The Avengers made their debut in Marvel Comics’ Avengers #1 (September, 1963), written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby. The book primarily consisted of characters previously introduced in Marvel’s various books since the company’s revitalization with Fantastic Four #1 in 1961.
The evil Asgardian god of mischief, Loki (Journey Into Mystery #85, 1962), sought revenge against his half-brother, the thunder god Thor (Journey Into Mystery #83, 1962), for his constant interference in Loki’s schemes. Part of his plan involved Loki pitting Thor against the Hulk (The Incredible Hulk vol. 1 #1, 1962), the alter-ego of scientist Bruce Banner who, after he was exposed to gamma radiation, emerged whenever Bruce got angry. However, Loki’s scheme backfired when he inadvertently involved billionaire inventor Tony Stark, who created a suit of armor to become Iron Man (Tales of Suspense #39, 1963), scientist Henry Pym, whose matter-shrinking Pym Particles and ant communicating helmet let him become Ant-Man (Tales to Astonish #27, 1962), and heiress Janet Van Dyne, Henry’s girlfriend who sprouted synthetic wings when she used Pym Particles to shrink as the Wasp (Tales to Astonish #44, 1963). Together with the Hulk, the heroes banded together and defeated Loki. Deciding they made a great team, the Avengers were born, eventually becoming the New York Yankees of the superhero set.
In 1997, FOX was experiencing a decline in its ratings as ABC, Kids' WB, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel were delivering a broad slate of programs and aggressively marketing them to their audiences. Roland Poindexter, Vice President and Head of Programming at Fox Kids, recognized that his network had become known for its action-adventure shows, particularly based on Marvel properties. He approached X-Men: The Animated Series writers Robert N. Skir and Marty Isenberg to develop a proposal for an Avengers series. They produced a detailed 13-episode story arc in their series bible, but Fox became more interested in pursuing a Captain America solo series.
Cap, first debuting during Marvel’s days as Timely in 1941’s Captain America Comics #1, was scrawny Steve Rogers who was given a Super Soldier formula to turn him into a soldier at the peak of human development. However, like many of the superheroes at the time, his popularity waned following the end of World War II, and he was removed from his own book with issue #73 (the book ran as a horror anthology title for two more issues). Timely attempted to revitalize the character in the 1950s by pitting him against communists, but that return was short-lived and his book cancelled again. He disappeared from publication until Lee and Kirby decided to revive the character in Avengers #4 in 1964; his absence explained by his being frozen in suspended animation after World War II, found by the Avengers, and thawed out in the then-present day. (The plot hole of Cap being able to battle commies while supposedly frozen was later addressed as other men tasked with taking up the mantle in his absence).
|Captain America makes an appearance.|
Neither show went into development as Marvel had gone into bankruptcy during the comics bust of the 1990s. When Marvel’s financial troubles stabilized in 1998, Poindexter revisited the idea and brought in X-Men series story editor Eric Lewald and his wife Julia to do it. In 1999, Fox green-lit the series and Ron Myrick was hired to oversee the show’s visual development. It was decided to leave out the “big three” Avengers--Captain America, Iron Man and Thor--in order recapture the popularity of the team when those heroes weren’t members in the comics, and to focus on a line-up of more flawed characters for greater story potential without their risking being overshadowed by the bigger names. The trio, however, did make an appearance at the end of the opening sequence throughout the show’s run.
|Hawkeye, Tigra, Wasp, Ant-Man, Wonder Man, Scarlet Witch, Falcon and the Vision.|
The team’s line-up was loosely borrowed from the Avengers spin-off West Coast Avengers (later renamed Avengers West Coast). Founding Avenger Ant-Man (Rod Wilson) was made the leader of the team, and was joined by fellow founder Wasp (Linda Ballentyne). Filling out the roster was Captain America’s former partner, Sam Wilson, aka Falcon (Martin Roach), who could fly via a special harness and communicate with birds—in particular his falcon Redwing; Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye (Tony Daniels), a former criminal and master bowman; Wanda Maximoff, aka the mutant Scarlet Witch (Stavroula Logothettis), with hex-casting abilities that she activated by saying “Winds of destiny, change!”; Greer Nelson, aka Tigra (Lenore Zann), an athlete who underwent genetic treatments to give her an edge that ended up transforming her into a tiger woman (an origin different from the comics); the synthezoid android The Vision (Ron Ruben), who was created by the evil robot Ultron (John Stocker) to destroy the Avengers and turned to their side after being given Wonder Man’s memories; and Simon Williams, aka Wonder Man (Hamish McEwan), whose ionic powers gave him super strength, flight, near-invulnerability and energy blasts, and who spent half the series in a coma after being attacked by Vision. Supporting the team was Edwin Jarvis (Graham Harley), the team’s butler who maintained their headquarters. Captain America (Dan Chameroy) and Iron Man (Francis Diakowsky) each made a guest appearance on the show, but Thor never appeared outside of his title sequence cameo. The series’ main focus was the team trying to live up the legacy established by the big three, particularly Ant-Man who, as team leader, was following in Captain America’s very large footsteps.
A major difference from the source material was the introduction of special armor for Ant-Man, Wasp, Falcon and Hawkeye, which they donned in stock Super Sentai-inspired transformation sequences. Although no explanation was given on the show itself for the armor, the tie-in comic series attempted to do so by setting its first two issues before the premiere. The story saw the Avengers laid low by an early version of Ultron. As a result, Pym developed their armor to give them more protection and strength in battle, based on the armor he created for himself after his legs were broken by Dragon Man. The series was also set 25 years in the future, accounting for their armor, futuristic technology, and how some of the settings looked, in an attempt to try and emulate Batman Beyond and duplicate its success.
Avengers: United They Stand debuted as part of Fox Kids on October 30th, 1999, replacing Spider-Man: Unlimited. The series was written by Michael Edens, John Loy, Len Uhley, Brooks Wachtel, Len Wein, Steven Melching, Bruce Reid Schaefer and Jan Strnad. The opening theme was composed by Sky Flyers with Jeremy Sweet, Deddy Tzur, Shuki Levy and Haim Saban (as Kussa Mahchi) handling the rest of the series’ music. Early information about the show’s line-up and changes had left potential viewers cold, and seeing it did nothing to change that as it was generally given a poor reception. Ultimately, low-ratings saw the series cancelled after its initial 13 episodes; scrapping plans producers had for the second season which would have included appearances by the X-Men (making use of the fact both shows shared some of the same cast and were both produced by Saban), the Hulk, and Thor.
|Vision's action figure.|
During the show’s run, Toy Biz produced a line of action figures and two vehicles based on the show, which included Captain America and, surprisingly, Thor. The previously mentioned comic series ran longer than the show, ending that June after only seven issues. During its run, it featured additional characters and groups that never appeared including Black Widow, Hydra, Doctor Doom and A.I.M. In 2007, Maximum Entertainment released the complete series to DVD in the United Kingdom. In 2009, Bright Vision Entertainment released the first four episodes along with episodes from The Marvel Super Heroes animated series from 1966. In 2011, Clear Vision released two 3-episode collections as well as re-released the complete series the following year. Although the series has yet to see any kind of release in North America, it was made available on Amazon Prime Video. In 2019, it became one of the launch titles for the streaming service Disney+.
It wouldn’t be until 2008’s Iron Man movie and the introduction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that The Avengers franchise would start getting renewed attention from Marvel and fans. The comics were revitalized and the team given a new cartoon with Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. After the release of Marvel’s The Avengers (so called to differentiate it from the British program and 1998 movie), the cartoon was retooled into Avengers Assemble with a line-up closer reflecting the one featured in the film.
Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2019.