Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Avengers Assemble! Wait... How'd You Get In?

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.

Karen: Dude, everyone knows you love the bomber jackets! I think this image illustrates the problem. There's just too many of them, and honestly, too many that don't belong on the 'A' team. Deathcry? Stingray? Spider-Woman (whichever one that one was in the black and white suit)? Tigra? I just think being an Avenger should mean more, should require... more. Although I suppose one could say, what made Quicksilver so great? Or Ant-Man? or the Wasp? Or... well, you could quickly whittle the team down to about five or six people if it means you have to be either a heavy hitter or somebody of stature, like Cap.

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...



Anonymous said...

Yes, and the Hulk is the most unlikely Avenger of them all but he was there at #1.

Anonymous said...

In The Avengers #1.

Redartz said...

That poster is incredible. It is fun to follow the Wasp around the border; Jan must have kept very busy at the sewing machine devising all those costume variations...

As for the Avengers' membership, it really has exploded over the last couple decades. Kind of like the Justice League, actually. Perhaps there are AVENGERS with "all caps": such as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hank Pym and the Wasp. Add in Vision, Scarlet Witch; and you have the members with the greatest number of appearances.

Then there Avengers with a "capital A", such as Beast, Wonder Man, Black Knight and Pietro; who had many appearances but not as many as the group above. Not a slam against them at any rate, the Beast has always been one of my favorite Avengers.

Then there are avengers, who have been with the team from time to time, but who don't really spring to the mind when you think of "Avengers": Spider-Man, Sandman (?), Stingray, and others...

david_b said...

I'm going to be in the micro-minority here.., but I'm not a Beast-as-Avenger fan. Not at all.

When I started reading the A team in the early '70s (both the main title and the MTA reprints..), it was indeed a team of the finest, most noble of heroes (as an unstated ideal), which yes was a far cry from the original team where the Hulk was a member, or the 'Kooky Quartet' era. The Swordsman came in and I felt he fit the embodiment quite well ~ A tarnished yet heroic leader who despite some feelings of inadequacy was strong in being a team member. He was proud to be an Avenger. Mantis was indeed in 'guest-at-the-mansion' status, initially.

When the Beast came in, that unspoken rule was oddly unaddressed. Granted he brought some humorous rapport and strength to the team, but he clearly didn't fit the 'model Avenger' in my mind, hence my disappointment.

Somehow the 'Oh, sure just let everybody in the Avengers' seemed to have started soon after that.

William said...

I actually always thought it was a pretty bold move (and a little weird) that Hawkeye, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch were added to the Avengers so early on in the team's existence. Before that time they had all been super villains, and were really not all that well known as characters yet. In hindsight it appears perfectly fine, but it must have seemed pretty odd to readers of the Avengers at the time.

To replace well-known powerhouse characters like Thor, Iron Man, and Giant-Man (who all appeared in their own solo adventures at the time) with a team of low-powered, B-list ex-super villains must have been a real head-scratcher to the Marvel faithful of the day. I always figured that move must have been an effort to de-power the team a little so that the threats they faced were more of a challenge. (Or just to make them a little more like the Fantastic Four).

As for the Avengers of today, I don't even consider them remotely connected to the classic team of yesteryear. We'd all be better off as fans if Marvel Comics had just ceased publication before it got to the sad state it's in now. In fact, I basically consider everything that has come from Marvel since around the turn of the century to be pretty much one giant "What-If" story. Such as "What-If every single super-hero in the Marvel Universe joined the Avengers at some point (even loners like Spider-Man who would never join a team)?" I mean, it's gotten so ridiculous that most of the junk that comes out of Marvel nowadays is nothing more than glorified fan-fiction if you ask me.

Doug said...

The era of the Kooky Quartet, circa Avengers #s 19-60, is my favorite period in the team's history and the issues to which I return most often. For me, that is the time when the team was most interesting due to the feature roles of Captain America and Goliath.


Anonymous said...

