I haven't been able to really enjoy the Avengers since Brian Michael Bendis "disassembled" them nearly two decades ago. But I am so enthusiastic about the upcoming series by Paul Levitz and Alan Davis that I thought I'd revisit some of the attempts others have made to reassemble the team in the years since, Starting with Avengers Classic. If you are unfamiliar with it, Avengers Classic was a reprint series supplemented with new, interstitial back-ups stories (along the lines of Classic X-Men / X-Men Classic). It lasted only twelve issues, but sported covers by Arthur Adams, second only to George Perez when it comes to designing group covers (I guess now he's "second to none").

I wasn't planning to reread the originals but, since I'm going to be looking at retellings of those "classics" and it has been a while since I last read them, I have spent the last week or so rereading the Lee/Kirby issues one or two at a time, just to refresh them in my head, and I read all new material this morning back-to-back. The "shared universe" continuity in the early issues was tight

The back-up stories are another matter entirely. To be honest, I wasn't going to spend any time with this series at all, but reconsidered at the last moment. The new material is anachronistic, both in art as well as tone, which is pretty much what I remembered. These continuity inserts, some of them, attempt to account for such aberrant behavior later on as Henry Pym's insecurity and Tony Stark's alcoholism. Read together, they don't really work as standalone stories, so closely are they tied to the main ones. Yet, ironically, the difference in art styles is so jarring they don't really work that way, either. 

The only one that's really worth reading is "The Real Origin of the Avengers!" a fourth wall-busting, tongue-in-cheek version of Stan Lee "negotiating" with the Avengers over their comic book, drawn by Kevin "Kevin" Maguire and written by Stan "The Man" Lee himself. That one story (and the covers) is what really sets this series apart from other reprinted version. 

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At this point I am going to mention The Coming of the Avengers just in passing. What it is is a reprint of Avengers #1 "enhanced" with today's state-of-the art coloring techniques. The coloring is by Jean-Francois Beaulieu. the results are a mess, but it's not his fault. I am a strong proponent of the view that artwork specifically intended to be produced in black and white should be presented in black and white, and not colorized. Similarly, Jack Kirby's artwork, and specifically Dick Ayers' inks, were intended for the four-color printing process of the day. I'm not saying the work should never be recolored, but I am saying that the heavy inks don't allow for the gradations of color possible with modern processes. the cover looks okay because there's space to acomodate the palette, but the smaller panels of the story itself do not provide that space. The results end up looking dark and muddy. Even the outdoor scenes look as if they occur during a solar eclipse. It is a curiosity, to be sure, but a failed experiment nonetheless. 

Agreed. You put your finger squarely on the problem with re-coloring, which is how the original artwork was designed to be printed. Art should be presented the way it was intended.

As long as I'm on the phone, I was thinking how it is now cemented in the minds of the average American that the Hulk is a major part of the Avengers. Naturally, we old farts have an entirely different idea. The Hulk was a founding member in Avengers #1, sure, but quit in issue #2 (after the Avengers spent the whole issue fighting each other*). In issue #3, he and the Sub-Mariner were the bad guys. I don't believe he appeared in Avengers again, outside of cameos, until issue #100 (which amounted to a long cameo). After that ... hmmm. I'd have to do research, but the point is that he wasn't really an active member until relatively recent developments.

The '60s stories cemented in my mind the Hulk's relationship with the Avengers, which was either "none" or "antagonist." Now, in the movies, he's a founding member who palled around with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.

* It also occurs to me that if you do consider the Hulk an Avenger from the get-go, then the entirety of the first three issues consisted of the Avengers fighting themselves. Loki tricked them into fighting each other, then the Space Phantom tricked them into fighting each other, then the Hulk just decided to fight the others all on his own. Thor was hypnotized into fighting the others in issue #7, and may have done so on other occasions as well -- when you have an overpowered team, that's just about the only way to go.

