Avengers Best Comics (1961-1971)
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
The Avengers. Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Created as Marvel's answer to the Justice League, a collection of heroes from different Marvel comics that assemble to combat the foes too great for any one of them. While it started out well enough, you can kind of tell Stan Lee's heart wasn't in it. He had Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Ant-Man, and the Wasp all together but the writing was kind of basic. The problem was he had to keep coming up with reasons for them to join up. And it was at this point that the story arcs were starting to take more than one issue to resolve so he had to explain how it was possible for Iron Man to help the Avengers while also battling one of his supervillains in his own title. He resolved this later on by having most of the team retire and replace them with all new members. From here, while the stories were still mostly average, the storytelling got better as Stan Lee explored the dynamics of this new team. From there, he passed it to Roy Thomas who took the team to new levels, expanding the roster of members and constantly switching out heroes for his stories. He gave each character their own story arcs and took the stories to more epic places, laying out a great foundation for the team. It was his work that made the team Earth's Mightiest, blending together character drama with their great adventures. Without him, we probably wouldn't have the MCU. So, here are some of the Avenger's greatest stories:
15. Avengers Vol 1 4: Captain America Joins the Avengers
Captain America is one of the oldest Marvel characters, created in 1940. Out of the Golden Age of comics, only two characters really made the jump to the new age of Marvel: him and Namor. This is the story where he is dethawed from ice and awakens in this new time, teaming up with the Avengers to stop Namor. There's also an alien who has Medusa powers for some reason. The only reason why this story makes the list is Captain America and Stan Lee doesn't waste any time in diving into the man-out-of-time mentality he has which is the driving force for his character. The rest of the story is bland and dull. Still, a crucial story in the history of the Avengers. Fun fact: a villain dressed up as Captain America featured in an issue of Strange Tales which was basically a practice run for if fans wanted the real Cap to return. Turns out, they did. And here we are.
14. Avengers Vol 1. 59-60: His Name Is...Yellowjacket
The wedding of Hank Pym aka Ant-Man/Giant-Man/Goliath (he kept switching his name) and Janet van Dyne aka the Wasp. Except, things don't go smoothly. First off, the story starts out with Pym being thought killed by a new guy called Yellowjacket. Then Yellowjacket and Wasp get engaged. Then their wedding gets attacked by a bunch of supervillains. Then it turns out Hank was Yellowjacket all along. Apparently he suffered from schizophrenia and unconsciously created the Yellowjacket identity and Janet married him because she knew he was Hank and just wanted to marry him. The logic here is kind of off but it does see the two lovebirds finally tie the knot and it introduces Hank's schizophrenia which is big part of his character in the years to come.
13. Avengers Vol 1. 6: The Masters of Evil
One of the Avengers' greatest enemies, the Masters of Evil. Formed by Baron Zemo, this is where the first group of supervillains formed to stop the Avengers. Old enemies of Thor, Ant-Man, and Iron Man team up in a clash of the titans to finally see who is better, leading to an all-star battle in the streets and in the skies. This is the first real supervillain team up of more than two characters in Marvel Comics and is fun to see the Avengers forced to fight on multiple fronts against this group of enemies.
12. Avengers Annual Vol 1. 1: The Master Plan of the Mandarin
The Mandarin, Iron Man's archenemy, comes up with a plan and brings together all these different supervillains to implement that. But the Avengers assemble to stop them, bringing back Thor and Iron Man (who had left the team earlier). The camaraderie of the team and seeing all of them work together was the highlight of this special as the team splits up into smaller teams, each one taking on a different group of villains until they all assemble in the Mandarin's base for one epic showdown. One mega-packed story with non-stop action. One hell of a ride.
11. Avengers Vol 1. 23-24: Once an Avenger...
When Captain America quits the team, finally having had enough of being questioned and insulted by his teammates, the Avengers (Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch) find themselves captured by their greatest enemy: Kang the Conquerer, the warlord from the 30th century here to defeat the Avengers and conquer the past. The team find themselves hopelessly outmatched. But then Captain America comes running, as he always does, to help save them, leading to a dramatic confrontation with Kang. And then, Kang finds himself betrayed and now must team up with his enemies to save himself, leading to him losing what he most wanted in the end. This storyline shows off the power of Captain America and goes deeper into the character of Kang and what makes him tick, one of Stan Lee's best Avengers tales. It also introduces Ravonna Renslayer to Marvel comics who features heavily in the Loki TV series.
10. Avengers Vol 1. 54-55: Deliver Us From...The Masters of Evil
Jarvis, the butler of the Avengers, betrays them for the Masters of Evil who capture their foes and hold them captive. Jarvis doesn't appear much in the series so this story went deeper into his character and made him more important. This story also featured the first appearance of Ultron, one of their greatest enemies, in his very first battle with the Avengers and right out of the gate he proves to be their match. While the writing could use a little more work, the rest is a lot of fun and it makes the Masters of Evil a true threat again, especially under Ultron, as well as providing context to a sidelined character.
