Avengers! You’re an Avenger, and you’re an Avenger, and you’re an Avenger! In the half-century since Earth’s Mightiest Heroes first debuted in The Avengers #1, the superteam has featured more cast rotations than Saturday Night Live, Degrassi, Grey’s Anatomy, and Game of Thrones… COMBINED. Pause to imagine: Game of Degrassi’s Anatomy Live. Now imagine Game of Degrassi’s Anatomy Live with regular time travel, irregular costume changes, robot/alien duplicates, Wonder Man resurrections, and somebody named Captain Marvel.
Any attempt to rank every Avenger ever is an act of madness destined for failure. Like, the X-Men are linked together by a common heritage (mutants, hated, feared) and a shared philosophical uber-myth (Darwin, militant vs. pacifist, Wolverine-adjacent.) The Avengers are linked together by variations on the idea that powerful superheroes should work together, occasionally live together, and generally feel free to drop in or drop out whenever they have time. There’s an angle on the Avengers where they’re supposed to be Marvel’s heaviest hitters—The Big Three plus Spider-Man and Wolverine and maybe Daredevil. And there’s an angle on the Avengers where they’re supposed to be Moneyball for superheroes: Lots of undervalued B-listers joining together for the greater glory of being interesting.
Also not helping matters: Marvel has a tendency to make everyone an Avenger sooner or later. All the cool X-Men and three of the Fantastic Four are Avengers. Villains are Avengers. In just the last decade, there have been New Avengers and Young Avengers and Secret Avengers and Dark Avengers and Uncanny Avengers and Astonishing Avengers, not to mention the gone-but-not-forgotten Avengers West Coast (formerly the West Coast Avengers.)
The ranking that follows, like last year’s X-Men ranking, can only be helplessly subjective, even if it is also rigidly accurate. I’ve tried within reason to count every character who was a legitimate Avenger for at least a few issues—not just Avengers-adjacent personalities, like Adam Warlock, who was technically the lead character of like half the Avengers crossovers with the word “Infinity” in the title. This ranking is based equally on the character’s comic book history, style evolution, and (in some cases) how fun they were in Marvel vs. Capcom. Movie roles will be ignored, which is good news for War Machine, bad news for Black Widow, and not really news at all for Maria Hill. To clarify: This is not a ranking of how cool these characters are. It’s a ranking of how good they are as Avengers.
Let’s get started.
Like Thor, except Greek and stupid and boring. If Thor is the Beatles, then Hercules is the Monkees cover band playing at your high school talent show.
84. Doctor Druid
Doctor Strange for people who wish Doctor Strange was bald. Classically wears a costume that looks like someone turned Superman’s red underwear into a skintight bodysuit. Also known as Doctor Droom.
83. The Swordsman
A man with a sword. Would be ranked much higher if he were called Swordman, and his arms and legs were swords, and he walked around on four sword limbs making funny sword puns. Sacrificed himself to save Mantis, the Marissa Cooper of the Avengers. This makes The Swordsman, like, the Surfer Johnny.
In the ’90s, Force Works was the x-treme version of Avengers West Coast. Yes, there was a team called Force Works. Yes, it featured both War Machine and Iron Man, which means it was just one Iron Patriot away from an Iron Yahtzee. Somewhere along the way, Force Works also found the time to include Suzi Endo, a brilliant scientist who was visited by her evil future self, who called herself “Cybermancer.” Yada yada “techno-organic” yada yada “alternate future version of Ultron” yada yada “eventually became a different character named The Seeker” yada yada.
Brother of Thanos. You know Barney from How I Met Your Mother? Imagine if he stole Astro Boy’s haircut. How can I put this simply? If the Avengers were Nintendo’s Star Fox, then Marvel’s Starfox would be Falco. No one likes you, Falco! Go home!
80. Moon Knight
A great character on his own, even if he is a weird conglom of Batman and Hawkman and proto-Spawn. But makes no sense as an Avenger.
79. Two-Gun Kid
Western hero with two, count-em, two guns. If Swordsman had two swords, he’d still rank lower than Two-Gun Kid, who is the sixth best Western comic book hero (behind Jonah Hex, Rawhide Kid, Phantom Rider, Kid Colt, and that time Batman was a Cowboy.) Briefly brought forward in time to be a useless Avenger, before they banished him back to the past.
