On October 20, 2010 a brand new television series called Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes will premiere on Disney XD. You may have already seen some of the excellent micro-episodes featured on Marvel.com or the Disney XD YouTube channel. Since I am greatly looking forward to this new animated series I decided to provide this list of some of my favorite comics featuring the Marvel Comics super-team, The Mighty Avengers.
10. Korvac Saga
Avengers #167 - 168, #173 - 177
This is one of my favorite Avengers stories, but probably not for the reasons you might think. A throwaway villain from The Defenders, Korvac became the prototype for a cadre of Jim Shooter penned omnipotent demi-gods.
I really love the exploration that followed with characters such as The Beyonder and Erica Pierce, but Korvac gaining the Power Cosmic and recreating himself as Michael was where this all started at from my point of view.
It doesn't hurt that some of my favorite cosmic Marvel characters The Guardians of Galaxy appear to team-up with the Avengers through what has been dubbed the Korvac Saga or that a personal favorite artist of mine, George Perez, handled some of the penciling duties along with David Wenzel and Amazing Spider-Man's David Michelinie writing whatever stories Shooter didn't.
Finally this story is the reason why I lean towards the Distinguished Competition's heroes over Marvel any day.
The Avengers are such douches in this story. Hawkeye is a jerk to Ms. Marvel, Cap and Iron Man are constantly going at it with one another, and Quicksilver bitches that his sister is married to a machine. My favorite scene in the entire saga shows just how useless the Avengers become compared to the omnipotent might of Korvac/Micheal. The ever increasing present day fan aura of Black Panther is non-existent here as T'Challa is frozen in his tracks and utterly helpless. But at least T'Challa freezes up out of preserving some semblance of honor. Meanwhile you've got Tony screaming at him to attack Korvac/Micheal's girlfriend Carina and who should decide to embrace the idea but our favorite wife-beater Hank Pym!
My friends who are more inclined to favor the imperfections of Marvel Comics heroes as opposed to DC may laugh at the goofiness of Silver Age comics and one in particular, Keith Andreen, would taunt me by comparing the DC Comics Heroes to Color Coded Otter Pop Flavors that we still look back at and laugh over today.
You can check out the man who called Batman a Blueberry doling out the "Knox" in the web series The Resistance which is available on iTunes, Xbox Live, PlayStation, and Amazon Video.
I've always said that LAX was invaded by Celestial Otter Pops a long time ago, but hell, what do I know?
9. Avengers Annual #17
The Evolutionary War is one of the earliest crossovers to involve all of Marvel Comic's Annuals in the summer of 1988. This Walter Simsonson written annual has the honor of being one of the earliest Avengers stories I've ever read. (There were probably some others, but they probably had that lame-o Dr. Druid in them, so they don't count.)
The concluding chapter in the Evolutionary War features a rag-tag group of reserve Avengers who come together after the High Evolutionary reconstructs and revives the robotic member called Jocasta. Jocasta ends up summoning the then former Captain America Steve Rogers in his then current identity as The Captain, his former partner and friend The Falcon, Greek Demi-God Hercules, then member of X-Factor The Beast (a former Avenger and X-Man as well), Rita DeMara (the female Yellowjacket), and my personal favorite version of the Incredible Hulk.
In their attempt to put an end to the High Evolutionary's plot to detonate a genetic bomb that would mutate all life on Earth, led by The Captain, this team of Avengers would journey by the Avenger's best-known method of travel, the Tony Stark designed Quinjet , to face off against Attuma in the underwater world of Atlantis. Eventually the warlord Attuma puts aside his differences with the Avengers and The Beast aids in playing the High Evolutionary's Human agents against his evolved animal Priests, called New-Men.
The distracting chaos gives the Avengers the opening they need to press their attack on The High Evolutionary. M.D. Bright's epic pencils pit the reservists into a final battle with the God-like abilities of the High Evolutionary himself.
An evolved Hercules defeats the High Evolutionary but the Prince of Power is also seemingly destroyed by the excess of power from his abrupt evolution post-battle. Jocasta sacrifices herself to destroy the Evolutionary's bomb while giving the other Avengers enough time to escape and enjoy the Quinjet ride home.
M.D. Bright's pencils are great whether they be here or on other titles like Marvel's G.I. Joe and the DC imprint Milestone's Icon. To sum up, there's great art and a fun Simonson story within that has some of my favorite Avengers in archetypal roles best suited to them. With Cap as the leader, Beast as the big brain, and Hulk as the loose-cannon you just can't go wrong.
8. Last Avengers Story
Peter David of Incredible Hulk fame and the exquisite Ariel Olivetti craft a far-off future tale of founding Avenger, Hank Pym, bringing back the band together after his creation Ultron-59, destroys the current generation of heroes. Pym and the daughter of She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot, Jessie, track down the retired Avengers that are still among the living, while revisiting the final fates of those who aren't.