9. Avengers Annual Vol 1. 2: And Time, the Rushing River
When the Avengers are lost to time, they find themselves meeting a different version of the Avengers, the team from the first comic. And these guys are evil. Now the original Avengers are forced to fight bad versions of Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Goliath, and Wasp to try and figure out what happened to them and how they will get back home. This story shows how bad the world would be if the Avengers went evil and has some fun clashes as Avengers fight Avengers in this super-sized issue.
8. Avengers Vol 1. 82: Hostage
New York City has been taken hostage, the Avengers divided with some locked out of the city and others captured. The only one free is Black Panther who teams up with the hero Daredevil to free the city and save his friends. This was a thrilling single story and never lets up from beginning to end as the heroes race around, dodging bad guys and thinking up a plan to save the day.
7. Avengers Vol 1. 85-86: This World Is Not for Burning
The Avengers return from another dimension to find the world burning. Realizing they arrived in the future, they travel back and yet find the world different, with the Squadron Supreme (Marvel version of Avengers introduced earlier) running things. Realizing that this world is doomed, and at first treated as enemies by this world's heroes, they do their best to try and save it while also trying to get back home, going up against the powerful Brain-Child who is really just a kid fighting against a world that doesn't understand him. This story dove deeper into the Multiverse which would become much more prominent as the story ends with Vision contemplating if they did make it home or just arrived in a similar version of their world.
6. Avengers Vol 1. 1: The Coming of the Avengers
The first issue, the origin of the Avengers. Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Wasp. They join together to stop foes too big for any one to handle, or so they claim. While this story does leave something to desire, it is still thrilling to see them all unite as Loki manipulates the Hulk to go on a rampage and they must all stop him before it's too late and then decide that maybe this shouldn't be a one-time thing. And the rest, is history.
5. Avengers Vol 1. 69-71: Endgame
No, this story is not related to the movie. In this story, Kang the Conquerer and the Grandmaster have begun a contest, and Kang's contestants are the Avengers. He captures and forces them to participate and the Grandmaster selects his own champions. Thus begins 3 issues of battles as the Avengers are forced to work for their nemesis and battle across time and space with a variety of characters to win the day such as the Squadron Supreme as well as the Invaders (WWII superhero team including Namor, Captain America, and the original Human Torch). It also goes deeper into Kang's mentality and how far he'll go for revenge.
4. Avengers Vol 1. 66-68: We Stand at Armageddon
This story is the one that shows why Ultron is one of the Avengers' greatest enemies as he manipulates the Vision to fight them and steal for him, builds an invincible body, and then basically wipes the floor with the team before going to start the end of the world. It is one of their greatest battles as the Avengers struggle to keep up with the murder-bot and stop him before the world ends. While the ending is a little out there, this is one of the more suspenseful stories Roy Thomas wrote and certainly one of the best.
3. Avengers Vol 1. 16: The Changing of the Order
This is one of Stan Lee's best comics as here he introduces the concept to the Avengers of how the roster is ever-changing and anyone can join. When Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and Wasp all retire from the team, new members must be added. So Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch join up, previous villains seeking redemption. Apparently, Stan Lee was tired of coming up with excuses for the previous members to leave their own titles to join in for Avengers missions so completely changed the team. This could have failed badly as he was filling it with previous bad guys and only one A-list star (Captain America) remaining and yet, it worked as this new team had a whole new dynamic making the stories that much better and more interesting.
2. Avengers Vol 1. 57-58: The Vision
The origin of the Vision. One of Roy Thomas's greatest works as the comic doesn't focus on the battle with Ultron. Instead, it focuses on the android known as Vision as he is built to kill the Avengers and yet turns against this programming, discovering the essence of humanity and what it means to be an Avenger. And when the Avengers accept him for this, it leads to him shedding tears in one of the more emotional moments Thomas ever wrote. Joss Whedon clearly took some inspiration for Age of Ultron here but this one is clearly the better. It also has a moment with Ultron's severed head in a call to the famous Ozymandias poem.
1. Avengers Vol 1. 89-97: The Kree/Skrull War
This isn't just the greatest Avengers story of this era, but its one of the greatest of all time. Featuring not one but two different invasion forces coming to Earth as the Avengers are fighting on two fronts. If that wasn't enough, they're accused of betraying Earth by protecting rogue Kree soldier Captain Marvel and S.H.I.E.L.D. sends in Mandroids to attack them. Featuring lots of Skrull impersonations, making you guess who's who, fantastic artwork by Neal Adams (seriously, this dude was amazing as his work is drawn so beautifully and aesthetically that it makes you want to see more), and epic action as the Avengers take the battle to the stars above against an entire alien fleet. All that plus a sub-story of Ant-Man crawling through Vision's body at tiny size makes this a truly epic story from start to finish. The only problem: despite its grand size, you wish it could be longer.
And that's the Avengers. Roy Thomas was a good writer and his stories were cool, but his writing style could use some work. His focus seemed more on the stories than the characters. His successor, Steve Englehart, has been said to have broken even more ground with the team so excited for that. Next up: Captain America.