In the past 60-ish years there have been a lot, and I mean a LOT of people assembling as Avengers. The roster has been in a constant state of evolution and change since the fourth issue, when they re-introduced Captain America to the Marvel universe, and issue 16, when they replaced everyone but Cap with a former Iron Man villain (Hawkeye) and two of Magneto’s lackeys from the Brotherhood over in X-Men (Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch)!
Because there have been oh-so-many rosters over the decades, it’s fun to debate which are the best ones. Of course, as always it comes down to personal preference; for instance, I’ve got the West Coast Avengers on this list, but I’m sure many would disqualify them just based on the name. To each their own. That said, what follows are my picks for the 10 best Avengers rosters ever assembled.
10. “Cap’s Kooky Quartet”
Members: Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch
An odd choice for the list, perhaps, but they did one very important thing: they established that the book did not NEED to keep the membership static, and it did not need to rely on character like Iron Man and Thor. Also, it did wonders establishing many of Captain America’s character traits, and firmly cemented not only Hawkeye as a legitimate super hero, but the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, as well!
9. Jason Aaron’s Avengers
Members: Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, She-Hulk, Ghost Rider, Dr Strange, Blade, Starbrand, Echo/Phoenix, Nighthawk
The most recent entry on the list- as of the time of this writing the final arc of Aaron’s epic run is about to begin. For the purposes of this list we aren’t counting the Avengers of 1,000,000 BC or the multiversal Avengers as they are separate entities. Under Jason Aaron’s pen, the Avengers roster has expanded in some new and very welcome ways, with additions like the Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider, Blade, even the Squadron Supreme’s Nighthawk! With their new base being located inside the shell of a dead Celestial on earth they have been swarmed with massive threats almost non-stop, and these threats don’t go away. There’s the America-backed Squadron Supreme, the Defenders of the Deep, Dracula’s Vampire nation, the Winter Guard, and of course the big jerk behind the whole thing: Mephisto. This team does a great job of ushering in the new for the Avengers while always feeling like the Avengers of old.
8. Avengers West Coast
Members: Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Iron Man (James Rhodes), USAgent, Tigra, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, Hank Pym, Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter), Living Lightning
If you listen to our podcast at all, you know I’m a huge sucker for the 80’s replacement heroes, particularly War Machine, Beta Ray Bill, the Julia Carpenter Spider-Woman and USAgent, and this book had three of them AND Hawkeye? Sign me up.
Honestly, what should have been a quickly cancelled book turned out to be one of the better Avengers titles, at least for periods of time. The B-list status of so many of the characters meant that almost none of them had their own titles, so the writer could really screw around with them. This didn’t always work in their favor, like when Hank Pym was just going by “Dr. Pym” and always wore a red jumpsuit (far right background on the cover above), but when it did, like the saga of the Scarlet Witch and the Vision under the pen of John Byrne, it was great.
7. Korvac Saga Team
Members: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Beast, Wasp, Black Widow, Black Panther, Quicksilver, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, Captain Marvel, Vision, Yellowjacket, Moondragon, Hercules
On sheer power alone, it’s hard to top this line-up. For me, I fondly remember the Wonder Man and Beast friendship of this era, as well as some really great work with Quicksilver, Hercules and the Vision, but the real appeal is the original Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell, on the team. He sadly wasn’t in many Avengers books but it was always cool to see him. This is essentially the same as the line-up for the Kree-Skrull War, as well, with a few changes, so feel free to imagine them in this spot, instead.
This group is an excellent Avengers mix; the classic, established A-List members like Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and Black Panther as well as the often more interesting B-listers like Yellowjacket, Wonder Man, Moondragon and Hercules, and there are enough members so that pretty much everyone has a favorite in there.
6. Young Avengers Original Line-up
Members: Patriot, Wiccan, Speed, Hulkling, Hawkeye, Stature, Vision/Iron Lad
An experiment that could have gone terribly wrong, the Young Avengers first appeared under a fairly large amount of mystery. They were being looked at as Marvel trying to have their own Teen Titans, and it is essentially that, but so what? The Teen Titans are awesome, why shouldn’t Marvel have something like that?
Thankfully, not only was the book fantastic, but the characters are great! Each has a tie of some kind to either a classic Avenger or classic Avengers story, and part of the fun was figuring out how each of these new characters fit into that. Patriot is the grandson of the first super soldier, Wiccan and Speed are the twins of the Scarlet Witch, Hulkling is the son of Mar-Vell and the queen of the Skrulls, Stature is Ant-Man’s daughter, and Iron Lad was a young Kang the Conqueror!
While they aren’t really a thing anymore you can find the characters all over the Marvel universe.
5. Dark Avengers
Members: Iron Patriot (Norman Osborn), Sentry, Ares, Marvel Boy/Protector, Ms. Marvel (Moonstone), Wolverine (Daken), Hawkeye (Bullseye), Spider-Man (Mac Gargan Venom)
This parade of jerks led by the Green Goblin dressed like Iron Man at a political rally took Baron Zemo’s Thunderbolts idea and put it on steroids. Osborn trotted out supervillians in front of the media and fans and dressed them as superheroes. He’s got Moonstone, Bullseye, Venom and Daken standing on his stage, which alone is a body count in the 4 digit range, and that’s not even counting Marvel Boy, the Sentry and Ares, who are each stupidly powerful and capable of massive destruction, plus Norman’s crazy ass.
