Following a post-credits teaser in 2008’s Iron Man from director Jon Favreau, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has exploded into one of the most popular and profitable film franchises in movie history – not to mention kicking off Hollywood’s current shared movie universe trend. Since the time of its conception, the MCU (led by producer Kevin Feige and eventually bankrolled by Disney) has raked in $8.8 billion in global ticket sales – a number that will continue to inflate as Marvel Studios rolls out Phase 3 of their shared superhero storyline.
For half a decade The Avengers (on the big screen) were comprised of a small team – Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, and Black Widow – under the direction of S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Nick Fury. However, throughout Phase 2 and in preparation for Phase 3 (and beyond) new heroes have or will join the team, including: Vision, Ant-Man, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Man, and Black Panther, among others. The move to a more diverse and less centralized squad of heroes is in keeping with the comic books; The Avengers aren’t a static (albeit superpowered) extension of S.H.I.E.L.D., they’re an ever-changing group of people – willing to put their lives on the line to fight evil and protect the world (sometimes the universe).
In preparation for The Avengers‘ return in Captain America: Civil War, we’re looking back at when each of these heroes first appeared on the comic book page.
Note: While certain MCU characters (such as Star-Lord) have teamed with The Avengers in the past, our list is limited to current Marvel Studios characters that are confirmed for Avenger crossovers in the near-future. No doubt the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel will eventually share screen space with The Avengers but, for now, this list focuses on the heroes that are already set for direct face-time with the team. We’ll update the post accordingly as future confirmations are announced by Marvel.
Captain America (Steve Rogers)
First Appearance: Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941)
Unlike many entries on the list, Steve Rogers’ Captain America actually debuted in his own titular comic book series – rather than an anthology or supporting role in an established print story. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Rogers was conceived as a super-soldier for U.S. readers that could embody the bravery of American heroes fighting in World War II. Accordingly, the cover of Captain America Comics #1 featured Rogers crashing through the window of a Nazi stronghold to punch Hitler in the face. For years, the character was one of the most popular superheroes in print; however, following the end of WWII, Captain America was discontinued as comic book creators began to shift their focus to the nuclear age (and scientific experimentation gone wrong).
Nevertheless, the character returned in the Silver Age: specifically, The Avengers #4 (March 1964), which explained Captain America’s post-World War II absence. In a storyline that should be familiar to moviegoers, The Avengers #4 touted that “Captain America Lives Again,” asserting that Rogers had sacrificed his life to disarm an experimental plane, fell into the North Atlantic, and spent the next twenty years frozen in ice.
The Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes)
First Appearance: Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941)
While The Winter Soldier does not debut until Captain America #1 (January 2005), James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes appeared alongside Steve Rogers in Captain America Comics #1. Captain America’s young sidekick remained instrumental to the Rogers story for the majority of Captain America Comics‘ run (which lasted 75 issues) – even receiving a few crossover story opportunities of his own, including the Young Allies (where he fought Red Skull with the help of the Human Torch).
Yet, slight retcons to the Barnes storyline later asserted the real Bucky disappeared around the same time as Captain America – allowing the character to return as the brainwashed, cybernetic enhanced, Winter Soldier in Captain America #1. Similar to the films, Barnes spent decades as an instrument of the Soviet Department X – until Rogers confronts Barnes and helps the Winter Soldier regain lost memories of their time saving the world together. Three years later, following the events of Civil War, Barnes makes his debut as the new Captain America (in Captain America #34 – January 2008) after Rogers is “assassinated.”
First appearance: Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962)
While Scott Lang first appeared in Avengers #181 (May 1979), the Ant-Man mantle debuted in Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962). A reflection of the post-World War II boom in scientific discovery, Ant-Man is one of the earlier Marvel stories to depict the dangers (and wonders) of self-experimentation. When biophysicist Hank Pym discovers Pym Particles, which allow for manipulation of an organic object’s size, the researcher applies his work to superheroing – armed with a size-shifting suit and a helmet that enables communication with ants. Still, despite a large role for Pym in the Marvel Universe with the Avengers (notably as the original creator of Ultron), early Ant-Man stories placed the hero on a smaller stage – investigating unsolved mysteries and taking-on local thugs.
However, as Pym grew in importance to Marvel prints, busy building other Pym Particle-powered suits and identities for himself (including Yellowjacket), the publisher refreshed Ant-Man by introducing thief-turned hero Scott Lang. Lang initially stole the Ant-Man suit to help cure his daughter of a life-threatening heart condition but, one month after his debut in Avengers #181, Lang officially took over the role of Ant-Man in the Marvel Premiere #47 (April 1979) – with Pym’s blessing.
