Avengers assemble for the big screen this week, but they have been protecting Earth through the comic book world for far longer.
For over 70 years, creators at Marvel Comics have come up with some of the most patriotic, intelligent and snarky superheroes the world has ever seen.
With the movie release of “The Avengers” this week — one of the most elite and eclectic groups of superheroes — the popularity of the courageous comrades has surged.
But who are the men and women behind the masks? How long have they been saving Earth from its apparent imminent doom?
Along with the reveal of the stalwart squad of superheroes, the comic book culture has also seen a recent rise in fame.
Though Marvel Comics has existed for well over 75 years — and comics in general have been circulated since the mid-1800s — what has caused the world of superheroes and supervillains to once again become so attractive?
In Lodi, two comic book stores attempt to cover every aspect of the burgeoning comic book market, from the classics like Iron Man and Batman to newer genres like Manga.
“The characters are timeless,” said David Phillips, co-owner of The Launchpad. “Countries like Greece had its Hercules and Zeus. This is like our American mythology.”
Who are the Avengers?
The original group of Avengers is not necessarily the same group that will appear on movie screens all across the country this week.
The Avengers first debuted in “The Avengers #1” in September 1963. The group consisted of some of today’s favorites, including Captain America and Thor.
But the team also originally included heroes like Ant-Man and Wasp.
This week, audiences will get a glimpse of some of the current members of the Avengers. Below is a glance at who they are, and when they began saving the world ... at least in comic books.
Captain America made his debut in March 1941 in “Captain America Comics #1.”
For most of his publication history, Captain America was the alter ego of Steve Rogers, a feeble young man who was genetically perfected by an experimental serum to aid the United States’ World War II efforts.
Captain America is armed with an indestructible shield made out of an experimental iron alloy that can be thrown as a weapon.
Today, Captain America is Steve Rogers’ best friend Bucky Barnes, who took over after it was believed that Rogers died in 2007. However, Rogers was was later revealed to be alive and became known as “Steve Rogers: Super Soldier.”
Captain America originally had no superhuman powers, until he acquired strength, endurance and agility from the serum.
Iron Man first hit the comic book world in March 1963 in the “Tales of Suspense #39.”
Tony Stark, the man behind the mask, is a billionaire playboy and engineer.
Stark became Iron Man after he suffered a severe chest injury during a kidnapping in which his captors attempted to force him to build a weapon of mass destruction.
To thwart his captors’ plans, Stark instead created a powered suit of armor to save his life and escape captivity.
The suit gives Stark superhuman strength and durability, as well as the ability to fly.
Initially, Iron Man was used to explore Cold War themes in comic books, particularly America’s industrial role in the struggle against communism.
The Hulk came to life in May 1962 when he first appeared in “The Incredible Hulk #1.”
The Hulk is the raging alter-ego of the introverted physicist Dr. Bruce Banner.
Shortly after Banner was accidentally exposed to the blast of a gamma bomb he invented, the Hulk emerged.
As a result of the exposure, Banner involuntarily transforms into the Hulk, who is depicted as a giant, raging, humanoid monster.
Modeled after Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Banner is capable of significant bouts of strength, which increases with the Hulk’s anger.
His durability, regeneration and endurance also increase in proportion to his temper.
Thanks to his bulk, the Hulk is resistent to most types of injury or damage. Because of this, the Hulk is known to have one of the most prolonged lifespans of the Avengers.
Natalia “Natasha” Romanoff was the first character to take on the name “Black Widow” in the mainstream Marvel Comics.
She first appeared in “Tales of Suspence #52” in April 1964. She was a recurring, non-costumed antagonist who was brainwashed by the KGB.
However, the Black Widow later became an ally of the Avengers and joined them as their 16th member.
The Black Widow is a world-class gymnast and expert in martial arts. She is also a marksman, weapons specialist and ballerina.
She has been enhanced by biotechnology to make her body resistant to aging and disease, and heal at a rapid rate.
Hawkeye was first introduces as a reluctant villain in “Tales of Suspence #57” in September 1964.
Hawkeye is the alter ego of Clinton “Clint” Barton, who was known as the “World’s Greatest Marksman” in Marvel Comics.
Barton was recruited by Black Widow to help steal technology from Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, but after he is tricked by Black Widow, Barton decides to leave his life of crime to join the Avengers.
While Hawkeye has no superhuman powers, he is at the very peak of human conditioning. He is an excellent fencer, acrobat and marksman.
Hawkeye is also known for possessing trick arrows, which act like various weapons that he uses to shoot at his enemies. His arrows can have electrical currents, they can catch fire and they can also be tear gas, among other options.
The character of Thor was first published in August 1962 in “Journey in Mystery #83.”
Thor is based on the mythological Norse god of the same name and has appeared in each of the four comic book volumes detailing the many adventures of the Avengers.
As the only god of the original Avengers, Thor joined the team along with its other founding members when they debuted in the comic world in September 1963.
Stronger than the strongest human, Thor is not entirely immortal, but he is highly resistant to pain or injury. He is also able to travel through time, and his main weapon is his hammer.
He has superhuman speed and reflexes, and because he is the “God of Thunder” in Norse mythology, he can summon the elements of a storm — lightning, thunder, rain, etc. — to use as tools in battle.
Col. Nicholas “Nick” Fury is a Marvel Comic World War 2 Army hero and present-day super spy. He made his debut in “Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1” in May 1963.
Initially a leader of an elite United States Army unit, today Fury is known as a CIA agent-turned director for the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency, which collaborates with the Avengers on their many Marvel missions.
Fury is an athletic man despite his advanced chronological age, which has been slowed by a formulate he was first innoculated with in the 1940s, according to his comic book history.
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