Wounded Warriors: A Hero-History of The Avengers
- Tuesday, April 24, 2012
To enhance your appreciation of the source material for the upcoming film, The Avengers, we offer this brief "hero history."
With such ground-breaking fare as Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, and Spider-Man selling well, Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee created a new title to adorn the spinner rack. National/DC Comics was enjoying success with Justice League of America, so Lee decided to do his own take on the team concept. In JLA, writer Gardner Fox told plot-driven stories uniting DC super-heroes against various world-threatening menaces. But Fox's heroes seemed wooden; their adventures rote. Lee responded by applying his then-unprecedented "flawed heroes in the real world" formula. He wrote a script uniting Ant Man, Wasp, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk. Cover-dated September, 1963, drawn by the legendary Jack Kirby, the book was a hit, the first foray in a series that, in various forms featuring a plethora of characters, would last the next fifty years.
Though featuring Thor's brother, Loki, as the villain, the team spent as much time in their first issue battling the Hulk. Eventually, they knock some sense into the green goliath's head. He joins the group, but not for long. With the second issue, Lee showed how little he was interested in maintaining the status quo. Ant Man becomes Giant Man and the Hulk quits. Along the way, Iron Man trades his hulking armor for a more streamlined look.
The first milestone (if the word applies in a constantly changing series) came a few months later in Avengers #4. Having battled the wing-heeled Sub-Mariner to a standstill, the team finds a man floating in a cake of ice. Lo and behold, it is none other than the legendary hero of World War II, Captain America! His face unlined, his shield, still bright, the star-spangled avenger nevertheless adds the first trace of tragedy to the saga. His old partner Bucky long dead, a man out of his time, Cap clings to this group for meaning and purpose in a brave, new world.
It's a group, however, as fluid as the drink from which he'd been drawn—as Cap discovers in #16 (May, 1965) when the whole team dissolves around him! Since beggars can't be choosers, Cap allows a trio of former villains—the archer Hawkeye, super-speedster Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch—to sign on. Ever the leader of men, Cap is able to forge these bickering malcontents into a fighting force, defeating an array of villains including Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil.
As the years passed, the roster changed again and again. There was Hercules, Black Knight, Black Widow, Captain Marvel (not the Fawcett, later DC, character, but a heroic alien), Black Panther, and the Vision to name a few. The team acquired a mansion and a "valiant valet," Edwin Jarvis (for the recent movies, the character was turned into Tony Stark's computer system). In the late sixties, Stan Lee turned the reins over to longtime fan Roy Thomas who ultimately delivered one of the great Avengers sagas, "The Kree-Skrull War" (#89-97, June 1971-March 1972).
The group changed members, powers, and costumes so much it seemed to be suffering from a kind of multiple-personality disorder. In the character of Henry Pym, we see the embodiment of that affliction. Pym is one of the most confused and conflicted super-heroes in super-history. Now Ant Man, now Giant man, now Goliath, now Yellow Jacket, the poor guy couldn't figure out who he was or what he was to do. That confusion came to a head in "The Court Martial of Yellow Jacket" (#213, November, 1981). In Jim Shooter's ground-breaking story, a severely disturbed Pym tries to prove himself to his team with disastrous results. In the course of this issue, Hank strikes his longsuffering wife, Janet (Wasp), before suffering a total breakdown. It would be years before he would recover some sort of equilibrium.
Other noteworthy stories from the archives include:
· "The Bride of Ultron" (#161-162) which explored the ethical limits to which the team would go to defeat its enemies.
· "The Korvac Saga" (#167-168, 170-177). In one sequence, the heroes have to ride a bus to a battle because their flight clearance has been revoked by the government. Along the way, every member of the team is killed only to be brought back to life!
· "Under Siege" (#273-277). The Masters of Evil take over Avengers Mansion, taking Cap, Jarvis, and Black Knight hostage.
· "Kang Dynasty" (vol. 3 #41-54). Earth is conquered and the mighty Avengers sent to concentration camps.
Written by Kurt Busiek, "Kang" is notable for the presence of a Christian super-heroine, Bonita Juarez, AKA Firebird. Years before, in West Coast Avengers, Firebird had attempted to bring the light of God into Hank Pym's life. Now, she faces a tougher challenge. How does a Christian minister to a self-styled god? Brooding over his immortality, fretting that his friends are aging and dying about him, the mighty Thor considers quitting the Avengers. Bonita, a patient woman, has had enough. Angered by his stated desire to escape all ties with mortals, she cries, "I've tried to get through to you…but you're a god, and you're different. So you say. But my God notices even the fall of a sparrow, and that's the God I'll follow, the God I'll do my best to emulate. Not you!"Firebird's declaration of faith is a subtle yet powerful affirmation of the vulnerability of the God who walked among us, Jesus Christ. Indeed, the saga of the mighty—sometimes not so mighty—Avengers reminds me of the wounded warriors that make up the body of Christ. The battle with evil takes its toll. It drains our strength, humiliates, and even kills us. Like the Avengers, the church is sometimes faced with dysfunction, even evil, in its own ranks. Her leadership struggles sometimes to apply truth with grace. But the cosmic powers we battle can never destroy us. Like that of Stan Lee's creation, the church's ultimate victory is secured.
*This Article First Published 4/24/2012
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