The Incredible Hulk
First Appearance: The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962)
As a reflection of nuclear proliferation, and subsequent unease around the world, the 1960s boomed with superhero (and villain) characters that were created via scientific mishap. Consequently, Kirby and editor Stan Lee endeavored to update a classic tale of scientific experimentation gone wrong, modernizing the horror of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for 1960s superhero readers, with the introduction of Bruce Banner and his alter-ego The Incredible Hulk. In May of 1962, Marvel debuted the character in his own print series, The Incredible Hulk – which was cancelled after only six issues.
The character’s comic book backstory saw scientist Bruce Banner caught in an experimental gamma radiation blast – moments after saving a teenager who had mistakenly driven his car onto the test field. The original Hulk was mindless and grey in color – only taking control between sunset and sunrise. Following cancellation of his solo book, the Incredible Hulk appeared in the Fantastic Four series – eventually landing as a founding member of The Avengers (in The Avengers comic series that debuted in 1963) while adopting familiar changes to the character: anger-triggered transformation and uncontrolled rage mode – that, at times, even positioned Banner as an antagonist to other Marvel heroes.
First Appearance: Journey into Mystery #83 (August 1962)
Formerly a horror anthology, Journey into Mystery shifted focus to science fiction and adventure stories as tales of nuclear experimentation-turned-bad became a pop culture trend throughout the 1960s. As a result, Lee, his brother Larry Lieber, and Kirby brainstormed ideas for a do-gooder that could up-the-ante for superheroes in print. In a time when comic book Earth was under constant attack by giant mutated monsters and advanced alien species, Lee decided that Marvel’s next hero would need to be a significant step up in superhuman abilities – turning to Norse mythology for a worthy god to headline the book.
Journey into Mystery #83 introduced readers to disabled medical student Donald Blake who, fleeing an invading alien force, discovers Thor’s enchanted hammer Mjolnir – and is transformed into the God of Thunder. Years later it was revealed that Donald Blake never turned into Thor, he had always been Thor. Odin had exiled his son on Earth (with no memory of life in Asgard) to teach him humility, after the All-Father became fed up with Thor’s brazen attitude.
Spider-Man (Peter Parker)
First Appearance: Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962)
Like many Marvel characters, Spider-Man did not simply swing into his own headlining series; first, he was introduced as a one-off tale (in Amazing Fantasy #15) to test reader interest. Lee followed a noticeable upward trend in teenage Marvel readers and decided to create a character specifically for adolescent fans – one that would be especially relatable to high school-age comic lovers. Ironically, Lee debuted his teenage hero in the final issue of Marvel’s anthology series Amazing Adult Fantasy – which was shortened to Amazing Fantasy for Spider-Man’s debut.
Despite fifty years since his debut, Spider-Man’s origins have not changed much – at least on the big screen. In his print debut, Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider while attending a science exhibit – gaining superhuman strength, agility, as well as the ability to cling to surfaces, then designs his own web shooters, before confronting his Uncle’s murderer and the realization that “With great power there must also come – great responsibility!” Months after his introduction, Marvel commissioned a starring series for Parker (after Amazing Fantasy #15 became one of the publisher’s top sellers) – reintroducing the hero in The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (March 1963).
Iron Man (Tony Stark)
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963)
Similar to Thor, Tony Stark was introduced in another of Marvel’s anthology series: Tale of Suspense. Prior to the arrival of Iron Man, Tales of Suspense was a science-fiction and mystery focused collection of shorts. In keeping with Lee’s penchant for mixing up expectations for superheroes in print, playing off world politics and scientific discoveries, the comic writer introduced a pro-military playboy capitalist – a hero that no one, especially in post-World War II America, should initially like.
Stark’s comic book origin is mostly akin to what moviegoers saw in Favreau’s 2008 film. After proving a gifted electrical engineering and inventor at MIT (as a teenager), Stark inherits the family business – when his parents are killed in a “car accident.” Following years of profiting from weapons manufacturing, Stark is injured by an explosion in Vietnam, taken prisoner by malevolent forces, and coerced into building a bomb. Fellow captive Ho-Yinsen (a famous scientist) installs a magnetic plate into Stark’s chest – to prevent residual shrapnel from puncturing the American’s heart – and the two build a powerful suit of armor that allows Stark to escape. However, unlike the film, Stark initially played up his millionaire industrialist persona, so that no one would suspect he was actually Iron Man; instead, claiming to send his “robot bodyguard” off to battle threats around the world.
First Appearance: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963)
The version of Nick Fury that first debuted in the early 1960s is very different, both in his role, personality, and physical appearance, from the modern iteration portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. Similar to Captain America, Sgt. Fury was introduced into the Marvel Universe as a response to post-World War II American society. Whereas Steve Rogers was re-introduced to explore how much had changed in U.S. culture since the end of WWII, Fury was designed as an opportunity to reflect on the fading memory of American soldiers fighting against Axis powers. To that end, the character’s titular book series portrayed Fury as a meathead general-type who led a special forces team (the infamous Howling Commandoes) on exceptionally dangerous missions.