Speaking as somebody who returned to reading Marvel in 2007 after a break of 24 years I definitely don't agree with William's statement. There are lots of great stories in modern Marvel. The recent Hulk/Doc Green storyline was terrific. So there.

Anonymous said...

What if every super-hero in the Marvel Universe joined the Avengers...?
Well - that was rhe concept at the beginning with the very first issue, surely.
Its just that the Marvel universe was a bit smaller back then.

Sure, Spiderman in the Avengers strikes me as a bit odd, but... why not?
And if I don't like it... well, I suspect a Busiek/Perez style reboot back to a "correct" core line up will come around at some point.


Doug said...

I'm not up on who has been on the roster in recent times, but I suspect "everybody" is indeed correct. But I long ago suggested that Havok and Polaris would fit in just fine and I think Havok actually has had a leadership role in years past. I'm a prophet.


Martinex1 said...

I remember collecting in the 80s and Avengers 16 with the "order changeth" to the kooky quartet was considered a significant key issue and the holy grail for some. I think it's lost its importance over the years.

I have to admit I pick and choose "my" Avengers and as time went on my choices became more selective. I am fine with Beast, Ms Marvel,Tigra, Moondragon, Wonder Man and Namor but I am not fine with She Hulk ( thought she was better in FF), Mantis, and Thing. I really cannot stand Eros, Machine Man, Darkhawk and the myriad of others added along the way. I think if their story was more organic to the overall myth then I am more accepting but if they were just bumped into and all of a sudden they join...I hated that. I liked when Spider-Man refused membership a couple of times. I loathe Wolverine simply because I cannot picture Cap accepting his methods. I hated when Reed, Sue and Gilgamesh were part of the team. But it kind of made sense to me that Scott Lang and Jack of Hearts joined (though they were used poorly). I don't think Stingray was a good edition even though I like the character. And strangely I really liked Sersi.

I guess despite rambling what I am trying to say is if I liked the character and there was a decent emotional and motivational story built around the character's use, I liked it more readily. If the story seems to be built around "wouldn't it be cool" or " this is a hot character" it feels wrong. Also pet characters (even handled by talented creators feel wrong)... As examples I give you Mantis and Triathalon. Although I accept that some love Mantis.

All in all, I'd like to see Henry Peter Gyrich make a new grand entrance and limit the team to seven again. That was brilliant.

Unknown said...

In my view, the definitive core trio of the Avengers were always Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. These were the "Big Three," and the cover of Avengers #151 visually reinforces this >>> http://i.annihil.us/u/prod/marvel/i/mg/c/b0/4c659cf8b32eb.jpg

As for the Hulk, in his earlier, child-like phase, he wouldn't have made a good Avenger at all, since he would have been nearly impossible to control--a wholly destructive, berserk giant dynamo without developed reasoning faculties. It's surprising that, per Avengers #1, he was actually a founding member.

And yes, it does seem like everyone with some super-ability was recruited at one time or another. Remember Amazing Spider-Man #348 from the early Nineties? Even the Sandman (Flint Marko) had been made a Reserve Avengers, as Spider-Man was at the time.

J.A. Morris said...

Good post, thanks for including the Official Handbook roster of the Avengers. I think I began to really say "WTF?" when Gilgamesh the Forgotten One became an Avenger. Sure, he's an Eternal, but when he joined, he was a C-lister. I wasn't crazy about Reed, Sue and Namor joining, but at least they're A-listers.

The Thing joining the WCA made a bit more sense than his teammates becoming Avengers because he had angrily quit the FF during the Byrne era.

FWIW, Karen and Doug's comments inspired me to do a little "research" this morning. I always wondered when Marvel started billing the Avengers as "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" on the cover. It looks like it started with issue #1, where the phrase "Earth's Mightiest Super-Heroes" is used. "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" didn't appear on the cover again, as far as I can tell, until issue #103.

Karen said...

It would have been hard to call the team 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes' during the Kooky Quartet days. Yet that was one of the most interesting periods in the team's development -Cap trying to figure out his place and become team leader with three young team-mates who were once villains (or at least misguided),two of whom thought they would be better leaders and one -Hawkeye -who was constantly in his face. Certainly an underpowered team, especially when you consider whose shoes they were filling, but the teamwork and personalities more than made up for it.

