The Avengers: what to read after watching the movie

News James Hunt 1 May 2012 - 09:37

Has Joss Whedon’s The Avengers left you hankering for more Marvel action? Then here’s James with a few comic book recommendations...


Quick note: it makes sense to read this after you've seen the movie, to protect yourself from potential spoilers...

So, you’ve seen the film, and you want more Avengers. Who can blame you? But with almost 50 years of comics published, where do you even start turning your interest in the film into a list of comics you might want to read? Well, could we suggest you start with this lot?

Ultimates Vol 1 & 2
Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch

If you liked Avengers, then you’ll undoubtedly love this: Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s 26-issue epic which re-imagines the formation of the Avengers and directly inspired many of the movie’s elements, from Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury to the naming of the Chitauri. Hitch’s incredibly detailed artwork together with Millar’s gift for arresting story beats make reading it a true movie-style experience. While Millar’s acerbic humour isn’t quite the same as Whedon’s more optimistic japery, it still has quotable lines and all the swagger of a summer blockbuster.

Don’t confuse it with: Ultimates Vol 3, which was by a completely different creative team and, no exaggeration, is one of the worst comics ever.

Avengers Assemble Vol 1
Kurt Busiek and George Perez

You’ve seen the movie version of the Avengers in the film. You’ve seen a movie-inspired version of the Avengers in Ultimates. Now see how comics really does the Avengers in this unbeatable run of comics, coincidentally collected under the film’s UK title. This book sees the team re-assembling after a period of inactivity and features virtually every character who was ever an Avenger, from Hawkeye to Stingray, from Captain America to Captain Marvel.

The tone is completely different from the movie – soap opera superheroics in the classic Marvel tradition – but almost 15 years later, no one has bettered it.

Don’t confuse it with: The ongoing series of the same name by Brian Bendis, which began this year (and is, by all accounts, not very good).

Astonishing X-Men Vol 1
Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

Yeah, yeah, we know this seems  like an odd place to point people who might want to read Avengers comics, but look at it from another angle: it’s Joss Whedon doing on the page for the X-Men what he would later do on the screen for the Avengers. An action-comedy that can appeals to new readers and fans alike, Astonishing X-Men features a core team of classics like Beast, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine,  and Shadowcat, meaning that if you’ve seen any of the X-Men films you’ll be familiar with the cast.

Don’t confuse it with: The current issues of Astonishing X-Men, which have strayed far from Whedon’s beginnings.

Civil War
Mark Millar and Steve McNiven

It’s the ultimate Hero Vs Hero battle as the idea of a superhero registration act pits freedom-loving idealist Captain America against a more pragmatic Iron Man when they fall on opposite sides of the law. Avengers supporting character Maria Hill plays a prominent role as Iron Man and Captain America resolve their differences the only way superheroes can: by punching each other until someone is declared the winner.

A lacklustre ending doesn’t stop this being a superhero yarn you can really enjoy – if only for Steve McNiven’s fantastic visuals. Its repercussions are still affecting the Marvel Universe today!

The Infinity Gauntlet
Jim Starlin, George Perez and Ron Lim

Want to know more about Thanos, the villain who made his cameo in Avengers’ brief post-credits sequence? Why not start here, with the story that many suspect will be the basis for Avengers 2? Viewers with eyes like Heimdall might have glimpsed the Infinity Gauntlet in Asgard’s armory in Thor, and that – combined with Thanos – suggests that elements from this story will be in play for the sequel.

In it, Thanos acquires the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet and battles the collected Marvel heroes to a standstill in order to impress the universal embodiment of Death. It’s action on a scale that, so far, only comics has pulled off. Will Avengers 2 try and bring it to the screen?

Don’t confuse it with: Its sequels, Infinity Crusade and Infinity Watch, none of which were quite as good.

SOLO AVENGERS

Maybe you’re not interested in reading about the Avengers, and instead want to see the individual members in their own starring roles. In that case, check out these books:

THE HULK
Planet Hulk/World War Hulk

Greg Pak and Various artists

It’s impossible to come out of Avengers and not love the Hulk, but few comic stories can match up to his appearance in the film. One that arguably does is this multi-volume epic by Greg Pak. In Planet Hulk, the Marvel Universe’s top minds club together to find a plan for dealing with the Hulk once and for all. How? By shooting him into space aimed at an uninhabited planet, of course! However, he veers off-course and instead lands on Sakaar, a planet with a cruel and brutal society where even the Hulk is made a slave – at first.

Starting at the bottom of the ladder, Hulk fights his way to the top. It’s a Conan-style blockbuster with more action than you can shake a fist at, but the really fun part is what he and his new allies do to the Avengers when he finally makes it back to Earth. World War Hulk should say all you need to know about that.

HAWKEYE
New Avengers: The Reunion

Jim McCann and David Lopez

Hawkeye has never been the most popular Marvel character, but his exposure in the Avengers movie might leave you interested in reading more. In that case, how about this limited series, in which Hawkeye (who at the time was using the Ronin identity) and his sometime wife Mockingbird team-up for some Mr & Mrs Smith-style superhero-spy action. It might not convince you that having a bow and arrow counts as a superpower, but its mix of comedy, drama and espionage will prove that Hawkeye is more than just the token human on the Avengers.

BLACK WIDOW
Secret Avengers #20
Warren Ellis and Alex Maleev

The Black Widow is one of the break-out stars of the Avengers movie, but her comics career lacks stand-out stories. Luckily, one of the best Black Widow stories in years was published just recently, featuring an incarnation as steely, manipulative and resourceful as Scarlet Johannsson’s incarnation.

This single-issue tale is part of a series of six one-shots about the Avengers’ black-ops team, that paired celebrated comics writer Warren Ellis with a selection of superstar artists such as Jamie McKelvie and Stuart Immonen. All six issues are collected as Secret Avengers: Run The Mission, which also features Iron Man 2 supporting character, War Machine and the X-Man Beast.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Captain America Reborn
Ed Brubaker and Bryan Hitch

It’s a well-worn cliché that no one stays dead in comics, and despite being a corpse for some years, Captain America: Reborn is the story of how he makes it back from the beyond to thwart the Red Skull’s latest plan and reclaim his identity from former partner Bucky. Featuring virtually all of Cap’s classic supporting characters, this is a great introduction to Cap’s corner of the Marvel Universe, unburdened by the heavy-handed politics that most of his classic stories resonate with. The time-spanning story is an excuse for some great images, too, not least Captain America strangling Hitler!

IRON MAN
Iron Man, The Five Nightmares
Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca

There are loads of good Iron Man stories to choose from, but if you’re a fan of the movies, there can be no better choice than this. Written around the time of the original movie’s release, this story pits Stark against the son of Obadiah Stane, who was the villain from the first movie. As it turns out, Ezekiel Stane is a genius in his own right who can match Iron Man’s technological prowess but has none of Stark’s pesky morals. Naturally, one of them has to go.

THOR
Thor, The Mighty Avenger Vol 1 & 2
Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee

The cinematic incarnation of Thor thrives on his moments of fish-out-of-water comedy. Few comics have gone that route, but this all-ages series (don’t let that put you off!) by a pair of genius creators gave us one of the best versions of Thor in years – one that doesn’t get overly bogged down in Asgardian mythology and Shakespearean drama.

With fantastic art and appearances by classic villains and supporting characters, you’ll get a crash course in Thor without having to go near the decades’ worth of over-written melodrama that characterised his early appearances.

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