78. Wonder Man
Oft-killed, oft-resurrected. The very definition of a placeholder superhero. He’s strong! He’s handsome! He’s a potential love interest for whoever! (I quote from the Wikipedia entry on Force Works: During the team’s first mission, Wonder Man was killed again, though his atoms were temporarily scattered.) Probably gonna be played by Jai Courtney someday.
Arguably a helpless stereotype, because she controls fire and is a Latina and fiery Latin women, amiright? Has been a go-to face in the crowd for about two decades now.
76. Mister Fantastic
Briefly joined the Avengers for like two nonsensical seconds.
75. Invisible Woman
Joined for those same two seconds. Ranked higher because invisibility > stretchiness.
Oh look, a woman with a cat costume! Sorry, Hellcat. There’s Catwoman, and then there’s the Black Cat, and then there’s the Crazy Cat Lady from The Simpsons, and then there’s all the catgirls from Final Fantasy, and then there’s Hellcat.
I would urge everyone to go and read Mark Gruenwald’s incredible 12-issue Squadron Supreme series, which imagines a world where the Justice League all have different names and take over the world in order to rescue it. In that context, Hyperion is a freaky version of Superman, an extremely good person who doesn’t realize his noble goals are turning him into a fascist. On the Avengers, Hyperion’s handsome baggage.
71. Red Hulk
Hulk, but red. Makes Quasar look like Thunderstrike.
Nordic lady with a bland suit of armor. Still, at least she’s not a red Hulk.
Formerly known as Huntress. Briefly married to Hawkeye. Originally had a pretty snazzy-terrible costume. Now mainly available for tough-bland-lady-spy appearances whenever Maria Hill and Black Widow are busy. Best thing that ever happened to her was getting cast as Adrienne Palicki on Agents of SHIELD. When the best thing that ever happens to you involves the phrase “on Agents of SHIELD,” you’re in trouble.
A Captain Marvel ripoff so lame that he never even got to be called Captain Marvel. Makes US Agent look like Thunderstrike.
67. U.S. Agent
A Captain America ripoff who’s spent decades being useless. Whatever mojo he once had was totally robbed by the introduction of Winter Soldier, a “Dark Captain America” riff with a much cooler name and a sweet robot arm. Makes Thunderstrike look like War Machine.
This character is shockingly beloved by people who have consistently read comics in the last ten years, so I can only assume that he has experienced two Frank Millers’ and five Grant Morrisons’ worth of reboots. To me, he’s always been Green Lantern with a worse color scheme.
65. Amadeus Cho
Possesses the power of Hercules, but is not himself Hercules, so net positive.
64. Captain Britain
There is a rich Captain Britain mythos, and then there are the rare occasions when Captain Britain is an Avenger. Question: If Scotland successfully secedes from the U.K., will Captain Britain still protect it?
Just the worst. Like someone looked at the Flash and said: “You know what this charming superhero needs? Attitude.”
Married to Quicksilver.
Has the most insane superhero costume ever. Insane. Like:
Openly bisexual, painfully dull.
A teleporter who isn’t Nightcrawler is already fighting an uphill battle against Blink, who has held the Championship Belt in the Not-Nightcrawler Showdown for close to two decades.
59. Original Human Torch
The great thing about Marvel is that—at least until recently—they’ve never gone the DC route of rebooting the entire history of their universe. Instead—again, until recently—Marvel just treated all of its history as fundamentally accurate, with the caveat that children’s ages never make sense and the Vietnam War is always like five years ago for the Punisher. This non-reboot strategy does occasionally cough up weird idiosyncrasies. Example A: The fact that the first Human Torch was an android created during World War II who eventually reappeared years later, awakening in a Marvel Universe where there was now a completely different Human Torch.
Anyhow, for a little while the WWII Human Torch was an Avenger. And, I dunno, he had fire powers. I’m just now realizing something: Fire powers are totally lame.
58. Machine Man
Hilariously on-the-nose codename and the incredible ability to make all his limbs stretch out. Looks great in purple, though.
57. Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter)
There have been two Spider-Women on the Avengers. Unfortunately, only Julia Carpenter was also on Force Works.
See No. 34.
55. Anthony Stark/Young Iron Man
So there was this time that Iron Man went crazy and started killing people, and it turned out that he had maybe been evil the whole time, so the Avengers decided that the best way to defeat Iron Man was to time travel backwards like twenty years and kidnap Young Tony Stark from the past. This worked out pretty much exactly as you might expect: With Iron Man punching his younger self in the heart.
