CLOSE
Original image
chloe effron / marvel comics

10 Things You Might Not Know About The Avengers

Original image
chloe effron / marvel comics

Going to see Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend? You'll probably want to brush up on the sprawling history of Marvel's top super-squad. On September 10, 1963, The Avengers #1 brought together Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, The Wasp, and Hulk to battle the Asgardian trickster Loki, and the Marvel universe has been a little safer ever since. More than five decades, 500 issues, and one record-shattering movie later, the team dubbed “Earth's Mightiest Heroes” stands out as one of the legendary duo Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's greatest creations.

Over half a century of history, an ever-changing roster of Avengers has assembled to tangle with all kinds of enemies. And like most long-running superhero teams (*cough* X-Men *cough), the ongoing narrative has gotten pretty confusing at times. Thankfully, you don't need to be an Avengers scholar to appreciate some of the most interesting aspects of the team's long and storied history. Luckily, you don't need to read all 51 years' worth of issues to enjoy the newest Marvel blockbuster. Just use these 10 nuggets to regale your fellow fans in the box office line. 

1. Captain America Wasn't Part Of The Original Team

The Marvel movie-verse may have cast America's favorite super-soldier as a founding member of the team, but Captain America didn't actually join up until the fourth issue of The Avengers comic series. The team—which had dropped to four members due to the Hulk's departure—encountered a mysterious, frozen man in the ocean while chasing Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Lo and behold, the frozen fellow turned out to be Steve “Captain America” Rogers. After thawing him out, the existing Avengers team granted Captain America “founding member” status in place of Hulk, and the rest is comic-book history.

2. Daredevil's Missed Deadline Made The Avengers Possible

If not for a delay in sending Daredevil #1 to the printer, the Avengers might never have existed. According to Marvel's Senior Vice President of Publishing, Tom Brevoort, when the publisher realized that the first issue of Daredevil wasn't going to be ready in time for its scheduled print run, Stan Lee proposed the idea of bringing a bunch of existing Marvel characters together to form a team like DC's Justice League of America. By doing so, they wouldn't need to create complicated origin stories for the individual members, which would allow the squad to jump right into whatever adventure Lee and Kirby could come up with on short notice. The pair brainstormed for a while and came up with the Avengers, then hastily put together the first issue and sent it off to the printer. 

3. The Wasp Came Up With The Team's Name

After the five heroes of The Avengers #1 decided to work together, they needed a name. Thankfully, the size-changing heroine Janet van Dyne—a.k.a. The Wasp—was there with the right suggestion. “It should be something colorful and dramatic like 'The Avengers,' or...” she said, only to be interrupted by Ant-Man. “Or nothing! That's it! The Avengers!” he announced.

One can't help wondering what her second suggestion was going to be—and why she was left out of the movie series, given this key moment in the team's history.

4. And Then They Were Villains...

Since their earliest rosters, the Avengers have always experienced a lot of turnover. After Hulk left in the second issue, the team added Captain America in the fourth issue, only to have everyone except Captain America depart the team in The Avengers #16. The original four members were quickly replaced by three new additions: Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye. These rookie Avengers were interesting choices for a top super-team since they were previously villains in the Marvel Comics universe. Few superhero teams had ever undergone such a unique lineup change, and the transition is still regarded as one of the most amazing stunts a superhero comic has ever pulled.

5. Marvel Had “The Avengers” Trademarked In 1970

It only took a few years for Marvel to realize they had something special in the Avengers, so it's no surprise that the publisher didn't trademark the team's name until 1970. However, the company ran into some trouble when the 2012 movie screened across the ocean, as the British version of the The Avengers—a spy series that aired during the 1960s—pre-dated Marvel's superhero team. The legal wranglings were eventually settled with some clever re-titling of the film in certain markets, including Marvel Avengers Assemble in the UK.

6. The Avengers #1 Hit Shelves The Same Month As Uncanny X-Men #1

The Avengers weren't the only new team to hits newsstands in September 1963. Marvel's merry team of mutants also made their debut that month in Uncanny X-Men #1, and the two teams' paths have crossed plenty of times over the course of their adventures.

7. Hulk's Buddy And Tony Stark's Butler Are “Honorary Avengers”

The team has had many “honorary members” over the years—usually friends, family, and allies who have assisted the team in its battles. The first-ever inductee as an “honorary member” was Rick Jones, the man Bruce Banner saved from a gamma bomb's explosion by sacrificing his own body. Rick later became the Hulk's “sidekick” of sorts and was instrumental convincing the new team that Hulk wasn't the evil behemoth they originally believed him to be. In later issues, Tony Stark's butler, Jarvis (a human in the comics, not the computerized entity familiar to movie fans) was also granted “honorary member” status.

8. Not Everyone Accepts Avengers Membership

Of the many heroes who have been offered membership in the Avengers, several prominent characters turned the team down at one point or another. Both Spider-Man and Daredevil initially declined to join the team when offered a spot on the roster, with the two heroes each offering a similar reason for their decision: They want to keep their crime-fighting close to home. It's worth noting, though, that both heroes did eventually join the team, but only in recent years—long after they were first offered membership.

9. Even Superhero Teams Can Franchise

The Avengers may be the team that unites to battle threats that no single hero can handle alone, but what if there's more than one threat? That's the question that the team hoped to answer with West Coast Avengers, a team that debuted in 1984 and featured several members of the Avengers roster splintering off to form a new group of heroes based in Los Angeles.

With the original Avengers team handing things from their headquarters in New York City, the new team—led by Hawkeye—kept the other side of the country safe from supervillains. Subsequent years—and the popularity of The Avengers among readers—would lead to several more spin-off teams and series outside the primary The Avengers series, such as the Secret Avengers and New Avengers. Some of them were even a bit unofficial, such as the hapless, accident-prone Great Lakes Avengers, who often managed to save the world despite their own ineptitude.

10. The Avengers Had A Crossover With David Letterman In 1984

Yes, you read that correctly. Way back in 1984, Late Night With David Letterman was cruising along at the height of its popularity and The Avengers was doing pretty well for Marvel. Naturally, the powers-that-be saw serious crossover potential. The result was a single-issue story that saw several members of The Avengers—including Hawkeye, Black Panther, Black Widow, Wonder Man, and the X-Men's Beast—appearing on Letterman's show, only to be ambushed by a pitiful villain who attempted to fry them with camera-mounted lasers. Letterman saved the day, though, when he hit the bad guy over the head with a giant doorknob. Seriously. This actually happened

This post originally appeared in 2013.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
iStock
arrow
technology
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image
iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES