Dominic Mah is a writer, director, rock musical aficionado, and ex-professional gambler. You can check out his film/video stuff here and his disparate thoughts on pop culture, Robotech, and Los Angeles here. He also tweets nerdcore film critiques at @ThorHulkCritic.
The Avengers movie is coming out this week, which is the greatest thing that has ever happened for a small segment of the population, and will likely cause some confusion to the majority of the world (And by “majority of the world,” I mean a) women and b) those not raised within the isolating sphere of comic books) In the coming month, a lot of people are going to get dragged to this movie on a date, but perhaps lack a reference point for WTF is going on with all these superheroes, and have no way of comprehending the massive warm geek-fuzzy that will be experienced by folks like me. So, in the interest of promoting healthy and robust post-movie conversations everywhere, here is a quickie viewers’ guide to the members of the Avengers.
IS: Blonde guy with an impenetrable shield. Referred to by name in Guns n’ Roses’ “Paradise City.” An everyman, because he used to be a schlub before a super-serum turned him into an uber-soldier. Fought in WWII, and then frozen in an iceberg up to the present day. The leader of the group, yet possessed with the inner sadness of a soul who belongs to another, bygone era.
IF THIS WERE “BRIDESMAIDS”, WOULD BE: Kristen Wiig.
BIZARRE FACTOID THAT MAY OR MAY NOT IMPRESS YOUR DATE: Captain America was originally conceived to fight Euro-fascist-type villains (e.g. The Red Skull, Baron Zemo) but, having more or less conquered that threat, has gone on to amass one of the more ridiculous rogues’ galleries in modern comics. For example, he once had to fight off an entire cruise liner filled with super-powered female wrestlers (whose membership included indelible characters such as Titania, Anaconda, Screaming Mimi, and Poundcakes). This is also notable in that, despite his status as paragon of American virtue, Cap has no problems picking a fight with a girl, as long as that girl is either a trained assassin or has super-human strength. Or is named “Poundcakes.”
TALKING POINT: Chris Evans also played the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four films. The Human Torch is a Golden Age character often regarded as the first Marvel hero. Therefore, Chris Evans is both a big dork and the most American man who has ever lived.
IS: A nebbish scientist who turns into a gigantic green monster. Unstoppable. A metaphor for the raging beast that lives inside all sensitive men, including Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo.
IF THIS WERE “TWILIGHT”, WOULD BE: Edward. (Grey Hulk was more Jacob.)
OBSCURE FACTOID THAT MAY OR MAY NOT IMPRESS YOUR DATE: Has a cousin called She-Hulk, who also transforms into a monster, except that she has long flowing hair and a bulky-yet-proportioned Amazonian body. Whereas the Hulk myth derives from the monstrosity of the repressed male id, She-Hulk is drawn as the idealized ultra-fit female, sort of like Angela Bassett, except green. (Does the male gaze dominate the superhero genre? Well, yeah, sorta.) Also, She-Hulk is a lawyer, making her the ideal subject for a future David E. Kelley dramedy.
IS: Jeremy Renner with a bow and a lot of arrows.
IF THIS WERE “THE HUNGER GAMES”, WOULD BE: Katniss
CHARACTER FACTOID THAT MAY OR MAY NOT IMPRESS YOUR DATE: Hawkeye is the only Avenger who could be considered marriage material. All the other dudes, Alpha though they are, have their bachelorhood status confirmed by various superhero-related hangups; Hulk is a monster, Cap a man out of time, Iron Man an incurable dog. And we won’t even get started on Ant-Man’s history of domestic abuse (mainly because he isn’t in the movie). Hawkeye, on the other hand, is a pretty uncomplicated guy with a steady job of shooting arrows into things/people. In the comics, Hawkeye has a lasting and successful marriage to fellow super-agent Mockingbird, until she dies at the hands of Satan, or something. They do become estranged for a time due to a purely moralistic disagreement over Mockingbird’s other job as a SHIELD agent, and then for a long time she is replaced by an alien impostor, but their relationship overall, as crystallized in the tender reunion scene in Secret Invasion wherein she comes back to life, is one of the only enduring love stories in the Marvel Universe (that does not involve an android.)
IS: The Norse god. With the hammer.
IF THIS WERE “GAME OF THRONES”, WOULD BE: All of them.
ODD FACTOID THAT MAY OR MAY NOT IMPRESS YOUR DATE: In addition to his function as the most perplexing, genre-mashing, shark-jumping, incongruous-backstory-requiring part of the team (He’s a god? He’s an alien? He’s Australian? What?), Thor is the only male Avenger to have experienced life as a woman. In the epic “Earth X” storyline, Loki (the film’s main villain) transformed Thor into a female, to teach him some lesson about humility that you can’t get from walking the Earth as a white male Thunder God. (Go figure.) Loki, the trickster, is always messing with Thor’s surfer-blonde head like that. Although this clever bit of transgendering will probably not happen in the film, it would be awesome if it did.
TALKING POINT: “Who would win in a fight between Thor and Harry Potter?”
IS: The female Avenger. A double agent, deadly, vampy.
IF THIS WERE “SEX IN THE CITY”, WOULD BE: Samantha.
CONTEXTUAL FACTOID THAT MAY OR MAY NOT IMPRESS YOUR DATE: The Avengers have had many female members over the years, including Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Ms. Marvel, Sersi, and the aforementioned She-Hulk, but Black Widow is the only one who doesn’t have any weird powers, and thus doesn’t require another suspension-of-disbelief-straining origin story. Oh, and Black Widow is not related to Spider-Man. Only Spider-Woman and Spider-Girl are related to Spider-Man. Just clearing that up.
IS: The one who proved that superhero films could have wide appeal if infused with Robert Downey Jr.’s rakish charm.
IF THIS WERE “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, WOULD BE: Mr. Darcy
SPOILER FACTOID THAT MAY OR MAY NOT IMPRESS YOUR DATE: In the comics, recent storylines portray Iron Man as a sort of mega-industrialist douche, a One-Percenter who, despite being a hero, is also a skirt-chasing privileged tool of the Man, consolidating power and lording it over the other, more indie-minded superheroes. However, despite his riches, swagger, and general lack of sympathetic problems, Iron Man dies old and alone, defending humanity in the course of the aforementioned “Earth X” storyline. Which kind of forgives the fact that he’s purportedly slept with everyone from the White Queen to the Scarlet Witch.
TALKING POINT: At one point in the 70′s, Iron Man’s armor had roller skates.
Lastly, to address the possibly sexist presumption of this article, it is of course not assumed that all men “get” the Avengers, nor that there does not exist, somewhere, some wonderful women who love the Avengers. As a young’un, I watched Spider Man’s origin episode and was confused by it, until my own mother took the time to explain it to my still-developing mind: the part about Peter Parker’s ironic failure to prevent his uncle’s death, what it taught him about responsibility, and how the tragedy influenced his decision to be a hero. So, shiny suits of armor and babed-up heroines aside, my lifelong fascination with the Marvel mythology (and with the Avengers, whatever the heck they may be avenging) is mainly due to a little perceptive parenting from Mom.