cropped cover of the avengers

And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes found themselves united against a common threat! On that day, the Avengers were born, to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand!

Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! From its humble beginnings back in 1963, this crazy bunch of heroes has become one of the most recognizable super teams in the world! They have been Mighty, Uncanny, Secret, All-New and All-Different, but they have always strived to protect our world and everyone in it. They have had many adventures over the years, but where to begin? Fortunately for you, we’re here to help. With help from Matthew Murphy and Nick Marinelli, I’ve come up with the Avengers essential reading list. Let’s begin!

THE AVENGERS #1

In September 1963, the Avengers assembled for the first time. Conceived by Stan Lee and drawn by the amazing Jack Kirby, this was the real beginning of the Marvel Universe. While Marvel superheroes had interacted with each other before on a smaller scale, this is where it all kicks off. Here, Iron Man first meets the Hulk, Ant-Man, and the Wasp meet a Norse god by the name of Thor, and Loki accidentally creates the world’s mightiest crime-fighting team. These are some of the most iconic moments in comics history, all contained in one book!

the Avengers #1 cover

It reads at first as a Thor story, with Loki plotting his revenge against Thor. He comes up with the ingenious plan of pitting Thor against the Hulk, but his plans go astray when other heroes enter the fray. If you didn’t know any of the characters before, each gets an excellent introduction before they finally join forces. We learn about their powers and what motivates them. It’s a pretty basic premise, but one that feels expertly crafted.

THE AVENGERS #1 offers a lot of old-fashioned fun, and it does sum up what the Avengers truly represent. There’s drama, action and cackling villains galore drawn by the King himself, Jack Kirby. “Wait, I thought Captain America was a founder of the Avengers?” I hear you cry. No, but he becomes a cornerstone of the team when he is thawed out from his tomb of ice in the classic AVENGERS #4! If you don’t have $275,000 (which is what a good grade issue #1 is currently going for), you should check out the Avengers Marvel Masterworks collection Volume 1 which collects the first ten issues of this classic series.

THE AVENGERS: KREE/SKRULL WAR

Possibly the first truly epic Avengers tale, the Kree/Skrull war is still widely regarded as a classic in the superhero genre. It centers on the war between two alien races, the Kree, and the Skrulls. The Kree have decided to use humanity as a weapon against their enemies while the Skrulls plot to use an Avenger, Captain Marvel, in helping them build a machine which will utterly destroy the Kree. In the middle of these two warring factions stand Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, willing to take on entire alien civilizations to protect the world.

Kree skrull war in the Avengers

While the story ties back to some Fantastic Four history, it also provides a new groundwork for stories to come. Rick Jones develops special powers which end the conflict, but these powers may come at a cost. We also start to see the spark behind the Scarlet Witch and the Vision’s unusual romance. All this and more is wrapped up in a tale that explores not just the violence of war, but the politics behind it. Drawn by the incomparable Neal Adams, the KREE/SKRULL WAR is fast-paced and action-packed. Full of drama and conflict, it sets the stage for the Avengers to enter the cosmic arena.

Collecting the AVENGERS #89 – 97

READ: Who are the Kree? Find out in our analysis of the warlike alien race here!

AVENGERS: THE KORVAC SAGA

Avengers members start to disappear mysteriously. Iron Man struggles to juggle leading the Avengers while leading his company. Captain America, dissatisfied by the direction of the team, clashes with Iron Man over his leadership skills. Meanwhile, the government has taken away the Avengers’ privileges, cutting off their access to S.H.I.E.L.D. and their Quinjets. All of this happens before we even meet the villain of the story, the godlike Michael Korvac. Originally an enemy of the Guardians of the Galaxy, he comes to earth to remake it in his image.

Korvac Saga in the Avengers

During this epic saga, the Avengers clash with the government, Ultron, and the Collector. Finally, they encounter Korvac himself. Of all their threats, Korvac may well be one of their most complex. The story not only gives him a background but fleshes out his motives, making you question the ethics of his quest. The Avengers, however, stand in his way, leading to a shocking amount of death and carnage. The story has no easy answers and leaves the reader with an ambiguous ending. Full of awe inspiring moments on a cosmic scale, any Avengers fan should read this. Plus the sight of the Avengers waiting for a bus to get them to their climactic showdown with Korvac far exceeds the worth of the price of admission alone.

