Okay, so obviously there have been many AVENGERS #1s. I think somewhere between twenty and twenty-five this year, give or take. This time, though, we’re dialing back to the Silver Age for a look at the genuine article… the very first time that Marvel heroes united against a common threat and decided to call themselves Avengers.
The team made up of Earth’s mightiest heroes debuted in 1963 with AVENGERS #1, by Marvel masterminds Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with inks by Dick Ayers and letters by S. Rosen. Though the whole issue is a blast of wild, weird action, my absolute favorite part is the cover by Jack Kirby. I was recently re-watching AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON with director Joss Whedon’s commentary track on, and he remarked that his original idea was to open the film with a shot of the Avengers united. The first Avengers film, of course, had that famous shot of the heroes finally united at the climax of the film, so Joss wanted to start the second film with a similarly comic booky image, to show that they were already assembled and that, this time, the story was different. AVENGERS #1 had no such shot, but instead features the Avengers united to fighting Loki in a glorious blaze of action, right there on the cover. It’s the very meaning of iconic.
The roster here is made up of great heroes with an array of powers that compliment each other immensely – the exact reason that the Wasp, at the end of the story, proposes that they take advantage of this and operate as a team. The original Avengers are Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and the Hulk, who pretty much just joins because he’s tired of people thinking he’s a villain. The issue is packed with Silver Age fun and weirdness, taking the readers from the depths of Loki’s prison in Asgard to the tracks of a train speeding in our face; from a circus full of folks who think the Hulk is a robot, to a car manufacturer. It’s a wild adventure full of big ideas and even bigger fun.
It focuses mostly on Loki, who is seeking revenge against Thor for some – well, imagined slights. Loki is stuck on Asgard, but seeing as his powers are pretty limitless and his favorite hobby is messing with his jerk brother, he concocts a screwy plan to trick Thor into fighting him. He manipulates the Hulk into destroying some train tracks and pretty easily turns the population, who already thinks the Hulk isn’t so much incredible as abominable, into making the big green lug into public enemy #1. When the Teen Brigade – a brigade of teens, wouldn’t you know – learn of the hunt for the Hulk, they try to reach out to the Fantastic Four, which Loki doesn’t want any part of. He psychically redirects their signal to go to Thor, but accidentally sends it around everywhere, so Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Wasp find out about this and they all gather with the Teen Brigade to hunt down the Hulk.
Oh, also? Ant-Man is a total ass in this story.
They go on a mad search to find the Hulk – who is explicably hiding out at a circus, where he is performing in disguise as a robot… which, yeah, not the best idea for a big green fugitive, but hey, he’s not much with the brains, right? – while Thor heads to Asgard, knowing Loki’s in on this. He brings Loki back to Earth, where Loki briefly assaults the Avengers only to get his ass handed to him when the act as one. Once Loki is canned (literally), they come to the quick decision to become a team called the Avengers.
Through most of this, Hulk is still wearing his robot clown make-up, which is pretty great.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Family Pets, Anonymously Yours, Grimm Fairy Tales), novels (Charmed for HarperCollins), and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He currently lives in New York, where he is trapped under mounds and mounds of snow. Send help.