Avengers Assembled! 1989-2007

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As new chapters unfold in the pages of New Avengers, Mighty Avengers and Avengers: The Initiative, BF looks back at the rich history of the Avengers’ roster.

Part One

The John Byrne Years (1989-1990)

In 1989, Marvel contracted John Byrne to bring more cohesiveness to the Avengers line.  With the spin-off book retitled Avengers West Coast, Byrne treated the titles as one ongoing saga, with characters frequently jumping back and forth.  During this time, there were several characters who on their own were generally regarded as B-List heroes, that became strong, regular fixtures in the titles - the cosmic Avenger Quasar (Avengers Annual #18, 1989), former replacement Captain America U.S. Agent (West Coast Avengers #44, May 1989), the original Golden Age Human Torch (Avengers West Coast #50, November 1989) and the mythological Eternal Sersi (Avengers #314, 1990). 

Byrne was also responsible for introducing an entirely new team of Avengers – sort of.  The Great Lakes Avengers debuted in the pages of West Coast Avengers #46 (July 1989).  Not sanctioned by the real Avengers, this ragtag group of heroes dedicated themselves to upholding the ideals of Earth’s mightiest heroes, while defending the Wisconsin area from superhuman threats.  Seeing the potential in the “heroes,” Hawkeye and Mockingbird joined the superhumanly obese Big Bertha, the mute Dinah Soar, the spatially-advantaged Doorman, 2-dimensional Flatman and un-killable Mr. Immortal in defending the Great Lakes area. 

Byrne was also responsible for making a very important addition to the Avengers – in issue #316 (April 1990), Marvel’s flagship hero, Spider-Man, joined the team.  Since the 1960’s there had been several stories where the webslinger had been in-line for membership, but something had always prevented him from joining.  Although Spider-Man was only an active Avenger for one adventure, he continued to function off-and-on in a supporting role over the years. 

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The 1990s explosion/implosion (1990-1996)

The 1990s were a turbulent time for comic books as a whole, and the Avengers comics were no exception.  The rise in popularity on the anti-hero, coupled with an explosion of titles, cross-overs and spin-offs to meet the demand of speculators, frequently ended with bizarre results.  Over the next several years, there was a colourful collection of new Avengers, including the aquatic Stingray (Avengers #319, July 1990), the teenaged Rage (Avengers #329, February 1991), the on-again-off-again Spider-Man foe Sandman (also #329), Living Lightning (Avengers West Coast #74, September 1991), Spider-Woman (now known as Arachne, also AWC #74), the elemental powered Crystal (Avengers #343, January 1992), the replacement Thor later known as Thunderstrike (#343), the robotic Machine Man (Avengers West Coast #83, June 1992), an alternate reality version of The Swordsman (Avengers #357, December 1992), the teen hero Darkhawk (Avengers West Coast #94, May 1993), a refugee from another dimension named Magdalene (Avengers #363, June 1993), the alien protector Deathcry (Avengers #364, July 1993), a time-displaced teen-aged Iron Man (Avengers: Timeslide, February 1996) and a bio-duplicate of an Iron Man foe known as Masque (Avengers #397, April 1996).

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Avengers Reborn (1996-2004)

As the 90s comic boom died out, Avengers West Coast (last issue #102, January 1994) had been replaced by the short-lived Force Works (July 1994-April 1996).  In an effort to rejuvenate the franchise, the Avengers were tied into a massive crossover event that led to most members being “killed.”  In reality, Marvel Comics had contracted high profile creators to re-imagine the line of Avengers titles, setting the tales in a completely separate continuity.  As such, The Avengers ended with issue #402 (September 1996) and Avengers Volume II (also known as the Heroes Reborn series) began in November 1996. 

With a roster primarily consisting of Captain America, Hawkeye, Hellcat, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman, Thor, The Vision, Mantis, Ant-Man, Wasp and Iron Man the series ran 13 issues, until the licence to “out-source” the comic expired.

