This might sound blasphemous to other superhero fans that currently measure their fandom in decade-long stretches, but I prefer the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers to Marvel Comics’ Avengers. There, I said it, I went there. It feels like it’s kind of a taboo to say that the movie version of a superhero property is your preferable version, as if that damages “my cred” in some vague way. It’s 2015, comics are for everybody, and I can freely admit that when it comes to the Avengers, I would much rather watch them than read them.
I have to imagine that my fellow early ’90s inductees into superhero fandom mostly feel the same way — if not totally, then I imagine they at least get where I’m coming from. When I was eight years-old and head over heels for the X-Men, every other superhero team paled in comparison. The X-Men were exciting and — most importantly — new. Kids love new things, as evidenced by the sediment of my old toy box. Dino-Riders on the bottom, some Toy Biz DC Comics Super Heroes on top of them, followed by layers of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Captain Planet and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” figures, with pockets of G.I. Joes scattered throughout. The X-Men were new and, unlike everything else that came before them, they stuck around.
To pre-teen me, the Avengers just looked… uncool. They weren’t hated and feared, they weren’t cursed with powers they couldn’t control, and — the biggest strike of all — none of them were Gambit. I remember when the Avengers started trying to court the X-Audience, though. A lot of bomber jackets appeared on the team’s 1993 Marvel Universe trading cards, and — I have to admit — I was tempted to check them out. Bomber jackets are cool. I’ve written about this era of “Avengers” before, when Bob Harras introduced a few love triangles and Steve Epting made every member of the team dress like Rogue and Havok. Reading that run now, I totally see how shameless the pandering to X-Men readers was, and I totally love it now as an adult with a strong nostalgic bent. Those issues aren’t perfect, but I dig’em.
But I didn’t fall for them as a kid. I resisted the Avengers, even as Hawkeye morphed into Purple Gambit and Giant-Man started wearing a cool harness of pouches. I remained firmly loyal to the X-Men; my interest in comics never strayed… until 1998, when the “Heroes Return” event piqued my curiosity. A little over a year prior, the Avengers and Fantastic Four titles had been jettisoned to a pocket realm ruled by gods named Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. While they were gone, the X-Men line — or at least my unwavering devotion to it — cracked. By the time “Avengers” volume 3 #1 hit bookstores in early 1998, I was disillusioned with “Generation X,” “Excalibur” and “X-Factor.” I was still buying those books, of course, but I wasn’t enjoying them. Maybe… it was time to try “Avengers”?
Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s “Avengers” is a classic. It’s now regarded as one of the greatest runs of “Avengers” comics ever, and rightly so. That doesn’t change the fact that the very immature middle school version of myself trashed the book endlessly on Marvel AOL’s Avengers message board. Yes, I was a message board troll — when I was 13 years old and a total Internet newbie. Much like wetting the bed, being a message board troll is something you should outgrow. At the time, the Busiek/Perez run was both too mature and too retro for my taste. Looking back at it, Busiek was clearly doing deep stuff with the characters and the team’s internal politics. He was also writing dialogue that felt very Bronze Age to me — because I was a big “Deadpool” fan. And my favorite artist in 1998 was definitely Joe Madureira, who’s a bit of a far cry from George Perez. I broke up with the Avengers with issue #19.
Yes, I did buy and read nineteen issues of a comic I wasn’t enjoying. I swear I’ve gotten slightly better at managing my money in the following sixteen years.
For another glimpse at The Fan I Used To Be, I remember being very annoyed when Marvel announced the lineup of “New Avengers” in late 2004. I had matured a little in life at that point (I was a sophomore in college), but I was still the same old fan. I remember thinking that this team, which included Wolverine and Spider-Man, wasn’t my Avengers — even though I had never grown attached to any Avengers team. College Me didn’t let ignorance of a topic stop him from forming a definitive and harsh opinion, that’s for sure! But, because College Me was even more disillusioned with the X-Men at the time, I ended up reading “New Avengers.” It took a while, but I came around to the team during the fallout of “Civil War.” For all my griping about this not being the “real” Avengers, I ended up falling in love with a roster including Iron Fist, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, Wolverine and Hawkeye-as-Ronin.
Finally, I had an “Avengers” run to call my own, even if it was a weird roster in retrospect, thanks to Brian Michael Bendis and all the A-List artists that joined in I had no idea I was about to fall in love with a totally different iteration of the team in a totally different medium.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has introduced me to a lot of characters. I had barely touched Iron Man and Thor comics before their movies came out. Black Widow was just Russian Spy-venger in my mind before “Iron Man 2.” War Machine, Falcon, Sif, Peggy Carter — I love a lot of new characters now mainly because Marvel cast amazing actors and put them in movies I love. I read their comics because I love the movies; I actually never thought that would be the case when the comic book movie craze started 15 years ago. This phenomenon is most apparent with the Avengers; I’ve fallen off of every “Avengers” title (save “Captain America and the Mighty Avengers”) because they just weren’t giving me what I want — which is the MCU Avengers.
2012 was nuts. When I think about the joy of cutting past pop culture cynicism and just loving the crap out of something, I think back to the Friday after “Marvel’s the Avengers” opened when I ventured to the Times Square Toys “R” Us — AKA Mount Doom — to buy the entire wave of movie Minimates. I remember watching the movie 8 times that summer in three different states, both alone and with friends. I remember the midnight screening where the entire crowd treated the film like a rock concert, screaming and applauding the entire time in a way that was somehow not infuriating. I love that movie.
The MCU Avengers hit all the right notes for me. They weren’t the perfect heroes I thought they were when I was a kid because Joss Whedon made sure to depict all of them as flawed individuals (Tony’s hubris, Banner’s rage, Steve’s depression, Natasha’s fear). Every character also had their own voice — filtered through Whedon’s, of course. But then again, I fell in love with Whedon’s voice on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” at around the time I sassily said “whatever” to Busiek’s run. And this team had the A-List characters in it; this movie — and this film universe — made me care about Thor and Iron Man. It made me love and understand Captain America. It made Black Widow my hands-down favorite film superhero of all time. The “New Avengers” run made me a big Iron Fist and Luke Cage fan, but the MCU made me a fan of the classics.
This is what I’m taking with me when I watch “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” I’m getting a new story with my favorite version of the team after three long years away. Certain comics (“Avengers Assemble,” “Mighty Avengers”) have filled that void, for sure, but there’s nothing like seeing this grouping of actors in action. When I say I love the Avengers, I mean I love the movie Avengers. No disrespect intended to the source material and five decades of stories, but I finally found the team I want to assemble with.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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