Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have been front-and-center in the Marvel comic book world for decades. Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), this band of superheroes otherwise known as the Avengers has skyrocketed in popularity beyond the comic book medium. Think about it, for those of us who can vividly remember back to 2007, imagine asking several people on the street during that year who Iron Man is. Most who weren’t comic book fans likely would’ve shrugged. Now, Tony Stark is a household name – not just in comic books or movies, but in pop culture at large.
- 10. The Avengers (2012 movie)
- 9. Breakout (The New Avengers issues 1-6)
- 8. Dark Avengers
- 7. Civil War
- 6. Ultron Unlimited (Avengers Vol. 3 issue 0, 19-22)
- 5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018 movie)
- 4. Kree/Skrull War (Avengers issues 89-97)
- 3. Under Siege (Avengers issues 270-277)
- 2. Avengers: Endgame (2019 movie)
- 1. The Kang Dynasty (Avengers vol. 3 issues 41-55, Avengers Annual 2001)
While the movies are absolutely thrilling, the Avengers have a long history in Marvel publications of saving the world and tangling with the most powerful baddies comic book writers could cook up. Some of those stories have been adapted for the big screen, while others simply remain as the creative endeavor of an author and artist in the pages of Marvel comics, graphic novels, and collected editions. Let’s examine some of the Avengers’ best adventures.
Nowadays, it’s difficult to speak of the Avengers without referring to the MCU’s stellar turnout over the past several years. In fact, the original film featuring the super team, The Avengers, became an iconic template for how to do a massive superhero crossover film right. For audiences, The Avengers was spellbinding as we watched worlds collide from a handful of films we had seen in the four years that led up to it.
Marvel Studios didn’t phone this epic event in, either. While simplistic and based on the original Avengers’ first conflict with Loki, the narrative zeroed in on each of these heroes and their insecurities offering a path toward growth that was ultimately realized in the climactic finale of the film where the team came together and repelled an apocalyptic alien threat in New York City. Each hero was given time and space in the film’s 2-hour and 23-minute runtime to feel wholly relevant to forming Earth’s Mightiest Heroes by Act 3. It’s a story that will surely stand the test of time.
In the wake of Brian Michael Bendis’ Civil War storyline, which saw the dissolution of the Avengers as part of a superhuman registration mandate, the team reformed once again. This time, however, they’re operating illegally. In fact, there is a superhero team legitimized by the government and following regulations existing simultaneously with the rogue group seen in the New Avengers.
Breakout introduces a somewhat new lineup under the leadership of Captain America. While Iron Man and Spider-Man are members, newcomers like Luke Cage, and Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman), Echo, Wolverine, and the Marvel equivalent to DC’s Superman, Sentry, all join the team. The story begins with a bang as Electro unleashes villains and chaos at the Raft (a superhuman prison) and the team must spring into action. This first volume of The New Avengers is a worthwhile addition to anyone’s Avengers must-read list.
If you think you know the Avengers, take a gander at another Brian Michael Bendis treat entitled Dark Avengers. This storyline flipped everything you know about the team on its head. Instead of true-blue heroes suiting up and saving the day, the team consists of previously established villains or anti-heroes operating under the guise of government-sanctioned superheroes. Led by Norman Osborn of Green Goblin fame, this team consists of shifty characters like Mac Gargan in the Venom symbiote suit, Bullseye, Wolverine’s son Daken, Ares, and even the unstable super-powered being, Sentry.
Of course, Norman dons an Iron Patriot suit, Bullseye dresses up like Hawkeye, and Daken takes on a similar appearance to his father. It’s these visual adjustments that helped win the people over as these villainous characters take on the personas of something more comfortable to the public eye. In the wake of the Avengers dissolution in Civil War, Norman is seen as a hero for his hand in defeating the Skrulls in Secret Invasion. As such, he’s given license to pull a team together which enables him to begin a campaign of recruiting other villains to his team while appearing on the surface to be a do-gooder despite the team’s more brash approach to getting things done. But is Norman truly reformed? That’s a question that can only be answered by reading the Dark Avengers for yourself.
Simply titled Civil War without any headlining names like Avengers or Captain America (for those who know the film), this limited series is a major crossover written by Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Kingsman). This pivotal narrative would reverberate through several major Marvel storylines in the coming years. Of course, it’d also be just as substantial in its impact when it was eventually adapted for the big screen in the MCU as Captain America: Civil War.
While there are many differences between the film and the comic book storyline, the core narrative remains the same. The U.S. government aims to control the superheroes by mandating various regulations and implementing the Superhero Registration Act. Captain America opposes the unilateral legislation while Iron Man supports it. The Avengers and other Marvel heroes split backing either Cap or Iron Man depending on where their feelings lie on the matter. A commentary is at play here invoking the idea that behind such regulations is an authoritarian motive. Those who align with Iron Man also begin acting the part. It’s the age-old debate between freedom and government oversight which many view as security. Given its real-world implications, Civil War is a truly engaging narrative that is just as compelling today as it was 15 years ago.
