When Marvel wanted a Justice League of their own, they turned to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to assemble a team of heroes fit to rival DC's successful superhero squad. This wound up taking the form of The Avengers, which brought in pre-existing heroes from the big M's archives and grouped them together under the awesome (if a little boastful) name of "Earth's Mightiest Heroes".
Since their first appearances in the early '60s, the lineup has changed and evolved a huge amount over the years. Not only that, but there have also been many splinter groups and spin-offs from the original team that have become popular in their own right. It's tough to keep track of all the different iterations that have appeared, so we took it upon ourselves to run through some of the best and brightest teams that Marvel has to offer. Here are the 15 Best Versions Of The Avengers.
16 U.S. Avengers
We open with the most recent team on this list – the patriotic U.S. Avengers. Debuting in January 2017, the series is a light-hearted take on the superteam, packed with quips and self-referential humor. Led by Citizen V, better known as X-Man Sunspot, the team of Red Hulk, Squirrel Girl, Cannonball, Iron Patriot, and Enigma join forces to help the time-displaced future Captain America defeat the flamboyant, pirate-themed villain known as the Golden Skull.
As the series is still in its infancy, it's hard to make a proper judgment call on how well they work as a team. They're off to a solid start, however. They've chalked up several wins and have their own rallying cry of “Unite!” already sorted. We'll see how the team dynamic progresses as the issues go on, but General Robert Maverick aka Red Hulk looks to be the stand-out so far, if only for wearing massive aviator shades and maintaining his luxurious mustache in Hulk mode – a trick that even Thunderbolt Ross couldn't pull off.
15 Avengers of the Supernatural
This one is probably the most obscure of the bunch, but they're still worthy of a mention. The Avengers of the Supernatural were created by alien supervillain and television binge-watcher Mojo. Mojo's team takes some of the most powerful supernatural heroes around and smashes them together, brainwashing Blade, Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider, Manphibian, Man-Thing, and Satana to be his puppets.
Mojo transports the newly formed Avengers Unity Squad/Division to Mojoworld to star in his new reality show entitled “Martian Transylvania Super Hero Mutant Monster Hunter High School.". The Unity Division are cast as the gothic outcasts and his supernatural squad as the geeks. Surely, it would have made more sense to cast the latter as the goths? Anyway, after the Spirit of Vengeance has a problem with the writing of Johnny Blaze's character (we're not making this up), it repossesses Blaze and breaks Mojo's influence over the entire team. Sensing a lot of souls in need of punishment, Ghost Rider goes penance-crazy and has to be taken down and subdued by both the Unity and Supernatural teams. It's a shame we haven't seen more of them, but it seems unlikely that anything other than exceptional circumstances like an alien brainwashing will ever bring them back together.
14 Marvel Adventures: The Avengers
Having a sense of the history of the different personalities that make up the Avengers is definitely a plus. On the flip side, it can be refreshing to step away from established continuities and tell a story without worrying about canon. This is the case with the Marvel Adventures series, an all-ages comic designed to be more inclusive to younger fans. The Marvel Adventures Avengers took many of the old-school lineups and revamped them slightly. Joining the core members of Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man, and Wolverine were Storm and Giant-Girl. If you haven't heard of Giant-Girl before, it's because she was made up for the series, with longtime Wasp Janet Van Dyne becoming the female answer to Hank Pym's towering alter-ego.
These Avengers are like a greatest hits compilation with some added new material. While they're not nearly as iconic as some of the other entries on this list, we felt they needed a shout-out. The series is a great introduction to the wide world of superhero fun for younger fans, and it features Storm as part of the team, which is a rarity. During their stint, they were part of some truly bizarre stories, including one where Ego the Living Planet has a crush on Earth and tries to date it. We all have to start somewhere, and future comic nerds could do a lot worse than the Marvel Adventures Avengers.
13 West Coast Ultimates
Unlike the original West Coast Avengers (we'll get back to them), the Ultimate universe's version of the spin-off group was actually made in secret from S.H.I.E.L.D. members. The West Coast Ultimates consisted of Quake, Tigra, Wonder Man, Vision, and the Black Knight, which covers all the bases needed for an effective team. Wonder Man and Vision are classic picks, but the addition of characters like Quake, Tigra, and especially the Black Knight make them an unconventional collective and a true team of underdogs, which is basically the whole point of the West Coast Avengers. Their intentions were good, but were spun by some bad people into something sinister.