Collecting AVENGERS #167 – 177

LISTEN: Hop on board as we discuss Marvel’s space operas in this ComicsVerse podcast!

AVENGERS: UNDER SIEGE

Masters of Evil Assemble! Lead by Baron Zemo, a new group of supervillains takes over Avengers mansion, laying down a brutal psychological and physical attack against their sworn enemies. Beginning with an encounter with the villainess Moonstone, the Avengers have their hands full with other problems when Zemo launches his nefarious plan. Before the Avengers realize what’s happened, Avengers Mansion is in the clutches of the Masters of Evil.

avengers under siege

Written by Roger Stern with art by John Buscema, AVENGERS: UNDER SIEGE is a slow burn when it comes to the main plot; our heroes are initially oblivious to Nemo’s machinations. By the time he acts, it’s almost too late for the Avengers, with Hercules, Captain America, the Wasp, Captain Marvel and the Black Knight fighting back to overcome overwhelming odds. It’s not an easy win by any stretch, and it’s fascinating to see the Avengers led by a very confident Janet Van Dyne. While Janet struggles with her decisions, Zemo attacks Cap’s memories, ripping apart many of his treasured mementos in an attempt to break Cap’s will. The Masters seem to have the upper hand, and everything hangs in the balance. Incredibly dark at times (poor Jarvis) AVENGERS: UNDER SIEGE attempts to bring weight to the hero/villain dynamic and does so admirably.

Collecting AVENGERS #270 – 277

READ: Find out more about the first avenger, Captain America, in our essential reading list!

AVENGERS FOREVER

AVENGERS FOREVER is a self-contained, 12 issue series released in 1998. Written by Kurt Busiek, with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesús Merino, it is a sprawling time-travel epic that is not for the faint-hearted. You need to know some of your Avengers history with this story (if only there were a handy guide that could break it down for you). It loosely follows what happens after the Kree/Skrull war, centering on a dying Rick Jones. Time traveling villain Immortus needs him dead, while Kang the Conqueror wants him alive. Caught in the middle are time-displaced Avengers, selected for their unique skills and perspectives. They have to protect Rick at all costs, but they’re not sure why.

the Avengers forever 1

A significant chunk of this sprawling epic—and believe me, this is epic—flies by where no answers appear evident. There are teases, questions, and double bluffs that make you feel like you’re watching Marvel history unfold before your eyes. This story does not dumb it down and forces you to focus. In doing so, it rewards you with strong character development, a threat that seems all encompassing, and a lot of action. Plus if you’re a fan of Kang the Conqueror, one issue centers solely on his history and it’s a marvel (pun intended) to read.

The script by Kurt Busiek is detailed, full of dialogue and captions, but his text pulls you in while Pacheco and Merino’s art ebbs and flows, full of tight paneling and grandiose action scenes. While I would suggest not starting off with this volume, this is an essential part of Avengers history that needs to be seen to be believed.

Collecting AVENGERS FOREVER #1 – 12

READ: Where is Rick Jones now? Helping out Steve Rogers in the controversial CAPTAIN AMERICA #1! Check out our review here!

AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED

In 2004 writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Finch did something that no supervillain had ever accomplished: they tore the Avengers asunder. While in this day and age, every comics event gets touted as a major game changer, this story brought personal loss and devastation to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The story begins in Avengers #500, and over a brief four issues, the world of the Avengers collapses. This story pulls no punches. It begins as it continues, with death and destruction.

the Avengers Disassembled

Within the first few pages, Jack of Hearts, an Avenger long thought dead, appears at Avengers mansion. Scott Lang, Ant-man, goes to meet him. Jack apologizes for what he’s about to do but before Scott can figure out why. The newly returned Avenger explodes, killing Scott and causing damage to the mansion. Before long we encounter a corrupted Vision, an enraged She Hulk and a drunk Tony Stark, all manipulated by some outside force that is revealed to be a lot closer to home than expected. The battle tears at the soul of the Avengers. For those left standing, walking away remains the only choice. Grim, shocking, violent and emotionally devastating, this series does exactly what it says on the tin.

