Captain America: The Winter Soldier is about to arrive in theaters, and while the film focuses on the solo adventure of the star-spangled hero, it’s also part of the larger Avengers Universe that Marvel Studios continues to build onscreen. And with every film, new heroes and villains are added, shifting and expanding the universe.
Of course, it will take several decades and dozens of films to ever rival the comic book universe that has been built across thousands of issues.
But The Avengers will always stand at the center of Marvel Comics. With a constantly shifting roster, literally hundreds of heroes have been part of the team at one time or another. Some are classic additions, while others are minor footnotes in Avengers history. But there are some that will always be seen as the best of the best.
So, without further ado, here are my picks for the greatest among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
For the majority of Spider-Man’s history, the arachnid hero worked solo. Patrolling the streets and skies of Manhattan, Peter Parker was seen as a menace by the public at large, if not by his fellow heroes. But when The Avengers were decimated in the storyline Avengers: Disassembled, he and a mix of both old and new additions created The New Avengers – a modern team that still reflected the storied history of this band of heroes. While he hasn’t had the impact or legacy of many of the other members on this list, he’s proven to be an invaluable part of The Avengers.
9. Carol Danvers
A hero with almost as many name changes as number 6 on this list, Carol Danvers has served on The Avengers as Ms. Marvel, Binary, Warbird, and most recently Captain Marvel. She’s also often the powerhouse of the team, with strength, speed, durability, flight, and energy bolts given to her by fusing with alien genes. Marvel superheroes never have it easy, but Captain Marvel may have faced more adversity than most of the heroes on this list, and that’s no easy feat. Her resilient fight for identity and continuing success over adversity makes her one of the greatest female superheroes in comics.
8. Black Panther
The first black superhero in comics is also one of its most iconic. Black Panther (real name T’Challa) is both a globe-trotting superhero and the ruler of the African nation of Wakanda. His mystically-augmented physical capabilities and senses make him powerful, but like so many of The Avengers, his will to win is more important than his powers. Black Panther is also one of the smartest men on the planet, another trait that defines so many of the best Avengers. Called to defend not only his nation, but the planet as a whole, Black Panther has served an important role in many iterations of The Avengers.
7. The Vision
The Avenger with the most complex emotional and spiritual issues is also its preeminent robot. The Vision was originally created by the villainous robot Ultron in order to destroy Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. But his creation found the will to rebel, protecting the team and becoming a perennial member. In the time since, he has grown into a fully formed person, married The Scarlet Witch, and been destroyed more times than you can count. His storyarc spans decades and is mostly told in the pages of The Avengers instead of his own comic book. The continuing saga of The Vision has resulted in some of the team’s best stories.
6. Hank Pym
Possibly The Avenger’s messiest member, Hank Pym has had quite the history of ups and downs. His record of mental instability has led him to take on the superhero identities of Ant-Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and Wasp, with some of these coming with their own brief bouts of dissociative identity disorder. And of course, who can forget the spousal abuse. However, he’s one of the greatest minds in the Marvel Universe, and his intelligence plays a major role in the victories that he achieves, rather than smashing someone in the face. He may have accidentally created one of the team’s greatest villains in the robotic Ultron, but he’s also responsible for many of its greatest victories.
5. The Wasp
One of the founding members of The Avengers, Janet Van Dyne is quite possible the heart and soul of the team as the Wasp. She’s been there since the beginning and was often the person pulling for its members to reconcile when these disparate personalities were ready to go at each other’s throats and break up forever. Wasp can shrink, control insects, fly, and fire blasts of energy. While she can hold her own against powerful enemies, her real power comes from her mind. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and resilient, which are far more important to The Avengers.
4. Iron Man
The Avengers would not exist with Iron Man. Tony Stark both created the idea of The Avengers in the wake of their accidental assembling and provided the team with its original base: Avengers Mansion. Not only that, he was one of their core members for years, despite hiding his secret identity and pretending that Iron Man was his bodyguard. Things have changed since then, but Iron Man is still inseperable from the team. Then again, he’s also caused some of its biggest problems. But he’s always ready to dive into battle, both strategizing and leading the charge when the time for talk is finished.
Every team has one – the rough and scruffy rogue that just can’t quite seem to ditch his old ways. Hawkeye is that guy for The Avengers. The purple archer started out as a villain, robbing banks and butting heads with heroes. But soon after, he was recruited into the ranks of The Avengers and has been a hero ever since. While there are a couple “normal” people on the team, Hawkeye seems like the most grounded. Can’t-miss aim aside, Hawkeye is just a man with a bow and arrow who is willing to put his life on the line for the sake of his team and the world as a whole.
Equal parts noble prince and warrior, Thor is also one of the real outsiders of the group. Having to split his duties between heroics on Earth and defending the realm of Asgard, Thor’s focus often leads him to be gone from the team for extended periods of time. But he always returns ready to lead the charge into battle. Unlike Justice League, The Avengers are not typically composed of extremely powerful characters. Instead, there are usually only one of two true powerhouses on the team at a time. Thor plays that crucial role most often and is responsible for some of the most spectacular clashes in Avengers history. But he’s no dumb brute. Thor is guided by a strong moral center and often calls on his allies to strive to be better.
1. Captain America
Of all the members across the decades, Captain America not only has the strongest ties to The Avengers, he most embodies what the group represents. He’s a formidable soldier, a born leader, and a man with a good heart. The Avengers are not a strike force like The X-Men or a group of demigods like The Justice League. Instead, they are part family and part army. These are both integral to Captain America. He’s a character who is always trying to do right, often making him the moral center of the group. He’s also one of the most courageous members, taking on far stronger opponents without hesitation and often being the one responsible for turning the tide of battle in desperate times. When the time comes for battle, there is no one else you’d rather having shouting “Avengers Assemble!” than Captain America.
Honorable Mentions: The Hulk, Black Widow, Bucky Barnes, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Wolverine, Beast