If you have read any of my rants before then you know that I am a dedicated Avengers fanatic. Add to that my predilection for Buffy and you can probably imagine the giddy excitement and awkward skipping that occurred when I first heard that Joss Whedon was writing and directing the Avengers movie. Such a sight has never been seen before (according to my wife it should never been seen again, at least if I ever plan on seeing her naked).
Even though we are still months out from the Avengers big screen debut I don’t think that is too early to begin musing on the possible plots for the inevitable sequels. Sure the net is full of gossip and whispers about Dr Strange or Ant Man being involved, perhaps the Guardians Of The Galaxy, or there being an entirely new Avengers team introduced.
But I think the best place to start is with the magic and imagination that the amazing Marvel writers have brought us over the years. So I present to you, my esteemed fellow Avenger-ites, the ten greatest Avengers Storylines Ever Written!
10. The Trust
(New Avengers vol. 1 #32-37, Annual 2)
Written by Brian Michael Bendis.
Starting out with the newest Avengers story arc on this list, ‘The Trust’ finds itself amongst an array of rather over-complicated plot development. Symbiotes taking over New York, wrapping up Civil War, bringing World War Hulk and setting up Secret Invasion; how much can you jam into one storyline? When did marketing become more important than actually telling a story?
Yet if you peel away the husk of capitalism, inside is a simple and intriguing story. The New Avengers have discovered that Elektra was actually a Skrull and this revelation leads the team to realise that any of them could be an infiltrating alien in disguise. What is worse is that for once there doesn’t seem to be a comic-style fix-all gadget that can prove who is really themselves, and so the seeds of mistrust are planted.
As the heroes begin fighting amongst themselves, their sense of security torn apart, a new team is being gathered. A team of supervillains. Under the strong-headed influence of Parker Robbins, the Hood, they take the Avengers style approach to crime and work together to get revenge and make money. The New Avengers are splintered and attacked individually (want to see Wolverine get neutered? Check out this story arc!). Lots of all out brawls and ups and downs as each side gains the upper hand.
This story could be adapted into a great tale of two teams who are two sides of the same coin, and an analysis of trust. Take out all of the confusing side plots and there is great drama to be found here. And, perhaps, a perfect setup for a Secret Invasion mega summer blockbuster.
9. The Bride of Ultron
(Avengers vol.1 #161-162)
Written by Jim Shooter.
Ultron makes two appearances on my top ten list, but this older tale pits the mechanical menace against the classic Avengers in a smart and enveloping drama. No longer content with his repetitively simplistic goal of wiping out humanity, Ultron has found some basic emotional need and wants to achieve genocide holding the hand of a wife.
After being attacked by a temporarily amnesiac Ant-Man (who remembers nothing past the original forming of the team), the Avengers are then set upon by Ultron who has created the ultimate weapon, the encephalo ray. He wipes the floor with the team and kidnaps Ant-man leaving all but Iron Man, Wonder Man and Black Panther dead (or so they seem) and an angry Thor attempting to work out what has happened.
Ultron tricks the memory-affected Ant-Man into helping him transfer the Wasp‘s (also kidnapped) mind into a female robot body, to supposedly save her life. What makes this such a stand-out story is the climax that finds Iron Man threatening to destroy the female robot, that is currently housing some of the Wasp’s mind, in an attempt to blackmail Ultron into giving up the control code that will allow them to save Wasp’s life.
Even though it is all contained in only 2 comic books, the ‘Bride of Ultron’ would make a great core story for an Avengers film, linking the origin of the Avengers with a new and all-different team, and forcing a key member to cross a hero-line at the risk of the life of his comrade. Strong and intense, even Ultron has a softer side, forced to sacrifice victory to save the shell of his potential sweetheart.
(Avengers vol. 1 #368- 369; X-Men vol.2 #26; Avengers West Coast vol.1 #101; Uncanny X-Men vol.1 #307)
Written by Bob Harras, Fabian Nicieza, Roy Thomas & Scott Lobdell.