Collecting AVENGERS #500 – 503 and AVENGERS FINALE

READ: We look at the Scarlet Witch’s power set in the MCU!

NEW AVENGERS: BREAKOUT

Continuing from the devastating AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED storyline, THE NEW AVENGERS brings some hope to the Marvel Universe. Electro has been employed by a mysterious benefactor to break out one of the convicts on Ryker’s Island Maximum security prison. This leads to some of the worst villains in the world making a bid for freedom. Fortunately, Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Luke Cage, Daredevil, and Spider-Woman are there to save the day. They all end up on Rykers for different reasons, but once the chaos dies down, Cap sees this meeting of heroes as fate. In doing so, he reaches out to some of the more unlikely heroes to be part of the New Avengers.

the avengers breakout

With 42 super-villains on the loose, the Avengers are needed more than ever. Despite some reservations from Tony Stark, they decide to come together for the greater good. This new group sets about figuring out who Electro took and why. In the midst of this, they are joined by another outsider, Wolverine. Brought low by the devastation that AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED wrought, the new Avengers are the first glimmer of hope in a world overrun by evil. It’s time for Cap and his team to start avenging.

Collecting NEW AVENGERS (2005) #1 – 6

LISTEN: We talk about Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, in this ComicsVerse podcast!

THE AVENGERS: CIVIL WAR

A tragedy in Stamford caused by the reckless behavior of the New Warriors causes the government to implement the Superhero Registration Act. This act requires all super-powered individuals to register their identities with the government and only work in a capacity as dictated by the state. But not all Avengers agree with this, and a deep split occurs within the group, tearing at friendships and bringing betrayal in its wake. On the side of the Registration Act stands Iron Man, believing this is the only way forward for superheroes. Standing against him is Captain America, leading the anti-registration group who see the Act as an attack on the freedom of the super-powered.

the Avengers Civil War 7

Mark Millar and Steve McNiven weave a tale that shows both sides of the argument and leave it up to you, the reader, to decide who is right and who is wrong. To me, this tale probably feels like the most personal  Avengers story, even more so than AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED. Hero versus hero divide around their political differences: how much personal freedom should one give up to safeguard national security? Spider-Man publicly announces his secret identity, Thor kills Goliath, and Tony Stark becomes director of S.H.I.E.L.D. But that’s only half the story, and the fallout from this story affects the Marvel Universe for a long, long time.

LISTEN: We discuss CIVIL WAR in our latest ComicsVerse podcast!

Collecting CIVIL WAR #1 – 7

THE MIGHTY AVENGERS: THE ULTRON INITIATIVE

Captain America is dead, Tony Stark is head of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Superhero Registration Act is in full effect. But in a world where all registered heroes are at the government’s beck and call, is there a need for any Avengers? Tony Stark seems to think so, and in partnership with Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers), recruits who he thinks is ideally suited to the call of Earth’s Mightiest team. With Carol taking the lead, they round up the Wasp, Wonder Man, Black Widow, the Sentry, and Ares, God of War. And it’s not a moment too soon, as earth’s weather is causing all kinds of havoc and all signs point to the Mole Man. Until they don’t.

The Mighty Avengers 2 - the Avengers

Brian Michael Bendis and Frank Cho introduce you to a post-Civil War Avengers world. The team is almost unrecognizable, a rag-tag bunch of heroes that fight and clash at the first opportunity. But when Ultron raises his (her?) metallic head, everyone must step up to the plate. There is a more conflicted and emotional dynamic in this new team. Carol desperately wants the team to work. Unfortunately, every hero wants to do their own thing. It’s a baptism by fire as they come up against one of their most deadly villains. And on their first day too. This Avengers team resembles no Avengers team you’ve seen before. Are they worthy of that mantle? THE MIGHTY AVENGERS: THE ULTRON INITIATIVE answers that question while also setting the stage for a threat bigger than Ultron. The world breaking SECRET INVASION now looms on the horizon.