Six months after his debut, the character appeared (albeit years later in his life) for Fantastic Four #21 (December 1963) – which revealed that, following WWII, Fury became a top CIA Agent. However, two years later, the character would be reworked again for Strange Tales #135 (August 1965), which laid groundwork for a modern Fury (read: the blue and white-clad S.H.I.E.L.D. operative), the version that would turn up throughout the Marvel print universe for decades.
First Appearance: The X-Men #4 (March 1964)
Longtime comic book fans are, likely, already aware of complicated copyright issues that allow both Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox to use the Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch characters – since both heroes were, at one point, instrumental to X-Men and Avengers storylines. Despite convoluted movie rights, the comic book Pietro Maximoff’s history in print is much more straightforward, debuting in The X-Men #4 (March 1964) as part of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – after his father, Magneto, recruits Quicksilver and his sister to the pro-Mutant cause.
When Magneto disappears, the pair decide to turn their evildoing ways around – joining the Avengers (in Avengers #16 – May 1965). Nevertheless, despite a general allegiance to The Avengers and X-Men teams, Quicksilver remained a wild-card, refusing to follow orders in certain situations, leading to numerous crossover appearances (in Fantastic Four and the Inhumans, among others) as well as solo spinoff stories – where Quicksilver forged his own way through the Marvel universe.
First Appearance: The X-Men #4 (March 1964)
Debuting in the same comic book as her brother (The X-Men #4), Scarlet Witch’s print appearances run parallel with Quicksilver for years. Yet, where Pietro begins to move from team to team, aiding and antagonizing different groups within the Marvel Universe, Wanda Maximoff remained a staple of Avengers stories for decades – even marrying fellow Avenger, Vision, in Giant-Size Avengers #4 (June 1975).
Throughout her time in print, subsequent writers significantly expanded Scarlet Witch’s power set – making her one of the most dangerous characters in the Marvel Universe. As a result, Wanda was instrumental in several key storylines, involving alternate realities and parallel universes, that connected the X-Men, Avengers, and Inhumans arcs, among others – many of which could one day be adapted for the big screen (studio copyright issues notwithstanding), including: Avengers Disassembled and House of M.
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #52 (April 1964)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made it clear that, even though Natalia Alianovna “Natasha” Romanova (Romanoff) has aligned with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the protection of Earth, she wasn’t always so benevolent (she still has “blood in her ledger”). In fact, for Black Widow’s first appearance in comic book pages, Lee, Heck, and Don Rico introduced the character as a full-on villain: a “gorgeous new menace” and antagonist to Iron Man, who was allied with Crimson Dynamo (a power-armored Russian agent).
Widow’s initial costume placed greater emphasis on seduction rather than the capable and deadly spy readers and moviegoers have come to know. Later variations of the character indicated that Black Widow was part of a soviet child-soldier program, Black Widow Ops, that brainwashed and trained young girls as spies for the U.S.S.R. Yet her original comic book origin implied that Romanova was orphaned at the Battle of Stalingrad, forging a fierce loyalty to her country that would later lead Black Widow to become a soviet spy – a spy that even attempted to steal Stark tech for Russia until romantic feelings for Clint Barton (Hawkeye) caused her to defect and, later, join The Avengers.
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #57 (September 1964)
Despite a slightly smaller role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, compared to some of his fellow Avengers, Hawkeye debuted in print long before many members of the team – and he, like Black Widow, debuted as an antagonist to Iron Man. First appearing in a Tales of Suspense storyline from 1964, Clint Barton was raised in the Carson Carnival of Traveling Wonders, following the loss of his own parents, and trained as a trick-shot archer, becoming “The World’s Greatest Marksman” in his “Hawkeye” carnival show – until he is inspired to do more with his life by Iron Man’s heroics.
Unfortunately, Hawkeye’s initial adventures in super-heroics do not go as planned and Barton is mistaken for a thief. As a result, the would-be do-gooder is forced into hiding, where he meets (read: is seduced by) Black Widow – and assists in a plan to steal Stark Industries tech. However, after Black Widow disappears in a fight with Iron Man, Barton learns from the error of his prior misadventure, saves Edwin Jarvis (Stark’s family butler), and goes on to reappear as a member of The Avengers after Iron Man vouches for him in The Avengers #16 (May 1965).
Black Panther (T’Challa)
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966)
Initially depicted as an antagonist in Fantastic Four #52, T’Challa was introduced to provide greater diversity and pro-civil rights support within Marvel’s heroes. The title “Black Panther” is an appointed rank within his tribe and T’Challa’s powers (enhanced senses and strength), in addition to his own skills as an acrobat, gymnast, and hunter, come from his connection to various Panther gods as well as sacred herbs. By the end of his debut issue, T’Challa is revealed to have lured the Fantastic Four to his home country, Wakanda, to test these skills – in preparation for battling ruthless opportunist Ulysses Klaw (who murdered T’Challa’s father in order to steal vibranium from the Panther Tribe).
