Avengers facts you may not know

They're Earth's Mightiest Heroes. But how much do you really know about the Avengers? Here are 20 facts about the superhero franchise that even hardcore fans might not know. 

The team was named by a character who hasn't appeared in the movies

When you think of the Avengers, you probably think of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. But it was another superhero who actually gave the team its name—a character that somehow hasn't even appeared in the movies yet. We're talking about Janet van Dyne, the winsome Wasp, who—although she was at least finally mentioned in Ant-Man—still hasn't made her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut. Aside from being a founding member of the Avengers in the comics, Ms. Van Dyne privately funded the team and served as its leader for long stretches, proving a pivotal part of countless classic storyline arcs—all while running a fashion empire.

The Hulk was only a member for one issue

In the movies, the Hulk is one of the most high-profile members of the team. (Hey, it's hard to keep under the radar when you're a giant green anger machine.) Ironically, though, he was only an Avenger for a single issue in the comics: they formed in the last panel of Avengers #1, and by the end of the second issue, he'd already quit in a rage, to be replaced by Captain America (who earned retroactive "founding member" status thanks to the Hulk's shenanigans). He never really seemed like a team player anyway…but he did return to active duty of a sort during 2012's Avengers vs. X-Men crossover event, when he's spotted helping out a joint squad made up of members from the two teams.

Marvel doesn't have the movie rights to the Avengers' biggest archenemy

Ultron is one of the most important Avengers villains. But one nemesis clearly stands out as their all-time biggest threat: Kang the Conqueror, a time-traveling warlord who has menaced the team since 1964. So why hasn't he appeared in an Avengers film yet? Simple: Marvel included the film rights to Kang as part of their Fantastic Four contract with 20th Century Fox. So unless some kind of deal is made, Kang is off the MCU table for good.

Stan Lee wrote the original members out of the comic because he was getting confused

One of the most infamous moments in Avengers history took place in Avengers #16, in which Stan Lee shockingly had the entire original team quit—Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man, and Wasp—only to be replaced by reformed supervillains. But there was a simple explanation: since those characters were each starring in their own solo comics, Lee was starting to get confused about the continuity. Rather than spend time figuring out each month when each adventure happened in relation to the others, he decided to just write them all out and make keeping track of everything that much simpler.

Avengers featured one of the first civil rights stories in comics history

Much has rightly been made of the Black Panther, who became the first black superhero in comics when he debuted in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966. Just two months later, though, an equally important story began in Avengers #32, as the Avengers faced off against a thinly veiled Ku Klux Klan analogue called the Sons of the Serpent. Though the story has mostly been overlooked, it's one of the earliest and most powerful stories in mainstream comics history to directly address the issues of the civil rights movement. It's perhaps worth noting that the Sons recently returned as part of a storyline arc in the revamped Captain America, in which Cap's pal Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the Falcon, has taken up the shield—and the group's anti-immigration rhetoric was defended by a real-life panel on Fox News.

Ultron was based on a character from Captain Video

It sounds weird, but we were this close to having a movie called Avengers: Age of Makino. That's because the villainous robot Ultron was based on another comic book killer robot named Makino, who appeared in an obscure comic book adaptation of the early-50's sci-fi TV series Captain Video. Leave it to uber comics nerd Roy Thomas to remember Makino's creepy design and bring it back for Ultron.

The Vision was originally supposed to be an alien

Speaking of writer Roy Thomas dredging up forgotten characters to create new ones, let's talk about the Vision. While Vision is of course a synthezoid—or in English, a synthetic man—originally he was supposed to be an alien. That's because Thomas had planned to just use the old Timely Comics hero the Vision, an alien cop from a smoke dimension who comes to Earth to battle mystical crime. Stan Lee wanted a robot, though, so Thomas simply took the name and design for Vision and used it to make a new, robotic version.

If romance comics sold better, the Avengers wouldn't exist

The Avengers and The X-Men both debuted on July 2, 1963. But they almost missed newsstands for a very weird reason: at one point in time Marvel's chief competitor, DC Comics, actually controlled how many titles Marvel could publish. That's because DC was Marvel's distributor, and they used that relationship to limit Marvel to a handful of titles every month. In order to publish Avengers and X-Men, the company had to cancel two other comics: Love Romances and Gunsmoke Western. Just think—if romance comics sold better, the Avengers might have never existed!

The Avengers secretly crossed over with the Justice League behind DC's back

DC and Marvel have long had an antagonistic relationship. So when Roy Thomas and DC writer Mike Friedrich wanted to have the Avengers crossover with the Justice League of America, they had to do it on the down low. The result was a secret crossover neither company was aware of until after it was published. In Avengers #85, the team travels to an alternate universe where they meet the Squadron Supreme, a thinly-veiled analogue of the Justice League. The same month, in Justice League of America #87, a team of heroes called The Assemblers appears from an alternate universe and teams up with the Justice League. Smooth, guys, real smooth.

