'So, Uh ... Remind Me: What, Exactly, Are We Supposed to be Avenging, Again?' Our comics blogger welcomes the new Avengers trailer by pondering vengeance as a superheroic pursuit.
NPR logo 'So, Uh ... Remind Me: What, Exactly, Are We Supposed to be Avenging, Again?'

'So, Uh ... Remind Me: What, Exactly, Are We Supposed to be Avenging, Again?'

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The Avengers. It's always bugged me.

Not the group itself, which is the subject of Spring 2012 Joss Whedon film whose explodey and big-armed trailer dropped yesterday.

No, it's their name: The Avengers. As the identifier of a group of superheroes - even one as given to infighting as they are - it's irksome.

Justice League? Makes sense. I mean, you see how they got there. Ditto Legion of Super-Heroes.

The Defenders? Simplicity itself. All right there in the name. No branding consultant in the world would quibble.

The Teen Titans? That "Titans" thing is disconcertingly braggy, sure, but you know teenagers. We should consider ourselves lucky they didn't settle on "The Ass-Kickin' Adolescents of AWESOMENESS Pew! Pew! Pew!" or some such.

The Eternals? Well, they're ... eternal, so A+ in terms of SEO, there.

Fantastic Four? They're fantastic. There's four of 'em. What, they should have gone with "The Qualified Quartet" or something?

The Doom Patrol? It's emo and overdramatic as hell, but then so are they. Hand, glove.

X-Men? Sexist ... but catchy!

I maintain there's just something about the idea of superheroes going around avenging that rankles. Because if you're avenging, you're inflicting harm in return for a wrong done to you or another.

Plus it's got the distinctly unheroic and unsavory notions of revenge and vengeance all wrapped up in it, which as we all know lead to tragedy in Ancient Greece and a healthy 10.1 million/3.4 demo on ABC.

Defending is a more active and heroic pursuit; it happens in the moment. Avenging is purely reactive and famously, ideally, cold. Like hangover pizza.

So: Just what was this great and terrible wrong? What grievous wound was inflicted upon the family of Man, such that a team of powerful individuals should arise to avenge it?

Maybe it's just how the trailer's cut, but what Robert Downey, Jr. seems to be referring to in the film is ... a bunch of folks' cars gettin' all blowed up. ("HEAR ME, O MY NOT-YET-FULLY-PAID-OFF-PRIUS! YE SHALL BE AVEEEEENGED!")

Pretty thin gruel there, so let's consult the source material: 1963's The Avengers #1.

True to form, it takes the team (Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp, and The Hulk) 22 pages to come together, during which time there's this one scene where the Hulk goes underground as a circus performer, complete with clown greasepaint (it's pretty bananas) and they're all too busy fighting Loki to talk nomenclature.

But then, in the very last panel, it happens. Behold, history being made:

WASP: "[Our team name] should be colorful and dramatic, like ... The Avengers, or ..."

ANT-MAN: "'Or' nothing! That's it! The Avengers!!"

IRON MAN: "We'll fight together, or separately, if need be!"

(I love that weird Iron Man kicker. "We are a team, unless we're not! Whatever! Just saying! Let's keep our options open, is I guess my point here!")

So that's where it the name from, a desire to be "colorful and dramatic" — two words which, if we can get all meta up in here for second, constitute a pretty fair description of superhero comics as a genre.

And even if, as a team name, The Avengers isn't so much le mot juste as le mot just okay, there's no denying its allusive power.

Even so, I like to tell myself there's gotta be more to it than that. In my head, Iron Man and his Amazing Friends must be fighting a good fight. If they're Avengers, then what they're seeking vengeance on our behalf for some despicable act of cruelty, some terrible hurt dealt to humanity at large.

What might it be, that great wrong?

I got some ideas.


That whole Qwikster mishigas.


Whoever stapled that startled cockatoo to Thor's helmet.

Jennifer Garner in Elektra.

Ben Affleck in Elektra.


That one lady? Who gives out boxes of raisins on Halloween? You know?

The Emmytones.

"liase with"

Light ice cream tastes like medicine.

Kilts on non-Scotsmen.

Guys who pronounce "slavishly" as "slah-vishly"

"4S?" Seriously?

Everything about Howard the Duck except Jeffrey Jones, who was kinda perfect, actually.

The 2nd and 3rd overhead "NOOOOOOOO!" shots in X-Men: Wolverine. Also, the first one.

Black jelly beans, and the "people" who "like" them.

Creed. (Not The Office one.)

Wearers of egregiously unnecessary hats.

People who talk about their workout regimen.


Mrs. Dalton, my fourth grade math teacher, may she rest fitfully.


Any other things that cry out for spandexed vengeance?