Avengers Japanese poster

The difference between Nick Fury the regular guy and Nick Fury the hero? The pose, baby. Just the pose.

That’s right, finally tonight at midnight we Americans–currently frothing at the mouth and wanting to strangle our smug friends across the pond–will get to see The Avengers. But it occurs to me that some of you might not appreciate what it took to get to this moment, when for the first time we have an actual movie universe unfolding on screens. And no, I don’t count something like Star Wars or Star Trek because those have their own movies. Really, the closest thing I can think of is the Godzilla series, but that was more, as I understand it, an accident of, “Well, let’s try this…will it make money?” I could be wrong. But with Avengers, a comic book company that evolved into a film company decided to take their premise of individual comics happening in a single universe and bring it to the screen with a deliberate plan–that’s what I’m talking about.

But there was a time, dear reader–especially you younger readers–when the tools to make something like The Avengers simply weren’t available. And I mean everything: FX, costume fabrics, hell–a time when actors would find it worth their while to sign on for a franchise like this.

We’re big believers in context. And in posterity. So I urge you–if you’re not doing the $40 Avengers Movie Marathon tonight–have your own movie marathon…of the Avengers-esque films that have come before. Here’s some recommendations.

  • Captain America had two TV movies which aired in 1979: Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon. Here’s the opening, if I remember correctly, to the second film, giving you a quick recap of how Steve Rogers became Cap. Slightly diverging from the comic–a bit. But they couldn’t afford to do a World War II setup–because The Entire WWII Costuming and Set Budget for the 1970s had been eaten up by the Wonder Woman series a few years before. Anyway, the villain should give you some pause.

    Direct link for the feedreaders.

  • Hulk…well, primarily for the Hulk we’ve got the TV series which started Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. And while it wasn’t perfect…it’s untouchable. I cannot, with a good conscience, poke fun at that show…it is too near and dear to my heart and the hearts of millions.

    That being said. I can poke fun at somebody else who made an appearance: Thor. This is Thor from the TV movie-sequel to the series entitled The Incredible Hulk Returns. He’s got a definite “Shagga, Son of Dorf” vibe going on, doesn’t he?

    Direct link for the feedreaders.

    Although I won’t poke fun at the Hulk here, I will ask this: am I the only one who’s noticed that he pumps himself like a bellows in order to growl or yell?

  • Iron Man. When you couldn’t get the FX and such you wanted in live action, you had to fall back on animation. Or…pseudo-barely-moving-animation. That was the case in 1966 when you had these shorts starring the Armored Avenger. Now, I realize this video is ten minutes long. If you’re on a time budget, you at least have to watch the opening theme. It is the most happening, most groovy super-hero theme you will hear this week. Guaranteed.

    Direct link for the feedreaders.

  • Black Widow. She never had a live action TV series…though in the 70s she came close. Angela Bowie, then wife of David Bowie (and mom of Duncan Jones, who brought you the badass Moon) got the rights to do one with Ben Carruthers as Daredevil. Comic Book Resources has pictures and the whole write-up. You simply must go see the pictures if nothing else. If you thought you appreciated Scarlett Johansson now…well.
  • Hawkeye as well made an appearance in the 60s in the Iron Man shorts. Here’s his first appearance. Again, make your way through the theme music and then at least watch through the introduction of his various arrows. Genius.

    Direct link for the feedreaders.

  • Oh, and we can’t leave this post without some of this. Sorry. But you knew it was coming.

    Direct link for the feedreaders.