The Avengers are one of the superhero teams of the Marvel universe. They aren't the most popular--that title has to go to the X-Men--but they are the most respected and the most honored. Being an Avenger means something in the Marvel universe.
As with all superhero teams, the Avengers have had dozens of members. Some of them only stuck around for an issue or two, but there is a core team, the heroes who come back to the title over and over again. In this essay I will first quickly summarize the origin story of the team, then offer brief profiles of each of the core team members and their role within and influence on the team, and finish with some thoughts on the team in general.
I will note that this essay will focus on the Avengers from their founding (1963) to Avengers Disassembled (2004). Current events in the Marvel universe have led to a lot of changes and some retconning of events after this point, so I'll restrict my comments on the more recent team(s) to the "Where are They Now?" section.
In the story that brings the Avengers together for the first time, Loki (the Norse God of mischief and a Marvel villain) attempts to lure Thor (his nemesis) out into the open by tricking the Hulk, a menace worthy of Thor, into an attack on civilians. The Hulk is innocent, but a call for help goes out, and Ant-Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, and Thor answer it. Thor quickly deduces that Loki is responsible and goes to confront him, but the others aren't aware of this and attack the Hulk. In the end, the misunderstandings are sorted out just in time for the team to come together to defeat Loki.
The team decides that by combining their different powers, they could be almost unbeatable. Thor declares "There is much good we might do" and they vow "We'll fight together, or separately if need be."
The Founding Team
|The Hulk -- The Hulk actually only appears in the Avengers title as a hero seven times. He fights with the team in issue 1.5, but in issue 2 he is impersonated by a villain. Seeing how the other Avengers react to the villainous "Hulk", he decides that deep down they all hate him, and leaves the team for good. In the entire subsequent run, he returns in one or two issues as a villain and as a hero four times, including the 100th issue, in which all Avengers to date appear.|
|Hank Pym -- Hank Pym is a biochemist who created a substance called Pym particles (retconned to replace shrinking and growing pills) that allow him to shrink down very small or grow very large. He's changed his identity so many times that I'm just going to call him Hank here. He's also Jan's love interest and, eventually, husband. |
Hank tends to be a source of conflict for the Avengers. He's a brilliant scientist, but his experiments frequently go wrong and have far reaching consequences. Most notably, Hank created the recurring Avengers arch villain, Ultron. Hank is also not entirely emotionally stable. He's had one canonical psychotic break and he once struck Jan in a fit of rage (this is often completely blown out of proportion by fans and critics alike and referred to as a history of domestic abuse; it's bad, yes, but it wasn't a "history"--it was one incident).
Despite his spotty record, Hank is a pillar of the team. He's been there from the beginning, he understands their history and importance. They rely on his scientific brilliance, on his strength in his guise as Giant-Man/Goliath, and on his resourcefulness in his guise as Ant-Man/Yellowjacket.
|The Wasp (Janet van Dyne) -- Jan is an heiress who becomes a superhero, initially, just because it seems like it would be a lot of fun. She uses Hank's Pym particles to shrink down small, and he is also able to give her the ability to sprout wings and fire bioelectric "stinger" blasts from her hands while she is Wasp-sized. |
Jan may have started being the Wasp because it was fun, but that doesn't mean she doesn't take being an Avenger seriously. During the run of the Avengers she truly grows into her role as a hero and serves as the chairperson and leader of the team several times. As the title gains history, Jan emerges as a source of stability and rationality within the team. They have a lot of emotionally volatile and conflicted members and in the midst of all the tension, Jan is often the Avenger who remains calm and perceptive.
|Thor -- Thor is literally the Norse God Thor, exiled (at first) from Asgard and forced to live among mortals as Dr. Don Blake, who transforms into Thor when he strikes his walking stick against the ground. Thor is the powerhouse of the team. He also has a deep sense of honor. He can be extremely impatient with mortal bureaucracy and public relations (particularly the press), which regularly causes problems for a team whose public image is as important as the Avengers' is, but he's also an invaluable grounding point for the sense of brotherhood among the Avenger, his fellow warriors.|
|Iron Man (Tony Stark) -- Tony Stark is a genius billionaire weapons manufacturer who is injured in a foreign country by one of his own landmines, captured by insurgents, and builds himself a suit of armor to escape. When he returns to the U.S. he becomes Iron Man and uses the armor to continue to defend people. On the Avengers team, he's considered another of their powerhouse heroes. |
But Tony Stark's role when it comes to the Avengers is more complicated than that. Tony gives the Avengers his childhood home as their headquarters, and it becomes Avengers Mansion. He also funds the team with his own fortune (although there is some disagreement within canon over whether or not this is out of his own pocket or through the Maria Stark Foundation) and provides them with their labs and tech, when needed--including the Quinjets they use for transportation. His money frequently canonically smoothes over relations with the authorities when Avengers battles cause damage to public property.
