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'Avengers' Comics Guide: Current Titles, Members and Story Explained

Should the upcoming film ignite your interest in the comic books, here is a look at the current Marvel team's universe.

Avengers Comic #19 P 2012
Marvel

With The Avengers already a (Hulk) smash hit internationally and box office tracking suggesting it will be a sensation in the United States, interest in Earth's Mightiest Heroes has never been higher. And the nice thing about comic book movies, both from a sales and fan point of view, is that the story experience doesn't end in the theater: There are endless numbers of prequels, sequels and spinoffs to satisfy the hunger for more superheroes.

For those who have yet to see the movie -- most Americans and the one guy abroad who must have been sick this past weekend -- and are largely unfamiliar with the Marvel superteam, there is the limited-run official prequel to the film, Marvel's The Avengers Prelude: Fury's Big Week. A four-part series, it runs through the events of the lead-up films Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger and gives starring roles to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson in the movie) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). If you are unfamiliar with the universe and don't have time to cram in all of the films, this is the series for you.

Newbies also can enjoy Avengers Assemble, a recently launched title that brings together the film's major characters: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow. 

The Avengers: Photos, Trailers, Clips and Reviews

If you've seen the lead-up Marvel movies and want to dive right into the full comics universe, there are plenty of options. The Avengers first assembled in 1963 and have gone through many groupings, civil wars, personal conflicts, deaths and rebirths (that they're still in top shape today is one of the magic secrets of the comic book world).

While Marvel has been preparing for this movie for the past four years, tying in storylines and introducing characters, the book side has spent a significant time reconfiguring and juggling its members as well. In the past few years, we've seen S.H.I.E.L.D. -- the government organization under which the Avengers operate -- go from celebrated heroes to wanted criminals and then back to nearly autonomous champions. 

If you remember back to the first run of Spider-Man movies, Norman Osborn was the trilogy's most haunting villain. His most recent storyline saw him ascend to U.S. security czar, and his group, H.A.M.M.E.R., triggered a war with Asgard (Thor's home planet). As his treachery became clear, however, Captain America was able to talk the president into disavowing Osborn, and though they could not save Asgard from crashing down to Earth (creating a big boom in Oklahoma!), they ultimately were given their hero status back and trusted once again with the protection of the planet.

The main team operates in the fourth volume of the Avengers series, which just released its 25th issue. Many of the movie's heroes are in this one: Captain America (who now runs S.H.I.E.LD. following Norman Osborn's treason), Thor, Iron Man and Hawkeye. Other members include Vision, Protector, Spider-Woman, Quake and Red Hulk (aka General Thaddeus Ross, the reformed longtime enemy of Bruce Banner's Hulk).

Since 2005 (and a 2010 relaunch), there has been a second Avengers team whose story unfolds in The New Avengers. This team, led by Thunderbolts member Luke Cage, is a sprawling group. On its 25th volume 2 issue, the New Avengers consist of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Mockingbird, Thing, Iron Fist, Doctor Strange, Jessica Jones (though she has left to protect her child), Daredevil and liaison Victoria Hand.

Meanwhile, a secret superhero espionage team is at work in Secret Avengers. Led by Hawkeye, the team boasts Black Widow, Ant-Man (who is rumored to potentially get his own movie at some point), Beast, War Machine, Valkyrie, Venom, Giant-Man, Agent 13 and Captain Britain. They do all the dirty work in a title that was designed to invoke spy themes and storylines. 

For those aspiring heroes, there's perhaps the coolest prep school of all time. Avengers Academy details the lives of those working to join the Avengers and the heroic professors who are preparing them. With a faculty that includes Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Giant-Man and Tigra, there is a huge student group that includes the likes of Spider-Girl, She-Hulk, X-23, Batwing and Butterball (really). Think of it as Professor X's mutant academy, but probably less emotional.

If you're headed out to the comics shop, be prepared to get engulfed in a special event: Avengers vs. X-Men. A multiple-title battle pitting the top two Marvel teams against each other, it's currently the label's biggest storyline and runs across different books and its own mini-series.

Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin