Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
Note: This review will contain minor spoilers and copious amounts of geeking out.
As a young teenager, I looked forward to every Saturday morning. Saturdays were guitar lessons, which had become something of a chore, but my failed attempts to learn the instrument were always followed by a trip to my favorite comic book and collectibles shop, Time Traveler's in Berkley, MI. The store was so jam-packed with comics new and old, trading cards, used video games, action figures, and all other kinds of nerd paraphernalia that it was actually difficult to navigate the cramped aisles, but every Saturday my mother drove me there right after guitar lessons and I picked up the latest issues of Captain America, The Avengers, X-Men, The Amazing Spider-Man (and its many off-shoots), and whatever else caught my eye. Does anyone remember Ravage 2099? I had all of those.
My passion for comics stemmed from my passion for video games. In 1991, Data East released their superb four-player arcade beat 'em up, Captain America and the Avengers. Plunking in a couple of quarters, you and three other friends or strangers could play as Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, or the Vision as you saved the world from the menace of the Red Skull and his cronies - Crossbones, the Mandarin, Ultron, The Grim Reaper, and a curiously small Juggernaut on loan from the X-Men. The game's vivid colors, comic-book-style artwork (complete with "thwack!" and "bwam!" spelled out when hitting enemies), and hilarious broken English ("Why should it goes well?", "OK GO!") drew me in. I spent an unthinkable amount of money on that cabinet, beating the game several times in arcades, and countless times more when I got the cartridge for my Genesis years later. It was so good, it made me want to check out the comic books it was based on.
In May 1992, shortly after I'd first played the video game, I purchased my first comic book - Captain America #400, a giant double-sided issue and part of the Operation Galactic Storm story arc that would also spawn a lesser-known Avengers fighting game from Data East. I had missed out on the previous issues of the crossover, but I didn't care. The artwork, the characters, the drama - it was enough to capture a young man's imagination, and I began collecting in earnest.
Of all the books I collected, Captain America and the Avengers were always my favorites. I even collected the West Coast Avengers spin-off, including the original limited series and its reboot as a running series. I searched every comic book store in the area for issues I didn't have yet, snagging both the rebirth of The Vision in West Coast Avengers and his original appearance as a villain in Avengers #57 in excellent condition from a store that was just opening and still had all its stock in unsorted boxes.
I used to dream about what an Avengers movie would be like. Who would play all my favorite characters? Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, the Black Knight, Henry Pym and his many aliases. Would they even be in a film? Who would be the villain? The Red Skull? Loki? Even Dr. Doom was a feasible possibility. Previous film attempts had been unsatisfying, to say the least, including a laughably bad Captain America film that reimagined the Red Skull as an Italian fascist.
When Marvel took ownership of its properties and released the wildly successful Iron Man in 2008, I knew it was the start of something big. No longer were we subjected to low budget, direct-to-video affairs that didn't do justice to the iconic characters inhabiting their comics. We had the late, great Stan Winston doing effects for Tony Stark's alter ego and A-list actors like Robert Downey, Jr., Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow in the cast! Iron Man was a revelation, and remains one of my favorite films in Marvel's stable.
With each successive picture, the universe grew and finally they announced it - The Avengers would finally become a reality. I watched with glee as they brought Jeremy Renner out at Comic Con to announce he would play my favorite team member, Clint Barton - better known as Hawkeye. Samuel L. Jackson, the inspiration for the Ultimate Universe version of Nick Fury signed an unprecedented multi-picture deal. Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, dividing fans. Now that it's here after all these years of waiting, it hardly seems real but The Avengers is a dream-come-true.