As Iron Man, Tony also injects a note of pragmatism into the typically idealistic team. He's aware of the impact of PR and politics on how the Avengers operate and is almost always the member who handles those necessary interactions. In the field, the equipment incorporated into the armor also means that he usually handles communications for the team.
|Captain America (Steve Rogers) -- Just before the U.S. entered World War II, Steve Rogers was transformed into the peak of human perfection by the Super Soldier Serum. He became Captain America and fought the Nazis until he was frozen into a block of ice after a confrontation with his nemesis, Baron Zemo. Cap thaws out of the ice and is recovered by the Avengers in issue four of the title. Technically, this means he isn't a founding member, but the other Avengers (Hank, Jan, Iron Man, and Thor at this point) decide to give him founding member status anyway, since they have lost the Hulk. |
Cap is, without question, the heart of the team. The other Avengers have said so in as many words on several occasions. He appears in more issues (344, as of Avengers Disassembled) than any other Avenger (the closest runner up as of Avengers Disassembled was the Vision), and spends most of that time as the leader of the team. Even when Cap isn't the team leader, the others frequently defer to him in battle and in matters of tactics and strategy. He is brilliant at both and thus also trains the rest of the team in how to fight better, both armed and unarmed, both as a team and individually.
In a very real sense, it is Steve who teaches new Avengers to be Avengers in truth as well as in name. To him, the formation of the Avengers is fated. Destiny. He believes with all his heart that they have to mean something, that they have to stand for something, and he passes this faith along to his teammates. Sometimes he has to remind long standing Avengers of what that means, too. Cap is their touchstone.
The Core Team
The heroes who most embody the Avengers include all of the founding team (except the Hulk) plus three others. There came a point, in the early Avengers canon, when Hank, Jan, Tony, and Thor all left the team at the same time. They recruited replacements before they resigned, but the recruitment happened while Cap was on a personal mission. As a result, when he came back he was handed three rookie Avengers and left to figure it out.
Of those three, The Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye became core members of the team, returning to the title regularly and for long periods. Quicksilver's initial appearance ran for quite awhile, but once he left the team, he never really came back.
|The Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff) -- Wanda is a mutant, one of very, very few that have been Avengers. She and her brother Pietro (Quicksilver) join the team after leaving Magneto's Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants. After spending so long so closely associated with the villainous Magneto, they are looking for a way to redeem themselves and a place to belong. They see an advertisement for new members from the Avengers and decide to apply. |
Wanda's power is extremely unpredictable for a long time. She can throw hex spheres, but she never knows quite what they will do. She only knows that they seem to disrupt the laws of probability. Still, they usually get more or less the desired result. Over time, Wanda learns how to use her power more precisely. The magical nature of her abilities makes Wanda an important player in the mystical Avengers plotlines. Her powers also expand as time goes on, until she gains the very dangerous ability to create and dissipate whole new realities.
One of Wanda's most significant subplots was her romance with the Vision. As a mutant and a synthezoid, their relationship is the vehicle for a lot of philosophical explorations. What is humanity? What is love? How does prejudice impact life and love and happiness? What is family?
Sadly, Wanda is also responsible for the dissolution of the Avengers and the deaths of several heroes during Avengers Disassembled. She wasn't in her right mind at the time, but she was the vehicle used to dismantle the team prior to New Avengers.
|The Vision -- The Vision is a synthezoid. As the characters explain it in the comics, he's exactly like a man in every way, except made out of synthetic materials. Let's ignore for the moment all the times we've seen the inside of him and it's been weird and unusual. He also has one of the most complicated origin stories I know. I'd skip it, except that his origin is actually significant to the interactions of the team. To keep it as simple as possible: Hank Pym created Ultron (a robot) who turned evil. Ultron used the android body of the original Human Torch to make Vision's body. But he couldn't make a mind for it, so he used a recording of Simon Williams' (a businessman-turned-bad-guy who sacrificed himself to save the Avengers) brainwaves that had been made by Tony Stark before Williams died. |
As a result, although the Vision is supposed to be emotionless (he isn't), he's the center of and catalyst for a lot of angst on the nature of family. This only becomes more pronounced during the period in which Simon Williams, returned from the dead, joins the team as Wonder Man. The Vision also eventually marries and then sort-of-leaves/divorces Wanda, a romance which is evident for pretty much all the time the two appear in the title and which has wide ranging repercussions.
|Hawkeye (Clint Barton) -- Hawkeye is an extremely skilled archer--almost certainly the world's best--and a former criminal. Like the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, he joined the team looking to do some good and perhaps redeem himself. |
Hawkeye tends to be protective of the Avengers and is often suspicious of and resistant to any change in the team. He's also a source of energy and humor, though. Clint is rarely caught up in the angst and emotional rollercoasters that often consume the others. He's even been the one try and cheer Cap up a few times.
Thoughts on the Nature of the Team
Structure and Organization
One of the things I find particularly interesting about the Avengers is actually their organizational structure. The Avengers don't just have a name, a headquarters, and a leader. They also have an official charter endorsed by the U.S. government (at one point, it is endorsed by the U.N. instead), which allows them special privileges, including permission to operate Quinjets in city airspace and permission to redirect all sorts of resources, from the police to satellites to military units.
