While the fate of the universe might rest in the Avengers’ hands in Avengers: Infinity War, the team’s members haven’t always acted like superheroes. Even though Marvel’s Avengers usually have the best intentions, their adventures are filled with moral comprises that have eaten away at the team’s ethical core. Other times, the Avengers have made decisions that seem hopelessly naïve in retrospect. While they’ve been billed as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for decades, the negative aspects of the Avengers have become especially prominent over the past decade in comics. In movies like 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Marvel’s heroes openly fought over the consequences of the Avengers’ actions and how the team affected the larger Marvel Universe.
Now, CBR is counting down some of the worst things the Avengers have ever done. In this list, we’ll be looking at some of the times they didn’t act like Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in comics and film. Since pretty much every individual Avenger has done some unsavory things at some point, we’ll be focusing on the questionable things the Avengers did as a group or on official team business. In addition to Marvel’s main Avengers squad, we’ll also be looking at some affiliate Avengers teams, especially those with high-profile Avengers.
15. LETTING VILLAINS JOIN
While superhero stories are full of supervillains who turned over a new leaf, a surprising number of Avengers got their start as bad guys. Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch might be iconic Avengers today, but they were just former villains looking for redemption when they joined the team in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Avengers #16. Since then, famous villains like Sandman and Sabretooth have joined Avengers squads during their redemptive phases, and the Avengers have welcomed back former members like Hank Pym and the Swordsman after they betrayed the team.
While their forgiving nature is commendable, the Avengers’ willingness to embrace former villains still raises some questions. The Avengers are supposed to be the best heroes in the Marvel Universe. Even though the team usually has a fairly formal admissions process, it’s strange seeing former assassins and thieves standing next to hyper-moral heroes like Captain America.
14. WAR WITH THE X-MEN
For decades, mutants have been one of the most persecuted groups in the Marvel Universe. Even though the Avengers have included a handful of mutant members and worked alongside the X-Men, the team didn’t put a focus on helping mutantkind. In the 2012 crossover Avengers vs. X-Men, this apathy escalated into outright aggression and open combat.
After the global mutant population was decimated by the Scarlet Witch, the cosmic Phoenix Force was approaching Earth. While the X-Men hoped the Phoenix would restore the mutant population, the Avengers were focused on the Phoenix’s destructive potential. During the ensuing conflict, the Avengers’ actions redirected the power of the Phoenix into several X-Men who couldn’t handle it, which resulted in a brief global catastrophe. After the fires of that conflict were snuffed out, Captain America tried to rectify the situation by forming the Avengers Unity Squad, a mutant-focused team that included several X-Men.
13. CIVIL WAR
In one of Marvel’s most famous storylines, a philosophical disagreement between Iron Man and Captain America escalated into all-out war in Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Civil War. In that 2006 storyline, Marvel’s superheroes turned on each other when legislation that required them to register with the U.S government was introduced. In the ensuing conflict, superheroes died and lifelong friendships were shattered.
Even though they’ve worked together for years, Iron Man and Captain America had plenty of disagreements before Civil War. Usually, those arguments ended with some heated words before the two took some time apart. While the stakes were higher than usual in Civil War, the conflict could have been avoided with some tense conversations between the Avengers. In 2008’s What If? Civil War, by Christos Gage and Harvey Tolibao, Tony Stark even saw an alternate reality where the conflict had a much happier ending after a few conversations.
12. AVENGERS ACADEMY
When Avengers Academy was announced in 2010, it seemed like a straightforward story where the next generation of Marvel superheroes would be trained by some veteran Avengers. The comic’s core group included the gaseous Veil, the super-strong Mettle, the electric Striker, the mimic Finesse, the radioactive Hazmat and Reptil, who could transform parts of his body into a dinosaur. In the final pages of Christos Gage and Mike McKone’s Avengers Academy #1, the kids discovered that the Avengers were training them under false pretenses.
While the kids initially believed that they were being trained because of their positive qualities, the Avengers actually saw those kids as potential villains in-the-making. The Avengers Academy kids had either been tortured, possessed incredibly destructive powers or had exhibited worrying psychological traits. Even though the group was built on a lie, Avengers Academy‘s still proved that they were real heroes after the Avengers’ motives were exposed.
