By Sean McQuaid

Welcome to Earth’s Mightiest Annotations, the ongoing annotated companion to the current Avengers ongoing series. These annotations are prepared on a monthly basis for publication on the Avengers Mailing List, after which they are posted to Van Plexico’s Avengers Assemble web page. Comments, criticism, additions and corrections are all most welcome; however, the annotations may not be copied, reproduced or distributed without the permission of their author.

Some terms and abbreviations to know:

Avengers: Earth’s mightiest heroes, a super-team of adventurers dedicated to protecting the Earth from threats too great for any single super-hero to face. Over seventy heroes have participated in the group to date at one time or another. The group disbanded--not for the first time, but for the first extended period to date--under as yet unrevealed circumstances when most of the team’s core members were wrongly presumed dead in the wake of their battle with Onslaught. The third and current Avengers series begins with the team regrouping after those events, by which time the Avengers supposedly slain by Onslaught have turned up alive.

Avengers (v1): Avengers volume 1, the first Avengers series, which ran for 402 issues before its termination (plus 23 Annuals, 5 Giant-Size issues and assorted spin-off books).

Avengers (v2): Avengers volume 2; The "Heroes Reborn" version of the Avengers, published as a twelve-issue limited series (with a belatedly added thirteenth issue in which the Avengers mingled with characters from Jim Lee’s Wildstorm comics). This series featured the Avengers as they existed in the alternate reality that absorbed them after their battle with Onslaught. Their return from this reality was chronicled in the Heroes Reborn: The Return limited series.

Avengers (v3): Avengers volume 3, the current Avengers series.

AWC: Avengers West Coast, the defunct ongoing series featuring those Avengers operating out of the team’s Californian base, Avengers Compound, which has since been abandoned. Originally titled West Coast Avengers, the series was retitled Avengers West Coast with issue 47 and lasted 102 issues in total before it was terminated to make way for the new Force Works series starring various characters formerly featured in AWC. The Avengers’ western base was shut down in the final issue of AWC. The Avengers based at Avengers Compound were sometimes known as the West Coast Avengers or Avengers West Coast, but they were essentially the Avengers--just operating out of a different location. It’s interesting to note that, if one counts AWC, the original Avengers team ran for over five hundred issues in Avengers (v1) and the western companion title, AWC.

Brevoort, Tom: Current editor of the Avengers (v3) comic book series and various other Marvel projects.

Busiek, Kurt: Current writer of several Marvel comic book series, including Avengers (v3), Iron Man (v3) and Thunderbolts. Kurt has been an Avengers fan for many years, but this series is his first chance to write the team on an ongoing basis. Apart from Avengers guest appearances in other comics, Busiek's only Avengers writing prior to this series was a short story illustrated by Richard Howell in Avengers Annual 19.

Champions: Short-lived Los Angeles super-team whose members included Hercules and Black Widow (II), who served as team leader. Other members included Angel (III), Ghost Rider (IV), Iceman and Darkstar. The Champions starred in 17 issues of their own series and made several guest appearances elsewhere, forming alliances with the Avengers team and various individual members of the Avengers as well, including Hawkeye, Two-Gun Kid and Iron Man. The Champions disbanded shortly after their series ended.

Crossing, The: Infamous, ill-conceived storyline that ran through the original Avengers series (issues 391-395) and related comic books for five months. On top of its other flaws, the Crossing was sufficiently incoherent and mixed up to defy an effective plot summary, but it revamped the Avengers "family" of comics in several rather radical ways. It gave many of the Avengers new costumes--some good, some bad, and some indifferent; it killed the Force Works group and brought a lot of core characters back to the Avengers, which most fans liked; but it also did a lot of unpopular things, including: killing off minor Avengers characters Gilgamesh, Marilla and Yellowjacket II for no particular reason; turning Wasp into a freakish giant bug-woman; turning Mantis into a vicious villainess without explanation; trying to write off Hank Pym’s mental problems as manipulation by Kang; and casting Iron Man as a mad killer who’d secretly been in Kang’s thrall for years, a revelation that led to Iron Man’s death and his replacement by a teen-age version of himself from an alternate timeline.

Defenders: Currently inactive but long-running super-team which consisted of an informal alliance of heroes who assembled on a recurring basis without forming an official group. The self-proclaimed "non-team" first appeared in Marvel Feature # 1-3 and later starred in their own Defenders series, which ran 152 issues before it was suspended to make way for the new team book X-Factor. Though the Defenders do not currently operate on an ongoing basis, it could be argued that they still exist since most of their members remain active and occasionally reunite. The Avengers and the Defenders were recurring allies, and core members of the Defenders included past and future Avengers such as Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Hawkeye, Yellowjacket (Hank Pym), Hellcat and Beast. Other core Defenders included Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, Nighthawk (II), Son of Satan (AKA Hellstorm), Luke Cage (AKA Power Man), Daredevil, Red Guardian (AKA Starlight), Clea, Devil-Slayer and Gargoyle.

