Welcome to the next in our series of primers. Today’s lesson is on Marvel’s The Avengers in preparation for this summer’s ensemble superhero film of the same name written and directed by Joss Whedon. The success of Marvel’s cinematic outings in recent history has all but guaranteed a massive weekend box office this May, but if you aren’t a comic-book geek, you might want a little more under your utility belt before buying your movie ticket.
Back in 1963, comic-book legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were already well established in the industry and Marvel’s poster boys, but rivals DC Comics had seen quite a bit of success by teaming up their big guns to fight for the earth as the Justice League of America. So, in kind, Marvel pulled together Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Hulk, Thor, Wasp and Captain America to form The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Since the 60′s the team members have come and gone, borrowing from other teams like the X-Men and even recruiting former villains. In the comic world, their battle cry “Avengers Assemble!” is nearly as famous as “Up, up and away!”.
Like all great superheroes, a superhero team has its origins. I suspect this year’s movie won’t strictly adhere to the comic version, particularly because two of the original heroes are nowhere to be seen, but the trailers seem to point to a vague similarity to the first run of books from ’63. In it, Thor’s nemesis and half brother Loki is out for revenge. He fools the Hulk into decimating a railroad trellis. His plan to vilify the Hulk includes diverting any calls for help to only Thor, forcing a showdown between the two. Loki fails to prevent Wasp, Ant-Man and Iron Man from getting wind of the situation though. After discovering the deception, the 5 join forces to defeat Loki and when Ant-Man suggests they make a good team, they create a more permanent bond, calling themselves The Avengers, a name imagined by Wasp because it sounded “dramatic”. Captain America is discovered frozen in ice after 60 years and brought to the team soon after, assuming an early leadership position and given founding member status in the Hulk’s place after the green behemoth quits the team realizing the fear he places on his team members with regard to his instability.
With help, and funding, from Tony Stark (Iron Man), The Avengers establish a headquarters in a New York City mansion tended to by Stark’s personal butler Edwin Jarvis, portrayed in the Iron Man films as an artificial intelligence. The mansion acts as a high tech base of operations and training center as well as the hanger for the team’s Quinjets, five engined jet fighters used to get around the world and beyond.
The Avengers have an on-again off-again relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D., an extra-government organization who’ve been known to butt heads with many of Marvel’s superheroes, often needing their help but maintaining a distrust to beings with extreme power. Led by Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson in the films), the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. keep watch from the skies in a massive flying Helicarrier, focusing their efforts on keeping superhero and super-villain activity in check.
2012′s film will feature some additional characters, namely Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) seen briefly in the Thor and Iron Man 2 movies respectively. Both characters associated themselves with S.H.I.E.L.D. but frequently fought side-by-side with the Avengers, not to mention were embroiled in a pretty torrid love affair.
Like many other superhero teams, The Avengers is as much about fighting super-villains as it is about inter personal struggles between teammates. Questionable pasts, problems with authority, sexual tension and good old fashioned personality clashes keep things interesting no matter who is currently on the team or who the current foe is. Expect to see:
- The Hulk struggling with being a hero but perceived as a monster
- Iron Man defending technology over the magic brought to the team by Thor.
- Iron Man challenging his position as leader with Captain America.
- Captain America adapting to the 21st Century.
- The Avengers pushing back on the questionable morality and agenda of S.H.I.E.L.D.
- The eventual take down of Loki in a big final battle.
- The initial rise of a new enemy for inevitable sequels. Even money on Baron Zemo or Kang The Conquerer, two major Avengers villains from the printed page.
So there you have it. A quick and dirty look at The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. If you’re looking to get a little more into Marvel’s universe, step on in to a comic-book store or look for a local convention. If you’re in the Anaheim, CA area, this weekend (March 16, 17 and 18) is the annual Wonder-Con and there’s bound to be a plethora of Avengers material to be had. For a lesser investment, look up The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Animated Series, produced by Marvel Entertainment and currently airing on DisneyXD and available (non-streaming) on Netflix. I do not recommend the direct to DVD Ultimate Avengers (2006) animated movie because it suffers from a muddled origin story and poor voice performances.
The Avengers, starring Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr. and a plethora of other big names, written and directed by Joss Whedon, opens May 4th, 2012.