So I guess Hank Pym went all Rod Stewart in the future because he's had some sort of relationship with Jessie from the way she sticks her tongue down his throat when they reunite for the first time.
But he's also still living with his former wife the Wasp, Janet Van Dyne, who is slowly shrinking away with no cure in sight despite all his best efforts. Anyway, the three of them contact Bombshell (daughter of Hercules), Hotshot (son of The Black Knight), former New Mutant Cannonball , Fantastic Four founder Johnny Storm the Human Torch, a now blinded Hawkeye, his wife Mockingbird, and the mechanical apparition the Vision to face off in a final gruesome battle against the villains Ultron-59(more fluid and human looking like the T-1000, then any previous version of Ultron before him), Kang The Conqueror,the Grim Reaper, and his partner Oddball. What's not to like about that?
Keeping to his true douchey nature, once all the bad guys show up, Pym suggests to Jan that the two of them simply escape to the micro-verse and leave those he's assembled behind. What a terrific leader that Pym is, huh?
But don't worry eventually even Pym is around for the final ultimate bloody battle which leads quite a few Avengers "to their destruction."
I'd also like to point out that not only does this story from 1995 pre-date the blind Hawkeye of Old-Man Logan, but David seems to have an affinity for a character I like to refer to as Senile Doom.
This might be the first instance I recall seeing Senile Doom, but he also makes a return appearance in David's run on the 3rd volume of X-Factor in a totally separate far-flung alternate future.
7. Ultron Unlimited
Avengers v3 #19 - 22
Another royal screw up of Dr. Hank Pym, Ultron is the adamantium armored robot he created that not only became self-aware, but decided that humanity was inferior to machine based life-forms such as himself. Determined to destroy humanity and have machines rule, the Avengers are the only thing that can stand in his way of robotic domination.
Eisner award winning writer Kurt Busiek and fan-favorite artist George Perez's Ultron Unlimited is certainly not one of the first stories to tackle Ultron, nor will it be the last, but it is certainly one of the best. In this tale the level of Ultron's genocidal rampage against the fictional Eastern European county of Slorernia is truly horrific.
Also Ultron takes captive Pym who he considers his "father" along with the Wasp his "mother" and several more including the Vision, Wonder Man, Scarlett Witch and The Grim Reaper who in his own twisted way he sees as his extended family. Actually I guess we can cut Pym some slack in this story as part of the reason for his previous mental breakdown and abusive nature was retroactively revealed to have been due to the earth-shattering knowledge that the mental brain patterns that were used to create Ultron in the first place came from Pym himself.
Luckily the Avenger Justice aka Vance Astro had been doing his homework by reviewing Avengers case files in order to locate a weakness of the metal monster (also a pretty slick way to recap the past exploits of Ultron up until that point) and delivers Antarctic Vibrainium to Pym in the nick of time. Pym then gets his cathartic release as he is the one to pound Ultron into submission and ultimately defeat him. Way to shirk the inner-douche Pym! Way to go!!!
6. Kree-Skrull War
Avengers #89 - 97 (June 1971 - March 1972)
The Kree-Skrull War is an Avengers story arc that was written by Roy Thomas and penciled by Sal Buscema; Neal Adams and John Buscema.
The alien races of the Kree and the Skrull have ever been at odds with one another since forever, like interstellar versions of Israel and Palestine, ancient enemies with no end in sight to their conflict.
The first half of the story involves some favorite characters of mine the space-faring Kree Super Hero Captain Mar-vell and his earth-bound partner Rick Jones.
They team-up with the current roster of Avengers made up of the Android Vision, Clint Barton (formerly the archer Hawkeye, now in his Goliath identity), and finally the mutants Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.
Facing off against the greatest villains the Kree Empire has at their disposal such as the robotic Sentry (not to be confused with Marvel's Superman clone) and Fantastic Four villain Ronan the Accuser. Eventually these Avengers are put on trial for keeping the initial Kree invasion a secret. They only meant to prevent mass hysteria to save the public, but that same public damns them and it even looks like "the big three" Captain America, Iron Man and Thor feel the same way as they order the four to disband the Avengers forever.
This of course was all the plot of the shape-changing Skrulls, who appeared as "the big three", but once the real Wing-Head, Shell-Head and Goldilocks show up along with the Vision they put together the pieces of the Skrull deception. The leads to battles between the Super Skrull and Captain Marvel, while The Avengers aid the Inhumans regain their city Attilan from Maximus who has made pact with the Kree Supreme Intelligence. Now attacked by both Skrull and Kree alike, Cap and the Avengers decide enough is enough and plan to take the fight directly to them.
Here where the cosmic space battle really gets underway and the dynamic pencils of Neal Adams really shine and steal the show.
