The Avengers are the most popular and recognizable group of heroes in the comic book industry to date. The success of the cinematic universe has brought in a flood of new fans, possibly some who have never read the comics and are hoping to get a better idea of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. You’d probably be surprised to find out that in the very beginning they were nothing more than a space-filler brought into existence by Stan Lee when Daredevil #1 was put on hold.
They were once a loosely-defined and highly rotated crew of iconic superpowered humans, brought together by threats too villainous for any one hero to wrangle on their own. From the past to the present, their storylines have been numerous, epic and universal. They’ve spanned time, space and multiple incarnations.
Each of the comics adds dimension and history to the group, but the best stories focus on the mythology of our heroes, socio-political events and personal relationships. It’s safe to say that each Avengers story is something worth reading. If you’re a true fan, we’d suggest reading them all.
To make it easier, we’re here to assemble the most crucial in the series. Whether you are just starting out, filling in some gaps, or a veteran reader dipping back into the stories and trades of yesteryear, we hope you’ll enjoy this list of what we feel are the best Avengers’ comic books in the last 50 years!
New Avengers: Breakout
A prison break of powerful villains from The Raft on Ryker’s Island brings together a group of unlikely heroes. As they move in to break up the mayhem and get to the bottom of a criminal conspiracy, they form the new Avengers by sheer circumstance. The team includes Iron Man, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Luke Cake, Jessica Jones, The Sentry and a few others round out the cast.
After disbanding the old group in Avengers: Disassembled, there was a gap for a new team to emerge. Brian Michael Bendis undertakes the project of putting together a roster with Captain America taking the helm as leader. His work has been cited as bringing the Avengers out of obscurity and into the spotlight. The art by David Finch is moody and awesome, adding to the intensive storyline of the new hero group.
Collection: New Avengers #1-6
Writer: Bright Michael Bendis
Artist: David Finch
Avengers: Red Zone
Before beginning his work on DC, Geoff Johns had a short-lived, impactful run on the Avengers. His storytelling began two years prior to Red Zone, but this culminating effort shines as the best of the storyline. Known for his appropriate characterizations, each hero is given their moment to shine and that’s what constitutes this as one of the best Avengers stories.
When chemical weaponry is released near Mount Rushmore, the classic Avengers team is called to put a stop to a rapidly-spreading bacterial agent that eats away at the flesh of its victims. The deadliest bio-attack in U.S. history is engineered by a notorious villain, but this story is less about the devil you know and more about the heart of the heroes who are racing to save the day. There is a good dose of political intrigue and some significant character moments in this issue, namely the iconic Captain America and Black Panther.
Collection: Avengers #65-70
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Avengers: Nights of Wundagore
The truth of Wanda and Pietro’s lineage is revealed in this Avengers volume that explores the High Evolutionary and mystical creatures of Wundagore Mountain. Led by Captain America the roster has Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Vision, Beat, Wasp, Scarlet Witch and The Falcon fighting against Absorbing Man in the first few issues. Pietro and Wanda begin a journey of their own through Eastern Europe to learn the secrets of their history, and their showdown against the elder god Chthon is the stuff of legends.
The focus on character development is what makes these stories so essential for any Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver fan. The identity of the twins’ father may have been erased by Marvel in recent years, but the characterizations made within the issues have been the base for Wanda’s development in the comic series for years to come. The artwork by John Bryrne has been considered as the best of his career.
Collection: Avengers #181-187
Writer: David Michelinie
Artist: John Byrne
If you’re looking for a comic series that inspired the Avengers movie, this is where you should start. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch present the Avengers in a realistic way within the world’s current political climate. The premise is simple, but the content is extreme. The team of superheroes once led only by other superhumans is reestablished into a government-sponsored strike force now led by General Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. This strike force encounters some imposing issues within and outside of their group. When Banner injects himself with a super-soldier serum and rampages through Manhattan, the heroes must subdue him with the help of Thor. When a shape-shifting alien race of the Chitauri is exposed, there is a team up of forces with the metahumans Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and agents Hawkeye and Black Widow to defeat their common foe.
This superbly illustrated, and expertly plotted tale make this one of Marvel’s most impressive Avengers comics. The artwork spreads are like a summer blockbuster, and exciting plot twists redefine what it is to be an Avenger while keeping the concepts action-packed and approachable for new and old fans alike.
Collection: The Ultimates #1-13
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Bryan Hitch
Avengers: The Kang Dynasty
Kang the Conqueror is one of the deadliest Avengers foes in the history of the comics. He’s a time-traveling warlord who arrives from the 30th Century with his son, Marcus, to literally take over the globe. His alliance with Atlanteans, Deviants and Russian zombies all but ensures it. Where so many villains have failed to complete such an act, Kang executes it with swift, devastating forces of violence. This story weaves together numerous arcs from Busiek’s work and brings closure to the controversial story of Carol Danvers’ Warbird. At the time of its release this series stood as one of the longest-running of the franchise, but the last book is the shining crown.
Busiek is said to have written Kang better than any writer on Marvel had before or since. After using him for a previous story, he found a way to renew the character and drive home an even more epic tale for his final stint on the Avengers title. What had once been a comical villain was taken seriously in this run, creating a definitive threat for the heroes. There were various artists on this saga, including Alan Davis and Mark Farmer, who illustrated the opening issues. Kieron Dwyer and Rick Remender entered as regular artists after that, and their depictions served the title well.
Collection: Avengers #262-269
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Ultron is a sentient robot created by Hank Pym, a scientist of many guises including Ant-Man, Giant-Man and Yellowjacket. When this unstable robot lays waste to the tiny nation of Slorenia, he declares it the birthplace of his New World and becomes the most dangerous foe that the Avengers have ever faced. After kidnapping Pym, Wasp, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man and The Grim Reaper, he plans to use their brain patterns to create a new race of Ultron robots. The remaining Avengers race to save the day before this unbeatable foe succeeds is ridding the earth of all humans, but the fight is more demanding and heart wrenching than expected.
