As legend has it, it all started with a golf game. It was 1961 and the game was being played by Jack Leibowitz, the head of DC Comics and Martin Goodman, the head of what would become known as Marvel Comics. Liebowitz told Goodman that DC had begun publishing a team-up book of all of it’s heavy hitters. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman ect.. They called the book The Justice League of America and it was doing pretty well. Goodman not wanting to be out published went back to the office with a mandate for Stan Lee, the head of his comics division, to come up with a team comic book.
Lee, at the time, was questioning his ongoing involvement in the comic book field. He wanted to be a serious writer and comics just weren’t going anywhere. With the help of his wife, Joan, he decided to give one more all-out effort.
Timely Comics, as Marvel was then known, had stopped production of all of its superhero titles. Gone were Captain America, The Human Torch and The Submariner. Lee didn’t have a ready group of characters to draw from as DC did, so Lee created a new super hero team. And thus was born The Fantastic Four
The Fantastic Four were a new type of hero. They were not noble in themselves. Their powers came out of tragedy and they lived within that tragedy. This was most notable with Ben Grimm who transformed into an orange rock covered monster. His ongoing battle with himself would be the beginning of The Marvel way of doing comics.
The Fantastic Four hit a nerve and became popular very quickly. Other heroes followed very quickly. First came The Hulk, Then Spider-man, Thor and Doctor Strange. Soon to follow were Antman and the Wasp then the X-Men and finally Iron Man.
Stan Lee and his cohorts had formed the foundation of The Marvel Universe. He had two superhero teams in the Fantastic Four and The X-Men. He now had heavy single characters in The Hulk, Spiderman and the rest but Marvel still didn’t have a Justice League.
It was 1963 and Marvel was doing great. Their books were being published, according to Stan Lee, world wide and so had a world wide fan base. These fans soon became loyal letter writers telling the artists and writers what they liked and did not like about their favorite super-heroes. Fan letters and answers soon began to appear as letter pages in comic books and the fans found they had a voice and were being taken seriously.
It was these fans that started to ask for team-ups between their favorite heroes. The Submariner had been resurrected in The Fantastic Four and fans wanted to see Prince Namor and The Human Torch go toe to toe in battle and team up of fire and water. Daredevil had begun to be published and again according to Stan Lee fans wanted a team up between him and Spiderman. Lee decided to take things a step further.
Lee went to Jack Kirby and discussed the idea of joining together a group of their biggest titles in an on going series. Back then Lee would give a story line or even sometimes just and idea and the artists would run with it. Later inserting dialogue and plot movement sentences. Lee and Kirby plotted out a tale concerning the mischief making god Loki and his tricking The Hulk into going rogue. This brought together Thor, Iron-Man, The Antman and the Wasp. Loki’s treachery is soon revealed, and The Hulk joins the team. The Avengers were born.
The Hulk would not stay with the team very long. He was mistrustful of people and so was also mistrusted. He would leave with in the first few issues. In issue number four The Submariner inadvertently sets off a series of events where the frozen body of Captain America is discovered. He had been in state of suspended animation since the end of WWII and The Avengers find Cap while searching for The Hulk. He is revived and becomes a man out of time and out of place in the modern world. He also becomes an Avenger and is the backbone of the team for many years.
The Avengers roster has been a thing that is in constant flux. The team never remains the same for long and at one point or another almost every hero in the Marvel Universe has been part of or at least fought alongside The Avengers.
The book had had at least two offshoots. The West Coast Avengers and The New Avengers. The New Avengers came about after the team and their headquarters were destroyed in a series called Avengers Disassembled.
With the coming of the first wave of Marvel Movies The Avengers are more popular than ever. There are animated TV series as well as direct to DVD animated films. The Comic book continues to be published and hopefully will remain so for many years to come.