The Avengers comic book first appeared in 1963, for fans who wanted a Marvel version of DC’s Justice League. In the first issue, Loki tricked the Hulk into going on a rampage and misdirected to Thor a call for help meant for the Fantastic Four, but Iron Man, Ant-Man, and the Wasp also responded. They worked so well together taking control of the Hulk that they formed the Avengers, inviting the Hulk to join as well. In 1964, they discovered Captain America in the ice. Fans complained about trying to follow two storylines, with occasional timeline conflicts between the hero’s own comic and what was going on in the Avengers, so the lineup of the Avengers was changed. Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man (this was Ant-Man, who always had trouble getting perfect control over his size), and The Wasp were out, though Captain America remained because his comics took place in the Forties. Replacing them were Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch. But over the years practically every superhero became a member for at least a little while, and there were several versions of New Avengers, Dark Avengers, Young Avengers, Heroic Avengers, and Secret Avengers. Hawkeye led the West Coast Avengers.

In 1968, Vision, an android with synthetic human organs, sought to destroy the Avengers, but changed sides and joined them. Eventually, he married the Scarlet Witch. In 1971, they were involved in the Kree-Skrull War with Captain Marvel, and in 1973 they took on the mad Titan Thanos. At one point, several Avengers travelled back in time and met the heroes of the Marvel Western comics—Kid Colt, the Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid, and the early Ghost Rider. In 2003, a villain from the DC comics named Krona breached the barrier of the Marvel/DC universes and pitted the Avengers against the Justice League. In 2004, the Avengers were disassembled in a huge crossover, beginning in Avengers #500 and moving on to Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Fantastic Four, and Spectacular Spiderman. Pretty much everyone died when the Scarlet Witch went insane and warped reality. It took Doctor Strange to sort it out. In 2006, the Civil War series was produced—seven issues in which the Avengers split up and fought like a typical Marvel family, following either Iron Man or Captain America, all because of the Superhero Registration Act. In 2010, the Avengers fought the Dark Avengers, and in 2012 it was the Avengers versus the X-Men. That was the year the Avengers movie came out, written and directed by Joss Whedon of Buffy and Angel fame.

In the movie, Loki of Asgard, Thor’s half-brother, encounters the leader of the Chitauri aliens, called the Other (Alexis Denisof, one of Joss Whedon’s stable of actors). In exchange for the Tesseract, the Chitauri will provide Loki with an army to help him conquer Earth. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) arrive at a SHIELD research facility, where Doctor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard) is studying the Tesseract. Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) tells them the Tesseract is emitting strange energy. It opens a wormhole for Loki, who seizes the device and enslaves several agents, including Selvig and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Fury triggers the Avengers Initiative. Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow is sent to recruit Doctor Bruce Banner to trace the Tesseract’s gamma emissions. Coulson visits Tony Stark/Iron Man, and Fury contacts Steve Rogers/Captain America.

In Stuttgart, Barton, under Loki’s control, steals iridium necessary to stabilize the Tesseract, while Loki causes a distraction. Rogers, Stark, and Romanoff arrest him. On the way to delivering him to SHIELD, Thor turns up and frees him, hoping to convince him to change his plan, but Stark and Rogers convince Thor to take Loki to SHIELD’s Helicarrier (Where do they get those wonderful toys?) and lock him up. In every Avengers movie there is at least one of those hero-on-hero battles that fans can argue about; here, the best one is Thor versus Iron Man—magic versus technology—and it’s impressive.

The Avengers argue over what to do with Loki and the fact that SHIELD itself wants to use the Tesseract as a weapon. Loki’s minions attack the ship, causing Banner to Hulk out. Stark and Rogers work on the disabled engine, Thor tries to control the Hulk, Romanoff knocks out her good friend Barton. Loki stabs Coulson to death, throws Thor off the ship, and escapes. The Hulk plummets to the ground. Loki uses the Tesseract to open a wormhole above Stark Tower in New York, through which the Chitauri alien army pours into Earth.

The rest of the movie is Avengers versus aliens in a spectacular battle in the streets and skies of New York. Each hero gets to shine, crack a joke or two, work with the other Avengers, save each other’s lives, and save the city and the world from destruction. In a mid-credit scene, the defeated Other reports to his master, who is—not a well-kept secret—Thanos.

Mark Ruffalo got to play both the genius Bruce Banner and, through motion-capture technology, the Hulk. For the Hulk’s dialog, such as it is, they used a blend of Ruffalo’s and Lou Ferrigno’s voices. Both the Black Widow and Hawkeye had small roles in previous Marvel films, but here they get to steal scenes, as the only Avengers with no superpowers—only mad skills and superhuman training. Joss Whedon said the main story of the Avengers is that this motley collection of misfits, who do not play well with others, work together like clockwork when necessary. He compared them to the Dirty Dozen. I would compare them to Buffy’s Scooby gang, where a Slayer, a Werewolf, a Witch or two, and often a Vampire work similar magic together. The working title for the Avengers production was Group Hug. Alan Silvestri did the music, with the London Symphony and Abbey Road Studios. The movie got 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.