I’ve been an Avengers fan all my comic-reading life. They were my favourite before it was fashionable. While I enjoyed their solo exploits, it was a cool, once-a-month treat to see what the big guns did (and whose ass they collectively kicked) when they got together. As an adult, the original series is the only one I’ve painstakingly assembled – yeah, I said it – in its’ entirety, all 402 issues. You’d think if little me had a crystal ball back then and saw where the franchise was at today, and what Marvel was doing with it, I’d be ecstatic. You’d also be very, very wrong.

This isn’t an Avengers history lesson. There isn’t enough space here to do that justice and more than one comic historian has already done a good job of it before if you care to look them up. There’s been classic stories and runs written and drawn by legends of the industry. And yes, as with anything that’s been around that long (by the way, happy belated 50th, everyone!), there have been some issues and storylines that, in all honesty, were absolute crap.

Here’s where anyone who wants to slag me or is happy with the way things currently are will say “…there’s a cynical old fan who can’t handle progress”. But seriously, where does anyone coming on board today or wanting to return to the fold even begin, and how do they then manage to stay on track with everything? Even 20 years ago, that would have been as simple as buying a few key back issues or trades and a 10-minute rundown from a fanboy.

Today, besides the flagship Avengers title (re-booted, by my count, at least 5 times since its original’s conclusion in the last 15 years), there are more than 10 titles featuring a variant or derivative of the Avengers team. New Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Avengers Assemble, Avengers A.I., Secret Avengers and Young Avengers, with Avengers Arena wrapped up and Avengers World waiting in the wings. Don’t forget A+X, the monthly Avengers/X-men solo members team-up, and Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble for the kiddies, based on the Disney XD cartoon series. The “real world” version of the Avengers, The Ultimates, still kicks around in that Marvel line as well. Encouraging you to buy more than one title are annual crossover events like the recently concluded Infinity storyline (it would be more of an “event” if they tried skipping a year of shoving these campaigns down paying fans’ throats).

If you’re a fan of individual members, there’s a plethora of solo material available for Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Hawkeye, Spider-man and Wolverine (along with a just ended Captain Marvel series and soon to come Black Widow). It’s not all bad – I’ll shamelessly plug the Hawkeye series, which has finally found success for this longtime fave of mine – but does anyone have the time and money to follow all of them?! Guaranteed, there will also always be 3 or 4 limited series on the go at any given time. Then, ironically, thanks to the success of an actually pretty good movie, there’s an in-house push to promote current tie-in materials (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) along with upcoming spinoff projects (Guardians of the Galaxy movie, announcement of Netflix producing separate Daredevil/Luke Cage/Iron Fist/Jewel series) and more kiddie cartoon promo titles, like Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-man and Hulk & the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.

Getting a headache trying to follow this list? Imagine trying to read all of this on a monthly basis and keeping it straight! Forget it. It’s a shameless, convoluted mess targeted directly at your wallet. So  where does the blame lie for this push from a manageable reading list to this pollution of over-saturation and blatant exploitation? Besides being a victim of its’ own movie success, I finger two culprits:

They Gots to Go!

First, the day Spider-man and Wolverine joined the team. The Marvel Age’s original loner and the mutant who “does what he does best” from the shadows both getting the invite and agreeing to sign on the dotted line? Unthinkable, even 15 years ago. But once again, the powers-that-be saw dollar signs, so put two of their most commercially successful heroes front and center on the world’s premier super-team. Sure, there’s been the odd questionable member in the past (I’m looking at you, Rage and Deathcry), but membership was an earned privilege, a special occasion. Now, it seems every new, returning or unaffiliated hero is given that status card. One look at 2013’s roster and all of a sudden, the 30+ members carried by DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes at the height of their popularity seems simple.

Finally, there’s what I’ll call the “X-template”. You know what I’m talking about. After clawing its’ way from obscurity and near-cancellation in the mid-70’s to Marvel universe flagship franchise by the mid-80’s, “X-men, Inc.” has never stopped rolling. A complete list of every mutant-related title that comes out each month would make that Avengers list I compiled earlier seem concise. Take all the hundreds of millions generated from the merchandising of their cartoon, then all of their movies, and it’s a no-brainer Marvel would take the ball and run with it. When it became obvious the Avengers movie was a world-wide smash hit, they tried to duplicate that same formula of success through excess. In fact, with that S.H.I.E.L.D. television show and those Netflix projects, the Avengers may break and reap fertile ground even the X-gang hasn’t been able to broach. Expect more of the same if the re-boot of Marvel’s “first family”, the Fantastic Four, catches on.

Haven’t we learned from the overuse of these guys?

Where does this all leave an old-school fan? Revisiting treasured back issues and dreading an inevitable implosion. I can’t even just follow “one or two” titles without being reminded I’m missing something and feeling dirty for complacently falling into some sort of marketing web. So I’ll wait for the dust to settle and when my team looks and feels like the one I knew and loved growing up, I’ll be back. In the meantime, I’ll take this break as an opportunity to check out some lesser known titles and talents.

If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!

Waiting for the Glory Days to Return!

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