EVERYTHING you need to know about “Earth’s mightiest heroes”, from the alien armies they faced to the billionaire recluse who inspired Iron Man.
A is for Assemble
“Avengers Assemble!” is the battle cry of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. It is also the name of The Avengers movie in several countries outside the US because of potential confusion with the 1960s British spy series The Avengers. That show didn’t have any superheroes, but it did feature a gent in a bowler hat and a woman in a leather catsuit. A film of the show was made in the late Nineties and starred Sean Connery and Uma Thurman. It was an utter disaster and it’s likely Marvel didn’t want its stink affecting The Avengers’ chances at the box office.
B is for Buffy
The job of pulling together a superhero epic that manages to balance the super-sized egos of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk, not to mention a supporting cast of Nick Fury, the Black Widow and Hawkeye, would have had most directors trembling. Luckily, Marvel choose a film-maker who had a record of successfully juggling multiple story-lines, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. It’s strange to think that responsibility for Marvel’s biggest project was placed in the hands of a “TV guy”, but Whedon was a fan of the material and knew how to please the fans. On the difficulties he faced making the film, he told The Times: “It’s got to work for people who’ve never seen any of the other movies, yet don’t forget that Thor hasn’t seen Loki since he shattered the Bifrost, and we have to show that Pepper and Tony are together now a couple, and so on. So, it was quite complicated.”
C is for Captain America
Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man is ostensibly The Avengers’ biggest drawcard, but in the comics the hero who leads the team is Captain America. The Cap joined the team in issue 4 of The Avengers (1964) after the heroes found him trapped in a block ice, the result of a mishap at the end of the Second World War, and revived him. He soon became the team’s leading voice and spearheaded any adventure they embarked on, a lot of which seemed to be against Nazis. However, Cap’s true-blue patriotism doesn’t sit comfortably with today’s audiences, something the makers of Captain America: The First Avenger tried to overcome by setting the movie in the Forties. The Cap and Iron Man have not always seen eye-to-eye – Tony Stark’s playboy ways are an anathema to the starchy Steve Rogers – something Marvel exploited with its Civil War series, that saw the Avengers, and the wider Marvel universe, split and fight each other. In that showdown, the Cap won.
D is for Diversity
The Hulk may have been green but the original line-up of the Avengers was very white in its outlook. The first black superhero to join the team was the Black Panther, an African tribal leader whose senses and physical prowess were enhanced to near-superhuman levels by a heart-shaped herb. The Black Panther, whose comic debut pre-dated the founding of the Black Panther Party, wore a mask so his face rarely made it into pages of The Avengers. The next non-white hero to join the roster was The Falcon and he got in thanks to affirmative action laws. The team’s government liaison recruits the African-American superhero to fill a racial quota. The Falcon quit at the first opportunity, as he is unhappy at being seen as the team’s “token” black member.
E is for End Credits
The first Iron Man film got the ball rolling on this. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige was in the middle of production on Iron Man when Samuel L. Jackson’s agent asked him if he had anything in mind for Jackson to play. “I said, ‘I dunno. Right now I’m working on Iron Man and, er, wait a minute! Would he come in for two hours and do a cameo for us?'” he told The Times. “He said, ‘Yes.’ And that’s where it started.” Feige thought Jackson would make a perfect Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D who eventually assembles the Avengers. He appears after the credits have rolled and talks to Iron Man about the Avengers initiative.
Feige said: “Then the movie came out, and all sorts of articles were written, asking, ‘Who is that character? This is all clearly part of something bigger.’ And so, after that opening weekend, we announced Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers.”
The trick was repeated at the end of The Incredible Hulk, with Downey Jr’s Tony Stark turning up to talk about a new team being put together. The end of Iron Man 2 set up Thor, while the post-credit scenes of Thor and Captain America set up The Avengers.
F is for Franchise
Before Marvel Studios was set up, the problem for Marvel had always been that it had licensed its heroes to different studios. Fox had X-Men, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four, Universal had the Hulk and Sony had Spider-man. But what made Marvel comics special was all its characters inhabited the same universe, and this couldn’t easily be replicated on screen. The success of Iron Man in 2007 changed all this. The film, which was made by Marvel Studios, allowed the company to build a universe on screen with heroes it hadn’t yet licensed or whose film rights had expired.
Feige says: “In the past, on movies I was developing, the writers would say, ‘Hey, can we use Nick Fury? Or S.H.I.E.L.D?’ And I’d go through the contract, and say, ‘Sorry, no, Fox doesn’t have that character!’ But, at Marvel, we have them all.”
The success of those films guaranteed sequels – Thor 2, Iron Man 3 and Captain America 2 are all currently in the works – but the main prize was a movie that featured all of its heroes. It was a huge gamble. As The New York Times recently observed, The Avengers movie is “one of the most ambitious undertakings in Hollywood history”. It is also potentially one of the most lucrative, when you take into account licensing and marketing deals. Expect an Avengers sequel soon.
