For those who only know the Avengers from the blockbuster Marvel movies, it might be a bit overwhelming to discover that the superhero group has been around for 50 years, and not just as marketable properties to be reproduced on t-shirts, calendars and coffee mugs. The 50-year history of the Avengers have been 50 years of stories and characters, 50years of perpetual narrative at once both static and ever changing.
Hundreds of characters have, at one time or another, been a member of this team. Thousands of characters have come in and out of the one , big story that has been told by dozens of writers and artists since Lee and Kirby first decided to put their B-list characters together in the pages of The Avengers #1.
For those critics who find the Marvel movie-verse to be overstuffed with plot points and characters, it might be enlightening to consider that the bits of the story that have made it to the screen are, at the most, just the tip of an iceberg. The comic book universe of the Avengers is deep and wide in a way that the movies can never be, with stories that are told month after month, year after year, with no end in sight. The extraordinary expansiveness of the Avengers story and cast is one of the charms of the series.
Film critics may find it a bit much when the movies attempt to emulate this, but comic book fans just can’t get enough. Ant-Man, the Black Panther, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Spider-Man are all going to be in this spring’s Captain America: Civil War. To fans of the comic book Avengers that sounds just about right.
The complexity of the long history of the Avengers can, of course, be too much to handle for even the most diehard fans. Few of us have managed to read every issue of The Avengers, not to mention all of the spin-offs and crossovers and mini-series that go along with it. (Though a subscription to Marvel’s digital archives, Marvel Unlimited, makes it more possible now than ever.) There is a solution, however, a boon to those who want to know everything they need to know about the characters and the stories that have gone before, namely the new Avengers Encyclopedia from DK.
The Avengers Encyclopedia is a comprehensive and up-to-date introduction to everything Avengers, with entries on almost every major, and minor, character to ever play a part in this seemingly never ending tale. In addition, the book covers all of the major storylines from the past 50 years.
The characters are grouped according to the nature and source of their powers. The Hulk, Quicksilver, and Spider-Man, for example, are covered under the category of “Greatly Gifted”, a class meant to include all of those characters with super powers acquired through “mutation, experimentation, or ... accident.” The class of “Upgraded” heroes includes those who gained their powers through technological genius, characters like Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp and War Machine.
The “Mystic Ways” category encompasses those heroes and villains who have mystical powers—Scarlet Witch, Doctor Strange and Black Panther, for example—while the “Never Surrender” category includes those without super powers but who excel because of their “resilience, fortitude, and skill in combat”. This group includes Captain America, Hawkeye and the Black Widow.
Finally those characters who are non-human, or “More than Mortal”, include Thor, Vision, Ultron, and Thanos. In addition to the well-know characters, each class also examines heroes and villains who aren’t so well-known. A randomly selected page, for example, reveals details about Starfox, the Enchantress, the Space Phantom and Machine Man.
An additional classification is reserved for other super teams, both good and bad, that have interacted with the Avengers through the years. Some of these are well known, like S.H.I.E.L.D and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Some are more obscure, such as the Serpent Society and the Legion of the Unliving. This category also includes all of the iterations of the Avengers brand: West Coast Avengers, Secret Avengers, Avengers Academy, Great Lakes Avengers, Dark Avengers, Avengers A.I., and Pet Avengers.
Interspersed throughout the book are descriptions of the “Key Storylines”, the most important events in Avengers, and Marvel Universe, history. The origins of the Avengers is explored as well as the coming of Captain America, the transformation of the team from B-list heroes to C-list heroes like Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch, and the introduction of the Vision. All of the great story arcs are here: the Korvac Saga, Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Civil War, Secret Invasion, Age of Ultron, and more.
Every page offers a near sensory overload of images, illustrations from the countless artists that have worked on these characters through the years. Forbeck and company cover the material succinctly and accessibly, with entries that focus, not on the real-world origins of the characters, but on their in-universe stories.
The Avengers Encyclopedia won’t shed much light on the artists and writers who brought these characters and stories to life, or on the creative processes at the heart of comic book storytelling, but it will give the reader, die-hard Avengers fanatics or curious outsiders who are wondering what all the Avengers fuss is about, a glimpse into the complex and ever growing story of the Mighty Avengers.
“Avengers Assemble!” is the cry that Captain America uses to call his hero team to action. The Avengers have never before been assembled quite as exhaustively as in the pages of The Avengers Encyclopedia.
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