Unfortunately, the West Coast Ultimates didn't stick around for long. They had teething problems from the start when they fail their mission to find real-world baddie Osama Bin Laden. Wonder Man takes the loss hard and Hulks-out, forcing the rest of the team to fight to contain him. After this, they're shelved and put in stasis, only to be used as political pawns when Spokesperson Ford, special adviser to the Governor of California, finds out about them and sets them on the Ultimates. The team appeared in a handful of titles before being narratively swept under the rug following an averted attack on California. The West Coast Ultimates weren't given much of a chance to shine and were mostly used as a distraction for the real Ultimates to deal with. Still, with comics being comics, there's always a chance they might be brought back in some form.
12 The Mighty Avengers
The first Marvel civil war was responsible for some big changes. After the pro-registration side “won” in a costly victory, the Fifty States Initiative was put into place, meaning that each American state had an Avengers team of their own. Tony Stark becomes the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and convinces Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) to help him choose their team for the state of New York. The comic offers a unique look into the selection process as Stark and Danvers talk shop and the downsides to having an all-powerhouse squad. Tony pushes for a more balanced side, featuring some “classic” choices and some wild cards. They agree on themselves, Wasp, Wonder Man, Sentry, and Black Widow, but they still feel they need a Wolverine and a Thor. Carol knows just the guy who can play both roles, and the future Captain Marvel calls on Ares to be the team's angry heavy-hitter. (Why they felt Sentry didn't fit that bill...is a question best left unasked.)
It's a solid team, but it wasn't intact for long. The Secret Invasion event tore the team apart, with Janet Van Dyne apparently dying in Secret Invasion #8 (spoiler – she didn't actually die, as she was shunted to the Microverse instead). The “Mighty” moniker persevered and has been used by several teams since, with Hank Pym stepping up to lead the second incarnation. The original team may not have lasted, but it was a nicely varied group that gave secondary characters like Sentry and Ares more focus and depth.
11 The New Avengers (2005)
In what could be seen as a rather cynical business move by some, Marvel put most of their most popular characters into one team in 2004, making The New Avengers like a comic book version of an All-Star game. The original Avengers disband after an incident with an insane Scarlet Witch and the superhero landscape is left changed. Electro tries to re-establish his street cred in the fallout and causes a mass breakout at supervillain prison The Raft, which draws several of New York's most famous heroes to the same spot. Captain America believes this to be fate and creates a new team featuring himself, Luke Cage, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Spider-Woman (actually Skrull Queen Varanke in disguise as Jessica Drew). Wolverine joins several issues later, as do Sentry and Ronin.
Mixing the tried-and-tested with several left-field choices is usually a good formula for any Avengers team to follow. Luke Cage is an effective leader and syncs up well with the team, especially Spider-Man. Like Tony Stark says when forming the Mighty Avengers, every team needs a ninja. Daredevil counts himself out, but recommends deaf ninja Echo for the role. Echo/Ronin has the unusual power of photographic reflexes, meaning she can perfectly copy the movement of others, which has made her an Olympic-level athlete and a concert-level pianist just by studying other people. She's a huge asset to the team, and one of the more interesting Avengers call-ups.
10 The New Avengers (2010)
Every team goes through some form of evolution. Shifting allegiances, personality clashes and sudden deaths usually go hand-in-hand with the world-saving business, and no lineup is immune. Even with that in mind, The New Avengers still underwent a massive shake-up for Marvel's Heroic Age rebranding, and the team was tinkered with to dramatic effect.
Luke Cage was still the leader, but now he was barking orders at a changed side. Avenger mainstays Iron Man and Captain America were gone and replaced with Victoria Hand, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Mockingbird, Ms. Marvel, and the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing. Spidey and Wolverine hung around and the team continued to expand, roping in long-time holdouts like Daredevil and Doctor Strange. No matter which way you cut it, the 2010 iteration is seriously impressive, and it's hard to think of many villains that could challenge their combined might. Unfortunately, Jessica Jones left the team because of personal reasons and Luke Cage followed soon after, closing this particular chapter of The New Avengers' history.
9 The Uncanny Avengers
In 2012's Avengers vs. X-Men crossover events, Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Xavier's Mighty Mutants fought each other over the small matter of the destructive Phoenix Force returning and threatening all life on Earth. Their battle was a bitter one, and former friends are forced to come to blows over the fate of young mutant Hope Summers. Once the Phoenix Force threat was neutralized and the teams are on the same page again, Captain America creates a new squad using heroes from both sides to attempt to mend some of the damage done and forge a friendlier future.
