If you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War, your bucket list isn’t done. But the movies have missed a theme of the Avengers and its spin-offs in the comics.
Criminals keep joining.
They commit crimes and then sooner or later afterwards, they join the Avengers and you’ll be surprised how many Avengers that includes. And in that I don’t mean those who join and then commit a crime or who join and get done over by being called criminals.
In the latter group you’ve got Captain America. I mean, he just gets trolled. You know he didn’t do anything that wrong but someone in the government just wants to do him over.
I’m also not talking about Henry Pym who joins the Avengers and commits crimes in a story-line so stupid it is somewhere lower than the Ghostbusters reboot. Or Tony Stark, the whole Civil War and similar abominations coming years after he joined (real time). I exclude the Hulk because I’m not entirely sure what you would charge him with and if all the facts came out you’d probably have a really hard time getting a conviction. I mean, initially, he is shot at for being big and gray (green with issue 2). He didn’t have to do anything.
I will accept retcons which we’ll get to soon.
The first pack of reprobates joined in issue 16 of The Avengers. Out were Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk (in issue 2), Ant-Man, and the Wasp. In comes Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch. The first thing to notice is this is a big drop in power and second that these are all criminals.
We knew Hawkeye as an Iron Man villain and a pawn of the Soviet spy, the Black Widow. He helps her commit break and enter, property damage, assault, attempted theft, and actual theft. A lot of Hawkeye’s specialist arrow heads are taken from designs at the house the Black Widow rents. She rents it from a scientist, she says.
So Hawkeye steals the designs with no permission and making no payment, and boosts his armory with them. Then he uses this stolen intellectual property to commit crimes. Kind of a felony, there. And the Avengers say, yeah, OK c’mon in.
Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch transfer in from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. You’d think the name was a clue. In that group they helped conquer at least one country (a small South American one), commit assault, property damage, mayhem, and terrorism. If they have a home country, probably treason as well.
Then the Avengers bring in a guy who robs a paychest (how old is the story? the paychest is full of cash), commits assault, attempts murder, allies with a bigger criminal, and then joins the avengers in issue 20 saying he’s reformed. He lies, gets thrown out, comes back and gets another chance, and then comes good. Wow. The Swordsman, who attempted to murder Hawkeye, gets a gimmicked sword from the Mandarin, and was a career criminal. And this guy becomes an Avenger.
There must be lots of people in the Marvel universe who would rather be an Avenger than be in prison. I have to tell them, their chances may be better than they think.
Then a controversial one, Hercules. If this is the guy from myth, he killed his wife and children, and his wife was daughter of the king. Since there is no statute of limitations on murder, those murders which includes regicide, are still there for the prosecution if you can just find a civil authority who can take it on.
I know, Hera made him do it. Try making that stick in court. Although, who has the legal authority to prosecute is an open question. Perhaps the modern Republic of Greece could do it, but he committed the crime in the city state of Thebes.
He was punished, having to do the twelve labors of Hercules. These included stealing the Mares of Diomedes and the apples of Hesperides (2 counts of theft). On a misunderstanding he kills Hippolyta (Wonder Woman’s mother in DC) and steals the belt off the corpse. One count murder, two counts theft. Then in Avengers issue 45, he joins.
Then came the Black Widow. She is guilty of spying, break and enter, theft, conspiracy against the United States as well as conspiracy to commit theft and murder, assault, property damage, this list is long and every one on the list is multiple counts. The Black Widow did a lot of this before getting her first costume and becoming a super villain. She joined the Avengers in issue 112.
In the whole of her run in Iron Man, her solo series, and her time with Daredevil she never faces any police or government questioning. Maybe I missed it. If so, it didn’t take up much time and isn’t part of her mythos.
Then in issue 184 came the Falcon. Originally he was a social worker who cared about the people he…well…cared for. Kind of like Sam in Captain America: Winter Soldier when he was helping veterans. This is something like his first origin reinstated.
In the meantime, in the comics, Sam was retconned. Now he grew up in a tough neighborhood, got involved in crime, engaged in petty theft, got brainwashed by the Red Skull…yeah…one of those stories.