Eternals: Ancient, little-known sub-species of humanity created by experiments performed on prehistoric humans by the alien Celestials. Eternals are generally long-lived to the point of virtual immortality and possess a variety of powers such as enhanced strength, near-limitless durability, energy projection, levitation, flight, telepathy, teleportation and matter restructuring; the extent to which an Eternal develops any or all of these powers depends on his or her own personal potential and the degree to which they practice these skills, and some Eternals develop powers unique to themselves. Most of the Eternals left Earth for outer space some time ago, but a handful remain. A large settlement of distantly related Eternals resides on Titan, the moon of Saturn. The Eternals Eros (AKA Starfox), Sersi and Gilgamesh have served as members of the Avengers, and the Avengers have been allied with groups of Eternals on several occasions.

Fantastic Four: A celebrated family of super-powered adventurers and explorers who are among the Avengers’ oldest and most valued allies. The group usually consists of its four founders--Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch II and The Thing--though they have employed occasional substitute members during the absence of one or more founders. Two such substitute members, She-Hulk and Crystal, have also served as Avengers; in fact, three of the core FF members--Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman and the Thing--have even briefly served as members of the Avengers during leaves of absence from their own team. The Fantastic Four recently returned to Earth in the Heroes Reborn: The Return limited series after their seeming death in battle with Onslaught, and they are currently appearing in their own revived ongoing series. They are the only modern super-team that predates the Avengers.

Force Works: Short-lived west coast super-team founded by Iron Man to replace the AWC (the Avengers’ western roster) after the AWC shut down. Western-based Avengers members Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, USAgent and Spider-Woman resigned from the Avengers to found Force Works after they were estranged from the Avengers by the decision to shut down the AWC. Force Works disbanded after Iron Man seemingly became a mad killer and died himself during the events of "The Crossing". Scarlet Witch returned to the Avengers.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Team of heroic adventurers from the 31st century of an alternate future timeline. Inspired by the legends of 20th century super-heroes such as the Avengers, the Guardians were founded as a team of freedom fighters to battle the alien Badoon empire that had then conquered Earth and its allied worlds. After finally defeating the Badoon with the aid of the 20th century heroes known as the Defenders, the Guardians remained active in their own century as a team of explorers and adventurers, occasionally embarking on missions to other time periods. One such mission to the 20th century led to an extended alliance with the Avengers, during which the Guardians were awarded honorary Avengers membership. The Guardians’ active membership at the time included Charlie-27, Martinex, Yondu, Vance Astro, Nikki and Starhawk. Though they soon returned to their native 31st century, the Guardians have returned to the 20th century on occasion since then, including a visit during which they helped defend Avengers Mansion from an assault by the Masters of Evil. Founding Guardians member Vance Astro is the adult incarnation of Avengers member Justice (Vance Astrovik) in the Guardians’ alternate future timeline.

The Guardians first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes # 18, followed by a story in Marvel Two-In-One # 5 that teamed them with Captain America, the Thing and Sharon Carter. They first visited the 20th century in Giant-Size Defenders # 5 (a story that continued into Defenders # 26-29, introducing Starhawk), and then starred in a short-lived ongoing series of their own (Marvel Presents # 3-12, during which Nikki first appeared); after battling alongside Thor in Thor Annual # 6, the Guardians visited the 20th century for the second time and formed an alliance with the Avengers, an association spanning Avengers (v1) # 167-181. Before returning to the 31st century, the Guardians also shared 20th century adventures with heroes such as Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel, and Vance Astro paid a visit to his younger self, Vance Astrovik, that changed the younger Vance’s destiny so that he would not grow up to become an ill-fated astronaut as the elder Vance had. This is the point at which the Guardians’ timeline diverges from "mainstream" reality, since the present-day Vance Astrovik (alias Justice) will never grow up to be Guardians founder Vance Astro in the mainstream timeline.

Heroes Reborn: Ill-conceived promotional campaign that saw several of Marvel’s most prestigious and longest running titles--Avengers, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Iron Man--terminated so that they could be published anew in revamped forms by popular Image artists Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. The "Heroes Reborn" version of each series, featuring the heroes as they existed in the alternate universe they’d been shunted to by Onslaught, ran for twelve issues before the heroes returned to Earth and their standard continuity in the Heroes Reborn: The Return limited series.