Once or twice, we've seen the Avengers lose their "Avengers priority" status and although they got the job done, it crippled their effectiveness. As a result, we've occasionally seen the Avengers bow to government pressure in order to keep their Avengers status. Notably, the government once insisted the Avengers be subject to affirmative action and demanded that they add The Falcon (Sam Wilson) to their rolls or have their priority status revoked. This led to a lot of tension on within the team. Sam resented being used to fill a quota rather than valued for his skills and joined only as a personal favor to Cap. The rest of the team resented having their membership dictated to them. On another occasion, the Avengers liaison to the government tried to prevent the Avengers from going to the aid of the Scarlet Witch. This prompted Cap to take advantage of his political clout, something he very rarely does: he called the President and had the order overridden.
In addition to their charter and priority status, the Avengers also give special powers and responsibilities to the Founding Members: Hank, Jan, Thor, Iron Man, and Cap. These Avengers are responsible for maintaining the good name of the Avengers and have the power to select or remove members, or even disband the team if they feel the members are not doing honor to it. This has actually happened on one occasion, although it was later revealed that the founding members were actually being impersonated and had not actually disbanded the team.
Power and Fighting Style
From the moment of their founding, the Avengers have not been composed exclusively of high-powered heroes. Yes, the Hulk and Thor are both two of the most powerful characters in the entire Marvel universe. But there was also Iron Man and Captain America; their success comes not from their raw power, but from their status as the most skilled practitioners in their areas of expertise. More than that, two of the founders of the Avengers are the Wasp and Ant-Man (Hank Pym's original identity). You can't get much lower powered than two people who shrink down very small, one of whom has no more armament than tiny stinger blasts and the other of who's only other ability is to speak to ants. Not even all insects--just ants.
As a result, fights written for the Avengers involve a lot of teamwork and a lot of strategy. Distractions are treated as equally important as sheer power. Often several Avengers will work in the midst of battle to set up just the right series of events to trap or overwhelm a villain. Although when fighting a group of villains the Avengers occasionally each pick one of their attackers and fight a series of one-on-one fights, victory usually comes when they swap villains or join forces for a moment or two.
When you get right down to it, the Avengers are about family, at least for me. Hank and Jan's marriage, The Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver, The Scarlet Witch's marriage to The Vision, The Vision's odd near-sibling relationship with Simon Williams...as much of an impact as these relationships have on the team, they're only the most obvious elements of the bonds between Avengers. On a more fundamental level, they are all a part of Thor's brotherhood of warriors. Once an Avenger, always an Avenger, and they will go to the wall for each other.
Many of the Avengers have lived together in Avengers Mansion, and even those who aren't in residence seem like they might as well be, the amount of time that they spend there. The Avengers don't just fight together--they spend their downtime together. They're friends as well as teammates and you can always tell how much they care about each other.
Of course, every family has its squabbles. Sometimes it seems like the Avengers have had to deal with as much internal conflict as external. Somehow, these struggles for trust and acceptance, love and understanding, support and freedom, just strike home that for the members, the Avengers are family.
Where are They Now?
A lot has changed and is still changing for the Avengers over the past five years. I'm going to keep this short, because I'm pretty sure it'll have changed again before I'm finished typing!
After Avengers Disassembled, Iron Man and Captain America eventually put together a new Avengers team, consisting of the two of them, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, Wolverine, and the Sentry (a new character to the Marvel 'verse). But after just 20 issues (less than two years), the Civil War event tore the Marvel universe apart, including the Avengers. There are currently two teams, the Mighty Avengers, who are officially sanctioned by the government, and the New Avengers, who are made up of unregistered heroes and who operate underground.
The Individual Core Members
The Hulk is running around on his own.
Hank Pym was replaced by a Skrull (an alien shape changer) after Avengers Disassembled. The current whereabouts of the genuine Hank Pym are unknown.
The Wasp gained the ability to grow as well as shrink down small and is currently a member of the Mighty Avengers.
Thor spends some time in an odd kind of stasis, but eventually returns to rebuild Asgard on Earth and lead his fellow Asgardians.
Iron Man became the Director of SHIELD and a member of the Mighty Avengers after the Civil War.
Captain America was assassinated shortly after the superhero Civil War came to a close. He currently remains dead, although all the fans cling to the conviction that he will return.
The Scarlet Witch appears to be living a quiet life in a house at the base of a mountain (presumably Wundagore, which has some significance in her history). I'm not too confident of what's been happening with her, though, and am not sure if she has all her memories or not.
The Vision was destroyed in Avengers Disassembled. Later, in Young Avengers, his "operating system" was downloaded into Iron Lad's futuristic armor. (Iron Lab himself returned to his own timeline.) This new Vision has the physical and emotional potential as the original Vision, but his personality is based on Iron Lad (not on Simon Williams) and he has none of the memories or experience of the original Vision.
Hawkeye was killed during Avengers Disassembled, but has since returned to life thanks to the reality altering powers of the Scarlet Witch (or possibly a pocket universe created by her). The identity of Hawkeye has been taken over by one of the Young Avengers, Kate Bishop, so Clint is currently using the identity of Ronin.