Sam then faced his past, like when he ran for congress and we’re to believe neither major party didn’t check out that readily available information. He joined the Avengers in issue 184 but didn’t appear on the cover as more than a floating head until issue 187.
Seriously, I like the movie version much better. Not only is he much more effective in a fight he has a better story.
Wonder Man comes back. Yet another second chance.
And then in Avengers issue 262 we get Namor. Where to start? Assault, murder, mass murder, piracy, mayhem, property damage, spreading fear and panic, assault and battery of a police officer, and I haven’t left the thirties, yet. Otherwise I’d be talking about conspiracy and all the other things he did in the Illuminati and the Cabal.
I have never seen him get a pardon for those, which is kind of strange when you consider how much he did to punch Nazis, something the Roosevelt administration favored. I don’t know why FDR didn’t do that.
But as it stands in canon, Namor’s got a potential rap sheet longer than Giant-Man’s arm. You can say he is a Prince of Atlantis, which would work if anybody diplomatically recognized Atlantis. They recognize Latveria which is not as bad as recognizing North Korea by any stretch of the imagination, so Doom gets away with a lot.
So that’s 8 former villains who join the Avengers while prosecution is still hanging over them. If that was it, you’d call villainy a repetitive plot device. But there are other criminals who you wouldn’t think of as criminals and yet they join the Avengers.
The Thing joins the West Coast Avengers in vol 2, number 9, but the Invisible Woman and Mr Fantastic join the mainstream Avengers in issue 300 and Johnny Storm, the second Human Torch, joins in Avengers volume 5 issue 0. So all four criminals do join.
What crime did they commit? Let’s ignore anything to do with the Illuminati. Fantastic Four issue 1: all four of them break and enter into property they are not authorized to enter. Remember, they had to break a lock and sneak around the guards. They break into the rocket and steal it. They have no flight clearance to fly through the atmosphere let alone into space.
The four of them started out with a crime for which they have never faced even a single question. And then they go more extreme.
In Avengers issue 329 the Sandman joins up. At least in this case we got to see his rehabilitation over years in the pages of Spider-Man. He went from a cheap criminal to a man who had to think things out.
For the record, Sandman committed a lot of crimes including theft, assault, battery, property damage, criminal conspiracy, all of them and others multiple times. And equally for the record, the President pardons him. See, it does happen.
But he was suddenly turned back to evil due to a device. If it were the Vision or Jocasta, crimes under a mind-control process would be excused. Not the Sandman. We are always shown in stories how badly we treat androids and robots and how terrible we are to do that. But as Sandman shows, that’s not always the case.
Then in Avengers vol 3 issue 57 Scott Lang, a long-term professional criminal and the second Ant-Man was added to the list. He was a thief and served time for that, afterwards he steals the Ant-Man costume. He would not be a hero if he did not commit that crime.
And Henry Pym forgave him, which was his right to do personally, but not legally. The police do not need permission to prosecute someone. It avoids things like the crook threatening the person to shut them up. It doesn’t always work.
They played up Lang’s desire to overcome his criminal tendencies in the pages of the Avengers. Sure, there’s more in Lang’s solo series, but his character here is consistent with his character there. That is a little unusual: look at Harley Quinn in her own title and Suicide Squad, the characters are different and how does Harley get out of Belle Reeve to have such a full life on Coney Island?
Then another Ant-Man joins and you have to wonder why he was allowed in, meaning Eric O’Grady. He steals the Ant-Man suit off a dead man, later steals a bag of jewels, and spends a lot of his time using his powers to watch women shower and bathe. Our hero. Or so they told us for 12 issues of his own series and from issue 1 to issue 23 of Secret Avengers, where he is killed and replaced by a Life Model Decoy.
For his list of crimes, where do you begin? Theft, fraud, various counts of illegal entry, multiple counts of invasion of privacy and sexual assault, multiple counts of criminal defamation, and let’s not forget, he was in S.H.I.E.L.D. and that means he has a slew of additional charges for dereliction of duty.