At that stage, they weren't 'elite' or the top team in the Marvel Universe. I think that idea probably developed sometime after the Kree-Skrull War, and once you regularly had Thor, Iron Man, the Vision, etc., in the line-up. Sure, the FF had toppled world-class threats too, but the Avengers had more powerful members and more of them.

But they've also always had a lot of characters with 'street level' power or what you might call B or C listers. So the idea that you had to be a powerhouse to belong doesn't really work. Circumstances often dictated membership and those circumstances were frequently strained. The shift to the Gilgamesh and Mr. and Mrs. fantastic line-up under Simonson was one of those. As I recall, it also ended quickly. maybe that was always intended. But it just never felt right.

For me, somebody who exemplifies the Avengers but is neither a powerhouse nor a character with gravitas is Hawkeye. He's just about a perfect Avenger though -he is determined, noble in his way, courageous. He's also shown a lot of growth as a character over the years, although I'll admit I haven't read anything recently.

ColinBray said...

Excellent post and discussion!

It seems the point at which we discover The Avengers shapes our attitude to the membership. I first passed by the title with #158 and at that age (7) and for a long time afterwards, I really had no choice but to accept every member as indispensable because, well, they were Avengers aren't they? They must be great!

In retrospect, it wasn't the plethora of members but the West Coast team that compromised the status of The Avengers.

The WCA would have diluted The Avengers book even if it had been good. And it wasn't good - it brought The Avengers title down to earth as collateral damage.

William said...

Colin, not trying to offend anyone. Almost all of my statements usually contain the qualifier "IMO", or "If you ask me." To illustrate the point that they are my own personal opinions, and should not necessarily apply to anyone else. I know that there are plenty of people out there who still read (and like) what Marvel is doing today (otherwise they'd be completely out of business), but I am not one of those people.

I haven't read every single Marvel Comic being published so I am sure there are many "good" stories still being done. It's just that I apparently haven't come across any of them myself. With one exception, and that was Mark Waid's run on Daredevil. Which they of course ended because it was actually kind of fun (and lord knows we can't have that anymore).

When I called recent (or modern) Marvel offerings "fan fiction" I was referring to things like "New Avengers" where the great "writer" Brian Michael Bendis just shoved all of his favorite characters onto the team like Wolverine, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Sentry, etc. Sort of like a 12 year old would do.

And speaking of the Sentry, if anyone has been paying attention, that character basically ret-conned the entire Marvel Universe by retroactively shoehorning him into the Silver and Bronze Age continuity and making him a major player in many of the classic events of Marvel Comic's history. (But nobody remembered him - not even the readers apparently). So, if you are to believe that, then all of the comics you ever read growing up are wrong. They have omitted the greatest and most powerful superhero in the Marvel Universe - The Sentry.

And let's not forget the Norman Osborn making babies with Gwen Stacy ret-con. And the "One More Day" ret-con. And Reed Richards building a concentration camp and unlawfully imprisoning his friends in Civil War. And having basically every major Marvel hero die and come back at some point, and etc. etc. etc. Like I said, it's just gotten to be a ridiculous convoluted mess (IMO).

It's stuff like that that makes me have to pretty much ignore everything Marvel has done since 2000 (when Sentry was introduced). Otherwise, I might as well just burn all my TPBs and back issues of Marvel and call it a day.

Now back to our regularly scheduled Avengers discussion.

William said...

Uhg. I know I'm going to get into trouble for that last post of mine.

Anonymous said...

Hi William – the handover from the Thor, IM, GM Wasp to the Kooky quarter was a continuity / consistency thing. Stan wanted to maintain the continuity of their own mags without having to continually write things into the Avengers to link it up. That’s why Hank returned in May 66, because he finished in TTA #69 the previous summer.

