Let’s assume, for the purpose of this post, that you just saw The Avengers and had just as much fun as we did. What happens now? A second Avengers film won’t be coming around for a little while (2015-ish, about the same time as hover technology) but you’d love just a little more from these action and quip-heavy characters.
It’s time to hit the bookstore. Below, we suggest three graphic novels that will give you the exact same thrill that The Avengers did. And provide some much needed context for that post-credits sequence!
Spoilers for The Avengers ahead.
For The Person Who Wants More Avengers
Read: The Ultimates
A lot of the elements found in The Avengers and the movies before it are based on scenes and plot structure taken from Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates. The comic is drawn in a realistic, cinematic style, as well. (It’s basically a movie on paper and it is gorgeous.)
The Ultimates is basically the same concept as The Avengers. The book explores how the Avengers (called the Ultimates, here) gained their powers, came together, and learned how to be heroes in our current 21st century world as opposed to the atom-era of the 1950s and 60s that the original comic book took place in.
These are extremely flawed characters, as well, echoing a lot of the conflict moviegoers witnessed in The Avengers but taken to a more extreme degree. Captain America is a bit controlling and has a really hard time not bringing some outdated 1940s attitudes to bear, the team is full of narcissistic scientists who turn into Huge Guys, and no one is sure of Thor is even a god or just some crazy guy who invented a really powerful hammer. And they all spend a lot of time fighting themselves. (Iron Man is still pretty much Iron Man. Ditto for Hawkeye and Black Widow.)
The initial Ultimates mini-series is a self-contained story comprised of two small volumes. (Here and here.) It was followed up by a movie-style sequel called Ultimates 2, which is also comprised of two volumes and is utterly, terrifyingly epic. (Here and here.)
The tone between The Ultimates and The Avengers is so similar you’ll feel like you’ve cheated and seen Avengers 2 before it’s even been made.
For The Person Who Wants More Joss Whedon Writing Superheroes
Read: Astonishing X-Men
A lot of what makes The Avengers so much fun is the density and humor that director and co-writer Joss Whedon brought to the film. And while it’s very easy to find and enjoy Whedon’s writing style on television or film, the four-volume Astonishing X-Men graphic novel series is notably his finest superhero work, pre-Avengers.
Astonishing X-Men is a stand-alone story involving the X-Men, superheroes who inhabit the same universe as The Avengers. (You might recognize some of the X-Men here from the movies.) And while the series does play with some backstory from other titles, you don’t need to know it to enjoy the story as it is.
Astonishing X-Men is filled with the same sharp dialogue, intense action, and heavy character moments that’s contained within The Avengers (and the rest of his work, really). And like The Ultimates, Astonishing X-Men is drawn in a realistic, cinematic style by John Cassaday, making it extremely easy to follow.
For the Person Who Wants To Know Why We All Flipped Out After the Post-Credits Sequence
Read: The Infinity Gauntlet
That purple-headed guy at the end of the movie was Thanos. He’s... a crazy person, to put it mildly. When you say, or show, Thanos to a long time comic book reader they immediately think of the insane early 1990s graphic novel The Infinity Gauntlet.
This story was a massive Marvel Universe crossover involving the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and more. It concerned the heroes of Earth dealing with Thanos after he obtained the Infinity Gauntlet, an item that grants its wearer omnipotence. To make matters even worse, Thanos worships the concept and the creepy embodiment of Death, and wreaks havoc on the universe in order to court her favor. In this graphic novel, killing off half of the universe’s entire population is only where he starts.
This is a pretty huge concept to bring to bear against our mostly Earthbound Avengers, so it remains to be seen how it will be interpreted for the big screen without looking completely batty. I imagine Thor 2 will have to do the heavy-lifting on this one, especially considering that we’ve already seen the Infinity Gauntlet in the first Thor movie.
The Infinity Gauntlet isn’t an easy read even for those familiar with the characters in it, but it is fun in that way that it’s fun to play with all of your toys together. (And Jim Starlin’s art is craaaazy.) And it gives you by far the best idea of just what Thanos is.
Funnily enough, I haven’t suggested any actual Avengers comics to read. Mostly this is because Avengers comics are a total mess. In the comic universe, the roster of the team changes constantly, making it difficult for new readers to jump on board, and there are currently three to five Avengers teams running around the place anyway, making it even harder!
Further, it doesn’t quite have classic or iconic stories in the same sense that other comics do. The AV Club has a good list of Avengers stories to check out, but they’re still a bit of a challenge, so my suggestion would be to save them for after you initially immerse yourself into these comics.
Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and once did a fourth grade book report on The Infinity Gauntlet that was so confusing the teacher just wrote a bunch of big red question marks across the entire top of the page.