Inhumans: Subspecies of humanity created by experiments the alien Kree performed on early humans. The Inhumans are a very closed, secluded society and have resided almost exclusively in their hidden city of Attilan for centuries. Some of the Inhumans are born with superhuman powers, and others develop them through exposure to the mutagenic Terrigen Mist; mating and mutations have been strictly controlled by the Inhuman authorities in the past. The Royal Family of the Inhumans, led by Black Bolt, have long been allies to the Avengers and the Fantastic Four; a member of the Royal Family, Crystal, married Avengers member Quicksilver and eventually joined the Avengers herself.

Mutants: In Marvel comics, a mutant is regarded as someone born with extraordinary physical traits common to neither of his or her parents; such traits include natural superhuman powers. A Marvel character who is not born with superhuman powers but develops them through external mutagenic stimuli is referred to as a superhuman mutate, though that term doesn’t enjoy the same widespread usage as mutant. Known mutant members of the Avengers include Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Beast, Vance Astro, Starhawk, Sub-Mariner, Firestar and Justice.

New Warriors: A heroic super-team composed of youthful adventurers in their teens and early twenties, the New Warriors are regarded as the next generation of super-heroes, a sort of junior counterpart to the Avengers. Four of the Warriors--Rage, Darkhawk, Firestar and Justice--have even served as members of the Avengers. The two groups are friendly allies, despite some tension that arose when Warriors member Hindsight illegally procured high-tech equipment for the Warriors using embezzled Avengers funds (the Avengers forgave the misdeed out of respect for the Warriors’ work, and donated the equipment to the Warriors). Active members of the Warriors at last report included Night Thrasher, Nova, Kymaera, Speedball, Rage, Hindsight, Turbo, Powerhouse II and reserve members Darkhawk and Dagger. The New Warriors debuted in Thor (v1) # 411-412 and starred in their own series, which ran 75 issues before it ended. Prior to the current Avengers series, the Warriors were last seen pursuing the fugitive Thunderbolts in Thunderbolts # 10.

Onslaught: Immensely powerful, monstrously evil psychic entity that was composed of the merged dark sides of superhuman mutants Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Magnus Lehnsherr (Magneto). This creature threatened the world until it was destroyed by a coalition of super-heroes in the Onslaught: Marvel Universe one-shot, but the Fantastic Four, most of the active Avengers members and other heroes were seemingly killed in the process. They actually survived in an alternate universe and eventually returned to Earth, as seen in the Heroes Reborn: The Return limited series.

Perez, George: Current penciler of the Avengers (v3) comic book series. A justifiably acclaimed virtuoso renowned for his conscientious storytelling and painstaking detail work, Perez first drew the Avengers in issue 141 of the original series and was the book's regular artist for two ongoing stints, with some interruptions. His last issue of the original series was Avengers (v1) # 202, though he later drew the Ultraforce/Avengers one-shot, the wraparound cover of Avengers Log # 1, an Avengers entry (the team's fifth line-up) from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition, and an Avengers 30th anniversary poster depicting almost all the Avengers featured in the team's first thirty years of stories. The poster is gorgeous, a must for any Avengers fan.

Thunderbolts: A celebrated super-team that arose during the Avengers’ post-Onslaught absence, the Thunderbolts were recently exposed to the world as the Masters of Evil in disguise. The Masters, the super-criminal equivalent of their mortal foes the Avengers, had been posing as the Thunderbolts to win the world’s trust and worm their way inside civilization’s defenses as the prelude to a world conquest planned by their leader, Baron Helmut Zemo. The Thunderbolts were introduced in Incredible Hulk # 449 and currently appear in their own ongoing series. Their heroic pose came to an end in Thunderbolts # 10-12 when Zemo put his plans for world conquest into action only to meet defeat after most of the other Thunderbolts turned against him. After helping defeat Zemo’s attempted conquest, saving the Avengers’ lives in the process, the remaining Thunderbolts evaded capture and remain at large.

WCA: West Coast Avengers, a limited series that became an ongoing series featuring an Avengers roster based in the team’s California headquarters, Avengers Compound. The ongoing series was retitled Avengers West Coast for marketing reasons with issue 47. See entry for AWC above. When referring to the western-based Avengers roster, WCA and AWC are both acceptable abbreviations.

X-Men: Controversial outlaw band of heroic mutant adventurers founded by Professor Charles Xavier to offer sanctuary and education to mutants while protecting the world from the threat of evil mutants and other paranormal menaces. The X-Men were founded around the same time as the Avengers and the two groups are longtime allies, though the X-Men’s dubious reputation and outlaw methods have occasionally made the two groups adversaries as well. The Beast, a founding member of the X-Men, also served as a member of the Avengers for quite some time.


Special thanks to Kurt Busiek, Van Plexico, Vince Alvarez, John Warren, Michael McClelland, Mone Peterson, James Harrahy and other AMLers for offering comments, corrections, suggestions and assorted contributions that help make these annotations possible.