The Most Dramatic Lineup Changes to Marvel's Comic Book 'Avengers'

From government mandates to an all-villain team, here are the 'Avengers' changes that make 'Age of Ultron's' climax look tame.
Jack Kirby/Marvel Entertainment

Avengers: Age of Ultron brings a long-standing comic tradition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — namely, the moment where one team of Avengers is replaced with a new guard of heroes willing to step up and claim the title of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Here are the most important shifts in the lineup of the comic book Avengers to date.

"The Old Order Changeth!" (Avengers Vol. 1 No. 16)

The title of the 16th issue of the Avengers series might have seemed a little hyperbolic when it was released in 1965. After all, the Avengers had been in existence for less than two years at the time, so the order was hardly "old" — and yet, the boldness of the statement fit the story. This was, after all, not only the first time that the lineup of the Avengers had changed, but, with none of the team's founding members sticking around, it was the first time a superhero team had undergone such drastic upheaval in comic book history. Other superhero teams had added members, sure, but this was genuinely something new. (Mirroring Age of Ultron's roster change, two of the new members were Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, alongside Hawkeye. Captain America, who'd joined the group in the fourth issue of the series, stuck around to ensure these new kids didn't ruin everything.)

"On the Matter of Heroes!" (Avengers Vol. 1 No. 181)

By 1979, it was no longer unusual to see the Avengers add newcomers or lose stalwarts. What made the change in the 181st issue of the series so different was the fact that it was the result of external forces — in this case, the U.S. government — who declared that, as an adjunct of the federal authorities, the Avengers had to cut their membership to seven members and also include at least one minority, as evidence of affirmative action (don't worry, it didn't make that much sense to fans at the time, either). This means that the Falcon was drafted into service, despite his objections about being a "token" member of the team, and long-standing members, including Hawkeye, were pushed out — at least temporarily.

"Avengers Assemble" (West Coast Avengers Vol. 1 No. 1)

The logic behind the 1984 creation of the West Coast Avengers — a separate-but-equal branch of the team that operated out of Los Angeles instead of the team's regular headquarters in New York City — differed depending on whether you were looking at the story itself (the team was created as a work-around to the seven-member limit imposed by the government) or at the real world, where Marvel was looking to expand its market share by turning successful series into franchises. Either way, the team's creation marked the first time that Marvel had more than one Avengers series in existence — a state that soon would become the norm. (At the franchise's height, Marvel's Avengers sported nine separate series.)

"Avengers Assemble!" (Avengers Vol. 1 No. 305)

In a short-lived maneuver — albeit one that would be returned to, after a fashion, in the current Avengers series — 1989's Avengers No. 305 saw Captain America redefine what it meant to be an Avenger. Doing away with the idea of a regular team, it was decided that anyone who'd ever been an Avenger should be available to be added to the team for a suitable mission in the future, meaning that the team's makeup went from the five heroes of the previous era to a number somewhere in the mid-20s. (This unconventional idea only lasted until 1991's Avengers No. 329, which restored a more traditional roster.)

"Dark Reign" (Dark Avengers Vol. 1 No. 1)

The Avengers franchise underwent some dramatic changes in the early part of the 21st century, with the Avengers Disassembled storyline and subsequent New Avengers and Mighty Avengers series rebuilding the team as a mix of all-star players and obscure, if beloved, B- and C-list characters favored by fan-favorite writer Brian Michael Bendis. With the 2009 launch of Dark Avengers, Bendis played with the formula even more, creating a government-sponsored team of villains that took the costumes and names of famous superheroes in an attempt to rebrand themselves as the next generation of superheroes. A metatextual commentary on the franchise nature of superheroes or simply a new twist on an old idea? Either way, the Dark Avengers concept survived the series' 16-issue run, with the name being reused on a couple of occasions since.