With The Avengers opening on May 4 in the United States, we’re a mere two weeks away from seeing one of the most-anticipated movies of the year. But for every fanboy, movie-buff, franchise fan, and comic geek lining up to get their ticket, there are hundreds if not thousands of dates, parents, casual fans and AA sponsers that will get dragged to the movie knowing little to nothing about the circumstances or its characters.
With just a little over two hours of running time, director Joss Whedon has a narrow window to catch every single audience member up on the “who’s who” of the Marvel Universe, but never fear! The movie will take its cues from several top-notch comic books, and you’ve got two whole weeks to get familiar with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In this less-than-humble blogger’s opinion, these are the books you should check out if you want to go in to the Avengers fully assembled.
1. Thor and Loki: Blood Brothers
If you saw Thor, it’s no surprise that Loki isn’t exactly the nicest little brother in the world. He served as the primary antagonist in Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 film, and it’s no secret that he’ll be the big bad in The Avengers. Thor and Loki: Blood Brothers is a comic book miniseries from 2004 (that has since been adapted into a motion comic, for all of you out there adamantly against reading a book even if it has pictures in it) that explored the complex relationship between the brothers and what would happen if Loki actually got what he wanted and ended up King. A quick read that nevertheless tugs on heartstrings from here to Asgard, Blood Brothers is a terrific way to understand Thor’s inner-conflict when it comes to joining up with the Avengers to put his brother down once and for all.
2. Secret Invasion
Marvel is a big fan of crossover events – that is to say, plots that are not only a limited series that totally change the face of their fictional universe, but plots that are so far-reaching that they trickle into individual hero’s books. In 2008, Brian Michael Bendis penned an event book that involved a certain shapeshifting alien race infiltrating every level of the superhero community and the resulting all-out war between the extraterrestrial menace and virtually every hero you can name.
Secret Invasion is its own stand-alone read, but there are tie-in books for dozens of monthly titles. Fan speculation for The Avengers has told us that the “army” that Loki has at his disposal may or may not be the Skrulls, the aforementioned ET baddies in Secret Invasion. This Hyper can’t confirm or deny the Skrulls’ involvement in The Avengers at this time, but at best, reading Secret Invasion will let you know what the Skrulls are all about – at the very least, you’ll get to see some entirely badass moments from relative unknowns Hawkeye and Maria Hill.
3. The Ultimates
In the early 2000s, Marvel decided to “reboot” continuity for some of their books and create an alternate universe free from decades of backstory so as to be more accessible to new readers – The “Ultimate Marvel” universe. They started with Spider-man and the X-Men, moved on to the Fantastic Four, and in 2002, they released The Ultimates – a cynical, modern retelling of the Avengers that to this day is considered some of Mark Millar’s best work. Consequently, the Marvel movie universe has taken oldschool continuity and mixed it with Ultimate Marvel continuity to create a fresh, modern movie franchise that can introduce superheroes to a brand new generation.
In The Avengers, you’ll see a blend of these continuities, like how Hawkeye and Black Widow are high-ranking secret agents instead of superheroes, or how Nick Fury looks suspiciously like Sameul L. Jackson. The Ultimates span several volumes, with Mark Millar departing after the second volume and the series descending into nearly-unreadable chaos shortly thereafter. The first two volumes, however, are some of this writer’s favorite comic books that have EVER EXISTED. The Ultimates 1: Superhuman is a great retelling of the forming of the team, and how they would be viewed in contemporary society, featuring favorites like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk.
The Ultimates 1: Homeland Security introduces S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Hawkeye and Black Widow, and features those pesky shapeshifting alien jerks again (named the Chitauri, rather than the Skrulls, because I guess when you’re dealing with shape-shifting aliens that want to bring back Fascism and end the world, you want to go for a more “realistic” sounding alien name, I totally get it). The book spans for plenty of issues and is collected into individual trade paperbacks and a hardcover omnibus. Later stories feature Loki, Ultron, and Magneto as antagonists, but the first two volumes should give you plenty of insight into the creative liberties they’ve taken for The Avengers.
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