Whilst ‘Bloodties’ may not be a well-lauded or much talked about story, it is perfect for big screen conversion at the very least due to the fact that it contains both the Avengers and the X-Men; two huge movie franchises. Sure there is little chance of this actually happening anytime soon due to FOX holding the rights to all things mutant but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be awesome!
Aside from the two big-hit teams this arc is full of blockbuster-type plots; a nation in civil war, the threat of genocide, a kidnapped child, super-human/ mutant parents battling to save her and a religious cult undertone. Michael Bay would go crazy with this kind of material!
The basic overview is that Magneto has been mind-wiped by Charles Xavier, and has now disappeared. His closest disciples Fabian Cortez and Exodus are trying to draw Magneto out (they don’t know what happened to him) by waging war on humans in Genosha, and threatening the death of the kidnapped Luna who is not by coincidence Magneto’s grand-daughter. The only problem is that her parents are the X-Man Quicksilver and the Avenger Crystal. Thus the Avengers and the X-Men end up fighting side by side against hordes of mutants, attempting to save the humans.
Perhaps one of the reasons I like this story is that my favourite Avenger, the Black Knight, plays a pivotal and climactic role as he finds himself caught in a love triangle with Crystal and Quicksilver, amongst all of the war-torn action. It would be great to see a non-powered hero take front stage within the super-powered chaos.
7. Acts Of Vengeance
(Avengers vol.1 #3133-313)
Avengers plots written by John Byrne.
I know that this was a Marvel Universe wide summer crossover but the core of the story was about the eternal feud between Loki and Thor, which makes it an Avengers story at heart. Loki, sick of being beaten time and again, devises an ingenious plot. He tricks some of the greatest villains such as Doctor Doom, Magneto, The Kingpin, Mandarin and the Red Skull into working together to achieve victory over all heroes. His plan is very simple; instead of fighting the same old fights with their adversaries, swap partners and use the element of surprise to win.
Okay, I can already hear the grumbles about not being able to do this because of the myriad of licensing-rights issues across character franchises that this raises. But if you bear with me I’ll explain how this could work.
It is the core plot that makes this storyline into a potential powerhouse. We take all of the hero/villain rivalries that the Marvel Studios movies have set up and we jumble them all around. Red Skull attacks Iron Man, Mandarin takes on Black Widow, The Sorceress messes with Hulk, General Ross and the U.S Army versus Captain America. There are so many great mix-ups that would put the heroes on the back foot and find themselves struggling with the kind of power that works against their skill set.
On a side note I would not use the Avengers team that was rostered during the Acts of Vengeance arc. Sersi, Quasar and Gilgamesh can most certainly be replaced with better rounded heroes.
6. Civil War
(too many issues to name)
Conceived and structured by Mark Millar.
Just as Acts of Vengeance could be whittled down to an Avengers story, so too can Civil War. The mass of marketing at the time said it all – Captain America vs. Iron Man. The ultimate showdown between the heart and the head of the Avengers.
Although many of you out there will disagree with me, I think that Civil War was one of the most brilliant concepts of the modern comic age and it had me enraptured. There are so many bitter readers whinging and complaining that something or other wasn’t done right or this character didn’t do something they should have, but for me Civil War was a spectacularly simple and effective idea. What happens when you take away a hero’s personal freedom?
There can be little doubt that this would be the most epic on-screen extravaganza! The biggest names in the Marvel Heroes slugging it out against each other as the villains find themselves having to choose sides as well, and uneasy alliances are forged. Good and evil is gone. Right and wrong is blurred. It’s just people trying to fight for what they believe in.
Even with all of the rights issues mentioned above Civil War could be pulled off. It was an event that spent as much time putting the big guns head to head as it did bringing the forgotten characters out of the wood work (though often just to be killed, maimed or imprisoned). This means that there are masses of unlicensed heroes and villains who can be brought to the fore as soldiers in an idealistic crusade.