HI Sean - When you consider that ‘the most expensive game of golf ever’ ended with Goodman telling Stan to mimic the JLA, the original Avengers was actually a lot closer to being that than the FF ever was i.e. every super hero on the entire menu at the time.

I like the Avengers who were there, but it didn’t work out like Black Widow Or Moondragon. It made more sense to me that people just didn’t fit sometimes. Bit of variety and then move on.

I also like the way some characters are there for story driven reasons, like Mantis, or actually like Reed & Sue, who I seem to remember were basically just crashing at the mansion at the time.

Hi Karen, totally agree about Hawkeye. Lots of back-story, carny, Barney, Swordsman, Natasha, villain turned hero (although he was only a villain insofar as he did whatever BW told him to do), Goliath, wise-cracking, fun, and for all his arrogance, he always had a girl on a pedestal. Occasionally, there was a touch of Bat Anti-Shark Repellent about his bottomless pit of a quiver, but fair enough. Did we ever find out why the Supreme Intelligence’s mind –zap hoovered up every Avenger in the universe except Clint? I always hoped there was a story there, and Rascally Roy was always one for the long game.

Re: Starfox, seriously, between #200 and #254, there’s a strange little curate’s egg with that Alan Weiss / Molecule Man story and the rest of it is just filler until Stern, Buscema and Palmer decided to remind everyone what was so great about the silver age.


Anonymous said...

Well, I always considered Beast, Wonder Man and Shulkie to be "classic" Avengers. I liked Ms. Marvel and Falcon too, but they didn't last long.

As for the West Coasters, I thought Tigra fit in well with them (though she wasn't always well-written) and I didn't mind the later, Roy Thomas-written line-up with Spider Woman (Julia Carpenter); even U.S. Agent was good as a contrast to the usual idealized superheroes.

Mike Wilson

dbutler16 said...

Yes, it's very sad that the Avengers have let their standards drop such that anybody in colorful spandex gets let int. Yet another reason why I choose to ignore comics from about 1990 (or maybe even before) on.

I had no use for Tigra. Her acting like a real cat shtick wore thin with me after about 5 minutes, and she seemed fairly useless in any fight.

I'm not sure where I consider the "classic" Avengers to end. Certainly through the Black Knight. I actually started reading Avengers right about when Jocasta sort of came aboard, but I can't really think of her, nor Moondragon, Mantis, or Falcon as "real" Avengers, but I'm OK with Ms. Marvel, Wonder Man, She-Hulk, and Captain Marvel (of the Monica Rambeau variety) as being on my Avengers team. It gets pretty spotty after that. Mockingbird is about the only one after that I feel pretty comfortable calling a "real" Avengers.

I do believe that the Guardians of the Galaxy were honorary members.

Bomber jackets, uh, yeah. The less said, the better.

Anonymous said...

William, I should have said "in my opinion" too :)

JJ said...

Well, for what it's worth, I tend to agree with William re: the state of Marvel Comics. I'm sure there are exceptions - Waid and Samnee's Daredevil comes to mind - but they've been putting out horrible comics for a very long time now.

Some of the additions to the Avengers really worked for me. Many did not. I have a hard time attributing that to a particular period. Loved seeing Quicksilver in there, but feel the Scarlet Witch is a dull character. The Vision is such a superb creation. He feels to me like a mainstay now, right up there with the big three. Also really enjoyed seeing Wonder Man, the Black Panther and Ms. Marvel. The rest left me stone cold. And the Wasp and Hank Pym are near and dear to my heart. Really interesting characters both. If I had my druthers they'd be featured permanently.

Edo Bosnar said...

First, I have to say I agree that no members of the FF should ever be Avengers, and the same goes for the loner-type heroes (Spidey, DD, etc.). Looking over the Handbook list of Avengers up to the mid-'80s, the one that seems really out of place to me for some reason is Black Widow. Also, I never considered Moondragon an actual Avenger; she was more like an annoying out-of-town relative who made occasional visits.
Like Mike W., I agree about Beast, Ms. Marvel, She Hulk and Wonder Man. I thought Ms. Marvel in particular was a good fit, and it's really a pity that things worked out the way they did. I also have no problem with the idea of Tigra being in the team, I just hated the way the character was written when she first joined the team - all flighty and kind of cowardly, which was completely at odds with the way she was written in most of her appearances up to that point.