Thanos was ripped off from a DC Comics character

While the Avengers rush headlong towards their inevitable MCU showdown with Thanos, DC's movie universe seems to be setting up an eventual battle with Darkseid. That's only fitting, since they're the same character. When Thanos was created, Jim Starlin blatantly patterned him after one of Jack Kirby's New Gods characters, Metron. Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas told Starlin that if he was going to steal from Kirby, he might as well steal the coolest of the New Gods characters instead, namely Darkseid. Starlin agreed, which is why both movie universes feature basically the same villain.

Rogue from the X-Men debuted as an Avengers villain

One of the most infamous moments in Avengers history is the deeply misguided story of Ms. Marvel being mind-controlled and impregnated by a time-traveler from another dimension. Naturally, many were outraged by the tale, including former Ms. Marvel writer Chris Claremont. Claremont wrote a rebuttal in Avengers Annual #10, during which the Avengers got their butts kicked and were told off by Ms. Marvel. Claremont needed a new villain to deliver the message appropriately, though, so he created one: the mutant Rogue, who he'd later turn into one of the most famous members of the X-Men.

David Letterman once guest starred in an issue of the comic

Maybe the weirdest Avengers story of all time took place in the early '80s, when a squad of reserve members made a publicity appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. If you don't remember that episode, though, don't worry, because it wasn't on TV: the story was in Avengers #239, complete with Dave's famous gap-toothed grin gracing the cover. Classic.

The spinoff comic West Coast Avengers was created by accident

During his '80s Avengers run, writer Roger Sterncame up with the idea of a second branch of the team: the West Coast Avengers, which would be…well, exactly what it sounds like. Stern wrote a four-issue miniseries, planning to continue the story of both the east and west coast branches in the pages of Avengers. Once sales numbers came in, though, Marvel realized the second series was a hit and they quickly put together a new ongoing title—without Stern's knowledge or involvement. He was forced to completely scrap a year's worth of stories because of the spinoff title he'd accidentally created.

The Avengers comic was rebooted in the '90s

It might be a little hard to believe these days, but for many years, Marvel faced repeated cash flow issues, and found its assets perpetually subject to the whims of various corporate ownership regimes. Faced with massive cash flow issues in the mid-'90s due to bankruptcy, Marvel leadership took a huge gamble by farming out the creative stewardship of flagship titles Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America to Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, former employees who'd left to help start competing imprint Image Comics. The experiment, dubbed "Heroes Reborn," lasted a year; by that point, Marvel was on better financial footing, and they relaunched the books yet again.

Spider-Man didn't join the team for over 40 years

Though it seems like a no-brainer to have Spider-man on the Avengers, he didn't become a full-time member until Brian Michael Bendis added him with the launch of the New Avengers title in 2004. His official inclusion came 40 years after he first crossed paths with the team, and followed numerous unsuccessful attempts by one side or the other to make the membership happen.

Before Avengers, Joss Whedon wrote the first X-Men film

Joss Whedon hit it about as big as any writer and director can with Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. But a decade earlier, he'd actually had the opportunity to take a crack at X-Men, writing a version of the script for the team's 2000 feature film. Fox wasn't thrilled with his take, though, and they brought in other writers to rework his script. Oh, what might have been.

Hawkeye was going to take out the Hulk and Iron Man in Avengers

Hawkeye didn't really have anything to do in the first Avengers film, what with him being brainwashed by Loki and everything. But concept art reveals that originally, he was slated to have special arrows designed to take out each member of the team, including Iron Man and Hulk. "He's the only one who can really take down the Hulk with his tranq tip arrows," Jeremy Renner told Entertainment Weekly.

Scarlet Witch's origin was changed due to Avengers movie rights

You've no doubt noticed that Quicksilver has appeared in Marvel's Avengers franchise as well as Fox's X-Men films. That's due to a special arrangement that allows both parties to share movie rights to the character and his sister, Scarlet Witch. One caveat, though: since Fox has the rights to Magneto, Marvel can't mention him. Which is a problem, since Magneto is their father. Or was! Marvel's solution: simply change their origin story in the comics to write Magneto out of it completely.

Samuel L. Jackson's casting as Nick Fury was fated by the comics

Follow along if you can: in the comics, Nick Fury was originally a white World War II vet. When Marvel updated things for their Ultimate Universe, artist Bryan Hitch decided to use Samuel L. Jackson as the model for the new version of the character. Fans loved it, so when they went to make the movies, Marvel decided to just cast Jackson in the role—and once the movies became a hit, they had to retroactively make Fury black in the main Marvel Universe. To explain the change, they gave the original character a previously unknown African-American son named Nick Fury, Jr., and had him take over for his dad. These days, Nick Senior is chained to the moon. Confused yet?

The Wasp was originally going to take the Black Widow's place in the first movie

While fans are clamoring for a Black Widow solo movie, few realize there was a point where she came close to being written out of the series entirely. During early drafts of the first Avengers script, Whedon wasn't sure whether Scarlett Johansson, who ended up playing Black Widow, would be available for the movie, so he wrote a version that featured the Wasp instead. In fact, Whedon liked the character so much, he wrote too much of her into the script. "It was way too Waspy," he said of the draft. "I was like, 'She's adorable! I'm just going to watch her!'" Eventually Johansson signed up and Wasp was shown the door.