And here's an example of someone getting it right:

AVENGERS: WAR ACROSS TIME #1 (OF 5)

Written by PAUL LEVITZ

Art and Cover by ALAN DAVIS

PAUL LEVITZ AND ALAN DAVIS ASSEMBLE THE ORIGINAL AVENGERS FOR A WAR ACROSS TIME!

Two industry legends team up for the greatest Kang saga of all time in AVENGERS: WAR ACROSS TIME, a new limited series starting in January

New York, NY— September 16, 2022 —This January, journey back to the early days of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with two of comics’ mightiest creators in AVENGERS: WAR ACROSS TIME! Joined by fellow superstar Alan Davis, Eisner Hall of Famer Paul Levitz, known for his storied career at DC Comics, writes his first-ever Marvel Comics story in this five-issue limited series! Set during Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Don Heck’s original groundbreaking run of Avengers, this extraordinary saga will be a love letter to Avengers history just in time for the team’s 60th anniversary! AVENGERS: WAR ACROSS TIME will see the original Avengers at their very best as they battle an onslaught of powerful and strange new threats that strike at the very heart of the team. At the center of it all will be Kang the Conqueror, reaching back from the furthest reaches of time to destroy the Avengers legacy!

THOR! IRON MAN! CAPTAIN AMERICA! GIANT-MAN & THE WASP! It’s the classic Avengers against the Hulk on the streets of New York, and the beginning of a showdown with Kang the Conqueror that will span the centuries!

“I learned much of my writing craft from THE AVENGERS, and it's been a delight to pay homage to my old friends Stan, Jack and Don by trying to do something that might have been an extended issue #11.1,” Levitz explained. “We've been cooking this up for a long time, and I hope readers have as much fun with it as I did."

Those are "my" Avengers, a lineup that didn't last long enough to suit the Li'l Capn. Turns out they're Paul Levitz's Avengers as well, which is unsurprising, since we're about the same age.

Thinking about it, that original Avengers line-up was kind of an odd one, wasn't it?  Three powerhouses, and two characters that had largely the same power-set.  Nowadays,if you were creating a team, you'd probably try to craft a more "balanced" one.  Of course, in them days, who the heck else was there in the Marvel Universe besides Spider-Man, Daredevil and the FF?

Captain Comics said:

Agreed. You put your finger squarely on the problem with re-coloring, which is how the original artwork was designed to be printed. It should be printed that way.

As long as I'm on the phone, I was thinking how it is now cemented in the minds of the average American that the Hulk is a major part of the Avengers. Naturally, we old farts have an entirely different idea. The Hulk was a founding member in Avengers #1, sure, but quit in issue #2 (after the Avengers spent the whole issue fighting each other*). In issue #3, he and the Sub-Mariner were the bad guys. I don't believe he appeared in Avengers again, outside of cameos, until issue #100 (which amounted to a long cameo). After that ... hmmm. I'd have to do research, but the point is that he wasn't really an active member until relatively recent developments.

The '60s stories cemented in my mind the Hulk's relationship with the Avengers, which was either "none" or "antagonist." Now, in the movies, he's a founding member who palled around with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.

* It also occurs to me that if you do consider the Hulk an Avenger from the get-go, then the entirety of the first three issues consisted of the Avengers fighting themselves. Loki tricked them into fighting each other, then the Space Phantom tricked them into fighting each other, then the Hulk just decided to fight the others all on his own. Thor was hypnotized into fighting the others in issue #7, and may have done so on other occasions as well -- when you have an overpowered team, that's just about the only way to go.

"And here's an example of someone getting it right..."

That's the series I was alluding to in my initial post, the series that inspired this discussion. It's Paul Levitz's first ever Marvel comic, and he's teamed with Alan Davis! I haven't been this exited about an upcoming Avengers comic since the Avengers/JLA series.

"I was thinking how it is now cemented in the minds of the average American that the Hulk is a major part of the Avengers."

I am glad you brought that up because I have been considering where to slot 2012's Hulk Smash Avengers series (or whether to cover it at all). I don't really get the inclination of modern comics to play up the role of the Hulk in the early Avengers, either. My "head-cannon" (and that's all that really counts, for each of us) is pretty much the same as yours regarding the Hulk vis-à-vis the Avengers; anything beyond that is pure apocrypha. There's one I really like, though, and you might like it as well considering it's on "untold tale" of "your" Avengers line-up.