The Avengers returned to the full-fledged Marvel universe with the high-profile and critically acclaimed launch of Avengers Volume III (February 1998) by Kurt Busiek and George Perez.  The first storyarc involved every member of the Avengers, before the final roster consisting of Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Thor, The Vision, Warbird (the former Ms. Marvel), Wonder Man and new recruits Justice and Firestar were unveiled in issue #4 (May 1998).  During his run, Busiek also added Triathlon (#27, April 2000), the animal-themed Silverclaw (#30, July 2000) and the cosmic Jack of Hearts (#43, August 2001) to the Avengers’ ranks. 

Following Busiek’s time on the title, both Geoff Johns and Chuck Austen took on the title, adding Ant-Man II (#62, February 2003) and a new Captain Britain (now known as Lionheart, #82, July 2004) respectively).

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Disassembled, Re-assembled & Re-disassembled and re-re-assembled (2004 to 2007)

Following issue #84 (September 2004), writer Brian Michael Bendis took over the series, which resumed what would have been the numbering, had the title not been twice relaunched.  Avengers #500 (September 2004) began the controversial Avengers Disassembled story, in which the Scarlet Witch went mad, resulting in the deaths of several team members.  Marvel ended The Avengers with issue #503 (December 2004) and following special one-shot, Avengers: Finale (January 2005), the team quietly disbanded.

January 2005 saw Brian Bendis launch a new vision of the Avengers, appropriately titled New Avengers.  Featuring a mixture of classic Avengers and new additions, the Avengers reformed in New Avengers #3 (March, 2005).  The team consisted of Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and new recruits Power Man Luke Cage and the original Spider-Woman.  Over the course of the year, the X-Man Wolverine (New Avengers #6, June 2005), the Superman-like Sentry (New Avengers #10, October 2005) and the deaf martial artist Echo (in the guise of Ronin, New Avengers #11, November 2005) were added to the team. 

Although still not-considered “real” Avengers, the Great Lakes Avengers also returned in 2005, thanks to a Dan Slott penned dark comedy mini-series titled GLA.  Over the course of the story, several members were killed, while characters such as the fetish-themed Leather Boy, Squirrel Girl, her sidekick rodent Monkey Joe, Grasshopper and Tippy-Toe (Squirrel Girl’s new squirrel sidekick following the tragic death of Monkey Joe) joined the silliness. 

During the company-wide event known as Civil War, the Avengers were technically disbanded, although Captain America’s anti-superhero registration supporters (including Falcon, Daredevil, Hercules and others) were unofficially referred to as “The Secret Avengers.” 

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The New Avengers, The Mighty Avengers and The Initiative (NOW)

In the wake of Civil War, the make-up of the Avengers has been drastically altered.  With the victory of the pro-registration heroes, Iron Man has formed a new team.  Led by Ms. Marvel, this group appears in the Mighty Avengers title (#1 May 2007, written by Brian Michael Bendis) and is comprised of the Black Widow, The Sentry, The Wasp, Wonder Man and the Olympian God Ares.  The Mighty Avengers are part of a plot-point known as the Fifty States Initiative – a government sponsored plan that is seeing a superhero team formed in every US state (the Mighty Avengers represent New York). 

This will presumably involve Dan Slott’s upcoming Avengers title (recently announced as an ongoing series), Avengers: The Initiative. Brian Bendis also continues as writer of New Avengers, where the allies of the late Captain America go underground to continue the good fight.  Led by Luke Cage, the new Avengers are Echo, a new Ronin, the sorcerer supreme Doctor Strange, Wolverine, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man and the mystic martial artist, Iron Fist. 

Beyond that, there have been several other “non-continuity” and unofficial versions of the Avengers including; a 1950’s/Agents of Atlas team, the short-lived Fox animated series The Avengers: United They Stand (1999-2000), The Ultimates (from Marvel’s Ultimate line of books and subsequent direct-to-DVD animations) and the all-ages Marvel Adventures: The Avengers.  Finally, Marvel films is developing a live-action Avengers motion picture, although it is still too early for any details regarding cast, story or release dates.

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