Guest post by E. Paul Zehr
When I was a kid I read a lot of comic books. As an adult I now have to be more “choosey” because I have less time for
pleasure reading. Sad, but true. There were many characters that interested me: Batman, Iron Man, Daredevil, Captain America, Thor, Nova, the Flash, and a host of others. (BTW, that list even included Aquaman. But not Plastic Man. I think it was the sunglasses.)
But above all, I really liked some of the “team up” books like the Fantastic Four, the Justice League, the Justice Society, and even the Defenders. But the “uber” team up for me was always “The Avengers—Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” They have remained one of my favorites to this day. All despite the fact that they were, well, a bit on the lame side when they debuted back in 1963.
The original line up in The Avengers #1 in September 1963 included Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Thor, and the Hulk. Although heavily identified with them since the early days, Captain America didn’t actually arrive until issue #4. With no offense to the Hulk, Ant-Man, or Wasp (all part of the “Founding Members” group), they were the ones putting the damper on how cool the Avengers could actually be. But by adding Captain America and having a lineup that had him, Iron Man, and Thor as leads, how could you go wrong?
Luckily the 2012 Avengers movie includes a re-envisioning of the origin that’s a lot closer to the more recent (and excellent) Marvel “Ultimates” story lines. The cast luckily includes some of the original founding members—Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, and Captain America—and also welcomes Black Widow and Hawkeye, who were added later, and bumps up the screen time for Nick Fury.
To me what’s really compelling about the Avengers is the spectrum of superheroes included in the cast. You have on one hand a hero like Iron Man, who represents a more “realistic” superhero. As I detailed in Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine, his origin story has some very plausible bits to it. This makes him very accessible.
On the other hand we have Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. Since he’s an actual mythological figure, this makes him one of the least accessible and realistic superheroes. (But still very cool, don’t misunderstand me.) The way Thor is pitched in recent imaginings (including the excellent 2011 movie) is quite inspired. I especially like the way the writers have worked Arthur C. Clarke’s comment that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” in order to bridge Midgard to Asgard.
In the middle we have Captain America. Cap is basically a kind of Batman-like character in terms of fighting prowess and overall skill. Much of Captain America’s training would have needed to be very much like I outlined for Bruce Wayne in Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero. Except in the case of Cap you add in stem cells, steroids, and gene deletions.
When you put all this together and include the powerful and skillful female lead of Black Widow there’s basically something for everyone in the Avengers. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have long been one of the “super groups” of superheroes. They are also the most entertaining superhero group going, whose skills span the worlds of science, physical training, and magic, with a bit of mayhem thrown in for good measure. The Avengers cover the widest possible spectrum of interests. And isn’t that what escapist imaginings should do?
E. Paul Zehr is the director of the Centre for Biomedical Research at the University of Victoria, where he is also a professor of neuroscience and kinesiology. He is the author of Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine and Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero, both available from the JHU Press.