An Avengers who's who

An Avengers who's who

Story by Linda East Brady , Standard-Examiner staff - May 4 2012 - 2:31am
An Avengers who's who
An Avengers who's who
An Avengers who's who
An Avengers who's who
An Avengers who's who
An Avengers who's who
An Avengers who's who

The Marvel Universe that is the origin of the new "Avengers" movie is as populated and convoluted as our own, with good, bad and the ugly driving the plot lines. Volumes have been written trying to sum up the various origin stories and biographies of the characters who have passed through Marvel's pages.

Below we give you a few comic/graphic novel factoids on the central characters featured in the new film. It is by no means considered a complete history of the characters or plotlines of The Avengers, nor of the Marvel Universe.

Who: Nick Fury

Marvel debut: 1963

Played by: Samuel L. Jackson

Résumé: Fury is the director of espionage/law enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. The acronym has changed over time; in the Marvel film world, it stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.

Superpowers? No. Fury is a weapons expert who worked his way to his leadership position. He originated in the World War II-based comic "Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos" and has evolved with the times.

Fury was originally drawn as a Caucasian, but since Jackson's casting, is depicted as African-American in the books as well.

* * *

Who: Tony Stark/Iron Man

Marvel debut: 1963

Played by: Robert Downey Jr.

Résumé: Genius industrialist/inventor/playboy Stark, whose Stark Industries makes high-tech weaponry, suffered a grave chest/heart injury when kidnapped by bad guys. The terrorists wanted Stark to build them a weapon of mass destruction. Instead, he built and implanted into his chest a device to keep him alive, and an exoskeleton that surrounds it and makes him super-strong and able to fly.

Marvel mastermind and writer Stan Lee originally helped create the character to explore Cold War stories, though Iron Man's tale has translated uncannily well into the post 9/11 age. Lee has also said he based the character on Howard Hughes.

Superpowers? Not strictly. His powers come from his armored suits, of which he has created numerous versions over the years. They are made of fictional super-strong alloys, enhanced by force fields, and are self-contained environments that are weaponized and fly. Over the decades, Stark has created numerous suits with varying properties.

* * *

Who: Steve Rogers/Captain America

Marvel debut: 1941 (via Marvel's predecessor, Timely Comics)

Played by: Chris Evans

Résumé: Rogers is one of the Greatest Generation. Despite being a 90-pound-weakling art student, he had a desperate need to fight the Nazis. Mortified that he was too frail to pass the enlistment physical, Rogers volunteered to become the first test subject for Operation: Rebirth, a project meant to create an army of super soldiers. The key to the creation was a secret serum invented for the military by Professor Abraham Erskine.

The end result is a man of greatly enhanced musculature and reflexes. But soon after Rogers' transformation, Prof. Erskine is assassinated by a Nazi operative, leaving Rogers as his sole creation.

Rogers' skills were used in both counterintelligence, and, after donning the costume that Rogers himself designed, as an American symbol to counter the Nazis' propaganda efforts.

Superpowers? Yes. Captain America represents the ultimate human warrior, with physical enhancements due to ingesting Erskine's serum. The serum also gives him the ability to eliminate excessive toxins produced by fatigue, which gives him exceptional endurance. He is supremely intelligent and agile, is a master of fighting styles and martial arts, and is devoted to his workouts.

He also has a shield created for him out of metals alloyed with a unique compound called Vibranium. It is virtually indestructible.

* * *

Who: Bruce Banner/The Hulk

Marvel debut: 1962

Played by: Mark Ruffio

Résumé: Withdrawn and reserved scientist Banner, a Dr. Jekyll if you will, invents a gamma bomb and is accidentally exposed to the rays during a test explosion. The exposure creates Banner's Mr. Hyde -- an impulsive, gigantic, muscle-bound creature known as The Hulk, driven by passionate emotion.

Superpowers? Not in the usual sense. Banner has no control over the monster within. But the Hulk alter ego is enormous, tremendously powerful and, more often than not, pretty darn angry. To paraphrase the most famous line from the "Hulk" TV program that starred Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno: You won't like him when he's angry.

* * *

Who: Thor

Marvel debut: 1962

Played by: Chris Hemsworth

Résumé: The character is loosely based on the Norse God of Thunder, who goes by the same name. The son of top gods Odin and Gaea, Thor is not actually immortal -- rather, he has to periodically munch on the Gold Apples of Idunn to extend his lifespan. Like most deities, he doesn't discuss his real age, but is known to be thousands of years old.

Superpowers? Yes, godlike ones. Though he can be hurt, it isn't easy to do. And his senses are second to none. Thor can track objects traveling faster than the speed of light, he can travel through time and can hear cries from the other side of the planet.

Thor has superhuman speed as well, and also has stamina in spades. Starfish-like, Thor can regenerate entire limbs and organs. He is immune to Earthling diseases, and has quite a bit of resistance to most magic. He can fly in Earth's atmosphere and in outer space. And he's pretty handy with your typical medieval weaponry.

Oh, and that hammer of his? It can command the weather and deflects bullets. And you sure don't want to get hit by the thing. But if it is ever broken, Thor might just die.

* * *

Who: Natasha Romanoff (Romanova)/Black Widow

Marvel debut: 1964

Played by: Scarlett Johansson

Résumé: The sexy siren, born in Stalingrad, first appeared as a Cold-War-era Soviet spy in the Iron Man series. She has a history with Hawkeye, both seducing and recruiting him to work for the Soviets.

She was supplied with her high-tech costume and gadgets by the U.S.S.R., but later defected to the U.S., in part due to her love of Hawkeye. She soon after became a member of S.H.I.EL.D. Black Widow first appeared in her own limited series in 1970, and has guest-starred and worked as a supporting character in a number of Marvel series since.

Superpowers? Debatable. As originally conceived, Black Widow is merely a well-trained fighter and weapons expert, though in an alternative Marvel storyline, she was, as a child, enhanced in a number of ways by Soviet scientists -- one explanation of why Black Widow still looks like Scarlett Johansson, despite her years.

* * *

Who: Clint Barton/Hawkeye

Marvel debut: 1964

Played by: Jeremy Renner

Résumé: Barton was born into a happy family in Iowa, but lost both parents in a car wreck. After years in an orphanage, he and his brother ran away and joined the circus. There, Barton was trained as a master archer.

After seeing Iron Man in action, he was inspired to become a superhero himself, but after being falsely accused of a crime, he went on the run. It was during his fugitive years that he was seduced by Black Widow, then a Soviet spy.

To make a long and complicated story short, Hawkeye becomes a reluctant villain, but later comes back into the fold as an Avenger.

Superpowers? None, in most incarnations. He is undoubtably a master marksman with a bow, and concealed in his quiver, he wields a handful of "trick arrows."

He is also an acrobat and fencer, is at peak fitness, and was trained in various martial arts and hand-to-hand combat by Captain America.

-- Compiled by Linda East Brady, with help from www.marvel.com and www.imdb.com

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