Hulk Smash Avengers is one of those "revisionist" series that plays up the importance of the Hulk throughout Avengers history. Each issue (of five) spotlights a different team of Avengers (and, in one case, a different Hulk) from different eras of the team. The first issue is by far my favorite, set between Avengers #7 & #14. (I have this issue filed with "Avengers," #2-4 with "Hulk"; I don't have #5 because it doesn't feature The Hulk.) I like that the placement is somewhat vague, only that it occurs after #7 and before #14. It is by Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz & Sal Buscema, and it looks great. Baron Zemo, the Executioner and the Enchantress enlist the Hulk's aid against the Avengers, but thing take a turn when Zemo threatens Rick Jones. 

This is the kind of story I wish the Avengers Classic backups had told. I don't intend to cover any other issues of this series, but this one is definitely in my head cannon. Once I get this preliminary stuff out of the way, you'll see this one is not easy to slot between issues. 

Once I get this preliminary stuff out of the way, you'll see this one is not easy to slot between issues. 

Continuity wasn't super-tight in those early years (nor did it need to be, given how few characters there were), but obvs this issue (which I think I read) would have to fall after issue #4 (when Cap joins) and before #14 (when Zemo dies). Is Avengers #14 the one where Enchantress and Executioner decide to bugger off back to Asgard? Probably, but if it was earlier, like at the end of issue #11, that would help.

Of course, in them days, who the heck else was there in the Marvel Universe besides Spider-Man, Daredevil and the FF?

They didn't even have Daredevil to choose from, as Avengers #1 came out in 1963, and Daredevil #1 came out in 1964. The early team really was every Marvel superhero who headlined a strip outside Spider-Man (1962) and Fantastic Four (1961). Thor, Hulk and Ant-Man were all 1962, and Iron Man was March 1963, only six months before Avengers #1 (and X-Men #1) in September. The Wasp slipped in at the last minute, in June 1963 (Tales to Astonish #44).

With one exception: Doctor Strange first appeared in July 1963. In those days books had a three-month production schedule, so Avengers #1 would already have been underway when he appeared, but certainly Stan Lee would have known he was going to introduce the character soon when he launched Avengers, and could have included him.

Why didn't he? I have never read a reason. It might be that Lee didn't know -- that Strange only existed in Steve Ditko's head when Avengers production began. It might be that Lee didn't feel like a magic character fit with the very physical Avengers. (Thor is magical, too, but still brawls instead of waving his hands.) It might be that the character was too slightly developed and untested, that Lee was afraid he might not be embraced by readers, and he didn't want Avengers to be burdened by a character that might be a loser.

All of these are possible, and the first reason is probably the likeliest, but the last one is buttressed by the fact that Strange wasn't even mentioned on the cover of his first appearance (Strange Tales #110), and the story was only five pages long. That repeated in issue #111, and then he skipped Strange Tales #112-113 altogether. Strange didn't even rate a cover mention until issue #118, almost a year after his debut.

Marvel was still publishing some non-superhero titles in mid-1963, including Patsy & Hedy (Patsy Walker), Kathy ("the Teenage Tornado"), a couple of Millie the Model titles, Kid Colt, Outlaw, Two-Gun Kid and Gunsmoke Western. I don't see much Avengers material there.

"The first issue is by far my favorite, set between Avengers #7 & #14."

Jack Kirby penciled the first eight issues and I just reread the first eight issues. I place it after #8 in my head canon.

Hulk Smash Avengers reminded me of 1996's Savage Hulk one-shot, which featured a story by Matt Wagner and Pat McEown set immediately after Avengers #2 (according to visual and verbal clues). Actually, it doesn't really fit into continuity at all (for reasons we need not go into here) and cannot be made to, but it's a fun little romp nevertheless. 

