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Who’s Who in The Avengers – A Primer For Newbies

Joss Whedon is bringing The Avengers to movie theaters everywhere on May 4th.  Not everyone knows who The Avengers are or what they’re all about, so I thought we might take a look at the team before that movie comes out.

The Avengers began in the pages of Marvel comics way back in 1963.  They followed in the footsteps of DC comics who re-launched their team, the Justice League of America, in 1960 (The Brave and the Bold #28). A lot of heroes have been part of the team throughout the years, but the original team had Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye and the Black Panther.  Captain America joined a little later.  Similar to the JLA, the idea was the team would ‘assemble’ whenever there was a threat too big for any one superhero to handle.  Hence, they were ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’.

For the film, they are looking at a team of: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow, all of whom have been part of the team at one point or another. 

Let’s take a look at each one…

Iron Man

Tony Stark has a familiar back story; a billionaire playboy and genius driven to right a wrong, in his case, the use of technology and weapons created by his company to do harm.  When Tony is captured (depending on which reboot of the character you’re reading or watching, the details can change a little), his heart is damaged.  He uses whatever he can find to build a suit of armor to keep him alive and help him escape captivity.  When he returns home, he becomes obsessed with modifying the armor and using it to protect people.  He also changes the direction of his company away from weapons production and towards more humanitarian efforts and using technology to improve life for everyone.  In the comics, he learns that his technology, even bits of his Iron Man armor, has been stolen and used by super-villains and corporations who don’t share his altruistic motives, leading to a private war as Iron Man attacks everyone using his technology so he can destroy or disable it.  He also spirals down into alcohol addiction.


Son of Odin (The Allfather), Thor is a god of Norse mythology.  Like with Iron Man above, Thor’s back story in the Marvel continuity has changed a few times.  Originally, he was sent to earth to learn humility.  He was placed in the body of Don Blake and lived a pretty normal life without any memory of who he was until he found Mjolnir, Thor’s Hammer, in a cave.  Striking the hammer turned him into Thor, restoring his memories and power.  The movie version followed a similar storyline where Odin banishes Thor but he doesn’t become Don Blake (though he did assume the name, however briefly).  In all the versions of Thor’s backstory, he has to learn humility and he ends up caring, deeply, for the mortals of earth, choosing to protect them from harm by joining The Avengers.

Captain America

Cap was born Steve Rogers, a guy who just wanted to serve his country during the biggest war of all time – WWII.  Only he was classified as ‘4F’, meaning his physical fitness didn’t meet the bare minimums for inclusion with the armed forces.  Undeterred, Steve continued to try until he caught the eye of a scientist looking for a certain kind of man for a very special program – the Super Soldier program.  Steve was injected with a serum that transformed him into Captain America, who fought the Nazi’s alongside allied forces until he was lost in the North Atlantic and frozen in a block of ice for decades.  Now a ‘man out of time’, he struggles with how the world has changed in his absence and once again takes up the stars and stripes to fight as an Avenger.


Bruce Banner, a genius scientist working with gamma radiation, creates a bomb for the military.  But when an innocent is put in danger, Banner races out to save him, but is himself exposed to massive amounts of the radiation.  This exposure creates a sort of Jekyll & Hyde creature, part Banner, part something else – The Hulk, who appears whenever Banner’s emotions spike to an extreme.  Throughout the years, Hulk has been portrayed as a mindless beast and an incredibly intelligent creature depending on the writer and, oddly enough, the color of his skin (Green, Red & Gray).  A common thread is the idea of Banner and the Hulk having two separate personalities sharing a single body – often times even talking with each other internally (Banner working to convince Hulk to help people instead of hurting them, for example).

I feel it’s necessary to note that, while the Hulk is one of the most popular characters in the Marvel wheelhouse, his portrayals at the movie have yet to connect with mainstream audiences.  Many remember, quite fondly, the tv series starring Bill Bixby & Lou Ferigno as David Banner & The Hulk but have yet to embrace the movie versions fully.


Clint Barton is an orphan who grew up around circuses.  Originally thought a villain in the Marvel-verse, Barton cleared his name and joined the ranks of The Avengers, eventually leading the West Coast version of the team for quite a while.  Although he is known as ‘The World’s Greatest Archer’, Hawkeye has no superpowers.  Instead, he uses special arrowheads designed to take down the supercriminals he faces (with gasses, nets, explosives, etc.).  Early in his career, he was linked romantically to The Black Widow, but eventually married former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Barbara “Bobbi” Morse – aka Mockingbird.

Note in the comics, Hawkeye wore a mask but so far, it doesn’t look like he will in the upcoming movie.  I guess that’s ok.

The Black Widow

Natasha Romanova is a complicated character of the Marvel-verse.  Born in Russia, she was originally a spy and assassin for the mother-land.  Eventually, she defects to the U.S. where she becomes an agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. under Nick Fury and fights alongside The Avengers.  A relationship with Daredevil prompts her to become a superhero in her own right, even joining The Avengers for a time, before returning to S.H.I.E.L.D.  She has also been a double-agent, using her spycraft to infiltrate enemies in order to bring them down from the inside.  Like Hawkeye, she has no superpowers but is very well trained.

As the only woman in this version of the team, I like that they have thus far portrayed Widow as a kickass, take no crap character.  Given her teammates, I really want her to hold her own.

Primed? Here’s Trailer #2 for Marvel’s The Avengers, opening in theaters on May 4th:

About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

6 Comments on Who’s Who in The Avengers – A Primer For Newbies

  1. Al from Italy // April 7, 2012 at 9:12 am //

    The original Avengers (founders) are Thor, Iron Man, Wasp, Ant-Man and Hulk. Captain America joined after a few issue (in Avengers #4). Hawkeye only from Avengers #16 and Black Panther after awhile (Avengers #52 – four years later)

    Al from Italy

  2. “A lot of heroes have been part of the team throughout the years, but the original team had Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye and the Black Panther.”

    This is flat wrong.

    Not a good way to get readers past the jump.

  3. When does Emma Peel show up?


  4. My question, in a movie narrative sense, is how the non-superpowered team members, Hawkeye and Black Widow, are going to be overshadowed by the others, heavy hitters all.

    • Natasha will infiltrate the enemy forces, Clint will have to shoot a button the size of a penny from across a room full of bad guys because Iron Man, Hulk, Thor & Cap will all be trapped in some sort of energy field…

      Just guessin…


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