One year ago, we saw the epic conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 3 in Avengers: Endgame. The fourth movie in the Avengers franchise is now the highest grossing movie of all time (suck it, Avatar!), and it all started with a comic book published in September 1963.
Let’s take a look back at Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s The Avengers #1, the corny and complex origin of Earth’s Mightiest Super-Heroes.
The Avengers #1 (1963): The Coming of the Avengers!
Story: Stan Lee
Art: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers, Letters: S. Rosen
The Avengers #1 starts with Loki , who is imprisoned in the Isle of Silence, trying to come up with an elaborate plan to lure Thor back to Asgard so he can finally defeat him… FOREVER!
Loki thinks of coming up with a big enough threat to force Thor, God of Thunder, to emerge from his human alter ego, Don Blake, Doctor of Medicine. He could have easily done this by just straight up magically sending a mental message to Blake to call out Thor, but where’s the fun in that?
The trickster god sees the Hulk jumping around and decides this is the big enough threat. He manipulates the green brute into his diabolical scheme: smashing a railroad trestle and endangering dozens of incoming train passengers.
The Hulk demolishes the trestle but quickly snaps out of Loki’s enchantment and saves the train from derailment.
Nobody got hurt but events have been set into motion. The Hulk is now on the run because everyone thinks he’s a massive jerk for endangering people’s lives. As an extremely dangerous fugitive, he is now on the radar of [checks notes] Rick Jones and the Teen Brigade?
A Group of Youthful Radio Ham Enthusiasts
Rick Jones , a close personal friend of the Hulk, is rightfully concerned. He wants to protect his big green friend but he also wants to keep other people safe, so with the help of his radio ham enthusiast pals in the Teen Brigade, he sends out a call for assistance to the only super-hero game in town: the Fantastic Four!
But they’re busy, and Loki jammed their radio ham waves, so other heroes accidentally heard the call.
Rick explains the situation to Iron Man, Ant-Man, and the Wasp while Thor, who just arrived with the other heroes, immediately leaves because he is an easily distracted baby. The Thunder God quickly figures out that this is the work of Loki, so he sets out to visit his bro in Asgard so they could have words.
The Marvel of the Age
Thanks to ants, the other heroes who are not easily distracted babies manage to track down the Hulk who has joined a traveling circus while pretending to be an animal-juggling robot named Mechano.
To reiterate, the Hulk joined the circus, pretended to be a robot named Mechano, and juggled animals to lay low while he’s figuring out his next steps. That is amazing.
Iron Man, Ant-Man, and the Wasp try to capture Fake Circus Robot using steel cylinders, an army of ants, and nylon netting. Shockingly, none of that works.
This is the oddest part of The Avengers #1 because everyone just makes the weirdest decisions.
Meanwhile, in Asgard, Thor goes through a bunch of dumb obstacles like tangle roots and volcanic gas globules to finally confront Loki in the Isle of Silence.
Loki puts up a decent fight using a troll and some trickery, but Thor eventually overpowers the God of Mischief.
Back on Earth, the Hulk brawls with Iron Man. They end up in a random auto factory for some reason and things get pretty violent.
The fight was starting to get really good but Thor had to arrive with Loki and ruins everything by explaining that it was all Loki’s fault. Thanks, Thor!
Loki turns himself radioactive, threatening to doom everyone if they won’t leave him and Thor alone to resume their battle. He really hates his half-brother.
But before he can follow through with his threat, a bunch of ants open a trap door which is conveniently right underneath Loki’s feet. He falls straight into a lead-lined tank used to contain radioactive wastes. Why an auto factory would have all of this is a mystery.
With Loki defeated, the five heroes decide to start working together as The Avengers, even though they spent most of the issue fighting each other and Thor not really participating in any group activity aside from showing up at the Teen Brigade’s headquarters only to immediately leave.
Something Colorful and Dramatic
While The Avengers #1 is filled with corny dialogue and odd ideas (to be fair, it was the ’60s), Stan and Jack managed to come up with a dense story that involves teamwork, magic, action, distinctive characters, and ridiculousness.
The whole concept of a weird combination of characters coming together because of a strange quirk of fate, including being manipulated by a trickster god and a gang of teenage ham radio enthusiasts, makes this issue iconic.
It sets the most defining characteristic of the Avengers — they misunderstand each other, they fight, then they team up to take down a common threat.
It’s so defining that elements of this story have been used in the MCU movies, most notably when Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America fought each other before teaming up and when Loki messed with the Hulk’s mind to cause chaos in Marvel’s The Avengers.
It’s amazing to think that one of the biggest movie franchises in history, which had the habit of being too dark and dramatic at times, was based on this quirky, colorful, and charmingly corny comic book without really changing the fundamentals of how the characters interact with each other.
The Avengers #1 (1963) is available wherever fine digital comics are sold. You can also buy a print copy if you have thousands of dollars to spare. The issue is also part of collections like Essential Avengers Volume 1 and Marvel Masterworks: Avengers Volume 1.