The only reason I didn’t list Civil War in the top 5 was because it has far less chance of being made as a movie.
5. Ultron Unlimited
(Avengers vol. 3 #19-23)
Written by Kurt Busiek.
Yep, there had to be an Ultron storyline at this end of the list and there is no arc more worthy of adaptation than Busiek’s brilliant and overwhelming Ultron Unlimited. It starts out familiar enough; Hank Pym goes missing and Ultron appears. Yep, seen that one at least ten time before. But this time Ultron turns up after wiping out the armed and the super forces of Slorenia, lays claim to the country as his own, and turns the conquered citizens into killer cyborg zombies!
To make matters even worse Ultron has created his new body out of unbreakable adamantium, and has the good ol’ encephalo ray back in action. Not bad enough? Fine, how about we add the return of all previous incarnations of Ultron and hundreds of next generation models?
The Avengers have always found it hard enough to beat one Ultron let alone an entire Ultron army. What about one more creepy plot point? He captures Hank Pym, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, Vision and the Grim Reaper so that he can use their brain patterns as the basis for his brand new family.
So much action, so big a plan, so many robots. What works so well about this story is that the Avengers are helpless throughout. Ultron has them outmaneuvered and outgunned and outnumbered. For once using your fists or your battle cunning has no effect as the enemy is that much better than you. The heroes are only saved by the research of Justice, hidden back at Avengers Mansion due to injury, that finds the single flaw in Ultron’s machinations.
A film well worth making.
4. Operation: Galactic Storm
(Captain America vol.1 #398-400, Avengers West Coast vol. 1 #80-82, Quasar vol. 1 #32-34, Wonder Man vol. 1 #7-9, Avengers vol. 1 #345-347, Iron Man vol. 1 #278-279, Thor vol. 1 #445-446)
Written by Mark Gruenwald, Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, Gerard Jones, Bob Harras, Len Kaminski and Tom DeFalco.
I just know I’m going to hear some words from some of you on this. It was a toss up between the classic and highly regarded Kree/Skrull War storyline of the 1970′s and the seemingly disliked (and definitely bloated story) Operation: Galactic Storm. But when looking at them I sheered away from which is better reading and looked at which would make a better movie. From this view there was only one way I could go.
The Kree/Skrull War has loads of great plot points built into but when you get to visualising it in one or two movies it becomes obvious how much of the story depends on Marvel-fan only knowledge that you just couldn’t fit into a few hours. Whereas Operation: Galactic Storm can, for all of its faults and over-writing in the comics comes down to a simple attempt by the Avengers to stop an impending war between the Kree and the Shi’ar that will make Earth
its battleground. The heroes separate into three teams, one to protect Earth and and the others off to plead their case to each of the warring factions.
There is an Empire Strikes Back vibe to this storyline, following the different paths of the teams as they encounter such different obstacles. Captain America’s team is imprisoned, Captain Marvel‘s team battle with the Imperial Guard as they try to reach Queen Lilandra, and Vision and Wonder Man find themselves on the Nega-Bomb that is being transported to obliterate the Kree empire.
Why do I prefer this to the arguable ‘original’ story? There are no real winners come the conclusion; the war is over but billions are dead, all sides have been used and betrayed, and the Avengers have been torn down the middle by the decision to assassinate the Kree Supreme Intelligence. Brilliant.
3. Kang Dynasty
(Avengers vol. 3 #41-54)
Written by Kurt Busiek.
This film could run the tagline: “We lose”. What a great idea, Kang the Conqueror, easily one of the Avengers foremost and most dangerous enemies decides that he has had enough of playing small games of challenge and honour. Instead he brings his entire time-travelling army to modern Earth and takes over. That’s right Kang becomes king of the world.
With half of the Avengers stuck in space and the rest of them dealing with the deaths of millions of people, the Wasp surrenders the Earth to Kang on behalf of the Avengers. What happens now is a resistance-style guerrilla war between the underground Avengers and Kang’s forces, culminating in some of the villainous teams joining in to save their planet.