What’s that you say? You were expecting something not that? Hooray for the ’90s! Anyhow, Young Iron Man survived and briefly became the worst Iron Man ever. Ultimately, he was wiped clean from existence when the Avengers spent a year in an alternate reboot universe.
54. The Sandman
One of Spider-Man’s coolest misunderstood nice-guy villains briefly joined the Avengers on a reserve basis. Never made a full-time member. I feel like The Sandman has faded away from history. Actually, I think you can trace the decline of Sandman to one thing: The introduction of Venom. Sandman and Venom have essentially the same powers—make cool stuff out of thin air, morph into anything!—but when Venom does it, it doesn’t involve sand. No one likes sand. But if not for Venom, Sandman would still be a beloved figure. Venom is like the Katy Perry to Sandman’s Lady Gaga.
Unfortunately also known as 3D man.
One of the very best superheroes—if not the best superhero—became an Avenger for like a year and a half.
As recounted in Sean Howe’s essential comics-history tome Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Shang-Chi (Master of Kung Fu!) was conceived by Marvel legends Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, who were in a haze of Eastern mystical philosophy and LSD trips around lower Manhattan and copious viewings of David Carradine’s Kung Fu. Then everything went wrong. About four decades later, the character is gradually becoming an important part of the Marvel Universe. His greatest days may be ahead him!
50. Black Knight
Like the Swordsman but something something King Arthur. Has one of the best costumes ever, but also has one of the worst costumes ever. If everyone’s wearing brown Avengers bomber jackets in Infinity War—Part One, the time has come to run for the hills.
There’s this thing that Marvel does sometimes where it picks out one of the coolest X-Men and turns them into a moderately-okay Avenger. It almost always feels like the popular kids decided to let one of the skater-goths join their cool-person club, and the end result is Ally Sheedy post-makeover.
Same problem as Rogue. But Storm is Storm.
47. Namor, the Sub-Mariner
A much cooler version of Aquaman—who is himself already pretty cool, go to hell haters. But the problem with Sub-Mariner has always been that he is a great villain, a pretty-good hero, and a horrible teammate. Part of the fun of the Justice League is the idea that everyone involved is a triple-A hero who could be the leader of their own team. The Avengers is trickier. There are characters who are tripler-A heroes who are also good Avengers leaders, and there are B-list heroes who are good Avengers leaders, and there was that one time someone thought it was a good idea to make the Black Knight a leader—and then there’s someone like Namor, who doesn’t really belong on any team, period.
46. Doctor Strange
The Namor problem writ large: Doctor Strange is the Master of the Mystic Arts, prone to battling Cthulic demons for the sake of the multiverse. Putting him on a superteam has never really made sense.
45. Living Lightning
Lightning powers > fire powers.
Ludicrously powerful uber-hero retconned into the Marvel timeline via amnesia. The equivalent of a really good right fielder with a moderate batting average.
On the negative side: Wears a costume that would be considered too garish for Dancing With the Stars, and has antenna. On the positive side: Has a total cuckoobat bananagrams biography, which includes her status as the “Celestial Madonna” who gives birth to Space-Christ, a dark period where she killed her own father, and the later retconning of that dark period as the work of a (male) Space Phantom. So she’s just your average martial artist patricidal transgender Messiah-mom.
I have a fondness for Rage, because I enjoy the movie Big, and Rage is basically what would happen if the kid from Big became a vigilante with a fondness for ski-mask chic.
Confession: The first comic book I ever purchased was an issue of Thor that starred the replacement Thor, Eric Masterson, who would later be known as Thunderstrike. So I will always have a soft spot, even though literally everything about this character is someone’s bad idea about what looked cool circa Nineteen-Ninety-Never.
Yes, another cat-lady. But Tigra gets points for for getting there relatively early, and for a cool backstory that involves a race of Cat People. Hellcat actually stole one of her costumes, which means Hellcat is like the Thunderstrike of the Tigra mythology. That’s right, I just used the phrase “Tigra mythology.” Come at me, bro.
Literally the only good thing to ever come out of Force Works was Century, one of those great weirdo characters who gets plugged into a superteam, even though the bare outline of his origin story deserves a 12-issue maxiseries of its own. Broad strokes: Century is a composite creature possessing the minds of a hundred variably-skilled aliens—Get it? “Century”?—minds he can access at will, depending on what the situation calls for. He will also only live for 100 years—get it? “Century”?—and looks like what happens when Elric of Melnibone cosplays Hawkeye.
