Marvel Read-Through: The First Avengers
It’s all been leading up to this: the crossover team-up that becomes the cornerstone of the Marvel universe, the formation of the Avengers. My love for the Avengers has only grown exponentially in the past decade as the movies popularized the team in the mainstream, and starting to read comics religiously brought the team to the forefront of many storylines I have read over the past few years. I was extremely excited to finally reach this milestone in Marvel and comic book history. I would have to say that the original Avengers lineup mostly reached the high expectations I had set for it. The writing was up to Stan’s usual standards, the issues were fun, and the art was as beautiful as ever. Of course, there were some parts of it that didn’t work, particularly Wasp’s characterization and Hank’s treatment of her, but it wasn’t enough to detract from this legendary part of the Marvel universe’s rich history.
I interspersed the first few issues of Avengers with a couple of solo issues featuring Iron Man and Ant-Man as they had major evolutions in their powers; Iron Man built his iconic red and gold suit and Ant-Man became Giant-Man. These changes carried over into their appearances with their new team and I very much enjoyed seeing major character changes in an era when ongoing stories and changes across multiple issues were not entirely common. From my understanding of the Silver Age of comic books, the characters are more or less static and stick mostly to standalone one-off stories or short arcs without much that affects later issues, so I was pleasantly surprised to see two of the founding Avengers incorporate such changes so early on. It’s entirely cosmetic, but seeing Iron Man ditch the bland gold outfit for his classic suit made the character so much cooler and seem so much more than the B-lister he was at the time. And of course, seeing Hank learn to grow rather than just shrink was a fun addition to his powers and a clever way to differentiate him from the Wasp.
I was very taken aback by how much the early issues of Avengers dealt with the Hulk and his complicated status as a superhero. By the end of the second issue he had already quit and became a rage-fueled wildcard. I would have liked to see the original lineup last longer than only two issues and it was almost a shame that they barely had a chance to explore the group dynamic with a character as complicated as Hulk, but the way it lead into Captain America’s return and culminated in an epic battle over in Fantastic Four #26 almost made up for the lack of Hulk as a true Avenger. Speaking of which, Captain America’s return was handled beautifully. It was exciting to read all these decades later, even though I knew already that he becomes one of the most important characters in the Marvel universe. Also, having him deal with losing Bucky and missing out on the past 20-odd years helped turn him into a much more interesting character compared to the boy scout of the Timely and Atlas eras.
After the ongoing Hulk problem, I checked out some major first appearances: Kang and Wonder Man in Avengers #8 and #9 respectively. Beyond delving into Marvel history with these first appearances, I absolutely loved seeing the Avengers work together as a team to fight the villains. One of my biggest gripes with some of the first few issues was how little they felt like a real team. In the modern comics that I am used to, the Avengers are not just crime-fighting partners, they’re more than a team, they’ve become real friends and a family. At first, it really seemed like they were acting solo despite being a team, especially since a lot of the plots separated them so that they were actually solo for most of the issue. Having them work together in these issues showed the beginnings of this superhero family that they are now. I might actually be sad to see the original lineup breakup in just a few issues.
And now, for my biggest problem with the writing and characterization in this era, I have to talk about the Wasp. Her character is mostly regulated to quips about how attractive the guys are, even in the midst of a serious situation. I know it was a different time and all that, but consistently reading the only major female character swooning over the men was not enjoyable to read. Why couldn’t she be just as interested in saving the day as the guys? On top of that, Hank really treated her poorly. Wasp actually played an integral in defeating the villain on multiple occasions, but her role was downplayed by Hank who treated her like an incompetent child and not his superhero partner. Maybe my views on Hank are tainted by the infamous Avengers #213 when he slapped Janet, his wife at the time, and by the weird mess that has had him infused with Ultron over the past few years, but I liked him less and less every time he opened his mouth towards Janet.
Despite some blatant sexism from a semi-beloved character and way less Hulk than I would have liked, the first Avengers lineup (plus Cap) was a very enjoyable read. Come back neXt time for the beginning of another classic super-team! Can you guess who?
Note: I only read the Ant-Man and Iron Man sections of Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense
Tales to Astonish #49
Tales of Suspense #48
Fantastic Four #25–26
Favorite issue: Avengers #4. Can’t beat the return of Cap!