This spring sees the release of one of the biggest and most anticipated movies of the year, Avengers: Age of Ultron. The first movie was gigantic in terms of its box office receipts and no doubt created some new fans of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in all forms of media, from comics to animation to the silver screen.
Just in time for the release of the movie, and to help both new and old fans to wade through the more than 50-year history of the team, is The Avengers Vault, a huge, beautifully constructed hardback book with more than 170 pages of history, biographies, art, and reproductions of posters and other items from the Avengers’ past. This is a hefty book, but it’s very approachable and is written in a conversational, but educated and informed, tone that really will appeal to new fans of the franchise without alienating those who have been following the team’s exploits for awhile.
Peter A. David, the author, really knows his stuff. Unlike some comic collection historians, David is actually primarily a fiction and comics writer, having written a long 12-run on the Incredible Hulk and also on several other titles for both Marvel and DC as well as others. It’s this background as a comics writer that helps David to sift through more than five decades of, frankly, complicated history and present the information in a way that’s easy-to-understand and yet with enough depth to still be informative. Given the various reboots, retcons, refreshes, alternate universes, and what-not to sort through and make sense of, that’s no small task, especially for more casual readers who might dip and out of a title from time to time.
The Avengers Vault begins with a history of how the team came together, both from an “in-world” standpoint of the characters included and how they reacted to each other, as well as from a “real-world” standpoint about how and why the management at (then) Timely Comics (later Marvel) decided to create a team-based comic. There have been many rumors about this over the past few decades, but David does his best to get to the bottom of it and present a definitive answer as to whose idea it was, and why. This chapter also includes an overview of the various stages of the Avengers in the comics, along with the creative teams who were responsible for those periods. It covers the founding of the team, adding new team members, and all the way through things like the West Coast Avengers, the Disassembled story arc, the Ultimates, and up to the modern age (although obviously the more recent changes are not covered in this book).
David does a great job of putting all of the changes happening in the comics into the context of the history of the day, which is a really nice touch and helps the reader to understand why certain changes might have been made. There’s a lot to learn in this section, and in the entire book in general, about the history of Marvel Comics as it relates to the history of America and the world, through the lens of the Avengers.
After this introduction section there are four chapters, one each for the “main” four members of the Avengers: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk. Interesting, the chapter on Cap is first, which is a bit of an odd choice considering that he wasn’t actually a founding member of the team and didn’t show up until issue #4 (see? I bet some of you out there just learned something!). These chapters are very informative and cover the entire history of the character, not just the character’s time with the Avengers, so the reader gets a very comprehensive overview of these four characters.
After these four chapters, there is a short chapter called “Beyond the Universe” which covers the Avengers’ animated history on television, and then an Appendix listing all the members of the Avengers, in order they joined the team, and also all of the various sub-groups within the Avengers and their members (e.g., the Illuminati, the Secret Avengers, the New Avengers, and others).
In addition to the history of the team in written form, this book is full of past images of the Avengers in the form of comic covers, interior pages, sketches, rough page layouts, and more, from the entire history of the team and its members. While there are tons of historical artwork in here, there are recent images as well, such as Sam Wilson as Captain America.
One of the best parts of this book, however, are the five folders that are built into the book, one for each of the first five sections, that include high-quality reprints of past Avengers art, including color guides for covers, a vintage Sentinels of Liberty fan club membership card from 1941, in-house ads, posters, and more. These are great pieces that increase the value of the book, and unlike some bonus materials which are sometimes bound into the book but perforated, or poly-bagged and easily lost, the publisher used this unique folder concept to keep the pieces with the book itself with little chance of them being lost.
The Avengers Vault is a great overview of the team of Earth’s Mightiest Mortals and makes a great addition to an Avengers-specific, or even a general comics, collection. It should be readily available at most large bookstores, comics shops, and the usual online vendors.