38. Demolition Man
Curiously endearing joke Avenger who briefly became the hobo superhero. Demerits: Joined Wonder Man’s team of “Revengers.”
37. Maria Hill
You know how, in every action movie of the ’80s and ’90s, there’s the law enforcement bureaucrat who gets in the hero’s face just because they don’t like how the hero plays by his own rules? Maria Hill is to the Avengers as the FBI Guys were to John McClane. Then she joined the Avengers and became a solid iteration of The Spy Who Has A Gun.
36. The Thing
There was a hot minute circa Nineteen-Eighty-Something when Marvel decided to spin off the rockiest member of the Fantastic Four into his own solo series. This resulted in a full year of comics where the Thing lived on a planet of monstrous nightmares and Red Sonja lookalikes. Then it turned out that whole planet was a Vanilla Sky/Total Recall bespoke fantasy. Then he came back to Earth, found out the Human Torch stole his girlfriend, took up professional wrestling, moved to Monster Island, and generally walked the earth like Caine in Kung Fu.
Somewhere in the middle of all of that, the Thing joined the West Coast Avengers.
35. Ant-Man (Scott Lang)
The second Ant-Man is another okay utility player. The problem is that the first Ant-Man basically refused to ever leave the Avengers. Way more interesting when he hangs out with the Fantastic Four. Like, last January, the great shortlived series ended with a showdown between Ant-Man and Doctor Doom, and it was one of the best showdowns in comic book history. (An important thing to remember, now that everyone cares about the Avengers so much: For long stretches of comic book history, the Avengers were the fourth most exciting Marvel superteam, behind the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and the other X-Men.)
Finally, someone with fire powers who isn’t terrible! Firestar joined during Kurt Busiek’s ’90s run on the Avengers, alongside her boyfriend and fellow New Warrior, the totally lame dripball Justice. Justice was an Avengers fanboy who could only barely roll with the big dogs, whereas Firestar wasn’t even sure she wanted to be a superhero and was thus ironically a vastly better superhero than her boyfriend. Demerits because of her role in Marvel Divas, where it turns out her three best friends are Hellcat, the Black Cat, and Photon. (No Tigra?) Points added because she once set fire to Hell, although that was when she was an X-Man.
33. Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell)
Semi-controversial idea: The first Captain Marvel is also the fourth-best, a bland blondie with vaguely defined cosmic powers. He’s like Warlock without the Christ allegory, or like Silver Surfer without the tragic backstory or the silverness or the surfing. Hell, the Avengers only made Mar-Vell an Avenger posthumously—as if to explicitly admit that he only became interesting after he died.
32. Captain Marvel/Photon/Pulsar/Spectrum
The third-best Captain Marvel. It’s always a problem when the most interesting thing about you is how you keep flipping your Thesaurus to “Light” every time you need a new codename.
31. Captain Marvel/Legacy/Photon
The second-best Captain Marvel. Son of No. 33, initially introduced as a douche-bro wearing a whole bodysuit of parachute pants before being reconceived as an actually likable guy trying/constantly failing to live up to his dad’s example. Only technically a member of the Avengers during Avengers Forever, the fabulous Kurt Busiek/Roger Stern/Carlos Pacheco/Jesus Merino maxi-series which kitchen-sinked the entire continuity of Avengers into 12 issues of time-space madness.
30. Captain America (Bucky Barnes)
Way more interesting when he’s Winter Soldier, the villain-turned-kinda-hero-but-generally-ambiguous ex-sidekick of Captain America. Still, I roll hard for Winter Soldier. He’s an inspiration to Thunderstrikes everywhere.
29. The Beast
The rare X-person who actually makes total sense in an Avengers context. The Beast is for superteams what Richard Belzer is for police procedurals: You really can just plug him in anywhere, and he’ll be mildly amusing and cool-looking without ever threatening to steal scenes from the more famous characters.
The eternal question: Is Hulk actually an Avenger? On one hand, obviously yes: Look at the first issue of Avengers. On the other hand, clearly no: He ran off around issue #3 and has usually only participated in what amounts to glorifed guest-star appearances. (Hulk is to Avengers as Morgan is to The Walking Dead.) Points added for not being Red Hulk.