B Smith said...

I'm pretty much on board with everything that William said - then again, the last issue I read was #209.

Those Avengers A-1 Priority cards can't have much value these days if everybody's got one.

Anonymous said...

I like the mix of A-, B-, & C-listers. Cap, Iron Man, & Thor aren't always available. You have to have an Avengers team to take on the big threats, so sometimes Stingray, Machine Man, Ant-Man, & Deathcry are who you have to work with. I think the proliferation on B-listers can make the title more interesting, at least in theory. When Roger Stern wrote the title, he didn't always have the big guns. His run is one of the best in the title's history, despite appearances by Starfox and Dr. Druid. The Bob Harras/ Steve Epting/ Tom Palmer run has a decent fan base, and its main characters were Black Knight, Crystal, and Sersi. Al Ewing's Mighty Avengers starred several near-nobodies (White Tiger? current Power Man? Blue Marvel? Kaalu?) and it was great. Being an Avenger should be an honor, given to the elite, but sometimes you have to suck it up and use Jack of Hearts.

That said, there should be limits. If I ran the Avengers, circa 1990:

1) There shouldn't be poaching from other teams. If the Thing quits the FF, he can be a temporary Avenger. He shouldn't be an Avenger while appearing in FF.
2) No more than 8 members to an active roster. There can be multiple squads, but no giant Avenger army unless you're dealing with Thanos or something.
3) No putting random characters on the team. If you're going to make Storm an Avenger, give her a good reason to be on the team. Don't have her show up for three issues, stand around in group shots, and leave.
4) Creators should be allowed no more than one pet character at a time. I can't justify cutting writers and artists off from putting in their own characters. Yeah, Mantis and Silverclaw weren't great, but I loved Monica Rambeau during Stern's run.
5) No loaners; Daredevil and the Hulk couldn't function in big super-battles. Dr. Strange has bigger things to worry about. Spider-Man's whole Schlick changes when he's on a team.
6) no non-powered martial artists outside of leaders/strategists/ proven commodities. We don't need a parade of Deathcries, Echoes, Iron Fists, etc. who would be near useless against a Kree invasion. Hell, I think Hellcat and Mockingbird are fairly pointless Avengers, even though I like the characters.

Sigh. If only...

- Mike Loughlin

William said...

I remember way back in What-If #50 they did an entire joke issue and one of the bits was "What-If Every Avenger Who Was Ever An Avenger Was Still An Avenger?" That was pretty funny. But what's even funnier nowadays is that it's not even a joke anymore. :D

dbutler16 said...

I agree with William that most of the Marvel stuff put out for the past hover long has been like a bunch of bad fan fiction. But hey, people are apparently eating it up, so maybe there's something wrong with us?

Dougie said...

I'm really torn about the Bendis "New" Avengers- astonishingly, already a decade old! On the one hand, the idea of a Marvel megastar team makes economic sense: Cap, Iron Man, Wolvie, Spidey plus a couple of pet characters ( in this instance, Cage & Spider-Woman), creating what Englehart called "ferment".

But then I grew up with two ideas I can't shake: that certain characters- Spidey, DD- are loners and that others ( Wolverine, Storm, the Thing, Doc Strange) are cornerstones of other teams.

If I think of the JLA - although that team was never structured like the Assemblers, who come and go- there are some members who are iconic. We generally think of them as the Big Seven. Similarly, there are characters who just ARE the Classic Avengers. Fortunately, most are also part of the cinematic team: Thor, Cap, Iron Man, Vizh, Wanda, Hawkeye and Jan. I'm not sure we need anyone else.

Ian said...

I just wanted to chip in with saying the West Coast Avengers was actually a good read, until Byrne took it upon himself to destroy the Vision and the Scarlet Witch as characters.

Ninja said...


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