Speaking of military, Moonknight. Marc Spector was a mercenary. The use of the term ‘mercenary’ is really loose in comics. Kind of like ‘pirate’ or ‘prostitute,’ it seems to indicate someone rough at the edges unjustly rejected by society.
Usually a ‘mercenary’ in comics works as a kind of bodyguard. Being an armed guard or bodyguard is legal if you actually register that gun; they’re all over the place in malls, red carpet events in Hollywood, political events, banks, and so on.
Hiring out to undertake military actions without the authority of your government is a crime. Moon Knight committed that crime. In Spector’s case, we know he hired out to shoot people not in self defense but to get a point across.
Another big no-no is stabbing people. Wolverine did that and ran away and then did it again. Now, killing the guy who killed someone might be excusable at law. Killing your girlfriend by accident is still manslaughter. And then he goes on a virtual rampage. Did the Canadian government pardon him for all that? Could he even remember the full list?
Oh, and he becomes a mercenary. More pardons needed. The Federal Canadian government does those, now. And he came from northern Alberta in the 1880s – which is odd, considering the province was not established until 1905. Until then it was part of the Northwest Territories.
Oh, and the Northwest Territories were part of Great Britain back then, not the Dominion, so Wolverine has to go to London. No, wait, he has to go to Brussels because Great Britain is part of the European Union. But maybe not for long.
No wonder he didn’t get that fixed. It’s just too complicated. He still killed people, though.
Speaking of mercenaries, Deadpool. He shot people, killed them, wounded them, threatened them, and generally should be in jail. He’s not honest, he’s just funny. He joined in Avengers 0 in 2015.
And then there’s Shang-Chi, whose first ever task was to go kill someone in their sleep. He was trained to be an assassin by his father who has been retconned and now is Zheng Zu. So he went out and killed [they’ll have to change that name], an old friend of [they’ll have to change that name]. So, there you go. But he felt bad and turned on his father who sent him to commit that assassination, so every wrong you do can be fixed with genuine remorse. Most times, at any rate. There’s an exception.
What would the Avengers think of a recruit who’d committed a war crime? I mean he captured someone from the other side, could have imprisoned and held them until they are carted away. Instead he kills them.
So, in West Coast Avengers #50 they admit a war criminal in the form of Jim Hammond, aka, the original Human Torch.
After all, this is the android who burned Hitler alive. The story of that suicide was Hitler’s last instruction. “Lying with his dying breath,” as Jim Hammond put it. I know that they later rewrote the piece so Hitler shot at the torch and the Soviets were closing in, but in the original he was unarmed. Not only that, even if Hitler shot at him, the Human Torch had handled people with guns very often prior to that, and was immune to bullets in any event. He was shot at and the bullets would melt and dissolve before they reached him. There was at least one case where he wasn’t on fire but was so hot the bullet melted and caused no damage. Physics: it’s just guidelines.
Had the Torch not killed him, Hitler could have been brought to trial. Not only that, he could have faced interrogation. That would have been invaluable on all levels. But instead he got burned to death, an agonizing death giving him time to give orders.
If things were so tight death was essential, why didn’t the Human Torch ramp up the heat and kill Hitler in an instant?
So, here’s one of those retcon theories, the last one not being exonerating Jim Hammond from the crime. The Allies knew of Hitler’s Parkinson’s disease. It was advanced. His hand shook, his hair was turning gray, his chest was shallow, and he needed a ton of drugs to keep going. He wouldn’t match the image people had of him, he would have been able to play the audience with it. Given his trial in 1923, which Hitler used to garner publicity and momentum, this would be a risk. The Allied plan during the war was to destroy the very idea of Nazism. So perhaps Allied command sent the Human Torch to kill Hitler.
And that’s 21 Avengers out of about 140 (about 15%) who committed crimes before joining Earth’s mightiest heroes. Maybe we need a story arc to deal with that.
The characters generally don’t pay society for their crimes. They don’t even always regret the crimes. And sometimes, when regretting one set of crimes and paying for that, they commit more.
Then again, maybe some of them should get a pass. Then again, a principle is a principle. Isn’t it?