My bias against A-lister Avengers is becoming more clear. Look, I get that some people love Bendis’ run on Avengers, and I get the fundamental appeal of an Avengers team composed of only the most famous characters in the Marvel Universe. I just also think that putting Spider-Man on the Avengers is like, I dunno, asking Kanye West to join the Wu-Tang Clan, or forcing Andre Agassi to play a team sport. The loneliness is part of the point.
26. Black Panther
The prime example of the Namor Problem. The Black Panther has one of the most interesting backstory/mythologies in comic books; it only ever feels diminishing when he’s plugged into an Avengers team. He’s a King—shouldn’t he at least be the Avengers’ leader, like, all of the time?
25. Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew)
There’s a certain kind of Avengers teammate—usually a character who’s been lying around the background for years/decades—who joins the Avengers, becomes a prominently featured player, and then uses the exposure to platform into his/her own solo superhero title. This is more or less what’s happening right now with the best Spider-Woman. Good for you, J-Drew.
Standing in for the entirety of the Great Lakes Avengers, one of the best in-continuity spoofs this side of anything Howard the Duck ever did.
23. Nick Fury
Standing in for the entirety of the Avengers from The Ultimates, the early-00s reboot that boldly reimagined the Avengers as a team composed of only the most total of total douchebags. Several ambient elements of The Ultimates popped up in the bigscreen Avengers—the most important of which is the reconception of Nick Fury from “ageless World War II hero and former Cold War Spy” into “Guy who looks and acts exactly like Samuel L. Jackson.”
Standing in for the entirety of the Thunderbolts, an incredible crew of replacement Avengers who were revealed to be the Masters of Evil, in one of the last great twists of the pre-Internet spoiler era. The Thunderbolts aren’t technically Avengers, but an alternate-universe version of Songbird was an Avenger in Avengers Forever, so.
21. Lady Hawkeye (Kate Bishop)
Standing in for the entirety of the Young Avengers, a team which is composed of so many bargain-basement versions of popular superheroes that they might as well be called The Thunderstrikes. Kate’s okay, though.
Yet another very particular kind of Avenger: The character who barely registers as a blip in the history of revolving-door randoms, except for the minor fact that their superpower is next-level unusual. I quote directly from Wikipedia: Silverclaw has the “ability to change into various metal were-animal forms.” METAL WERE-ANIMAL. Think of what Jack Kirby could do with Metal Were-Animals!
The problem with the Hulk is that he’s less a character than a pair of two-dimensional characters: Puny Banner and Less-Puny Green Guy. It’s fine for Jekyll-and-Hyde psychodrama; it makes him a terrible teammate. Not so Jennifer Walters, a single female lawyer with superstrength to match her superlative legal faculties. Admittedly doesn’t have a long history with the Avengers, but she is about to start leading A-Force, a new group of all-lady Avengers. The team also includes Dazzler; if She-Hulk can successfully make Dazzler a thing, then she will be immediately promoted five spots on this list.
18. Rick Jones
Another eternal question: Is Rick Jones an Avenger? He’s been sidekick to the Hulk, Captain America, and two different Captain Marvels. There’s a certain stretch of comic-book history where, if you picked up an Avengers comic, Rick Jones would probably appear. He was a calming everyman—more than anything, he was a guy who just seemed to really like superheroes.
17. Iron Fist
Not particularly interesting as an Avenger. But he’s Iron Fist, and you’re not.
One of the single coolest utility players in comic book history: A deaf martial artist with photographic reflexes and a curiously badass handprint “mask.” Introduced in Daredevil. Occasionally dresses up as an androgynous male-ish figure named Ronin. Apparently dead now, but that won’t last.
Remember when Michael Jordan joined the Wizards? Imagine if, a decade later, the Wizards were the most beloved basketball team in America. That is basically what Wolverine did for the Avengers. In the years after he joined the team—alongside fellow A-list newbie Spider-Man and grandfathered icons Captain America and Iron Man—the Avengers gradually and then suddenly pushed aside the X-Men at the center of the Marvel universe. (In the mega-crossover Avengers vs. X-Men, Wolverine mostly fights for the Avengers—something that would’ve been unthinkable pre-2000s.)
It might sound weird to say—given that, on the big screen, Wolverine’s off in a very different Marvel universe—but the man called Logan might actually be the single most transformative figure in Avengers history. Brian Michael Bendis clearly thought so when he brought him on; in his first issue as an Avenger, Iron Man basically says that Wolverine is the Captain America of Now. You could argue that Wolverine basically destroyed whatever Rick Jones symbolized.
