Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Avengers - they weren't always this cool...

     When The Avengers comic series was first launched in 1963, comics were something for kids, not the multimillion dollar industry they are now. And before they became the Super Team coming to a theatre near you on May 4, they went through an incredible variety of... shall we call them 'growing pains'?
From the team's inception, there have been marginally weenie characters filling out the ranks. In the beginning, there were heavy-hitters like Hulk, Thor and Iron Man... then the filler - Ant-Man and The Wasp. 'That's what this super-team needs - little bug-sized characters! Kids like bugs, right?'
Through the years, characters came and went. Captain America 'warmed up' to the team.(He was uncovered, frozen in ice, so.. it's funny cuz...), Hawkeye (the master archer), Black Panther (incidentally, the first black superhero), Vision (the phasing-shifting android), all pretty cool. But then there was Quicksilver, who was really fast, and his sister, The Scarlet Witch (who then married the android Vision, and they got their own spin-off limited series), and the Black Knight (with his expert swordsmanship...), and Hercules (why not just use an Olympian God when you're having trouble thinking up new characters?).

 The '70's were just as uneven, with the additions of cool characters like Black Widow, a female super soldier, like Capt. America, with slowed aging and enhanced immune system as well as extensive training making her really tough. And at one point Beast (of X-men renown),  joined The Avengers and checked in between adventures with other teams or on his own. There was even Falcon, who shared a telepathic link with his pet falcon and could use the sight of other birds to thwart bad guys.
But then there was Hellcat, an ex-Archie style teen comedy-romance comic heroine turned adventurer. She was telekinetic and had retractable claws (like somebody at Marvel was shuffling a deck of 'Special Abilities & Nifty Weapons' cards). And Wonder Man, who was all strong and could fly and nothing could ever hurt him... yawn. (Yet he's still around and apparently fairly popular - I dunno). Also, Ms. Marvel, who's the lady equivalent of Wonder Man, but more like a Barbie doll with artists can play dress-up.
And Moondragon, the beautiful but bald...um... oh yeah, telepathic martial artist! (Those handy cards again!)

Makes you Wonder, Man...

But my favourite of the Lame Avengers of the '70's?
The Two-Gun Kid. See below. Need I say more?

'Hyuck. Howdy!'

The Kid takin' a whoopin'.

Over the next few decades, a variety of misfits characters came and went, as well as some great heroes who have endured, such as She-Hulk, War Machine, Moon Knight, Spider-Woman, even Machine Man. At one point, each of the Fantastic Four served as a member of the team. Ultimately, the team was condensed down to the pretty cool team that will be showcased in the upcoming film.

It's great that Marvel was able to pull this together, unlike DC and their on-again/off-again/off-for-good-maybe Justice League of America movie. (They've had so many chances to do it the right way, with a couple of good adaptations of the Batman and Superman stories (with one more each coming out over the next 2 years), a good Green Lantern movie... all we were missing were the Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter & Flash movies...).
With the first 2 false starts to The Hulk movies, it looked like the Big Green would never see the inside of a theatre again. With the phenomenal success of the Iron Man films, adding in a bunch of other heroes seemed like a no-brainer. And with Thor and Captain America both performing very respectably, even if this monster mash-up of Marvel mainstays spools out like a Transformers 2-esque train wreck, it's a guaranteed money-making machine. Positive reports are coming in from over-seas, so we'll see if it's been worth the build-up.
Assemble indeed.


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