster through about 1985. What jumps out at you?
Karen: Things actually aren't too bad here, but I do think you can see the beginning of the problem on page 4, with Starfox, aka Eros, there. What the heck is he doing in the Avengers? And the Thing? I love Ben, but he belongs in the FF. Of course, for a brief period Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman were both Avengers. That just doesn't work for me.
Doug: I agree. But what I'm first struck by is that for the first eight years or so there had only been 14 Avengers, and I think I can rationalize and even approve of every single one of them (I'm talking from Thor through the Black Knight, not counting Goliath, Yellowjacket, and Goliath II). As you asked in your original post, I couldn't even guess how many there have been by now. It heads south for me right where Tigra's headshot appears, but I'll confess that from her through the Thing -- all of those folks joined during my hiatus from comics. Of course, then the next thing that strikes me is that I consider Mantis a "classic" Avenger!
Doug: In retrospect, Mantis seems like a character whose tenure on the team is now quite confined. Yes, I know she appeared in subsequent mini-series like Avengers: Celestial Quest, but that was primarily because Steve Englehart, her creator, wrote that. As to Mr. Grimm, of the members of the Fantastic Four (did Johnny ever join, because I'm thinking he did not) his tenure in the West Coast Avengers made more sense to me than did Reed and Sue's time spent with the East Coasters. Perhaps that's because I was just used to Ben mixing with the Marvel Universe from his Marvel Two-In-One books.
Karen: I don't think Mantis was even formally recognized as an Avenger until after her... whatever it was - transformation. She just came along with the Swordsman, whose claim on membership was tenuous at best. But I would agree with you that up to a point there are Avengers I wouldn't dispute -- probably ending with the Black Knight. So can we make a case for "classic" Avengers and then, what? I can't call Mantis, the Beast, Ms. Marvel and those guys 'modern' -- that was 40 years ago! But yes, they definitely feel sort of like the next wave. I like many of them -- Beast was great, so was Ms. Marvel, I liked She-Hulk and Wonder Man, and Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau). All worthy characters. But as I had said six years ago -- wow, time flies -- at some point, it just felt like anyone could join.
Doug: When you think of George Perez's famous 30th anniversary poster, there are even more Avengers, due in large part to the WCA. But Perez also chose to include the Guardians of the Galaxy, who I guess had received honorary status after the "Korvac Saga"? Not sure what the definitive answer is there. Speaking specifically of the poster below, Perez has gone on record stating that he regrets depicting the characters as they were in 1993 rather than in their regular costumes. Hence (wait for it) the bomber jackets.
Doug: Yet, some of my favorite Avengers tales lack the presence of Thor and Iron Man. But I agree with your basic posit about a certain degree of power or gravitas.
And then there's the Hulk. Who the "man on the street" thinks has always been an Avenger. Oh, boy...