So it’s possible to appreciate Wolverine the Avenger for pure historical value. But don’t you kinda wish Jordan had never played for anyone but the Bulls?
14. Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson’s lead role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe belies the fact that Widow spent most of her fictional life as simply THE Avengers B-lister, full stop. A protean mystery woman with an ever-shifting backstory, Widow’s main superpower is the ability to always be 15 steps ahead of everyone. Bonus points for one of the single finest style evolutions (from this to this) in comic books.
One of the first major African-American superheroes, Sam Wilson has a tangled early history—bird-themed sidekick with an origin that was constantly in flux—but he’s emerged in the last decade-plus as one of the leading members of the Avengers. He represents one of the best things about the Avengers: The sense that one character can play several different roles. Is Falcon a sidekick? A Thunderstrike-esque replacement/pupil for a more popular character? A B-lister with a cool costume? Falcon’s currently the new Captain America; it feels like he’s cusping on a Renaissance.
The least essential of the Big Three is also the most essential for one of the key operating ideas of the Avengers. Thor is always getting called away from Earth—to stop the end of the universe, to rescue Asgard, to drift through space fighting the celestials for awhile. And throughout comic book history, Thor is randomly back on Earth, often needing a place to crash (often Avengers mansion) and some Earth friends to hang out with (usually Avengers.)
Even though he’s a Day One Founding Member, Thor never really leads the Avengers, and he’s also not really a Wolverine-esque wildcard. He’s clearly more powerful than everyone else—he is a god—but he’s also a wholly invested team player. Except when he leaves for a few years. Thor’s situation gets at the paradox of Avenger-dom: The Avengers are so powerful that they can only tackle the most important battles, but its individual member always have more important things to do.
11. Luke Cage
Another key addition of the Bendis period, the Artist Formerly Known as Power Man was always a triple-A hero pretending to be a utility player. The Avengers promoted Cage to the global level—but the team’s New York focus also let him retain his status as the reigning lovable hero of Marvel Manhattan’s mean streets.
10. Iron Man
The single most consistent presence on the team, Iron Man has been variously deployed as the resident brainiac, the resident kinda-boring leader, and—post-Downey—the resident charming cad. Points added because Iron Man changes his costume more than anyone. Points deducted because Iron Man’s only really interesting when he’s having some kind of philosophical punchfight with No. 2.
9. The Wasp
Janet Van Dyne gets no respect. Her earliest iteration was a goof on mid-60s socialites—a nerdy dude’s unfunny tut-tut personification of whatever guys didn’t like about Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany‘s. She spent a lot of time ogling Thor and wishing Hank Pym would marry her. When he did, he turned into a wife abusing maniac. Wasp’s been an Avengers leader on multiple occasions, but she’s one of those characters that every writer tries to “fix”: Sometimes with Cronenberg-y reimagination and sometimes with the old death/resurrection/years-spent-living-in-a-pocket-universe-married-to-Cyclops’-brother spiral.
But if you look closely at Avengers history, there is a Perfect Form of the Wasp. Somewhere in the last fifty years, the Wasp has been some Venn Diagram unification of Trudy Campbell, Carrie Bradshaw, and Olivia Benson—a strong independent noble funny old-fashioned forward-thinking high-style every-lady. Admittedly, I’m not sure she’s ever been all those things; get on it, A-Force!
For a long stretch of the early ’90s, one of the main bench players on the team was an immortal demi-goddess who came off like a gene-fascist Wonder Woman. Sersi is one of those great Silver Age characters who has an assortment of Make-Plot-Happen powers—matter manipulation, telekinesis, knowledge of all languages—and she generally seemed to have barely any regard for human life. The spirit she brought to the Avengers was easy to miss during the days of the Bomber Jacket brigade: You always got the vibe, in the middle of a battle to save the cosmos, that Sersi was annoyed that she was missing a cool party somewhere.
7. War Machine
Maybe the greatest replacement superhero in Marvel Comics. The initial pitch on War Machine is, simply: What if Iron Man’s armor had extra guns coming out of everywhere? What if all those guns were still not enough guns? And what if, instead of red and yellow, the armor was painted black and white—the classic away-team look which also produced Spider-Man’s Black Costume, US Agent’s normal costume, and the Fantastic Four’s Logan’s Run costumes?
Mistakes were made along the way. The original costume got replaced by an alien costume that looked uncannily like everything that is terrible. And the movies have turned War Machine into a running joke. Ridiculous! Did I mention the extra guns?
