Captain America: Civil War should be the clearing a worldwide gross of over $1 billion any day now, furthering Marvel's cultural dominance. The amazing thing is that Marvel is now able to make billion dollar movies based on comic books that no one actually liked.
Civil War is one of the more critically derided comic book storylines of recent times, and until forming the basis of the blockbuster film, it was known more commonly as that book in which Marvel completely assassinated Tony Stark's character.
So, it's time for our resident comic book geek to tear through some back issues and remember those Avengers stories which didn't suck. Let's get right to the rankings...
10 "Betrayal by a Friend," Avengers #200, Annual #10
Avengers #200 lives in infamy and is more commonly known as the Rape of Ms. Marvel. The story is almost too crazy to explain, but the gist of it is that she decides to go off to limbo with Marcus, a guy who mind-controlled her, and the Avengers happily wave her goodbye. It's a disturbing issue for all the wrong reasons, and it deserves the critically lambasting it took. But here's the thing, Chris Claremont read Carol Strickland's essay, and he wrote a coda to the story in Annual #10. It doesn't fix the past issue, but it does allow Danvers to confront the Avengers and call them out for their behavior. It's how criticism should work, informing future work and forcing artists to do better. Claremont saved Carol Danvers from the trash bin of history and slowly began her rehabilitation which finally resulted in her taking the Captain Marvel banner and becoming one of the centerpiece characters of the current Marvel comic universe.
9 "Nefaria Supreme!" Avengers #164-166
The Jim Shooter era Avengers is arguably the greatest superhero comic book of all-time. There's simply nothing about the run I don't love, especially the way he really gets into the dynamics of a superhero team. While the Fantastic Four and X-Men function as families (biologic or surrogate), the Avengers are a job. It's a cool job, but still a job, with rules, reports, and even office politics. The Nefaria plotline sets up the Civil War before there was a Civil War, as Captain America chafes under Iron Man's shaky leadership, allowing a government stooge to eventually come in and take over management of the Avengers (Henry Gyrich makes his first appearance). But Nefaria is also a neat end-round around licensing issues, and is really a "what if the Avengers fought Superman?" story. John Byrne guested as the artist on these issues, and he's just the best. There was a revolving creative team on the comic in the late 70s, which suited the book and made it feel like an All-Star team with each storyline.
8 "Avengers Disassembled," Avengers #500-503
Probably the ultimate love it or hate it story in the Avengers canon, the Scarlet Witch finds out that her children are merely a psychic projection. Dr. Strange finds out that she's bending the rules of time and space, confronts her, and she essentially goes insane. She's kills her husband, Vision, and Hawkeye. She raises Jack of Hearts from the dead only to have him blow up the Avengers Mansion. Eventually, the Avengers fight off an illusory threat, but Tony Stark ends the team while all of the members walk away. Sure, it was all just setting up the New Avengers, but it actually did change the game. Probably the dividing line of the Old and the New Marvel Universes.
7 "Court Martial of Yellowjacket"/"Trial of Hank Pym," Avengers #212-213, 227-230
The One Where Hank Pym Beats His Wife. Pym feels like he's losing his wife's affection because he's not exciting enough, not that he's a raging asshole. He keeps lashing out at her, and everyone else, before nearly killing an adversary that was busy surrendering peaceably to Captain America. Pym tries to get out of the court martial by creating a killer robot he will then defeat (essentially, the plot of The Incredibles). Wasp tells him it's a bad idea, and he hits her. This is his irredeemable moment, and Pym is cast out from both the Avengers and his marriage. Shooter has since argued he didn't know there would be speed lines behind the slap, making it seem worse than it was, which is just a BS excuse. Wasp shows up to the trial with a black eye, shocking Thor. Pym's a wife beater.
This is what we call being written into a corner, but when Roger Stern took over the book from Shooter, he tried to put Pym on a path to redemption. Pym doesn't quite get there, but he at least lifts from completely contemptible to merely creepy. Pym ends his trial actually being asked to come back to the Avengers, but he hangs up the tights and rightfully points out he's a pretty lousy superhero.
6 "The Kree-Skrull War," Avengers #89-97
In terms of importance, this is #1. This is the story that gives the Avengers a reason for being. Before, it was a pretty blatant JLA rip off, but this story elevates the material and sets the stakes much higher. The Avengers get involved when it means saving all of humanity. That said, it's hard to read books from this era. Everything is just so over the top. It's a chore to read. That was the style back then, but it just does not hold up well. Rick Jones will always have this moment, though.
