The Avengers Movie That Coulda (Never) Been

And Friday, there will come a day unlike any other. A day when Marvel's mightiest heroes will all converge upon one single epic motion picture. A day that fans have waited a veritable lifetime for. And this Friday, it all happens for the first time at the first possible time.

I'm of course writing about Marvel's "The Avengers," and you can tell just how important the "Avengers" movie is by the italics I typed in. Italics equals importance. But I was also lying, because any Marvel fan who came of age a few decades ago knows that there was another stretch of time that saw the Hulk, Captain America, Thor and a wide array of Marvel heroes make the leap from the printed page to the silver screen (or gray screen; whatever color screen televisions have). The year in question was 1990 and yes, an Avengers movie was entirely possible.

This article is inspired by this website that tells a tale of an inter-dimensional traveler giving the webmaster a latter day Beatles album, for in his universe the Fab Four were alive and well and still making tunes. I am not claiming that an inter-dimensional comic book fan came to me and told me of this parallel universe's "Avengers" film, mostly because I don't think this "Avengers" film would be worth the trip.

So how would the franchise start? Obviously it would have started with the Hulk. Anyone who has gone to a comic book convention in the past decade knows that a man named Lou Ferrigno exists and still makes a living off the years he spent covered in green body paint and growling on television. Seriously, the man's turned being the Hulk into a full-time career (which sounds like a pretty sweet deal, actually). "The Incredible Hulk" television series ran from 1978 to 1982 on CBS, lasting for 82 episodes over five seasons. That easily makes it one of the most successful live-action comic book television series... ever. Only the three Superman series have lasted longer and at the rate "The Walking Dead" is going, the next decade might arrive faster than its 83rd episode. So yes, if anything could launch an Avengers movie, it would have been "The Incredible Hulk." And to the Marvelites of the late '80s, that might have been exactly what they were expecting.

But upon meeting my inter-dimensional traveler friend (note: this did not happen), the traveler cited the two "Incredible Hulk" TV movies as the start of this alternate "Avengers" film canon. 1988 and 1989's "The Incredible Hulk Returns" and "The Trial of the Incredible Hulk" expanded the Marvel Universe considerably by introducing the Jade Giant to Thor (Eric Allan Kramer) and Daredevil (Rex Smith). And for any fan griping about Thor not wearing his trademark helmet in last year's blockbuster, now you know that they already tried that and, oh man, did it not work.

By the summer of 1989, the assembled theoretical Avengers included Hulk, Thor and Daredevil. By the fall of 1989, international Marvel fans would get a taste of the next Avenger: The Punisher, played by Dolph freakin' Lundgren. Now, I know what you're thinking. "Hey, idiot! The Punisher is NOT an Avenger! And Daredevil just joined the New Avengers last year! You're factually inaccurate, idiot!" I am completely aware of my factual inaccuracies regarding the hypothetical parallel universe, but I will defend them by saying:

  • The people who made "The Incredible Hulk" television series changed Bruce Banner's name to David because Bruce was too gay of a name.
  • Thor is covered in fur.
  • Daredevil's costume is black and doesn't have horns.
  • Punisher doesn't have his trademark skull.

If the real life people behind the Marvel media of the late '80s didn't give two shakes about accuracy, the people behind parallel universe Marvel sure don't. Just be glad I'm not going out of the Marvel Universe and adding Ripley and Sarah Connor to this sausage fest to equal out the gender ratio. But actually I don't have to, because parallel universe Marvel has two super heroines ready to assemble.

Did you know that David Bowie's wife Angela bought the rights for Black Widow and Daredevil in 1975, in the hopes of turning them into television's sexiest crime-fighting duo? She did. The series didn't fly in our universe, which makes sense after seeing those pictures. But the parallel universe Marvel? They loved it. They loved it enough to bring the character back fifteen years later. The other woman joining the fray is the muscle-bound beauty She-Hulk, played by Brigitte Nielsen. This six foot tall action star held her own against Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Red Sonja" and Sylvester Stallone in the bedroom, and in 1989 she did a few screen tests for She-Hulk. Judging by where her career ended up in our universe (quasi-seriously dating Flavor Flav on too many reality shows), parallel universe Nielsen is pretty psyched to have built a green dynasty for herself. It worked for Ferrigno.

So with all of these heroes in place (Hulk! Thor! Daredevil! Punisher! Black Widow! She-Hulk!), parallel universe Marvel was ready to put the star-spangled cherry on their Americone Dream ice cream. "Captain America" starring Matt Salinger was released in a handful of theaters (none of them in America, ironically) in December 1990 and, much like last year's "Captain America: The First Avenger," it too would lead up to an "Avengers" movie.

Just like a friend who insists on making a bad decision even when everyone is telling them how bad a decision it is, parallel universe Marvel launched their blockbuster film, "The Avengers," in the summer of 1991, based on the strength of two successful-ish TV movies, two straight-to-video feature films, and two iffy screen tests. 1991's "The Avengers" is looking more and more like that tattoo your friend got on spring break while incredibly drunk and grasping at their fading college glory. Methinks parallel universe Marvel should have done what their counterparts in our universe did and just... let all of those failed attempts at franchises be forgotten. I mean, how could an "Avengers" movie compete against the likes of "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day?"

Oh wait, I forgot to mention that 1991's "The Avengers" marked the debut of Iron Man, as played by superstar Tom Selleck. Having Thomas Magnum himself suiting up alongside the fan favorite Bixby/Ferrigno one-two-Hulk-punch (and all those other semi-recognizable faces) made 1991's "The Avengers" the biggest film of the year. Nay, the decade! Verily, "Avengers" mania swept the world!

Don't believe me? I mean, look at Tom Selleck's mustache. It's undeniable. I'm actually jealous that 1991's "The Avengers" gets that 'stache. What do we get? Joss Whedon. On second thought, our universe wins.

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