6. Ms. Marvel/Binary/Warbird/Captain Marvel
Carol Danvers endures. Brainwashed and impregnated by a time-traveling maniac? Betrayed by her own teammates? Leeched of all her powers and most of her memories by Rogue? Transformed briefly into a cosmic superbeing, and then depowered back into cruel mortality? Jesus, who wouldn’t become an alcoholic? For all her troubles, Carol Danvers has been blessed with a comeback decade. At long last shedding the moniker “Ms. Marvel,” she’s become the best Captain Marvel ever. Big-screen glory beckons; this is what it looks like when the journeyman team player finally gets the chance to become a legend.
5. Giant-Man/Ant-Man/Yellowjacket/Goliath/Hank Pym/Wasp
I have a secret theory that every Avenger is actually a time-traveling Hank Pym. He’s already been so many characters. What’s 84 more?
4. The Vision
The best argument for the Avengers as an A-Team filled with B-Listers. In his long history, the Vision’s been a Son of Frankenstein, a Pinocchio, a Data-from-Next-Generation, a Spock-from-the-new-movies-where-Uhura-loves-him, a happy family man, an emotionless automaton, and a mentor for younger Avengers. He has a great power cocktail—beyond the usual Superman flight-strength-speed powers, he can become intangible. All this, and he’s solar-powered!
3. Scarlet Witch
The weird beating heart of the Avengers, the Scarlet Witch has been a hero and a villain, a strongwilled leader and an eternally tormented subject of untold psychological trauma. She can be cosmically powerful, or she can just cast lots of red energy at a problem; she’s a mutant, but she also has magical powers. In stark contrast to her petulant drip of a brother (see No. 63), Wanda’s main problem is that she cares too much. This simple character trait makes her important no matter what the context—she can be a trusty teammate or a half-crazy reality-warping godling. Her powers are ridiculously goofy in theory—”chaos magic”—and it makes sense that Age of Ultron tries to normalize her special abilities into a recognizable assortment of brain powers.
But normalizing Scarlet Witch just makes her a duller Jean Grey. The character is supposed to be a bit hard to pin down. The Avengers with their own solo titles are constants; they need wild variables like Scarlet Witch.
2. Captain America
A late arrival in issue #4, Captain America immediately became the eternal mascot for the Avengers. The interesting thing about Cap is that, as a character, he makes the most sense when he’s leading other people. That can be on the micro scale (playing First Banana to sidekicks like Bucky and Falcon) or on the macro scale (leading the charge of all humanity’s heroes against galactic supervillains like Thanos or the Magus). (One of his best recent solo story arcs, Castaway in Dimension Z, sent him on a years-long journey into a parallel dimension—and even there, in an apocalyptic wasteland, he managed to find himself a sidekick/adoptive son.)
Cap is everything the Avengers want to stand for: American yet global, wise yet down-to-earth, an independent team player. In a weird way, he’s kind of the flip side of Luke Cage: A utility player pretending to be an all-star. If you were drawing up your dream roster for an Avengers team, there’s no question that you want Captain America leading that team.
A bow. An arrow. A sweet purple outfit. A sense of humor. An occasional tendency to completely forget that sense of humor and take things very seriously. An even-more-occasional tendency to fall into love affairs with teammates. If Captain America is what the Avengers want to be, Hawkeye is what they unmistakably are. Hawkeye clearly doesn’t belong in a room with gods and monsters and witches and robots—or rather, he only belongs there because he thinks he belongs there, or because he’s good enough at faking it.
And maybe “faking it” is the cornerstone of Avengers history. The Hulk never belonged on the team, but they faked it for a couple issues. Seven years ago, nobody thought the mainstream public would ever care about people like Thor or the Vision; now they’re starring in billion-dollar movies. They called themselves the Avengers before they even had anything to avenge. They called themselves Earth’s Mightiest Heroes—even when the Mightiest Hero on the Avengers was the Black Knight. They’re the Avengers. They get the job done. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes it’s an outright mess. Sometimes they need to warp reality. Sometimes it turns out everyone’s a Skrull. Sometimes Thunderstrike happens.
Sometimes you miss the mark. So it’s a good thing they have Hawkeye. He almost never runs out of arrows.
Agree? Disagree? Did I miss your favorite off-brand Avengers spinoff superteam? Email me at email@example.com, and I’ll respond in next week’s edition of the Geekly mailbag.