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Need an excuse to see Marvel's "Avengers" sequel again? Bet you didn't spy all of the super-sly references embedded throughout the film.
Marvel Comics' flagship superhero team The Avengers was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in the spring of 1963 and published later that year in "The Avengers" #1. At that time, it was a novel idea for a group of heroes to team up; comics were almost exclusively populated with titles focusing on a single hero or at most a pair, usually in a hero and sidekick role. With "The Avengers," Marvel architects Lee & Kirby brought together the comic company's top heroes of the time under a single banner. Labeled "Earth's Mightiest Heroes," the group consisted of established characters Ant-Man, Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk. Although considered a founding member, Captain America didn't appear until three issues later, quickly becoming the group's lynchpin and most popular member.
"The Avengers" title proved quite popular on comics racks, quickly becoming one of Marvel's top sellers alongside "Amazing Spider-Man," which also debuted in 1963. As time went on, the roster of the team proved fluid, starting with several members resigning and Captain America recruiting former villains and newer heroes into the mix. While there's almost always at least one founding member in the team at all times, the tradition of an ever-rotating roster has been fertile fodder for storylines, including the ever popular recruitment drives. Over seventy-five characters have claimed membership in the Avengers team in its 45-plus year history, ranging from skilled humans, mutants, aliens, robots and even a few gods.
A new issue of "The Avengers" has been published virtually every month since September 1963, with the series proving popular enough to warrant numerous spin-off series. As of August 2010, there are four Avengers titles including the flagship, with additional limited series and even some alternate universe versions in the Ultimate and Marvel Adventures lines. Although "The Avengers" has been Marvel's de facto flagship title since its inception in the early 1960s, it was usurped as sales leader for years by Marvel's other big team book, "Uncanny X-men." The mutants' sales domination continued up until five years ago when writer Brian Michael Bendis took over the book.
In 2004, Bendis and artist David Finch were enlisted by Marvel to take the title and the team in a new direction. With the four issue story-arc titled "Avengers: Disassembled," the Avengers team as it stood was effectively broken up after the deaths of several key members and the long-running title was cacelled. From those ashes, Marvel launched a new book titled "New Avengers" which saw classic Avengers members partnered with newer heroes not traditionally associated with the brand such as Spider-Man and Wolverine. Writer Brian Bendis was already on his way to becoming one of Marvel's top writers, and his work on "New Avengers" cemented him as Marvel's resident big thinker. Popular crossovers and event limited series such as "Civil War," "Secret Invasion" and "Siege" only bolstered the team's renewed success, putting the team once again front-and-center on the comic shelves and the sales charts.
At the same time The Avengers were once again finding their footing, Marvel's movie business was kicking into high gear. After experiencing moderate success with the "Blade" movies and the first "Hulk" movie, Marvel invested its own money into the 2008 film "Iron Man," which ultimately proved so successful it led to the greenlighting of a stream of films centered on Marvel's key heroes – all of which were founding Avengers. A second Iron Man film followed in 2010, with films for Thor and Captain America planned in 2011 and a keystone "Avengers" movie promised in 2012 from fan-favorite director Joss Whedon.