This year, developers Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal will bring Earth Mightiest Heroes to video games with Marvel’s Avengers. The action-adventure game will allow players to control Marvel’s elite superhero team in a single-player campaign as well as online multiplayer team-ups.
While we wait for Marvel’s Avengers to launch in September, Marvel has put out an official collection of comic book prequels, which give us our best look at this new video game universe (which seems, based on the covers to these comics, to be called the “Gamerverse”). The collection is called Marvel’s Avengers: Road to A-Day and it features one comic each for Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, and Black Widow.
Marvel’s Avengers: Road to A-Day is available digitally now for fans who want to know more about the events that lead to the game. The comics were penned by Paul Allor, Christos N. Gage, and Jim Zub with artwork from Michele Bandini, Paco Diaz, Robert Gill, Georges Jeanty, and Ariel Olivetti. We’ve read them all to bring you some insights into how these prequel comics set up the story of the game. This is what we learned:
There Is Some MCU Influence
Square Enix has been keen to stress that this game is NOT part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that doesn’t mean that the MCU hasn’t influenced the game. In fact, the very first page of the Iron Man prequel comic begins by describing Tony Stark as a billionaire, genius, philanthropist, superhero, and “most eligible bachelor.” This, of course, echoes the way that Robert Downey Jr’s Tony described himself in 2012’s The Avengers.
A few pages later, Tony’s internal monologue notes that he’s “trounced alien invasions and robot armies” in the past. This, again, brings to mind the Avengers film franchise, making it clear that the makers of Marvel’s Avengers aren’t afraid to play on familiar stories as a shorthand to build their own versions of these characters.
There Are Lots of Pre-established Villains
The “Gamerverse” is not exactly a blank slate for bad guys, seeing as quite a lot of villains exist in the universe already. Those Tony comments implied that alien invasions and robot armies have already attacked Earth in this universe, but that’s far from everything that has gone down before the game (or even its prequel comics) has begun.
Within the first few pages of the Iron Man comic, Tony is teaming up with Cap, Hulk, and Black Widow to take on a team of B-list baddies consisting of The Beetle, Absorbing Man, and Whirlwind. These dud villains should be easy to defeat, but a lack of chemistry between our bickering heroes makes the fight more difficult than it should be.
Cracks Are Already Forming in the Gang
Although they do manage to defeat those villains (with a cool team-up move called the “Jade Wall,” which sees Iron Man propelling one of his foes into Hulk’s immovable torso), it’s clear that our heroes aren’t exactly best buds at the start of the comic. It takes them a while to come up with a winning strategy, and in the meantime, the B-list baddies get the better of them.
Another cool combat moment in this battle shows Thor, lightning in his eyes, controlling Mjolnir with his mind. But despite the fact that our heroes win the day and show off some rad skills, Tony notes that their victory was a “hack job.” Widow agrees, saying, “They were tough, but we were sloppy.”
Iron Man Tech Has Been Stolen
Doing some digging to work out what made this battle so tough, Tony notices that the baddies were using Stark tech. He later confronts the Beetle in the super-prison known as the Vault before spiralling into obsession as he tries to work out how his proprietary tech was stolen.
While whupping Tony’s ass in some hand-to-hand combat practice, Widow points out that Tony used to sell deadly weapons deliberately, but Tony still won’t let it go. He’s desperate to work out how these particular baddies had access to his gear.
After a quick visit to Bruce Banner’s lab, Tony tracks the leak to the villainous Spymaster. A high-tech scuffle later, the leak has been plugged, but Tony’s fears his data security issues are from over.
Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. Exist — and Tony Isn’t a Fan
Tony pays a visit to Nick Fury, here looking like a blend between the Samuel L. Jackson and David Hasselhoff versions: he’s very much a Black man with a cool swagger, but he’s also got a wry attitude and streaks of grey hair. Tony shows up on Nick’s roof in a Lola-from-Agents-of-S.H.I.E.L.D.-type flying car, with a knocked-out Spymaster in the front passenger seat.
Tony has worked out that S.H.I.E.L.D. is surveilling him and storing the data, and Spymaster managed to hack the S.H.I.E.L.D. database and shared the Stark tech he found with those other villains. Tony stops short of breaking into a fight with Fury, and he confirms he isn’t quitting the Avengers, but Tony ends the comic saying that he is doing things on his own terms from this point on. He says he’s wiped all the Stark tech data from S.H.I.E.L.D. servers, adding, “My personal security is now more important than your global spy games.”
Tony Wants Teleports
Jumping into the Thor chapter of this comic book prequel collection, the God of Thunder begins his “solo” adventure by helping Banner and Stark with an experiment. In a bid to create a teleportation gateway called the Stark Portal, which will allow the Avengers to “assemble anywhere anytime,” Thor is lending Tony a sizable blast of electricity.
The experiment ends up being a bust. Thor’s lightning overloads the gateway, causing it to explode, but Tony’s commitment to this idea remains. Although Thor reminds the Science Bros that he can use Heimdall to summon the Bifrost at a moment’s notice (which he does, on the spot, to prove his point), Tony asserts that he wants to create his own form of teleportation. Is this our first glimpse at what fast-travel will look like in the game?
Loki Is Down to Clown
The Bifrost portal to Asgard, which Thor just opened, refuses to close. Cloaked in invisibility, Loki walks through the portal onto Earth, just as Tony is leaving the scene of the experiment in a huff. The God of Mischief’s goal here is to “cause my half brother even more strife and see how he fares.”
Here’s your confirmation that Loki is already an active villain in this world, albeit quite a whimsical one (remember what the MCU Loki did with a portal to Earth back in 2012?). The game version of Loki “obfuscates” the words of Thor and Banner, egging the pair into a fight. Then he watches in glee as Thor and Hulk duke it out.