The Supreme Intelligence sort of pulls a Guru from Dragon Ball Z and unlocks the hidden powers and potential of Rick Jones so he can call in the Golden Age cavalry at the story's exciting climax and put an end to the war once and for all. I've always loved Science-Fiction and what they call Cosmic Marvel is just the best of both Super-Hero and Sci-fi worlds for me.
5. Under Siege
Avengers: Under Siege involves the second Baron Zemo, Helmut , following in his deceased father's footsteps by banding together another incarnation of the villianous Masters of Evil.
Together this new group made up of Moonstone, Absorbing Man, Titania, Grey Gargoyle, Yellowjacket, Fixer, Goliath, Screaming Mimi, Tiger Shark, Blackout, Mr. Hyde,The Wrecker and his Wrecking Crew (Piledriver, Thunderball and Bulldozer) storm Avengers Mansion to extract revenge against Captain America and the Avengers. The Team at that time was made up of the Wasp (who served as chairman, much to chagrin of..), the Greek Demi-God Hercules,the Sentinel of Liberty Captain America, the wielder of the Ebony Blade,The Black Knight, the 2nd Captain Marvel (better known today as Photon of Nextwave), and the God of Thunder, The Mighty Thor. Starting with the Avenger's own faithful butler Jarvis, Zemo's Masters of Evil subdue each member of the Avengers one by one. This shocking script from Roger Stern actually has the Avengers Hercules getting a brutal beat-down to near death penciled by John Buscema and Tom Palmer within the confines of the Avenger's very own mansion.
To quote my good friend Michael Vargas aka Vicious Maniac whose
blogs on console gaming you can read about here, those Masters of Evil "took yo' wallet !!!"
Not only was Zemo intent on physically harming the Avengers, but attacked them on a much more personal level by destroying Captain America's personal property including his original Shield crushed by Hyde and a ripping up an irreplaceable photo of Cap's long-dead sidekick Bucky.
Hyde also brutally tortures Jarvis while Cap is forced to watch, breaking bones one after the other trying to crack Cap's strength of will. Thankfully due to some help from The Shroud, Scott Lang, Dr. (I laugh my ass off at this guy) Druid, and The Mighty Thor at the final hour, the tide soon turns against the Masters of Evil leading to a mano a mano battle between Captain America and Baron Zemo.
Even though the villains were finally defeated, the fight had sadly taken it's toll on the Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
4. Avengers #2
"Avengers Battle The Space Phantom"
I love the early Avengers stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I think that's probably because one of the first Marvel Masterworks I ever received was the one that reprinted the first ten issues of the Avengers.
It was here that I got to read what I had only been hearing about in other comics up until that point. The founding members of the Avengers coming together, more specifically how The Incredible Hulk started out as a founding member, but was quickly ousted by this 2nd issue. This is a grudge he still held against them even up until the Infinity Gauntlet.
Anyway thanks to the Space Phantom who takes the appearance of his victim while they get sent to a limbo dimension, the Avengers mistrust of the Hulk that was probably always there is brought to the surface as Avenger would fight Avenger leading to the Hulk eventually leaving the team.
Even in some modern stories such as the defunct Marvel Knights team book, writer Chuck Dixon was heavily influenced by these early Avengers tales with The Punisher serving as the Hulk to the Marvel Knights' Avengers.
3. Avengers Operation: Galactic Storm
Captain America #398-400, Avengers West Coast #80-82, Quasar #32-34.
Wonder Man #7-9, Avengers #345-347, Iron Man #278-279, Thor #445-446
Avengers Operation: Galactic Storm is one of a multitude of excessively long comic book crossovers (19 parts?!?!) from the 1990s. Usually the editors ran a specific sub-section of the Marvel Universe and to drum up sales in the waning books, they were all packaged together as part of some epic Maxi-Series. The difference between Galactic Storm and say other lesser stories of the same ilk such as Rise of The Midnight Sons or even Maximum Carnage, is that I actually think this is a pretty cool story despite all its 90s packaging and marketing gimmicks.
The story ran through all the Avengers titles such as Avengers and Avengers West Coast along with the solo titles of most Avengers at the time like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Quasar and Wonder Man.
In some ways a follow-up to the cosmic Kree-Skull war storyline discussed earlier, the two alien races at war with one another with Earth caught in the middle were once again the Kree Empire, but this time around instead of the shape changing Skrull, it was the Shi'ar Empire, who originated in the pages of the X-Men comics.
Highlights of this series include the Avengers facing off against the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, who before this had only been foils to the Uncanny X-Men.