I will admit that it does go a little bit astray with the whole Triune of Understanding, the Black Pyramid and the return of 3-D Man (never one of my preferred heroes) but it is this side plot that leads to the most awesome bit of all. A moment that needs to be eternalised on the big screen. A galaxy-sized Captain America hologram fighting an equally enormous Kang projection. Cool!
Yet the best part of all, the moment that makes this a strong case for adaptation, is the final showdown. His armies defeated and the sole survivor from the crash-wreck that was his star-ship, Kang asks to die in combat and is challenged by the real Captain America. No teams, no tactics. Just two soldiers out of their respective times fighting for survival.
2. The Fall of Hank Pym
(Avengers vol. 1 #211-213, 217, 221-222, 224, 227-230)
Written by Jim Shooter.
After the last few items on this list being bigger than Ben Hur I wanted to round out the top two Avengers storylines for big screen adaptation with stories that show why the Avengers are so different to all other comic book teams. In 1981 Jim Shooter began a plot that would stretch across almost 20 books and went beyond super powers and epic battles, between good and evil. It was a story about a man. About Hank Pym.
Whilst there had been earlier hints toward the fact that Pym was slightly mentally unstable this idea had never been properly investigated. With the Fall of Hank Pym we see a hero under great stress suffer a nervous breakdown and in doing so abuse the power that he wields. The consummate hero walks the line of villainy and is forced to suffer the consequences of a court martial and trial for his actions.
On a more personal level this downfall hits its lowest ebb when Hank slaps his wife Janet (the Wasp). Domestic violence was, and still isn’t, a common theme amongst hero comics and here it was laid out for all to consider. Can one act erase years of good intentions? The Wasp must have thought so as she divorced him and took over leadership of the Avengers, giving a hearty nod to the women’s movement.
And in dramatic conclusion Hank manages to redeem himself by single handedly defeating the new Masters Of Evil, before laying down his costume to assume the life of a civilian. So many peaks and troughs in this storyline that follows Pym’s too human experience made infinitely worse by his position as a hero. This is what made Marvel marvelous; the human side of characters and the consequences that they have to suffer.
1. Under Siege
(Avengers vol. 1 #271, 273-277)
Written by Roger Stern.
Here we are at the number one spot. This was the easiest choice for me to make and the very first of the storylines that jumped to mind. The Avengers are always at their best when they are driven to their lowest, and there is no time at which that has occurred like Under Siege. Once again Baron Zemo bands together a new grouping of Super Villains to form yet another version of the Masters of Evil. But this time he actually put some thought into it and decides to get more bad guys than there are heroes and to enlist some of the strongest villains he can find. Ones who could go toe to toe with Thor himself.
The Avengers are caught off-guard, overwhelmed and tortured. Hercules is beaten into a coma and only the Wasp manages to escape. Even our ever-faithful butler Jarvis is dragged into the mess, pummeled by Mr Hyde as Captain America is forced to watch. Wasp gathers a counter-attack force of reserve Avengers and they lay siege to their own mansion. The story climaxes with a series of one-on-one battles with Captain America facing down Baron Zemo.
Never before had I felt fear or tension as I read an Avengers comic. They were unbeatable. They always won and any injuries were shrugged off the next day. Yet suddenly it looked as though this was all about to change and the baddies were going to win the day.
And even though our heroes take the final victory, it truly is a win for the Masters of Evil. For as they are carted away to incarceration the Avengers are left standing amongst the ruins of their home, Hercules and Jarvis hospitalised, and team members stepping down from active duty. The tale finishes with the ever-strong Captain America crying at the discovery of the ruined photo of his mother; the last proof and memory of his original life. The battle is won but our heroes are forever altered.
Well there’s my two-cents (actually seems to be closer to two dollars with all those words). Let me know which storylines I forgot, which ones you don’t think should be here and which one Avengers story is the one you want to see as the next Avengers movie!
This article was first posted on January 9, 2012