Eventually, our heroes realize what is happening and defeat Loki. Then Thor convinces his reluctant comrades to gather for celebratory beers. The comic ends just as Thor is about to regale his fellow heroes about “the time I cowed the Midgard Serpent.”
Banner Wants Rid of the Hulk
Moving into the Hulk segment of this game-prefacing series, the writers make a big deal of showing us the status of Banner’s relationship with the Hulk: the genius scientist wants to be rid of the big green rage monster, and he explicitly states post-experiment that he is trying to eliminate his gamma-infused cells (and get rid of Hulk) rather than edit the cells (which could make Hulk more compliant).
Bruce has a romantic relationship with a S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist named Monica, who has the opposite opinion: she is working with Bruce on these experiments but would rather “overcome this and find a way to use this power to change the world.”
We can’t help but wonder if this is Monica Rappaccini, from the main continuity of Marvel Comics, who had a romantic relationship with Bruce in the comics and went on to become the Scientist Supreme for Advanced Idea Mechanics (also known as AIM, the supervillain group that has already been confirmed as the game’s main antagonist).
Bruce Has Made an Enemy
Although Monica stays on the side of the angels throughout her appearance in this Gamerverse comic, Bruce does make another foe in these pages: a shifty S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist named George Tarleton, who asks Bruce to help him with an energy project, which Bruce says he is too busy for.
Tarleton ends up experimenting on himself and, in doing so, he creates/becomes (it’s not entirely clear which) a giant energy monster that goes on to battle the Hulk. Nobody knows Tarleton caused this rampage, and once Hulk has won the battle, Tarleton tries asking another Avenger for scientific assistance.
This time he asks Tony, who is peeved at Bruce for causing a massive electrical outage during the battle, and Tony agrees to look into Tarleton’s research. Fans of the comics will know that Tarleton, traditionally, goes on to become A.I.M.’s giant-headed mascot M.O.D.O.K. Who wants to bet that happens in the game?
Cap Wants to Be Less Reactionary
Moving into Captain America’s solo chunk of the collection, we start with Cap in the middle of a battle with B-list villain Batroc the Leaper. Through his internal dialogue, Cap tells the reader that he has been distracted all day, which cues up a flashback to World War II. It turns out that Cap has a funeral later that day for Clarence Davis, a corporal he was fond memories of working with.
“Davis made an impact on me,” Cap recalls, cluing the reader in on the fact that Davis had been part of an experimental unit where “frontline soldiers were given unprecedented access to military intelligence.” By studying the official info and combining it with local knowledge, this unit took a very tactical approach to warfare and saved “countless lives” along the way.
Davis was the last surviving member of this squad, but Cap vows to take his techniques and apply them to his superhero career. Rather than simply reacting to the latest costumed villain to go on a rampage, Cap wants to think tactically and get one step ahead of them. Using this technique, Cap works out what Batroc the Leaper is going to do next and stops the villain from grabbing a stash of weapons. As he rides away from the scene, Cap calls Tony Stark and says, “We need to talk, Tony […] about a friend from my past […] and about the future of the Avengers.”
Black Widow and Taskmaster Go Way Back
YEARS AGO. Those are the words that kick off Black Widow’s section of the collection. We open with Natasha Romanoff, having newly switched sides from Russia to S.H.I.E.L.D., going through some combat training under the watchful eye of Nick Fury. When some of her new teammates express unease with having a Russian on the team, Fury puts them in their place.
Fury tells Widow not to worry about it and explains that he has a new form of training in mind. Enter Tony Masters, an expert fighter that is S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “combat cohesion officer.” They battle some robots together and strike up a rapport, with Masters taking an interest in Widow’s ballet-based fighting techniques.
It seems like a friendship could be forming. But, as you may already know, Masters is destined to become the villainous Taskmaster, a combat-copying baddie who we know is a key part of Marvel’s Avengers. You’ll also meet the MCU version of Taskmaster in the upcoming Black Widow movie).
Fury Has a Softer Side
After the training is done, we see Masters try to double-cross Widow by framing her for a jailbreak that could’ve set loads of captured Hydra agents free. But Widow manages to stop the breakout and prove that it was Masters that set it off. The two fight for real, with Widow coming out on top… but Masters, showing his true Hydra colors, manages to escape.
But there’s a twist! Fury works out that Widow had actually been planning to free one particular Hydra person: she wanted to help Iosif Stepanov, a friendly 70-year-old who had shown Natasha some rare kindness during her Russian training, to break out and live out his final years in peace. Fury shows a softer side by allowing Widow this one nice thing, so they work together to set Stepanov free, without anyone else at S.H.I.E.L.D. knowing.
FIVE YEARS LATER. The final panel of this prequel comic jumps forward to what seems like moments before the game kicks off. Fury and Widow are poring over pictures of Taskmaster, confirming that Masters has become this masked menace and has also gotten a lot better at copying moves.
Fury mentions that Taskmaster can ape the skillsets of Widow, Cap, and Hawkeye. As well as being suitably ominous villainous foreshadowing, this is a nice way to confirm that Clint Barton’s Hawkeye exists in this world, even though he hasn’t been seen in any of the trailers or demos for the game.
Back to the Taskmaster at hand, Widow hypes up her rematch with Masters, which will be a key beat in the opening act of the game: “I didn’t teach him everything I know. When we meet again, it’ll be his final lesson.” Consider the stage set!
Marvel’s Avengers launches on Sept. 4 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia. The game is also coming to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X this holiday. This Road to A-Day comic book collection is available digitally now on Amazon.