READ: We separate science facts from science fiction in an examination of AGE OF ULTRON!

Collecting MIGHTY AVENGERS (2007) #1 – 6

NEW AVENGERS: REVOLUTION

The superhero Civil War ended, but the unregistered Avengers haven’t given up their fight! On the run from Iron Man and his government sanctioned Avengers, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Fist, and Spider-Woman join forces with the Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Strange to help the world as a whole. They fight on their terms. Maya Lopez takes on the mantle of the masterless samurai Ronin and combats The Hand in Japan.

Our team of underground Avengers’ mission to rescue her will take them far away from home and into the heart of a centuries-old battle! Plus, the return of Elektra! What secret does Elektra carry that pits Avengers against each other? Resurrected by the Scarlet Witch during the HOUSE OF M series, Hawkeye makes his return to the Marvel Universe. He finds himself lost in a world that has changed much since he died and sought comfort in the arms of an old friend.

Avengers.

Operating outside of the law gives this team an advantage. Their status as fugitives plays to each character’s strength and makes for a great story. Overall, the characters display what it means to be an Avenger. No big name superhero like Cap or Iron Man stand next to them, none of Tony Stark’s money, none of Thor’s awesome power and might. The Avengers face the world alone as a bunch of former prisoners, vigilantes, and mutants fighting to do what’s right and make a difference. As Luke Cage tells the rest of the team, “WE are THE Avengers.” In the end, Luke’s stance leaves no doubt about it as the right position.

Collecting NEW AVENGERS (2007) #26 – 31

LISTEN: We discuss Street Justice in comics and Clint Barton, aka, Hawkeye in this ComicsVerse podcast!

SECRET INVASION

Embrace change. The phrase is synonymous with Marvel’s 2010 epic crossover SECRET INVASION. Brian Michael Bendis built the story of the Skrull Invasion starting with the beginning of his Avenger’s run in Avengers Disassembled. Readers had no clue what was happening in Marvel Universe. In a world where any superhero could be an alien invader in disguise, who can you trust?

the Avengers: Secret Invasion

In the wake of the ongoing Iraq War and rampaging Islamophobia in our own country, Secret Invasion was a brilliant, high concept analog to the real world’s issues. Heroes who fought alongside each other for years were fighting one another as innocent civilians fell in the battle for Times Square. The Skrull’s game was misdirection and deceit, and for a time it looked like they might win. Never count out Earth’s Mightiest Heroes when it comes to saving the world from an alien invasion, though. They always get out on top.

The series brought back major players into the MCU like Mockingbird, Noh-Varr, and Norman Osborn. It was one of the few crossovers where the heroes lost and ushered in one of the bleakest periods in Marvel history, Dark Reign. Most importantly, it showed a united Marvel Universe for the first time since Civil War. It was the rebirth of the Avengers.

Collecting SECRET INVASION #1 – 8

READ: Avenger Spider-man gets into the fray in our review of CIVIL WAR II: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1!

DARK AVENGERS ASSEMBLE

In the wake of Secret Invasion, the public’s trust in Tony Stark and the Avengers vanishes. The world looked to one man to keep them safe: the killer of the Skrull Queen, Norman Osborn. Osborn was the figurehead in a company-wide, dark renaissance known as Marvel’s Dark Reign. The book to read during Marvel’s darkest line of comics in decades was appropriately titled Dark Avengers.

the avengers: dark avengers

Dark Avengers, a monthly title by frequent collaborators Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato Jr., picked up right after Secret Invasion. S.H.I.E.L.D. disbanded and H.A.M.M.E.R. became the “protectors” of the Marvel Universe. On top of this, Osborn has both the New and Mighty Avengers on the run as Osborn hunts them down for imprisonment or death. Who helped Osborn try to accomplish this feat? His Dark Avengers roster consisted of Venom, Bullseye, Ares, Moonstone, Noh-Varr, Daken, and the Sentry. With Osborn leading the team as Iron Patriot, the title was the first time readers experienced an Avengers title where Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were sociopaths, mass murderers, and evil.