Cap's dream team is initially made up of Havok, Rogue, Scarlet Witch, Thor, and Wolverine. Their alliance is an uneasy one to start, with the dramatic encounter with the corrupting Phoenix Force hanging over many of the characters. After they stop arguing enough to work together and defeat Red Skull, the team holds a press conference to announce several new recruits (namely Sunfire, Wasp and Wonder Man) and their brand new name- the Avengers Unity Squad. Since then, the lineup has been in flux, but has continued to mix-and-match with the best that both ends of the Marvel-verse have to offer.
8 The Young Avengers
A team consisting of young versions of classic heroes doesn't sound like the best idea. The roster of Iron Lad, Hulkling, Patriot, Wiccan, and the Kate Bishop Hawkeye sounds like a supermarket off-brand version of the classic Avengers. However, the series' solid writing and gorgeous art helped elevate it beyond such negative connotations and it became popular, earning widespread critical praise and several awards.
The series balanced the different sides of its characters well and made them both kickass heroes and relatable personalities. Many of the Young Avengers are still coming to terms with their own identities and still have a few growing pains to go through. That's not to mention the stresses and strains of having to suit up and defend the innocent from potentially world-ending threats on a regular basis. If drama is conflict, then this might be one of the most dramatic versions ever, with its heroes fighting to establish themselves as individuals on several levels.
7 The Ultimates
Comic book series are technically rebooted whenever a new writer/artist comes on board, but Marvel's Ultimate line of comic books wanted to do away with decades of accrued backstory and give readers an opportunity to jump in on the ground floor with some of its iconic characters and superhero teams. You didn't need to know much about Captain America or Iron Man heading into this one, because The Ultimates gave you everything you needed to know about the characters, with their origins tweaked to better fit in with modern sensibilities and technology. The Ultimates are the Ultimate universe's version of the Avengers, and it consists of all the names you'd expect.
Led by the Samuel L. Jackson lookalike Nick Fury, Iron Man, Giant-Man, Wasp, Captain America, and Thor joined the fray to become Earth-1610's Mightiest Heroes. The series asked questions about a superteam's presence in a changed world, and a lot of it seems to be a reflection on the genre itself. The team was incredibly dysfunctional, with Cap being a bit of an old-fashioned bully, Stark finding solace in drink, and Bruce Banner turning himself into a murderous SuperHulk driven by his crippling insecurity. Things balanced out eventually, and the team's roster ballooned and shrank in the years following. Fans remain divided on The Ultimates, but its influence can still be felt today, especially with Joss Whedon's Avengers movies taking several cues from the series.
6 The West Coast Avengers
In 1984, co-creators Roger Stern and Bob Hall decided that New York had way too many heroes for its own good, and decided to give California some love. Enter The West Coast Avengers, the first Avengers offshoot led by Hawkeye. Clint Barton assembled a talented team with his old pal “Iron Man”, Mockingbird, Tigra and Wonder Man. The only snag is that this Iron Man suit doesn't have Tony Stark inside -- rather, his BFF James “Rhodey” Rhodes has taken on the role.
Rhodes has assumed the Iron Man identity in secret to cover for Tony, and as a result, he has to pretend to be Stark, always walking around in the armor and nodding his way through Hawkeye's stories of their Avenging days. Of course, his deception is eventually discovered, and it leaves Barton shocked and angry. They manage to work out their differences, however, and Rhodes becomes a fully-fledged member of the group in his own right. Despite being more of a B-Team, they had many interesting and compelling adventures over their heroic stint and still remain one of the more popular splinter groups despite the original team having disbanded long ago. Rhodey and Hawkeye don't get nearly enough credit for all the things they do.
5 The Dark Avengers
We've had supervillain teams before. We've had villains posing as heroes before. However, the Dark Avengers takes those concepts several steps further by having a whole team of villains pretending to be The Avengers. Here's the kicker though – they were government sanctioned, meaning they had free rein to do whatever they wanted, no matter how nefarious.