Busiek pens a gripping tale with many of the classic Avengers in the roster. We’re given great development of Hank Pym, as well as the origins of Ultron’s sentience. The battle is one of the most brutal and trying that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have had to face, and many iconic lines of dialogue are served in the process. This comic inspires a lot of the themes in Avengers: Age of Ultron which hit the big screen in 2015.
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: George Perez
Rick Jones, possessor of the “Destiny Force,” is urged by Kang and the Kree Supreme Intelligence to summon aid and keep himself from being killed by Immortus, Master of Time. Avengers from the past, present and future band together to protect him. Along with Kang the Conqueror, the time-traveling team is formed by Captain America from the Secret Empire series; Yellowjacket who doesn’t know he’s Henry Pym; Hawkeye from the end of the Kree-Skrull War; Giant-Man and the Wasp from present-day; Songbird from the near future and Captain Marvel from the far future.
Avengers Forever is a separate maxi-series by Kurt Busiek written in the late 90’s around the same time as his legendary Avengers run. Pulled from all areas of the Avengers timeline this reads as a homage to the Silver and Golden age of the comic franchise. The artwork by Pacheco adds the dimension necessary to turn this into one of the best Avengers stories on our list. For those who have a wide grasp of the past Avengers franchise, and for those who are just curious, this will be a rewarding read to see where the Avengers have come from, and where they end up going.
Collection: Avengers Forever #1-12
Writer: Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern
Avengers: Under Siege
A familiar team of foes rear their heads in this epic tale of Avengers: Under Siege. Baron Zemo II assembles the Masters of Evil who bring their mob to the Avengers Mansion for a surprise attack when they’re at their most vulnerable. This group has been pummeled by the Avengers in one form or another over the years, but Zemo’s plan to vastly outnumber the team succeeds, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. The Masters are at their worst in this series. When their strategy leaves Hercules in a coma and even the loyal butler, Jarvis, is tortured, the remaining Avengers scramble to re-form and save their friends.
Under Siege is one of those classic comic series written by Roger Stern that relies on the emotion and characterization of the heroes. There is strong plotting that will deeply resonate with long-time readers and those curious about the first formation of the team. The resolve of Wasp, Thor and Captain America as they try to save their friends from the clutches of evil will have readers begging for the villains to get what’s coming to them by the end of the series. The moral of this story shows up that there is a price to be paid for being Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Collection: Avengers #264-277
Writer: Roger Stern
Artist: John Buscema
Avengers: Korvac Saga
Korvac is a cyborg from the distant future who is obsessed with power and date. After being defeated by the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor in his own timeline, he travels across time and space to the Earth-616 Universe. After breaking into the knowledge of Galactus, he is accidentally charged with the Power Cosmic and becomes god-like. Recreating himself as Michael, he travels to earth’s surface intent on creating a utopian world. He is pursued through space by the Guardians, who ally with the Avengers in order to stop the villain from completing his plans.
This is a very cerebral storyline written by Shooter that many have called a philosophical and weighty tale. While there is an epic battle that takes place between Korvac and the allied heroes, the concept is much larger than just a brawl. By the end of this series many of the heroes are left with conflicting feelings and psychological scars, and the journey it takes to get there is well worth the read.
Collection: Avengers #167-177
Writer: Jim Shooter
Artist: George Perez
Avengers: Kree/Skrull War
The Kree-Skrull War is a universe-spanning saga that takes place during an intergalactic war between two of the most powerful alien races. The militaristic Krees and shape-shifting Skrulls decide to use earth as their battle zone. They’re met by The Avengers who aim to save their planet from being devolved into a prehistoric warzone. This tale of intrigue and hard choices is one of the most important Captain Marvel stories in the history of the character.
In one of the most monumental works in the franchise, Roy Thomas involves just about every Avenger of the era. The multi-part storyline is the first of many that Marvel would become known for in their future of publishing. The long-standing Vision and Scarlet Witch romance has its source within these issues, as well. Neal Adams is the lead illustrator on this arc, and his epic depictions of the heroes add to the drama and power of the as it unfolds.
Collection: Avengers #89-97
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Sal Buscema, John Buscema and Neal Adams
Additional Must-Read Avengers Comics
There are many other prime stories featuring the Avengers. This list is only the tip of the iceberg, focusing on the epics and character-focused development within the timeline. For those of you who are coming in from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll probably want to check out Civil War and its tie-ins; Civil War: Frontline and Civil War: The Confession. These were some of the most successful crossover features for the Avengers in recent years. The premise follows the superheroes being required to register their identities with the government. When the team divides down the center, Captain America leads the underground movement while Iron-Man takes up the pro-registration cause. This is yet another powerful crossover that features the X-Men, Fantastic Four and many others, though this time the fight is internal.
Operation: Galactic Storm could be considered a sequel to the 70’s Kree/Skrull War storyline. Much like the previous series, the Avengers are caught in the crosshairs of a war waging between two alien empires., this time the Kree and Shi'ar. This nineteen-part story and its aftermath are tied in with several of the main title heroes of the Avenger including Cap, Iron Man, Thor and Wonder Man.
Infinity War is worthy of mentioning, too. Not only because it’s title is that of the MCU film. The creation of the Infinity Gauntlet and the use of the Gems is explained in immense detail in this six-part series. Following that up with the Infinity Gauntlet series, you’ll have a pretty good picture of what the original groundwork for the films was inspired by. The team isn’t quite the same, but the framework and intriguing storyline is worth the effort.