Analogs to DC Comics' Legion of Super-Heroes, The Imperial Guard proved to be a formidable challenge for the Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
A multitude of creators worked on this project, and while the art is far from consistent throughout the 19 part storyline as these crossover series will tend to be, I'll just highlight some of my favorite artists. Greg Capullo, who eventually went on to succeed Todd McFarlane as the penciler on Spawn (or Rob Liefield on X-Force), had the art duty on the book Quasar and Jeff Johnson, who you may know from his work on Malibu Comics' Solitaire, did the art chores on Wonder Man. These two were definitely my favorite artists of the many who worked on this series.
I've mentioned this before in Part 20 of the History of Comics on Film, but this saga also features "Mister Cap" and his anti-killing stance in a war-time state which I've always found a little odd. I was more inclined to agree with Iron Man and the crew that wanted to take out the Supreme Intelligence for good. Of course the thing was dead for all of two panels, so I guess all the Sturm und Drang was for naught, eh? Hell he's even in the #1 story on this list. Jeez, nobody stays dead in comics anymore, but at least you can always count on
My ass things will never be the same...
2. Avengers West Coast #55
"The Breaking Strain"
The final chapter in the Acts of Vengeance storyline running throughout most of the Marvel Comics of the day, in which the villains of the Marvel Universe got the bright idea not only to team-up, but to stop fighting against heroes who they had lost to again and again. Instead they would swap arch-enemies, with guys like Spider-Man facing off against a Tri-Sentinel, guys like Dr. Doom going up against the Punisher, and even Magneto getting retribution on the Red Skull.
Ultimately this story by writer/artist John Byrne reveals that it was Thor's half-brother Loki who was behind the machinations of the entire scheme. This leads to the Avengers tracking down Loki and having a final showdown with the villain whose actions led to the formation of the original Avengers in the first place.
1. Avengers Forever
Roger Stern and Kurt Busiek are both on this list again and this time they bring you a wonderful story that honors the comics that came before this, yet crafting an exciting tale of a gathering of Avengers, not only from the present day, but also from the past and the future.
The lynchpin of this story is sidekick extrodinarre to both Captain America and The Incredible Hulk, Rick Jones. Harkening back to Rick's time with the Avengers during their founding days as well as the Kree-Skrull War, Rick's potential is unlocked by the Supreme Intelligence (with an assist from Libra) once again, and caught between the warring pair of timelords Kang The Conquerer and Immortus, he summons a group of Avengers plucked from all space and and time to assist him in his current plight.
From the Future we have Songbird, who most of the Avengers only know as a member of the Thunderbolts (who was also the former criminal Screaming Mimi incidentally) and Genis-Vell, the son of Rick Jones former partner during the Kree Skrull War, Captain Marvel. Avengers Forever also led into one of my personal favorite Marvel series of the new Millennium, Captain Marvel. Though now that's it's 2010, it's easy to see these two characters "futures" didn't exactly play out as written. Genis-Vell wasn't exactly an Avenger for very long in the 616 and Songbird never ended up joining the Avengers (so I guess in all these wiki's it's written off as some sort of alternate future, even though I sincerely doubt this was the original intent, though Genis does make mention that it could be a possibility).
From the present (at least at the time of 1998-1999) we have finally stable and halfway decent Giant-Man (the lovable wife-slapping Hank Pym now in remorse over past mistakes) and the take-charge Wasp (his ex-wife Janet Van Dyne).
From the past we have Hawkeye just after the conclusion of the Kree-Skrull War, wearing his Goliath costume, but no longer going by that persona, Yellowjacket yet another version of Hank Pym thanks to Rick Jones' time stream shenanigans (who actually is so far gone due to a mental breakdown that he doesn't even realize he's Hank Pym), and finally Captain America, right before he got all disillusioned and started calling himself Nomad, The Man Without A Country.
Also I want to mention that Kang is pretty damn bad-ass in this maxi-series.
See Kang is destined to eventally become Immortus, though he's going all James Dean on his destiny. I have to say that I've always loved Kang since I first knew of him through my childhood days playing with the Secret Wars action figure. Though at the time because of the way he was paired off against Wolverine, I had thought he was the ol' Canucklehead's arch enemy. Ah misguided youth well spent....
There's also a pretty sly homage as Genis-Vell and Janet Van Dyne do there very best Lois & Clark impression when time-traveling to the late 1950's.....
This series is everything that I love about comic books. It embraces the Avengers long, rich history at every turn (the index at the rear of select issues that covers references page by page is a great resource!), while moving forward introducing new exciting concepts that enrich those that had come before. How Hawkeye's leadership potential is not brushed under the rug, but fully explored, even with his past incarnation. No one character's development suffers at the expense of another, each member of this time-streamed plucked team is given their fair due. And the conflict and villains that they must face receive equal weight and certainly circumstances are at their most dire. Hopefully some of these tales and takes on the Avengers may be adapted in the new animated series or even in the upcoming movies. Only time will tell.