Despite his deception, T’Challa became friendly with the Fantastic Four – which became an entry point into The Avengers. Still, it took three years for the character to be featured in a Black Panther-centric storyline (starting with The Avengers #62 – March 1969) and nearly four more before T’Challa was actually given his own series to headline (beginning in Jungle Action #6 – September 1973). After Jungle Action‘s cancellation in 1976, Black Panther was finally given the first issue of his own eponymous series in January 1977.
First Appearance: The Avengers #57 (October 1968)
The modern Vision debuted in The Avengers #57 – when Lee decided to introduce a new android hero to the Avengers team. That said, Lee drew significant inspiration from an earlier Vision character, the “Golden Age” Vision known as Aarkus who debuted in Marvel Mystery Comics #13 (November 1940) – which, coincidentally, marked the first collaboration between Marvel icons Simon and Kirby. Regardless of subtle similarities to his android successor, little of the Aarkus character, who was an extraterrestrial law enforcement officer, is present in modern Vision.
In spite of interest from fellow writer Roy Thomas, who wanted to bring back Aarkus, Lee opted to re-introduce Vision as an entirely separate character for The Avengers #57 with only minute physical and powered similarities to his predecessor. Instead, Vision was the “synthezoid” creation of Ultron, who used recorded brain patterns of deceased hero Wonder Man for the foundation of Vision’s personality/programming. Ultron used Vision to lure Hank Pym into a trap but, reasoning with Wonder Man’s sense of virtue, the Avengers manage to enlist the synthezoid in a fight against his creator. Shortly after, Vision takes his place as a long-running member of The Avengers.
First Appearance: Captain America #117 (September 1969)
While Black Panther was the first major African superhero in Marvel print, Sam Wilson (aka Falcon) was Marvel’s first high-profile African-American superhero. Continuing Lee’s pursuit to inject diversity into the Marvel universe, as well as give non-white kids and comic book readers heroes of their own, Wilson quickly became a major player in Captain America as well as The Avengers comics. Initially introduced as a well-intentioned bird-handler-for-hire, Wilson and his trained hawk, Redwing, get caught in an altercation between his employers (a group of former Nazis working for Red Skull) and Captain America.
The two heroes formed a successful partnership in print and on comic stands, prompting Marvel to rebrand the Captain America series as Captain America and the Falcon (for a majority of issues between #134 and #222) – during which Wilson also joined the Avengers. Decades later, when Rogers became too old to fight in the spotlight, he appoints Wilson as the new Captain America (in All-New Captain America #1 – November 2014).
War Machine (James Rhodes)
First Appearance: Iron Man #118 (January 1979)
James Rupert “Rhodey” Rhodes first appeared in Iron Man #118. After his helicopter is grounded by Vietcong soldiers, Rhodes aids Iron Man in destroying a rocket silo, and the two escape to neutral territory – where Stark attempts to enlist Rhodes as his personal pilot. Rhodes initially refuses the offer but eventually agrees – paving the way for his own path to superheroing.
At first a supporting character that aided in moving Stark around the world, before the billionaire could be seen flying around in the Iron Man suit, Rhodes eventually took over the Iron Man mantle in Iron Man #170 (May 1983) – when Stark became crippled by alcoholism and could no longer safely protect innocent lives. Stark eventually regained control of his vices and returned as Iron Man but, shortly after, designed the “Variable Threat Response Battle Suit, Model XVI, Mark I” – a new suit of armor for Rhodes to wear, nicknamed War Machine. War Machine officially debuted in Iron Man #282 (September 1992) – and, much like the movies, became a strategic asset for the U.S. government, among other organizations, often teaming with Stark on missions.
First Appearance: Battle Scars #6 (April 2012)
Some might scoff at the inclusion of Agent Coulson on a list of Avengers members but it was made clear (by the character’s death in The Avengers) that the titular group considered the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent one of their own. That said, while Coulson was of seismic importance in bringing the Avengers together on the big screen, and uniting them under a single cause, the character debuted on film first – then crossed over to print (followed by a full resurrection for network TV with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).
As a result, Coulson first appeared in Iron Man – as the human face of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the MCU (since Favreau saved Fury’s introduction for the post-credits). In the film, Coulson is Stark’s government liaison after returning from Afghanistan and aids in the arrest of Obadiah Stane. Still, following the character’s importance to Marvel’s live-action movies, Coulson eventually became a staple of the print universe too – debuting in Battle Scars #6 (April 2012) before joining the Secret Avengers (in Secret Avengers Vol. 2 #1 – February 2013).