G is for Giant Man
You won’t see Giant Man in The Avengers and for good reason. He’s a wife-beater. Henry Pym, who had the power to shrink, grow big and control insects, was part of the original Avengers team but was booted out after he strikes his wife, Janet Pym (aka the Wasp). The scene of domestic violence, in The Avengers #213, was unusual for a comic book even the in 1980s, when it was published. Years later, the scene was revisited by writer Mark Millar in his reboot of The Avengers. This time Pym doesn’t just strike Janet, he beats her to a pulp. The violence on the page was harrowing and showed the medium could handle adult story-lines.
H is for Hulk
The big screen has not been kind to the grumpy green giant. He has been mistreated in two films, and looked as if he would be joining the growing ranks of failed superhero properties – Green Lantern, Daredevil, Punisher, you know who we’re talking about – which is odd because the TV Hulk was immensely popular and ran for years. But now it looks as though Joss Whedon has cracked the problem. His Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo, is used sparingly and, according to many reviewers, threatens to steal the show. Check out the grin on the big man’s face when the Cap says: “Hulk, smash!”
I is for Imitation
The Avengers were brought together not for love but for money. Marvel’s editor and chief writer Stan Lee saw the sales of DC’s Justice League America and could see that superhero teams were a hit with the readers. JLA brought together DC’s most popular characters, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, and pitted them against inter-galactic foes. Lee’s first attempt at JLA-type team was The Fantastic Four, a superhero book unlike any other and an instant hit. “I didn’t give the heroes secret identities, I didn’t make the girl someone who was always in trouble and had to be rescued by the men or didn’t know who the heroes really were. I tried to make them talk realistically and I didn’t have them live in a fictional city like Metropolis or Gotham, I had them live in New York because I wanted the book to be as believable as, well, a superhero story could be. I lived in New York, I knew the city. It was very easy for me to think of places where the adventures could take place: in a subway, by the Hudson River, in the Museum of Natural History, down at the Battery, the Brooklyn Bridge.” He followed the FF two years later with two more superteam books, Uncanny X-Men and The Avengers. Of the three titles, The Avengers was most like JLA. It was populated with characters from other popular titles, and they didn’t always gel as a team. In fact much of the fun of The Avengers is had when the heroes turn on each other.
J is for Jarvis
Batman had a butler, and he was well liked, so it was inevitable someone in the Marvel Universe would hire an English gent to fold their socks and make their tea. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, hired Edwin Jarvis, a former RAF pilot and champion boxer, to fill that role. In addition to keeping Mr Stark’s ties straight, Jarvis did light dusting around the Avengers Mansion, and was there to welcome guests, be they intergalactic diplomats with mohawks or cab drivers from Brooklyn. In the movie, Jarvis is a computer voiced by Paul Bettany.
K is for Kirby
Jack Kirby is very much the forgotten man of The Avengers. Stan Lee gets all the glory, but his words would have fallen flat without Kirby’s designs and artwork. Together with Lee, Kirby created much of the Marvel Universe, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk and Thor. And with writer Joe Simon, he created Captain America, whose adventures during the Forties kept Marvel alive. Marvel’s Kirby-Lee titles were a critical and financial success but by the end of the Sixties Kirby felt Marvel was treating him unfairly and he quit. Much of the bitterness centred on Marvel retaining the rights to characters he created. This fight is still ongoing, even almost 20 years after his death, with his estate suing Marvel for a share of its multi-billion-dollar profits.
To get an idea of just how influential Kirby was, here’s an extract from a New York Times oped piece on the artist:
“He created a new grammar of storytelling and a cinematic style of motion. Once-wooden characters cascaded from one frame to another – or even from page to page – threatening to fall right out of the book into the reader’s lap. The force of punches thrown was visibly and explosively evident. Even at rest, a Kirby character pulsed with tension and energy in a way that makes movie versions of the same characters seem static by comparison.”
L is for Latex
Latex looks good in comics, because every superhero, man or woman, has the appropriate bulges and curves to carry it off. In movies, however, it looks kinda lame and exposes actors and actresses to the kind of scrutiny they’d rather avoid. Which is why the costume department of The Avengers has sensibly kitted out the heroes in clothes that won’t get them arrested or laughed at.
M is for MODOK
The Avengers have faced many villains but none more weird than MODOK. The giant floating head with tiny arms and legs was primarily a foe created for Captain America to battle but it wasn’t long before he started to showing up in the pages of The Avengers, as did a lot of the Nazis Cap used to fight. The odd-looking villain started life as technician George Tarleton, whose body was altered by advanced mutagenics in a bid to create a super intelligent being, MODOC (aka Mobile Organism Designed Only for Computing). But Tarleton went mad and turned on his masters. He took the name MODOK (Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing) after he slaughtered them all. Given his unusual shape, MODOK may not make it into any Avengers sequel, although he his character has strong links to the Cosmic Cube, which is central to the The Avengers plot.
N is for Norse
The main villain in The Avengers is Loki, the Norse god of lies and trickery. He was last seen tumbling into space at the end of Thor but somehow he survived and is looking to take revenge on his half-brother. In this the movie closely mirrors the plot of The Avengers #1. So much of Marvel’s output was flavoured by Norse mythology, although the appearance of Viking gods was as much to do with necessity as it was to do with Stan Lee’s reading habits. Stan Lee came up with the idea of a superhero version of Thor while wrestling with problem of how to create a character that was stronger than the Hulk.
