***Spoiler Warning!!! This article deals with the very end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, So if you haven’t seen it yet and plan to, I advise you to turn back now. Seriously, I’m literally dealing with the last shot in the movie (no, not the mid-credit Easter egg, but the last shot of the movie proper). Okay, you have been warned. Spoiler Warning!!!***
Not long after its release to theaters, I was listening to a podcast in which the two hosts were discussing Avengers: Age of Ultron, and one of the hosts, almost as an afterthought asked the question (I’m paraphrasing here): “So what now? How do you handle this new crop of Avengers and what do you do with the old ones?”
The reason for the comment, of course, is because the “official” Avengers line-up at the end of the movie is very different than the one we have at the beginning of it. In the last few scenes we see the departure of Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, and the Hulk, and as their replacements we have a new team led by Captain America and the Black Widow, along with new recruits War Machine, The Falcon, The Vision, and The Scarlet Witch.
This immediately made me think of the original run of the Avengers comic, way back in antediluvian times when Stan Lee was still writing the book (along with almost every other book that Marvel was putting out at the time), and especially Avengers Vol 1 #16.
That particular issue, entitled “The Old Order Changeth”, is the first time in the comics that we actually see a full scale change in the make-up of the Avengers team, and at the end there is even a press conference where the new line up is announced.
Not that a fluidity of the line-up hadn’t been a primary feature of the comic from the start. Heck, at the end of the second issue, the Hulk, realizing how little his teammates trusted him (as a result of his being manipulated and imitated by the Space Phantom) took off in a huff, leading to an issues long subplot called “The Search for the Hulk”. Then, in issue 4, we had the “resurrection” of Captain America who had been presumed dead since the end of World War II but who had actually been frozen in a block of ice leaving him in pretty much a cryogenicly-preserved state. (Hey, it’s 60’s Marvel science where the bite of a radioactive spider can give a high-schooler spider powers and exposure to gamma radiation turns a scientist into The Hulk. Just go with it. Plus, this is the inspiration for the opening scene in the first Avengers movie where Steve Rogers’s body was found in a very similar state.)
That’s right, gang. Despite what you may have been led to believe subsequently, Cap wasn’t even one of the original founding member of the comic book version of the Avengers. Instead, we had Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man (who quickly became Giant-Man – don’t ask), The Hulk, and The Wasp.
The problem with this line-up, quickly became apparent to Stan. Because each of these characters also had their own solo titles, and he felt that any real changes made to those characters should be made there rather than in a team book that not all of the character’s readers might be following, he felt ham-strung by the very nature of the team.
Of course, Stan being Stan, who at the time was in a mode where he really was trying to challenge himself and his fellow creators, (and also because even if he took some of the lesser heroes and included them in the roster, most of them also had their individual titles, so he would still be stuck in the same boat) he didn’t exactly take the easy way out.
Instead he decided the way to go was to take a few villains, give them a chance to reform, and reshape them into Avengers. To this end, he selected two characters who had previously appeared in the X-Men as members of the Magneto-led Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (by the way, just an aside here – it’s always struck me as odd that Magneto decided to kind of give away the game there by naming his group that. I mean, once you’ve outed yourselves as “Evil Mutants”, it seems like you’ve pretty much got to live up – or is it rather down? – to that moniker.), Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Also, he chose one of Iron Man’s villains, the archer known as Hawkeye, who claimed that he really didn’t want to be a baddie, but he had been seduced and turned to the dark side by evil Russian spy Natasha Romanoff, otherwise known as The Black Widow. (Yep, at this point the Widow was a bad gal too.)
Of course, this left not only Cap but the public wondering just how this motley crew, subsequently nicknamed “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” could possibly live up to the legacy of the teams founders. Fortunately, Captain America, having trained and led troops into battle in the 40s didn’t have too work too long to teach these disparate characters how to be a well-oiled machine. Eventually, of course, the original Avengers began to return – the first one back full time being Giant-Man, at that point going by the name Goliath, and new cast members were continually added, and eventually even the title “The Old Order Changeth” or some variation thereon became something of a tradition whenever a new formal grouping of Avengers was being announced.
So the change in line-up at the end of Age of Ultron is really just a part of the Avengers tradition going back to the very first. And by the time we get to the next Avengers movie, having made it through Captain America:Civil War, Thor:Ragnarock, and whatever solo movies might impact the makeup of the team (for instance, the upcoming Black Panther movie, though the character is supposed to be introduced in Civil War) who knows who may or may not be Avengers.
I suppose in a way it just goes back to that old saying: “The more things changeth…”