Earth's Mightiest Heroes1 of 12
There’s no doubt that the Avengers are the most popular superteam on the planet - hard to argue when you starred in a quartet of films that grossed nearly $8 billion combined (nearly $9b if you count Civil War). But the MCU has really only just barely scratched the surface of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ comic book legacy.
With Marvel Comics about to be resuming distribution starting with a new arc in Avengers #33 (you can get all the details about that Moon Knight-centric story right here) we assembled (sorry, not sorry) the top ten Avengers stories to celebrate the legacy of Earth’s Mightiest tales.
We tried to stick to the main Avengers title as much as possible (with a couple of notable exceptions) so apologies in advance to all those West Coast Avengers fans out there. That’s another list for another day.
10. Red Zone (The Avengers Vol. 3 #65-70, Johns/Coipel)2 of 12
Geoff Johns has surely gone on to more acclaimed work, but “Red Zone” is the highpoint of his two year run on Avengers. It has a simple setup: a flesh-eating plague is ravaging the country and it’s up to the Avengers to stop it. But Johns packs a ton of story around the premise.
This story doesn’t have as much to say as some of the other stories on this list, but with a mystery at its center, Johns manages to make it an enthralling thrill ride from start to finish. We’re also treated to an earlier look at the work of Olivier Coipel, who is still refining his art here into the iconic style we’d begin to see bloom on Thor (though he was certainly no slouch at this juncture). “Red Zone” is representative of what Avengers comic books should always strive to be: a really fun read.
9. Breakout (New Avengers #1-6, Bendis/Finch)3 of 12
Almost as quickly as Brian Michael Bendis broke up the Avengers in “Avengers Disassembled”, he put them back together again and decided that the team didn’t need to be a lineup of stars and scrubs like it had been in certain eras. (We’re looking at you, Triathlon.)
While adding Spider-Man and Wolverine to a team may seem like little more than a way to move units, the beginning of Bendis’ years-long Avengers epic starts here. And he was able to add layers to the Marvel Universe with the addition of Sentry and the rise of characters like Spider-Woman and Luke Cage into truly heavy hitters.
“Breakout”, and the New Avengers title in general, would be a place where the best heroes for the job would be called in, rather than sequestered in their own corners of the Marvel Universe. For the first time, truly anyone could be an Avenger and that’s a torch that’s been carried into the MCU.
8. Young Avengers #1-12 (Heinberg/Cheung)4 of 12
OK, so they’re not technically the Avengers proper, but Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s Young Avengers represented a unique way forward for a franchise that needed an injection of youth (and homaged the team’s classic roster at a time when the Avengers were nowhere to be seen).
Marvel has less of a track record with legacy characters than their Distinguished Competition, but that didn’t stop Heinberg from cobbling together a team that was built on the foundation of the older Avengers, but who faced their own unique problems. This was a love letter to the Avengers stories of the past that also recognized that you couldn’t keep throwing Captain America and company into the same situations over and over again.
Jim Cheung’s art is a big reason for the series’ success as well. His work has a level of polish to it that makes him one of the definitive Marvel artists of the 2000s - and maybe all-time.
7. Avengers Forever (Busiek/Pacheco)5 of 12
Avengers diehards likely have more than a few offbeat choices for their favorite lineups of the team - but maybe none was stranger than the roster Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco put together for Avengers Forever.
The Avengers take on Immortus and the Timekeepers in a tale that spans generations of Avengers history, as Busiek assembles this squad from various points in the timestream. The result is a completely out of this world celebration of everything that makes the Avengers so great.
6. The Korvac Saga (The Avengers Vol. 1 #167-168, 170-177, Shooter/Michelinie/Pérez/Wenzel)6 of 12
“The Korvac Saga” represents one of the early team-ups between the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy (though, not exactly the ones you’re likely thinking of). It’s a story about how power can change someone and the Avengers are simply no match for Korvac.
Jim Shooter’s story spans ages and brings in some of the Elders of the Universe - the Grandmaster, the Collector and Eternity - in addition to the central villain. And while our heroes would eventually win the day, it’s a somewhat bittersweet conclusion as readers are left to wonder what might have happened if the man Korvac had reimagined himself as - Michael - had just been left alone. And, the Avengers are left with the trauma of their adventure.
It practically goes without saying that a story mostly drawn by George Perez (with an assist from Sal Buscema) is gorgeous from cover to cover but here we are saying it anyway. One more reason “The Korvac Saga” is a must-read.
