One might think that the release of the Avengers live-action film or the upcoming 50th anniversary of the first issue of the comic next year in 2013 is what prompted me to  read the Avengers from issue one through to the present, but like most things, it’s entirely coincidence that I started doing so between those two major events. I had recently decided that rather than hunt down all the back issues and spend thousands of dollars to have a complete collection of the original comics, I would settle on purchasing a few black-and-white collected editions. I ended up spending less than $100 to fill the many gaps in the beginning of my run. When I was done with that, I found I now had the complete story of the Avengers from beginning to end, many of which I had never read before, so the time was right to dive in.
I had already started the process of rereading my entire collection. They were sitting around in the garage, and I had only read most of them once. If I was bothering to store them and not sell them, I might as well be keeping them for a reason. It actually does provide a different experience to read a whole series in one shot rather than the dribs and drabs that come with a monthly publication. The mind can only remember so much over the course of the 30 days between issues, but read them back to back, and you can get more of the richly layered nuance that was carefully crafted into the stories. If it’s there. Sometimes it’s just people hitting each other a lot. Not that there’s anything wrong with that in comic books.
One of my friends thought it might be interesting for me to document the series from the beginning and my thoughts on it. Although it may not turn out interesting, it’s certainly possible to do so, and I figured I’d give it a shot. 
To say that there is one story from beginning to end is not in the least accurate. In the almost 50 years of publication, hundreds of writers and artists have told stories about the team. The members of the team have appeared in thousands of issues of their own individual series and guest-starred thousands of times in other Marvel comics. Even well-meaning writers can’t keep up. And some writers honestly didn’t care much what happened before they got there. Once they got their hands on a character, they kept what they liked and jettisoned the rest because it didn’t fit their vision. The modern 21st-century versions of these characters will often be found making fun of their own past decisions and adventures that make no sense now or bemoan their questionable taste in old costumes. (The seventies were hard on everyone for fashion.) 
In any “shared universe” with multiple writers, whether it’s a long-running soap opera on television or the Star Wars films, cartoons, novels, video games, et cetera, there becomes such a huge amount of material that a writer coming into it really has no chance to stay consistent with everything. If George Lucas can’t keep six movies cohesive, what chance does anyone have? The best that can be hoped for is a valiant failure that’s wildly entertaining. So I’m not going to try to pick on how old issues contradict new ones. They do. The Hulk doesn’t have three toes like in the issue I just read. I’m not going to pick on them for that. I’m going to accept that all the pieces don’t fit quite right and move on and just enjoy the ride.
So is Tony Stark/Iron Man in Avengers issue 1 from 1963 the same guy as in the Avengers comic that came out two weeks ago in 2012? Has he experienced all the thousands of adventures documented in every Marvel comic? No. No, he has not. Comic book characters are not allowed to age normally. Somehow a comic character’s personal history will always seem to fit in roughly the last five, maybe ten years of his life. So there’s no way 2012 Tony Stark was a young man in 1963 unless he, all his teammates, and most of his villains are all senior citizens now.
Even a fictional resident of the fictional Marvel Universe who knows the history of that world has to realize that nothing can be trusted to have ever happened. There are characters, magical artifacts, and technology all over the place which can time-travel, change the memories of the entire population of the world at once, even destroy whole realities and replace them with new, totally different ones. Wholesale changes in reality happen all the time, and those are the ones that we know about from when the heroes catch wind of it and try to stop it. There have to be other times some unknown citizen beneath the notice of world-class superheroes is accidentally Marty-McFlying up the time stream and getting away with it.  So did all these adventures happen in the history of Marvel's multiverse? Probably, maybe. Did they all happen as one long series of events in Marvel's main Earth-616 universe? No way.
That said, let’s get started.

Acknowledgements and Disclaimers

                 I have worked for Marvel Comics in the past, though mostly on accident. While working at another publisher, Malibu Comics, the company was purchased by Marvel, so I became a Marvel employee for about a year in around 1995. That’s what the checks said, anyway.  The Ultraverse line of comics I worked on shrank and was eventually discontinued. I never actually worked on any of the Avengers books personally, though I did work on books that featured Avengers characters in them. The characters never call, write, or save my neighborhood from alien invasion anymore, so I don’t think they remember me. Every once in a while, I think I sense a giant, bald voyeur watching me from the moon, though that could be related to some other issue.
                My observations are based on my memory, which I would rate as average. When I need help, I’d like to thank in advance websites I will most likely frequent, like,, and for having content created by people with far more time on their hands and incredible focus for documenting the minutiae of a completely fictional world with no regard for getting any credit. I reserve the right to be wrong on accident, but I will strive to be correct on purpose.
               The publication dates I will list are from the title pages of the books in question. This isn’t necessarily the street date the issues appeared. For example, the comic I bought on August 22, 2012, has a publication date listed as “October, 2012.” Two months difference is a decent rule of thumb, but not always accurate. On-line databases seem to use the latter date, so that’s what I’m going with as well.
                When I list references to a series, like Fantastic Four (1961) 1, the year is the year that title first started publication. I only include the year since multiple series come out with the same title. It is not the year of that specific issue, but rather the year the series started. If there is no year, either that series has a unique title or I've already referenced that series in the article and the same series can be assumed.

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