11. ABANDONING CAPTAIN AMERICA
After Captain America fell into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean in World War II, the Avengers found him and thawed him out in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Avengers #4. In the months following that classic 1964 comic book, Captain America became a key member of the young team as he found his place in the modern world.
But a year after he thawed out, all of the other Avengers quit the team in 1965’s Avengers #16, by Lee and Kirby. While Captain America was out on a solo mission, Iron Man, Thor, Wasp and Giant-Man quit the team and recruited Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to take their place. So when Captain America returned from his travels, he found that he had been abandoned by his friends and left to manage a group of former villains.
10. TOO MANY AVENGERS
With a full roster that includes over 100 superheroes across its various affiliate teams, there are a lot of Avengers. Despite that impressive number, most Avengers members are usually reservists, and the main Avengers group usually only has a handful of active members. While the core team usually stays at a manageable level, the team included 16 active Avengers, plus another five honorary members, in 1979’s Avengers #181, by David Michelinie and John Byrne. As part of a larger investigation into the Avengers’ affairs, Henry Gyrich, the team’s government liaison, ordered the team to cut down to seven active members of his choosing.
In 1998’s Avengers #4, by Kurt Busiek and George Perez, the team had almost 40 members after an adventure in an alternate dimension. After the massive team embarrassed itself and barely defeated the minor villain Whirlwind, the team shrank down to a manageable nine members.
9. THE LAGOS INCIDENT
While 2016’s Captain America: Civil War didn’t exactly play out like the comic book story it was based on, it still featured some dubious decision-making from the Avengers. In Joe and Anthony Russo’s film, Chris Evans’ Captain America led a team of Avengers on a mission in Lagos, Nigeria. While fighting with the heroes, Frank Grillo’s Crossbones detonated a bomb in his suit. Although Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlett Witch was able to contain the blast, the young Avenger inadvertently redirected the explosion into a nearby building that was filled with people.
As Captain America later admitted, he was distracted thinking about his old partner, Bucky, after Crossbones mentioned him during the fight. When the governments of the world introduced the Sokovia Accords to regulate the Avengers, the group tried to talk things out, but the situation still escalated into a physical conflict that eventually turned several Avengers into fugitives.
8. LEAVING EARTH DEFENSELESS
Marvel’s cosmos is filled with dozens of alien races who have competing agendas, many of which involved invading Earth. In addition to guarding the planet against those kinds of extra-terrestrial threats, the Avengers usually represent the Earth’s interests on a galactic scale. In the 2013 crossover “Infinity,” most of the extra-large Avengers team led an intergalactic coalition of alien forces against the Builders, a race of ultra-powerful dimensional beings.
Since most of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were in space, Thanos and his Black Order took the opportunity to invade the relatively defenseless Earth. While Black Panther and Iron Man marshaled Earth’s remaining heroes together, Thanos was still able to conquer the world, briefly. Even though the Avengers eventually beat Thanos, they didn’t leave a robust planetary defense force on Earth, like they did in other space stories like the 1992 crossover “Operation: Galactic Storm.”
7. NO MORE AVENGERS
Like every team, the Avengers have had ups and downs over the years. While most incarnations of the group have continued on in one way or another, the team has totally disbanded a few times, leaving Earth without its mightiest heroes. In 1988’s Avengers #297, by Walter Simonson and John Buscema, the entire team quit after a trying time-travel adventure. While their west coast branch was still active, the Avengers’ butler Edwin Jarvis was technically the only active Avenger in New York until Captain America returned to form a new team.
In 2004, the Avengers had an even more explosive break up in the storyline “Avengers Disassembled.” Starting in Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch’s Avengers #500, a mentally unstable Scarlet Witch used her reality-warping powers to cause a series of bizarre, destructive events. Devastated by their losses, the Avengers broke up until the New Avengers formed a few months later.
6. TEEN TONY STARK
In 1996, the Avengers starred in one of the most famously ill-received stories in Marvel’s history, “The Crossing.” In that editorially-driven story, Iron Man was revealed to be a sleeper agent for the Avengers villain Kang. When this was discovered, Iron Man attacked the Avengers and killed a few of the team’s allies like the Inhuman Marilla and the second Yellowjacket.