5. "Behold, the Vision!/Even An Android Can Cry" (The Avengers Vol. 1 #57-58, Thomas/J. Buscema)7 of 12
Vision is a character so intrinsically linked to the Avengers that it’s often odd to see him separate from them. This two-part story from Roy Thomas and John Buscema cements him as an essential part of the team and an all-time great Marvel hero, truly bringing the android Avenger to life with a story dripping in pathos.
Vision first appears as a foe working for Ultron but eventually betrays him to saves the Avengers. And the issue really explores Vision’s humanity and the origins of Ultron. Whether Thomas and Buscema realized it, they were telling a story about generational trauma and how Vision sought to reject the sins of his father.
Vision proves himself and he’s eventually invited to the team, leading to the tears referenced in the title. The story ends with a sequence featuring Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” - and Ultron’s decapitated head, a chilling coda for an incredible story.
4. Ultron Unlimited (Avengers Vol. 3 #19-22, Busiek/Perez)8 of 12
“Ultron Unlimited” is a story that brings further context to the relationship between the Avengers and one of their greatest foes - Ultron.
Revealing something new about a decades-old character is a tough tightrope to walk, but Kurt Busiek and George Perez manage to fill in a gap that brings new depth to an old villain. With Jocasta’s mind based on Wasp’s brain patterns and Vision’s based on Wonder Man’s, the creators reveal that Ultron’s mind was based on that of his creator, Hank Pym.
It’s a turn that makes Ultron more than a jilted creation. He becomes more of a dark reflection of Hank Pym and shows readers the potential that Hank has to become a villain (something fulfilled years later).
But the story isn’t all familial drama. The heroes have to face off against every previous iteration of Ultron as he attempts to raise his robot army, and George Perez knocks those fight scenes out of the park.
This story also provided some inspiration for the film Avengers: Age of Ultron, with Ultron laying waste to an entire nation.
3. The Kree/Skrull War (The Avengers Vol. 1 #89-97, Thomas/S. Buscema/Adams/J. Buscema)9 of 12
“The Kree/Skrull War” has just about everything you could want from a comic book crossover: warring aliens, huge stakes, and just about every Avengers character that existed at the time.
Roy Thomas balanced the action and bombast with the drama of the beginnings of Vision and Scarlet Witch’s relationship and the political angle that positions the story as a commentary on McCarthyism.
Of course, it would be nothing without the artistic contributions of Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, and John Buscema. Adams, in particular, is near the height of his powers here, further cementing his legacy as one of the greatest comics artists to hold a pencil – and the legacy of this story.
2. The Kang Dynasty (The Avengers Vol. 3 #41-55, Avengers Annual 2001, Busiek/Davis/Dwyer/Reis/Garcia)10 of 12
Kang is one of Marvel’s greatest villains, and Kurt Busiek delivered a tale befitting his greatness in “The Kang Dynasty.”
Kang takes it upon himself to become the protector of Earth but the first step in his plan calls for him to conquer it. Naturally, that’s not going to work for the Avengers, but Kang tells every villain that he’ll let them keep any land they themselves conquer when he eventually takes power. So, instead of being able to deal with the direct threat, the Avengers have to scatter to keep the peace.
It’s a fight for the fate of the world that features more than a few fun villains as well as great artwork from a slew of artists including Kieron Dwyer, Alan Davis, Ivan Reis and more. But Busiek also works to rectify the events of Avengers #200 involving Carol Danvers and Marcus, the Scarlet Centurion, as they take on the Master of the World because he decided to get in on the world-conquering action, too.
This is a story for all time and it’s a must read for Avengers fans even if it’s not quite our top pick.
1.Under Siege (The Avengers Vol. 1 #270-277, Stern/J. Buscema)11 of 12
This is Roger Stern’s lasting legacy with the Avengers and a testament to the fact that Marvel’s best stories are not just set in the world outside your window but feature the interpersonal drama that their readers face as well. It’s not just those merry mutants who can do soap opera dramatics.
Stern’s story sees the Masters of Evil wreaking havoc on the Avengers while tensions are also building between the heroes, wonderfully rendered by John Buscema. It’s a story about the fragility of life, of safety and even, of masculinity. But it’s one that shows that true heroes rise above their differences and come together to win the day. Even when it seems like everything is out of control and falling apart, Avengers always assemble.
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