Norman Osborn becomes a hero after the events of Dark Reign and assembles a new team of supposed good guys from the Thunderbolts and his criminal connections. Ares and Sentry are recruited, as well as several baddies in heroic disguises, like Venom as “Spider-Man”, Wolverine's disturbed son Daken playing the role of his clawed father, and supervillainess Moonstone as “Ms. Marvel”. With his Dark Avengers, Osborn has a personal hit squad ready to do his bidding, including waging a war on Asgard and destroying it. It's undeniably cool to see dark versions of classic heroes, but the team dynamic is inarguably the thing that made them special. It turns out that grouping a bunch of selfish and evil opportunists isn't the best way to forge a lasting alliance, and the team soon implodes under the weight of all of its members pulling in different directions.
4 The Roy Thomas Era Avengers
It must be tough to follow in the immediate footsteps of someone like Stan “The Man” Lee, but writer Roy Thomas did just that -- and he did it in style. Rather than coasting on the established team, Thomas added several newer characters to the mix. Along with the classic lineup, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Hercules, and Black Panther were added to shake up the formula, and it worked wonders.
In an iconic character twofer, Thomas introduced the Vision and Ultron around the same time, with Vision turning on his master and eventually becoming a full-time member of the group. Black Panther was also a fantastic pick, with the character's inherent nobility and desire to protect his country adding a new element to the core group of heroes. In fact, most of Roy Thomas' choices are considered to be classic Avengers members, and have appeared in numerous versions of the team (in both the comic books and movies) ever since.
3 Cap's Kooky Quartet
In Avengers #16, Ant-Man, Wasp, and Iron Man decide they need a break from the constant danger and destruction, electing to take an extended leave of absence. With Thor already gone, Cap is left commanding an empty team, and auditions are held for temp Avengers. Hawkeye approaches Cap, but as he'd been a villain up until this point, Steve is reticent, especially as Barton broke into the Avengers Mansion as proof of his prowess. However, Clint explains he's simply been misunderstood and wants to make things right. The announcement of Hawkeye's hiring gets the attention of the brother-sister duo of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who also apply. Now numbering four, the team that became known as the Kooky Quartet picked up the superhero slack and continued tackling Avengers-sized problems.
Okay, so the name doesn't inspire confidence, but the Quartet have their own strengths. The Avengers formula was altered to invite more conflict with three reformed villains attempting to redeem themselves and their struggles to do so. It also highlighted one of Cap's best qualities – his ability to see the good in people and look past a person's history, no matter how checkered or questionable.
2 The Founding Avengers
No matter how big you get, it's always important to remember where you came from. This is certainly true of the original Avengers, who kicked off the whole idea of a Marvel superteam in the first place. Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Hulk, and Thor headed up the first lineup, but many people would argue that the team didn't hit its stride until several issues in, when the unfrozen Captain America was brought into the fold to lead The Avengers.
The reason for the formation of the team is rather underwhelming. Rather than being brought together to fight for the common good, teenager Rick Jones sends out a radio broadcast and all the heroes show up separately and just decide to team up. Thor, Iron Man, and the Pyms set about finding a supposedly evil Hulk, but soon discover that it's one of Loki's illusions. For some reason, the real Hulk is working in a circus as a strongman, complete with clown make-up (no, really). The group finally assembles in time to defeat Loki and realize that their combined powers make them a formidable force. Janet Van Dyne names them The Avengers, and with that final panel, comic book history was made.
1 Honorable Mention: The MCU Avengers
2012's The Avengers was both an ending and a jumping off point for the entire MCU. After years of waiting, fans finally got to see Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) deliver on his Avengers Initiative and saw the group come together to fight Loki's alien army. For those out there not familiar with comic books, this was their introduction to the superteam, and it's a truly solid roster. The almost omnipresent Cap is there, along with Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. The team has its heavy-hitters like Banner and Thor, but also has an important human element with Natasha and Clint.
As the movies have evolved, so too has the roster. Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Falcon join the team at the end of Age of Ultron to replace Thor and Hulk, who are busy dealing with Asgardian matters and an existential crisis respectively (though they'll soon be teaming up themselves, of course). One thing the MCU has been particularly careful with is balancing these big personalities and keeping the roster fresh. The future of the Avengers is left with a question mark after the team breakdown in Captain America: Civil War. However, as Cap states in his letter to Tony, the Avengers are a family, and despite their differences, they'll always be there for each other. As we lead up to Infinity War, there's no telling what form the new, new Avengers will take, but considering the wealth of awesome heroes already introduced and the ones left to come, it's probably going to be pretty special indeed.
Did your favorite iteration of Earth's Mightiest Heroes make the cut? How do the live-action Avengers stack up against their comic book counterparts? Let us know in the comments!