The History of The Avengers Part 4 – The 1990s: Death, Rebirth and Return

Ahead of the release of The Avengers Assemble, contributor Dan Cole is taking us through the comic book history of The Avengers. You can read the first installment here but here we’re going through the The 1990s: Death, Rebirth and Return

The 90s are an infamous decade in the comics book industry. The 80s saw works like Alan Moore’s Watchman and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. These books turned the industry upside down and in light of this fact the 90s seemed to be creatively bankrupt. Well that is an extreme view of it, but the early 90s Avengers weren’t doing so well. Out-sold by the very popular X-Men, who had taken the glory from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the early 90s exploits weren’t as popular as the merry mutants.

John Byrne took over the book in 1989 and ushered in a few changes. With such an expansive roster he decided to bring in the idea of reserve members, who could be called upon when needed, and he also made The Scarlet Witch and The Vision find out that their children (yes they had children) where actually illusions. Also he introduced the idea that The Scarlet Witch’s powers where more powerful than first realized.

The book would later be wrapped up in the massive Acts Of Vengeance crossover event, which sees Loki (who is the main villain in The Avengers Assemble) attempt to destroy the team by assembling an army of super villains. In 1992 Bob Harras took over the book and, with the help of artist Steve Epting, introduced a stable team lineup. The book focused on Black Knight, Quicksilver, Vision, Hercules (yes the greek mythological legend), Sersi, An Eternal who can manipulate energy, and Crystal, An InHuman who can control the four main elements. Harras would create a moral dilemma for the team, which would question their rule of no killing. This would be heavily addressed in the 19 issue storyline Operation: Galatic Storm as Iron Man and several other Avengers would execute a villain against Captain America’s wishes. Leading to the formation of the proactive and aggressive (because it’s the 90s) Force Works.

But the most significant moment in Avengers history in the 90s was their encounter with Onslaught (image above). In 1996, a twisted creature, born out of Charles Xavier and Magneto, fought The Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-Men to a standstill in a major crossover event. To save the day several Avengers, including Captain America, Thor and Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four seemingly sacrificed themselves to stop Onslaught. Black Widow disbands the Avengers after their deaths and what happened next was a revamp of those books.

Marvel actually contracted former Marvel artists and creators of Image Comics Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld to revamp The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Captain America and Iron Man books. All previous continuity was wiped away from these new books so Lee and Liefeld could reinterpret these characters. It was a year long experiment and when the title came back to Marvel the whole endeavor was explained away in extremely convoluted story terms. Basically Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman’s son Franklin has god like powers and instead of letting his family and The Avengers die he sent them to an alternate universe, as you do.

With their return it was time to create a new life for the series. In 1998 the legendary pair of writer Kurt Busiek and George Pérez teamed up for the next chapter. What they delivered was a well-received run which brought new elements whilst feeling classic (yes it’s this writers favourite Avengers run).  The run would include new team members as New Warrior graduates Firestar, one of Spider-Man’s amazing friends (check it out on youtube), and Justice, a telekinetic, joined the ranks. Wonder Man be reintroduced and the team would face classic villain’s Ultron and Kang The Conqueror among others. Pérez would leave the title in 2000, but Busiek would continue until 2002 as he wrapped up his run. Busiek also wrote the 12 issue mini series Avengers Forever at the same time, the story focusing on time travel and steeped in Avengers history. So as the decade closed the Avengers ushered in the new millennium with success, but it wasn’t until 2004 that their popularity soared.

Part 5 – The 2000s: The Disassembled, The New and The Ultimate coming soon.

Dan Cole

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