While doing the hero thing they were also able to keep being their usual scummy selves, and part of the fun was waiting for the ride to end for them. Moonstone is manipulating everyone, Bullseye just wants to kill them all, Venom is on all kinds of medications to help keep the symbiote under control and its messing with his emotions, everyone is always on egg shells around the Sentry, and Noh-Varr (Marvel Boy) doesn’t even know these people aren’t actually heroes!
They were only around for about a year and a half to 2 years, but in that time they made quite the impact.
4. Original line-up
Members: Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man, Wasp, later Captain America
You just can’t beat the classics (well, I guess that’s not quite true, since this is number 4 on the list). Going way back to Avengers issue 1, the original lineup of Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp changed Marvel comics forever: they had their answer to the Justice League. I will include Captain America with this group since he joined in issue 4, and I’ll forgive anyone who wouldn’t count the Hulk, since he was out by the end of issue 2.
This new team of heroes took the Marvel universe by storm; people weren’t sure what to make of them, but it was the first time that established powers had teamed up like this. Villains were not happy about it, obviously, but neither were the government or SHIELD. The way they saw it, suddenly some of the scariest people on earth had formed a gang of their own and there was probably nothing anyone could do about it. Thankfully Tony Stark had guessed all of this was coming and drafted the Avengers charter and put his money behind financing the team and working to get them government clearance so they could be official.
Once Captain America was in the mix they had everything they needed, and they were off to the races. 60 years later and they’re still going strong!
3. Geoff Johns’ Avengers
Members: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Namor, She-Hulk, Warbird (Carol Danvers), Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Wasp, Yellowjacket, Jack of Hearts
An excellent line-up, no doubt aided by having an excellent writer at the helm. During this time the Avengers and Thor went their separate ways, the Jack of Hearts became one of the more interesting Avengers in recent memory, the Scott Lang Ant-Man, Carol Danvers, the Falcon and the Black Panther all got some really excellent character work, as did Hank Pym and the Wasp. The interpersonal relationships were at the forefront of the book, so you would often see characters paired off that didn’t work well together, like Ant-Man and Jack of Hearts or Iron Man and Black Panther.
The team’s best moment is dealing with the biological attack at Mount Rushmore and the Red Skull being revealed as having infiltrated the US government as the Secretary of Defense (in disguise, of course), but they also had to deal with a rampaging She-Hulk and the Zodiac.
Sadly, this run was cut short when Johns left for DC comics, so we will always wonder what could have been. He has revealed since that he was building something with the Hulks and was going to have a long, slow-burn masters of evil story.
Maybe one day.
2. New Avengers post-Secret Invasion
Members: Captain America (Bucky Barnes), Spider-Man, Wolverine, Spider-Woman, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Captain Marvel, Mockingbird, Ronin (Clint Barton), Echo
The New Avengers team always had an interesting line-up, but I am specifically looking at the post-Secret Invasion team that was dealing with Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign and constantly being chased by the Dark Avengers and the Hood’s supervillain army. The post-Civil War team of Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Wolverine, Dr. Strange, Ronin and Echo was joined by the Bucky Barnes Captain America, Captain Marvel and Mockingbird to form a rather large team that is comprised mostly of ‘street level’ heroes dealing with some awfully large stakes.
One of the more interesting titles of the Dark Reign era, it was interesting to see how each character dealt with being in what is, essentially, the position Spider-Man finds himself in most of the time. Do good deeds, help people, get shot at and cursed in the media for it. Rinse and repeat.
Hawkeye/Ronin did not deal with it well. Like, at all.
This team held through the Dark Reign and the Siege of Asgard, making it all the way to the repeal of the Superhuman Registration Act from the Civil War story, which is what brought this version of the team together to begin with.
1. Heroes Return
Members: Freaking everybody
When writer Kurt Busiek and legendary artist George Perez relaunched the Avengers as part of the “Heroes Return” initiative, they took a kitchen sink approach and threw pretty much every Avenger ever into their book. Hell, they even added members! Neither creator was unfamiliar with large casts, and it is evident. Each character has their own voice and reason for being in the stories, and a LOT of past (mid-90’s mostly) character mistakes were corrected here.
The book opens with an excellent story with the Avengers finding themselves up against the sorceress Morgan LeFay, after which they tangle with the Squadron Supreme, and then they are faced with the return of Ultron in one of the greatest Avengers stories ever told: Ultron Unlimited.
So much character work is done in this book, particularly with characters like Hank Pym and Carol Danvers, who both get a lot of bad stories ironed out of them and are massaged back to where they should have been. With all Busiek written books, if Hawkeye is in there he’s going to be the best written character there, and Hawkeye is in almost every issue. Justice and Firestar, former New Warriors promoted to the big leagues, get plenty of chances to shine.
If you think “Avengers” and think of the classic line-ups, every character that just popped into your head was on this roster (well, pre-Disassembled, at least). Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Scarlet Witch, the Wasp, Giant Man, Hawkeye, Black Panther, She-Hulk, Hercules… they’re all here.
Also of note is the excellent Kang Dynasty, which didn’t feature Perez art but was pretty much the swan song for this lineup and it’s a great one.
Well, that’s it for the Avengers rosters! What is your favorite? Drop us a line or leave us a comment and let us know!