One of the complaints with the Avengers line of books these days is that they’re letting anybody be an Avenger. And when you’ve reached the point where you have Shang-Chi, Sunspot and Cannonball, White Tiger, some Nuhuman named Synapse, Rogue, or even Cable and Deadpool joining the team, you wonder if they might have a point.
Once upon a time, when the Avengers were first formed, it was with those characters who had their own features: Thor, Ant Man and the Wasp, Iron Man, and the Hulk. Or rather, it was those characters whom Jack Kirby had had a hand in creating (hence why Spider-Man and Doctor Strange were absent). This held when they added Captain America a short time later.
But then came a day unlike any other. Stan decided to remove Thor, Tony, Hank, and Jan from the book, having already removed the Hulk in issue two. And who did he get to replace them? Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange, perhaps, the other characters with their own books?
No. Instead, Stan brought in three former super-villains. Hawkeye, who had plagued Iron Man alongside the Black Widow, and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Even with Captain America, this group was notably lacking in both star power and physical power. And to his credit, this was made into a plot point. Wanda worried about them living up to the team’s legacy. Hawkeye mocked Captain America as being the team’s weak link. And they even tried for a couple of issues to recruit the Hulk to give them some needed muscle.
Cap’s Kooky Quartet was relatively short lived. In less than a year, Hank and Jan returned to the team, and others, such as the Black Panther and Hercules joined not long after. But the fact remains that in one moment, they had redefined what it means to be an Avenger forever.
In fact, let’s take a look at some other notable (or not so notable) characters who have joined the Avengers…
Dr. Druid: A pre-Marvel character, Druid had poorly defined mystical powers, and a terrible attitude. He even later betrayed the team. But twice when brought back to a state of unlife, Druid has proven that his heart was in the right place.
Hellcat: Another pre-Marvel character, but taking the star of an old romance comic, giving her the old costume of a different (and arguably failed) character, and putting her into the big leagues? Crazy talk.
Gilgamesh, the Forgotten One: An Eternal, and not even one of the main ones.
Moon Knight: A barely repressed psycho sometimes possessed by an Egyptian moon god, and more at home fighting gangsters and low-level super villains? Even he complained about the craziness he got up to as an Avenger. And yet he served the cause all the same.
Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Iron First, Daredevil, Spider-Woman…: Needless to say, the Bendis era brought in a lot of people who had never been Avengers before. Some of them worked better than others (Luke Cage, Spider-Man), and some of them didn’t work so well (Wolverine—though it did produce some great comedy scenes when Aunt May and MJ were also living in Avengers Tower).
Sub-Mariner, Sandman, Ares: More out and out super-villains! Large-scale super-villains! Invades New York with an army of fishbowl helmet wearing goons level super-villains! In point of
fact, the Avengers have been extremely good at taking in former super-villains.
Mantis: A prostitute and barmaid turned martial artist turned Celestial Madonna, and girlfriend of a man who joined the team only to betray it (not to mention Steve Englehart's pet character). Mantis tried to seduce the Vision, and proved to be a little more capable than she really should have been. But she's come back to aid the team time and time again.
D-Man: Picked by no less than Captain America himself!
So no, they haven’t tried to change what it means to be an Avenger. Because almost from Day One, the Avengers have been about two things. 1) An ever-changing roster as the personal and professional drama of its membership dictates, and 2) people stepping up to the plate and becoming an Avenger. It isn’t like the Justice League, where being in the “Big Leagues” is a requirement in order to be part of the team.
No, being an Avenger means that someone (often Captain America) believes you have what it takes. It’s a challenge cast: prove that you do. That’s all. So you can’t dilute what it means to be an Avenger. It’s not an elitist club like the League often is. It’s your shot.