5 "Avengers Forever," Avengers Forever #1-12
A love letter to long time Avengers fans, this is a time travel epic so detailed that the trade paperback comes with footnotes. Rick Jones is called upon to save the world again, this time from Immortus, who is opposed by his younger self and long-time villain, Kang the Conqueror. Kang is perhaps the best villain in the Avengers universe, so it's great to see him working with the Avengers, albeit warily. In order to save the world, Jones reaches back into time to assemble perhaps the worst Avengers team ever assembled, including Captain America right when he was about to quit and Yellowjacket right before he slapped Wasp. But there's a reason for everything, and eventually the Avengers preserve the time stream that we all know and love.
4 "Ultron Unlimited," Avengers Vol. 3 #19-22
This is the Kurt Busiek section of the list, as he wrote this sotry as well as the two ranked on each side of this one. I'm a big fan of Busiek, a guy who really just understood how joyous of a book the Avengers could be. Ultron rises from the dead for the thirty millionth time with the same basic plan: kill all the humans. Only this time, he plans to repopulate the earth with robots. He takes over a small Eastern European country and, you know what, you saw the movie. However, it plays out differently In the book, as they are able to play off of history and the fact that Ultron's mind is based off the brain waves of Hank Pym. The tide is turned when Thor breaks into Ultron's lair, and Pym, again, gets a chance to redeem himself.
3 "The Kang Dynasty," Avengers Vol. 3 #41-55
Have I mentioned I love Kang the Counqeror? Kang shows up with is son, Marcus, to conquer the world (effectively ret-conning Avengers #200). And for the first time in Marvel history, the villain DOES conquer the world. This comic, instead of dealing with how will the Avengers stop the unstoppable threat, deals with the villain's dilemma of what to do once all of your plans come to fruition. Of course the Avengers lead the insurgency against Kang-ruled Earth, and he is eventually defeated by Carol Danvers as Warbird being assisted by Marcus. Kang tried to die honorably in combat, but ends up being saved against his will by his allies. He ends the storyline by confronting his son, Marcus, revealing that he is the 23rd version of his son, and they have all proved unsuitable. Kang murders his son, which is a pretty dark way to end the storyline, but the comic positions Kang as an honorable villain while Marcus is just the d-bag who wants to rape Carol Danvers.
2 "Under Siege," Avengers #273-277
Roger Sterne wrote "my" Avengers, as he was the long-time author of the book for most of my youth. This was the culmination of years of plotting, and the referendum on Wasp as leader of the Avengers. Captain America never openly defied her leadership as he did with Iron Man, which is a major point in her favor, but she also presided over the biggest disaster in Avengers history. Baron Zemo spent years studying the Avengers and building a team of super villains just to defeat them Here, the legwork pays off, and his Masters of Evil were able to take of the Avengers Mansion (mainly because Hercules is a jackass). Wasp avoids captures, rallies the reserves, and takes back the Mansion. But not before the Masters of Evil beat the hell out of Jarvis the butler. This was a shocking, violent storyline that was part of the new focus on relative realism and a grittier worldview, but the story works because it ends up being about hope and resilience. One of the key moments isn't violent, it's Zemo tearing up Captain America's only surviving picture of his mother. Seriously, that's just a jerk move. It evens makes the good Captain cry, but not until he's won the day.
1 "The Korvac Saga," Avengers #167-177
Due to the stop/start nature of the story, the credits read like the Avengers creative All-Stars: Jim Shooter, Roger Stern, George Perez, David Michelinie, and Mark Gruenwald all had writing credits. Michael Korvac is essentially a god, and he tries to use his powers to bring order among the universe. The Avengers can't quite organize against him because the Henry Gyrich storyline set up in earlier issues bears fruit here. The Korvac Saga is then interrupted a second time by Ultron, because this is the kind of epic tale in which Ultron only gets billing as the second villain. Korvac is actually at war with the Elders of the Universe, not the Avengers, who are merely pawns in the game, getting drawn in by the Collector. It's a cosmic storyline that is grounded on earth, and has some funny character beats, like the Avengers being forced to take a bus to Korvac's home in the suburbs for the final confrontation. Shooter winks at the audience, pointing out that even though Marvel is now writing more "realistic" stories, this is all still pretty ridiculous. Still, Korvac easily defeats the combined forces of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy save for Captain America. The Avengers rally, but Korvac allows himself to be defeated when Carina, his wife, hesitates to support him. Which leads to the most interesting part of the story: the Avengers of course win because it's a comic book and the heroes always win, but there are enough hints left in the text that Korvac actually was a benevolent force who would have brought peace to the universe. This as close as an ambiguous ending as one can get in a serial superhero comic. This is the Avengers at their most epic, but also at their most human (it is also arguably the first cross-over title, as there is some Korvac backstory in the pages of Thor). It's a tour de force of the comic medium.
If you'll excuse me, I have to be back in my mother's basement.