Ultron is a malevolent force in the Avengers universe. Being somewhat akin to Marvel’s version of Skynet, Ultron is a far-sweeping AI capable of untold destruction. Ultron Unlimited, published in 1999, demonstrates the magnitude of destruction its god complex can induce on the general population of Earth as the rogue AI destroys Slorenia, an entire fictional country. What’s even more insidious and completely twisted is that Ultron creates cyborgs out of the deceased civilians of Slorenia.
Ultron and his robot hordes eliminate UN soldiers while contending with the Avengers, and Vision plays a substantial role in the climactic third act of this storyline. Ultron Unlimited is, perhaps, the best Ultron story around. Despite the film Avengers: Age of Ultron sharing the same name as the Brian Michael Bendis-penned 2013 storyline, the movie actually cherry-picks more plot points for its narrative from Ultron Unlimited than it does from the actual Age of Ultron comic run.
Thanos’ conflict with the Avengers was drawn out into a three-phase-long narrative in the MCU where he’d eventually gain ownership of the cosmic Infinity Stones and end life throughout the universe on a devastating scale. In the comic book, Thanos was vicious and romantically infatuated with the physical manifestation of death. His pursuit of the stones was fueled by simple, carnal desires. However, Infinity War presented a Thanos who deems himself a tad more altruistic. While ending half of all life throughout the universe would widely be seen as pure evil, Thanos’ view on the matter is that it would save those who remained offering them a better life with more resources.
Avengers: Infinity War is the first film in a two-part sequence that ultimately ended with Thanos’ victory. It’s a harrowing story rife with death, not just of nameless Wakandan warriors, but of major heroes and characters within the MCU. It’s a film, and a story, with a massive stake. But we don’t have to imagine what’s at stake in a world where the heroes ride off into the sunset victorious. Instead, we get to witness the gravity of the Avengers’ failure. For that reason, Avengers: Infinity War will forever be important in the hero group’s legacy.
The Marvel Universe is expansive. While there might be a never-ending spectrum in the multiverse, there’s also a vast world out there among the cosmos. The Kree and Skrull are famously two of Marvel’s biggest alien races among countless others. These two, in particular, have been involved in several of the publishing giant’s most pivotal storylines. So, you can imagine that a war between these two interstellar races might stir up some trouble.
Well, Earth, and subsequently the Avengers, find themselves caught in the middle of this burgeoning conflict. Not only must Earth’s mightiest heroes swing into action to protect their home, they also have to deal with the upheaval and anxiety seen among the general public over the event. Drama and public perception begin driving a wedge through a team that is already strained. The Kree/Skrull war is an epic saturated in action, drama, and resolve. This storyline even boasts the vibrant artwork that the late, great Neal Adams is known for alongside artists Sal and John Buscema.
This 1987 event penned by Roger Stern with colorful classical stylized art by John Buscema is often seen as the pinnacle of major Avengers events. Baron Zemo demonstrates just how formidable and maniacal he has become as he establishes a new Masters of Evil in an effort to bring down the Avengers. In fact, Zemo and his compatriots get the drop on the Avengers by storming their compound, capturing several heroes, and nearly beating Hercules within an inch of his life.
It’s a harrowing event, to say the least. Those who were detained by Zemo’s forces are tortured and tormented while the heroes left standing, such as the Wasp, are left to pick up the pieces and reclaim the mansion and their colleagues. Ultimately, the heart of the narrative is the endurance of heroes captured like Captain America, and lesser-known characters like the Wasp stepping into a leadership role. It’s a vicious assault that leaves the villains in a position of power and the heroes in a desperate state attempting to recover and finally combat the Masters of Evil.
Avengers: Endgame brought the calamitous era of Thanos in the MCU to an end. But it managed to do so with all of the heart, action, and spectacle it could muster. It also brought Robert Downey Jr’s 11-year tenure as Iron Man to a heart-rending close. The Avengers and heroes that remained in the wake of Thanos’ destruction of half the universe in Infinity War, depressingly move forward with their own lives five years after the famous Snap only to discover a possible time-traveling solution to their problem.
While some may have rolled their eyes knowing that Thanos’ murder of countless living beings including many prominent heroes was about to reversed in true comic book fashion, most were stunned to see that it didn’t come without a hefty cost. Despite tragedy, the film is also buoyed by stellar action, well-positioned fan service, and Cap wielding Thor’s hammer. Endgame is so good, that many see it as the peak of the MCU even several years removed from its release. Only time will tell if Marvel Studios can ever capture that magic again.
Kang the Conqueror is a well-known villain listed among the Avengers’ rogues gallery. He’s a brutal and nefarious warlord who hails from the distant future. However, The Kang Dynasty storyline is, perhaps, the most harrowing in Marvel Comics. This is largely because Kang (and his son Marcus), actually succeed in their plan to invade Earth (in the 21st century) and take control by force. Like any Conqueror, he besieges the nations of Earth with his well-equipped armies from the future.
Despite the genocidal warlord conquering the planet, the Avengers eventually gain a foothold in the fight against the conqueror and take him to task. While this is all good comic book fun, it’s hard not to draw parallels to real-world tyrants that oppress other nations or aspire to global domination, much like Nazi Germany. Captain America, himself, acknowledges his understanding of what Kang’s all about given his own experience. There’s no other story in the Avengers legacy quite like The Kang Dynasty.
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