The title was a morally ambiguous one. The Dark Avengers were a cruel, monstrous band of characters that readers loved to despise. Each character had their agenda as a member of the team whether it was honorable or not and their group dynamic was unlike any Avengers group that came before them. DARK REIGN and THE DARK AVENGERS left an impact felt in the Marvel Universe for years. The period where evil won at every turn. The villains wore the masks of heroes. The period where Osborn ruled the Marvel Universe.

Collecting DARK AVENGERS #1 – 6

READ: We look into the history of Daken, Wolverine’s son!

AVENGERS: SIEGE

The Avengers are Avengers in name only.Now populated with Marvel’s vilest villains, Norman Osborn’s H.A.M.M.E.R. replaced S.H.I.E.L.D. SIEGE brings this chapter of the Dark Reign storyline to a close, with Osborn attacking Asgard, now located floating above Broxton, Oklahoma.

the avengers: Siege

Osborn creates a Stamford-like event in a football stadium in Chicago, which lays the blame at the feet of Volstagg, an Asgardian. Defying presidential orders, he uses this tragedy to lay siege to Asgard, using the Sentry as a terrifying weapon to bring the mighty city to the ground. The stakes are high, and only the disbanded and disillusioned Avengers can stand in Osborn’s way. Can they do it? With the resurgence of a Captain America that everyone believed dead, the final battle is one to reclaim not only the good name of the Avengers but the very heart and soul of the Marvel Universe. Everything since the Avengers Disassembled culminates here. But will the Dark Reign continue or will a new Heroic Age begin? The answer is here.

Collecting SIEGE #1 – 4

READ: Catch up on all things Asgardian with our review of THE MIGHTY THOR #7!

AVENGERS: THE HEROIC AGE

The siege of Asgard ends, and the Avengers defeat Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers! The President of the United States discontinues the Superhuman Registration Act and appoints Steve Rogers as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as the Avengers.

After what fans considered the darkest of times for our heroes, Steve Rogers personally hand-picks a new team of Avengers to lead them into the new world. He chooses Captain America (Bucky Barnes), Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. He also selects Maria Hill as a sort of liaison to the team. Before this new team of Avengers can even get their first meeting underway they are interrupted by Kang, and a battle ensues.

Unbeknownst to the Avengers, Kang came from the future with dire news. Ultron, shortly, would kill all the Avengers and rule his new empire with an iron fist. Kang, although an enemy of the Avengers, asks them for their help in stopping this from ever coming to pass. The Avengers choose to aid Kang, the lesser of the two evils and enlist Noh-Varr (now going by Protector) to help them build a machine so they can see into the many different possible futures to find Ultron.

the Avengers_Vol_4_1

A New Era

The book ushers in a new era of MARVEL comics and boy did it ever start with a bang! It features betrayal, time travel, and begrudging alliances. Everything that you would want from a flagship title! A hodge-podge collection of various Avengers teams from years past constitute this incarnation. They complement each other without losing the feel of nostalgia. John Romita Jr.’s art is still top-notch, and Klaus Janson’s inking brings it out fantastically. Bendis, at this point going into his 6th year as the torch carrier of the Avengers, brings his A-Game and keeps the reader guessing at every issue. It’s a new age for the Avengers and a brave one indeed!

Collecting AVENGERS (2010) #1 – 6

READ: The heroes of the Marvel Universe clash in our review of CIVIL WAR II!

The Avengers have changed mightily over the years. They’ve had great triumphs and bitter defeats. They have had their ups and downs, but there is no denying that the world needs them. These great titles are just the start of the journey into the world of Marvel’s greatest super team. There are more awesome stories yet out there! So what are you waiting for? Readers, Assemble!

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