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chloe effron / marvel comics
chloe effron / marvel comics

10 Things You Might Not Know About The Avengers

chloe effron / marvel comics
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.

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8 Things You Might Not Know About Ziggy
Welcome Productions, YouTube
Welcome Productions, YouTube

Devoid of pants or much of a personality, cartoonist Tom Wilson’s Ziggy has been prompting pleasant chuckles out of readers since he first appeared in newspapers in 1971. The bulbous-nosed little unfortunate has, against the odds, become a highly recognizable character, extensively merchandised on everything from greeting cards to pencil erasers. Before the inevitable big-budget CGI reboot happens, check out some facts about Ziggy's history, why fans were upset when he once spoke, and the bittersweet origin of his distinctive name.

1. HE WAS ORIGINALLY AN ELEVATOR OPERATOR.

Ziggy had a circuitous route to the comics pages. The character was first created by American Greetings executive Tom Wilson in the 1960s. (Wilson would later have a hand in creating the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake.) Doodling an elevator operator who commented on the mundane events inside his small world, when Wilson first tried to sell it as a comic strip, there were no takers. When he resurrected the character for a 1969 American Greetings humor book, When You’re Not Around, the odd little man intrigued the wife of a Universal Press Syndicate executive. By 1971, Wilson and Ziggy were in 15 newspapers, a number that would eventually reach over 500. 

2. THE NAME “ZIGGY” WAS CHOSEN VERY DELIBERATELY.

Ziggy is often depicted as beleaguered and exasperated at the various obstacles life puts in front of him, from faulty ATMs to soured relationships. (He prefers to socialize with animals.) Wilson gave him the name “Ziggy” because the letter “Z” comes last in the alphabet and Wilson thought that was a proper position for his character, who often came last in life. (Another story has Wilson hearing the name from a colleague’s barber and remembering it.) In one strip, Ziggy is seen waiting for a rescue after a flood—but the responders are going in alphabetical order. In 1974, Wilson told a reporter that his full name is “Zigfried.”

3. WILSON TRAINED HIS SON TO DRAW HIM.

When Wilson died in 2011, his heir apparent was already selected. His son, Tom Wilson Jr., had been drawing the strip since 1987. Long before that, the elder Wilson would sit with his son at a table, draw Ziggy in a precarious position—a safe plummeting toward him from above, for example—and then instruct his son to draw a way out of the jam. Ziggy, Tom Jr. later said, was like his “successful little brother.”

4. HE WAS ENGINEERED TO BE LOVABLE.

Despite his general haplessness, Ziggy often draws sympathy and affection from readers. Wilson felt his large, circular nose and rotund body engendered feelings of warmth and told his son to go easy on his line drawing work. “Let’s keep Ziggy round and lovable,” the artist said. Ziggy also breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to readers, a technique Wilson felt further strengthened the feeling of companionship.

5. HE WOUND UP PAINTED ON THE SIDE OF A WATER TOWER.

For years, locals in Strongsville, Ohio have craned their necks to take in a curious sight: Ziggy appears on the side of one of their water towers. Wilson was from Cleveland, and when he heard a local sports team had painted the character up there in 1975, he offered to render a better portrait. Firefighters lifted him on a crane and allowed him to paint Ziggy next to the school’s mustang mascot. When the Cleveland Water Department threatened to cover him as part of a new paint job, residents signed a petition to prevent them from going through with the plan.

6. HE HAD HIS OWN BOARD GAME.

There was no limit to the kind of Ziggy product tie-ins hitting stores, including shirts, calendars, and mugs. But 1977’s A Day with Ziggy might be the most memorable. Players assumed the role of the put-upon blob, trying to avoid landing on a space that would worsen Ziggy’s day.

7. HE MET GENE SHALIT.

Ziggy first popped up in cartoon form in 1981, when he “appeared” in a segment with Today film critic Gene Shalit. Strangely, readers wrote in expressing disapproval of the spot, noting that Ziggy's voice didn’t mesh with what they had imagined he might sound like.

8. HE WON AN EMMY.

Ziggy made the jump to animation in 1982 with the ABC primetime special Ziggy’s Gift. Written by Wilson, it afforded Ziggy fans a closer look at the character’s daily life, including his sparsely-furnished apartment and a gig dressing as Santa for the holidays. At Wilson’s insistence, the character didn’t speak to avoid another Shalit situation. The special won an Emmy in 1983. Ziggy still wasn’t wearing any pants.

