Back Issues: Avengers roster always changing

One way or another, one of the most sucessful and unique franchises in the history of cinema is about to end.

But I have little doubt the Avengers will live on in some form or fashion after “Avengers: Endgame” — arriving in theaters today — just as they have in the pages of Marvel comics since 1964.

That first issue of “Avengers,” by the legendary Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, brought together five iconic heroes of the young Marvel age of comics — Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk and the diminuitive duo of Ant-Man and the Wasp. They were united against the villainy of Thor’s adopted brother Loki by teen sidekick Rick Jones and his Citizen Band radio pals.

The movie origin borrows from “The Ultimates,” a series set in Marvel’s Ultimate universe in which a Nick Fury modeled after Samuel L. Jackson himself brought the team together under the auspices of S.H.I.E.L.D. Those 21st century-set tales had a number of elements that influenced the movie, but they also played the team as mostly cynical celebrities in stories that, from my perspective anyway, lacked the enthusiastic exuberance of the original tales that were obviously aimed at a wider, or at least younger, audience.

Despite his debut film being subtitled “The First Avenger,” Captain America didn’t join up until issue 4. By that time, the Hulk had left and Ant-Man had upgraded to Giant-Man.

That lineup made it to issue 16, when the founders left Cap in charge of a squad that included reformed criminals Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. The Wasp and Giant-Man (now going by Goliath) were the first to return, with the ranks later bolstered by demi-god Hercules, Black Panther and the technologically (and later mystically) powered Black Knight.

Sent to destroy the Avengers, the android Vision instead became a stalwart member, not unlike predecessors Wonder Man and Swordsman, who joined as double agents but found themselves more loyal to the team than their villainous bosses.

The ’70s saw various past Avengers come and go, while the Black Widow, founding X-Man Beast, Earthlings-with-cosmic-connections Mantis and Moondragon, Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel) and more joined.

Eventually aligning themselves with the United Nations (a sticking point for some in the movies), for a while, the team had a limit of seven active members.

In the ’80s, the Avengers added a second group in California. The West Coast Avengers were led by Hawkeye, with an initial roster of Mockingbird, Iron Man (Jim Rhodes, pre-War Machine), Wonder Man and the feline Tigra.

Going back to one flagship team over the years, the Avengers disbanded in 2004’s “Disassembled” event after the Scarlet Witch suffered a mental breakdown and devastated the team. In the aftermath, a jailbreak from a superhuman prison brought together several heroes. From that group, Cap and Iron Man formed the New Avengers with newcomers Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, the powerful-but-unstable Sentry, the mysterious Ronin and X-Man Wolverine.

The superhero Civil War split that squad, with both teams adding more new (Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, Hercules’ brother Ares) and former members. After they patched things up, several iterations — New, Secret, Mighty, a robot-focused group, an Academy — brought more heroes into the fold.

In the lead-up to 2015’s “Secret Wars,” the team expanded to nearly two-dozen members, in addition to adding a Unity Squad blending veteran Avengers and X-Men. After the Marvel Universe restarted, the Falcon (wearing the mantle of Captain America), Iron Man and Vision formed a new team with the young Nova, Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man (Miles Morales). The Unity Squad rolled on, bringing in the Inhumans and even adding Deadpool to the mix.

The weekly “No Surrender” storyline brought combined and broke down the various Avengers teams. The most recent reformation features mainstays Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk and the newest Ghost Rider.


Recommended Reading

* “Marvel Masterworks: Avengers” Vol. 1 — The first 10 issues, crafted by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, introduces the original Avengers and kicks off a legendary run that, when you adjust for some anachronistic dialogue, still ranks as one of the top superhero epics of all time.

* “Avengers: The Morgan Conquest” — Writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez bring the Avengers back after many key figures were missing for a year, pitting virtually everyone who’s ever been on the team against the reality-warping magic of Morgan Le Fay.

* “New Avengers: Breakout” — Writer Brian Michael Bendis reinvents the Avengers with a slew of unexpected additions, including Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage and Spider-Woman.