He decided the only solution was to make his new hero a god, so went delving into Norse mythology for a suitable candidate. He then got Kirby to bring the hero to life. Kirby gave Thor a winged helmet, flowing blonde locks, a red cape and a blue tunic attached to which were six white discs and that distinctive look has pretty much survived over the decades.
O is for Obscure
There is more to the Avengers than Iron Man, Cap, the Hulk and Thor. In fact the team has a roster so long it would take hours to do a roll call if all of them decided to show up at once. Not everybody on the team is a top-tier hero. Here are just a few of the more obscure characters: Power Woman, Prince of Orphans, Jocasta, Living Lightning, Quasar, Mockingbird, Moondragon, Two-Gun Kid and Starfox. Don’t expect to see any of these Avengers in a movie.
P is for Photoshop
Marvel Studios has a lot riding on its superhero team-up, hundreds millions of dollars in franchise deals, theme parks, ties-ins and toys, and it was disappointing that its main selling point on bus shelters, billboards and cinemas was a less than epic effort that screamed bad Photoshopping. The weird use of perspective had Captain America appearing to be about four stories tall and the Hulk about seven stories tall. Here’s what the critics had to say about it:
“Marvel Studios has managed to assemble a new poster for THE AVENGERS and while it’s pretty cool to be able to see Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye all together, it’s a little disappointing that Marvel couldn’t actually get them in one place at the same time to shoot something like this.
“You’d think a little more care would be put into smoothing out the edges, so we can’t see exactly where they were cropped from their previous placement.”
Q is for Q&A
What do you do when you’re making a superhero epic that comic book fans have been waiting years for? You go to Comic Con and you do a Q&A. The world got its first glimpse of The Avengers at 2010 San Diego Comic Con, when Robert Downey Jr introduced the cast on stage and took questions from the audience. The approach won Marvel lots publicity and generated interest in the movie.
R is for Recluse
Iron Man was a thinly disguised version of billionaire industrialist and all-round wacko recluse Howard Hughes. Stan Lee, who created the hero with artist Don Heck in 1963, said: “Howard Hughes was one of the most colourful men of our time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a ladies’ man and finally a nutcase. Without being crazy, (Iron Man) was Howard Hughes.” He revealed that he created the character on a dare. “It was the height of the Cold War. The readers, if there was one thing they hated, it was war, it was the military … So I got a hero who represented that to the 100th degree. He was a weapons manufacturer, he was providing weapons for the army, he was rich, he was an industrialist. I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, and shove him down the readers’ throats and make them like him … And he became very popular.”
S is for Scarlett
Although we said no actor looks good in a rubber, that rule obviously doesn’t apply to Scarlett Johansson, whose portrayal of the Black Widow has the geeks salivating.
T is for Thanos
We don’t want to give too much away, but this guy is important. Google him.
U is for The Ultimates
Much of the feel and look of The Avengers has been influenced by Marvel’s reboot of the comic series, The Ultimates. The Ultimates, first published in 2002, tried to bring clunky out-of-date characters with convoluted back stories into the modern world and make them appealing to younger audiences. The writing by Mark Millar was sharp and referenced popular culture in way not seen outside of a Quentin Tarantino movie. The art by Bryan Hitch revolutionised comics and made them more cinematic.
In a clear case of life imitating art, Millar and Hitch chose to make their version of Nick Fury look like Samuel L. Jackson. It was a stroke of luck that Marvel got Jackson to play Fury on screen.
V is for Vehicle
Every superhero movie has to have a piece of tech that blows the audience away. Batman has the Batmobile, Spider-man has his webs, Iron Man has his armour. The makers of The Avengers decided that the size of their tech clearly mattered, giving audiences an aircraft carrier that can fly. The name, Helicarrier, is cheesy but the ship itself is anything but.
W is for Women
The Avengers seems very much like a boy’s affair, even with Scarlett Johansson on board, which is a shame because one Joss Whedon’s strengths is his ability to write strong female characters. Comic books do feature a lot of strong women, but they tend to look like models and dress like they’re going to a bondage party – which doesn’t exactly make them attractive to female readers. If Whedon returns for the sequel, it would be good to see him bring his Buffy touch to the team’s wider female membership, such as the Wasp and Scarlet Witch.
X is for Xtras
Joss Whedon says his original cut of the movie was over three hours long, so expect about 30 minutes of cut footage to be included in the video release. Most of the deleted scenes involve Captain America, with Whedon revealing that one sees the Cap reunite with Peggy Carter, his love interest from Captain America: The First Avenger.
Y is for You think this letter on my head stands for France
Without a doubt the best line ever uttered in The Avengers comic. Said by Captain America as he takes out some alien scum. Which brings us to…
Z is for Zingers
When your star is Robert Downey Jr, you know the lines will be sharp and funny. Here’s a taste:
Tony Stark: Dr Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.
Read more: http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/movies/a-is-for-assemble-b-is-for-buffy-the-avengers-a-z/story-e6frfmvr-1226338050187#ixzz1t5PXYsFt