The Savage Hulk one-shot reminded me Avengers #1½, which I spent about an hour looking for earlier today. (I can't find it, so I guess I don't have it.) Like the story from Savage HulkAvengers #1½, by Roger Stern and Bruce Timm, is fun but, IIRC, cannot be forced into continuity with a crowbar.

Tomorrow we get serious.

I found Avengers #1½ yesterday evening after searching a second time. It was in a longbox labeled "miscellaneous," which is where I thought it was. (I have a lot of boxes labeled "miscellaneous," though.) I should have found it much earlier, but it's a single comic in a box of single comics (and mixed runs), and I simply flipped passed it without seeing it. 

The story itself is much better than I remembered it, and Timm's "cartoony" style meshes well with Kirby's early '60s work. Stern went out of his way to place it firmly between Avengers #1 and #2 but, although the villain turns out to be [SPOILER] one of Doom's robots [END SPOILER], that's still too significant of an event to be consigned to the "apocrypha" (at best) or a "Mopee" (at worst). Unfortunately, reading it reminded me of yet another retcon (as in true "retroactive continuity").

Fortunately, I do remember seeing this one yesterday, but it didn't register at the time because I was focused on looking for issue "#1½" and I have no idea which box I saw it in. I should be able t find it, but I'm eager to get on to the "meat" of the discussion, i.e., the revisions rather than the retcons. IIRC (if it's the one I'm thinking of), the story picks up at the end of Avengers #16, with "Cap's Kooky Quartet" being pelted with rotten vegetables. That is in conflict with the mood of the crowd as originally portrayed and I reject it out of hand. Still, I'll try to find it to reread for completeness' sake. Either way, I'll be back later today with Avengers: The Origin.

Is that the one where Thor rushes someone into the ER and starts spouring medical jargon at the staff?

Jeff of Earth-J said:

I found Avengers #1½ yesterday evening after searching a second time.

No, but it is the one in which the Hulk barfs after being continually spun around by air jets in an effort to keep him from touching the walls or floor. I should also mention that I found FOOM's "interview" with Jarvis (circa the Englehart era) inside the bag as well. Someone on this board photocopied it for me, but I no longer recall who it was. (I'm certain I thanked him at the time, though.) I've already decided where to file Avengers #1½ (and the interview) so that I'll be able to find it more easily in the future. 

I found that Heroes & Legends one-shot without too much difficulty. It is an expanded retelling of Avengers #16 and, like Avengers #1½, is much better than I remembered. (I enjoyed it more than I expected to, anyway.) It fleshes out what's going through the minds of the then-current Avengers (and their reasons for leaving) as well as the soon-to-be Avengers (and their reasons for joining). It is written in a "pseudo-Stan" style by James Felder, and I certainly give him an "A" for effort. Artistically it is rendered by Sal Buscema, Dick ayers, Steve Ditko and Gil Kane (pencils), and Al Milgrom, Dick Ayers, Steve Lialoha and Tom Palmer (inks). I still think of this as a "new" comic, but it did come out 25 years ago. It takes us right up to the end of Avengers #16, but it is not the story I was thinking of above. However, I did remember where I read that story.

After the Avengers and the FF disappeared for "Heroes Reborn" (a.k.a. "The year ClarkKent_DC did not read Marvel Comics"), a group of former villains banded together as the Thunderbolts. The 15-page flashback (by Roger Stern and Ron Frenz) within Thunderbolts #9 takes place immediately after Avengers #16 and tells the tale of a previously unknown encounter with the Radioactive Man, BUT... the entire story is suspect because it is told by Black Widow (who was not there) to Songbird and Mach-1 to prove a point (that they will need to work to overcome fear and suspicion to prove they can change). Maybe the "kooky quartet" faced the Radioactive Man between #16 & #17 and maybe they did not, but the story cannot be taken at face value for the reasons I have given.

When I return: The Origin. (This time for sure!)

I still think of Firestorm as a "new" character, even though Firestorm has now been around five years longer than Superman had been when Firestorm was introduced.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

I still think of this as a "new" comic, but it did come out 25 years ago.

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