Instead of getting help from one of Marvel’s numerous other heroes, the Avengers traveled back in time to recruit a teenage Tony Stark to fight his older self. After “Teen Tony” traveled to the present, he became the new Iron Man after the adult Iron Man sacrificed his life to defeat Kang. By the end of 1996, Teen Tony was replaced by a new version of the adult Iron Man. Iron Man’s evil turn and the events of “The Crossing” were almost entirely undone over the next few years.
5. SECRET MISSIONS
Even though they’ve kept some details about their adventures private, the Avengers are the public face of superheroes in the Marvel Universe. The team had regularly held press conferences and has traditionally operated with the approval of some official governing body. After a post-Civil War period of upheaval in the superhero community, Steve Rogers, who wasn’t Captain America at the time, formed the Secret Avengers to quietly take care of threats behind-the-scenes.
In Secret Avengers, the first incarnation of this team fought a mysterious group called the Shadow Council. After this team disbanded, S.H.I.E.L.D. formed another few incarnations of the Secret Avengers to complete covert missions. After every mission, S.H.I.E.L.D. even erased the memories of Avengers like Hawkeye and Black Widow to eliminate the possibility of the team’s actions becoming public.
4. ERASING CAPTAIN AMERICA’S MEMORY
In the world of superhero stories, erasing someone’s memory is always an ethically dubious affair, at best. In 2013’s New Avengers #3, by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting, a group of the world’s smartest heroes erased Captain America’s memory to save the entire Marvel Universe. Along with heroes like Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Black Panther, Captain America was part of the Illuminati, a secret group of heroes that possessed the Infinity Gems.
When an alternate reality threatened to crash into their universe, the group tried to use the Infinity Gauntlet to push it away. Although Captain America pushed the universe away, the Infinity Gauntlet and the Infinity Gems were destroyed in the process. When the rest of the team began thinking about more lethal ways to save their universe in the future, Captain America objected on ethical grounds, so the team erased his memory of the whole incident.
3. ENDING THE WEST COAST AVENGERS
In 1984, the West Coast Avengers became the Avengers’ first expansion team. Created by Roger Stern and Bob Hall, the California-based group included several major Avengers and was formed to take care of problems west of the Rocky Mountains. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, this somewhat unnecessary group of Avengers starred in their own series that mixed action with superhero melodrama.
Still, that wasn’t enough to keep the core Avengers from forcing the West Coast Avengers to disband in 1994’s Avengers West Coast #102, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and David Ross. Captain America and the rest of the Avengers voted to dissolve the West Coast Avengers for their general incompetence. After main Avengers ignored their protests, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch and the other West Coast Avengers quit and formed the short-lived superhero team Force Works.
While Carl Danvers might have a prominent role as Captain Marvel today, she didn’t always have the most illustrious career with the Avengers. While operating under the name Ms. Marvel, Carol joined the Avengers for a short stint in 1979. After a year, Carol left the team under highly questionable circumstances in Avengers #200, by Jim Shooter, George Perez, Bob Layton and David Michelinie. After going through a rapid, mysterious pregnancy, Ms. Marvel gave birth to Marcus, an extra-dimensional being who had used her as a vessel to escape from the Limbo dimension.
Instead of being horrified by this, most of the Avengers celebrated Marcus’ arrival and cheered when he took Ms. Marvel back to Limbo. When Ms. Marvel returned to Earth in 1981’s Avengers Annual #10, by Chris Claremont and Michael Golden, she called out the Avengers for carelessly letting her captor take her away.
1. DESTROYING WORLDS
After the Illuminati erased Captain America’s mind, the once and future Avengers still had to figure out how to prevent other alternate worlds from crashing into Earth. To do this, Black Panther, Iron Man, Beast and Mr. Fantastic created an Antimatter Injection System that could destroy planets. In 2013’s New Avengers #6, by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting, Black Panther detonated this device on a barren planet that was threatening Earth.
When a populated world almost crashed into Earth in Hickman, Valerio Schiti and Salvador Larroca’s New Avengers #21, Black Panther couldn’t pull the trigger. However, Namor the Sub-Mariner could. After destroying that world, the former Avenger joined Thanos’ Cabal and used those weapons to destroy countless other worlds. While these Avengers did everything they could to save their Earth and the rest of the multiverse, they still created a weapon of unimaginable destruction that obliterated worlds in an instant.
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