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12 Burning Facts About Hellboy
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Two decades before he would become a two-time Oscar-winner for The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro set out to make a movie about his favorite superhero: a big red demon with a big gun and a heart of gold. It took years to finally get the film off the ground, but in 2004 Hellboy finally made it to theaters, adding another piece to the beloved supernatural filmography that’s made del Toro a favorite among genre fans for a quarter of a century.

Though it never rose to the box office heights of The Avengers, and it never reached the end of its planned trilogy, Hellboy remains one of the most imaginative, thrilling superhero films of the 21st century. From early script changes to an accidentally deleted scene, here are 12 facts about how it was made.

1. HELLBOY WAS GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S FAVORITE SUPERHERO WELL BEFORE HE MADE THE MOVIE. 

Guillermo del Toro grew up with comic books, noting that he was flipping through them before he even knew how to read the words. That childhood fondness for the medium stayed with him into adulthood, and by the time he’d reached his early 30s he’d not only discovered the work of Mike Mignola, but began to consider the Hellboy creator one of his great comic book visual influences alongside legends like Will Eisner, Bernie Wrightson, and Richard Corben.

“Mignola, in my later years, already as a young adult, fascinated me with his use of light and shadow, with his amazing bold line work, but also with the way he gave birth to my favorite superhero in my adult years, which is Hellboy,” del Toro said during the recording of the Hellboy Director’s Cut commentary track.

When del Toro and Mignola finally met during the making of Hellboy, they bonded over a mutual love of folklore and pulp fiction, becoming fast friends and collaborators. 

2. THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT FEATURED INTERVIEWS WITH HELLBOY WITNESSES.

In the world of the film, Hellboy is viewed as an urban legend and tabloid story, not unlike Bigfoot. The film’s opening credits underline this with blurry photos, grainy videos, and newspaper headlines meant to depict widespread eyewitness accounts of the creature. Agent Myers (Rupert Evans) further emphasizes this point when he exclaims “He’s real!” upon meeting Hellboy for the first time. 

According to del Toro, this idea was initially supposed to play out in a much more overt way through the film’s screenplay. In early drafts, parts of the film’s story were told through eyewitness interviews with characters claiming to have seen Hellboy.

“So people would be saying ‘I saw Hellboy over here. I saw him jump,’ and a kid saying, ‘I saw him on the rooftop.’ Now everybody does it, but back then it was 1997, '98, and I thought that was a great idea,” del Toro said. “That was the first thing we cut out of the shooting schedule because [the studio executives] didn’t understand it.”

3. IT COULD HAVE BEEN MADE MUCH SOONER.

Though Hellboy’s live-action debut occurred relatively early in the 21st century’s superhero movie boom, he could have been more of a comic book trailblazer than he turned out to be. According to del Toro, if it weren't for reluctant studio executives, the film could have come out as early as 1998, making it a contemporary of Blade rather than Spider-Man 2.

“The one thing that particularly infuriates me is that this movie could have been made in 1998,” del Toro said, noting that the film would have then pre-dated X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), and even The Matrix (1999). At the time, though, many studio executives considered the comic book movie label “almost an insult,” and so Hellboy kept getting pushed back. In between the time it could have been made and the time it was actually released, del Toro made his comic book movie debut with another dark superhero film, Blade II, in 2002.

4. DEL TORO WROTE HIS OWN CHARACTER BIOGRAPHIES.

By the time Hellboy hit theaters, creator Mike Mignola had already been building his own mythology and supporting cast around the character for a full decade. While the film is a loose adaptation of the first major story arc of the comic, “Seed of Destruction,” del Toro couldn’t help adding his own touches to everyone’s backstory. Even before he began work on the script, del Toro wrote out detailed character biographies for each major player in the Hellboy story, which were then included on the eventual Director’s Cut DVD release.

A particularly amusing example from these backstories: The fictionalized version of historical figure Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden) is said to have disliked “greasy food,” and while he really did die in 1916, he was resurrected in 1936 when Nazi occultists mixed his stolen ashes with the blood of the innocent.

5. HE ALSO ADDED THE LOVE STORY.

Long before his fantasy romance The Shape of Water earned him two Academy Awards, del Toro was imagining tales of unusual creatures falling in love with human women, and Hellboy was one of them. The romance between the title character (Ron Perlman) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) didn’t exist in Mignola’s original comics, where Sherman’s stronger connection was (ironically, given The Shape of Water’s subject matter) with the aquatic creature Abe Sapien (who is played by The Shape of Water's Amphibian Man, Doug Jones). Latching onto a particular moment in the comics in which Hellboy is enraged by the thought of Liz’s death, del Toro envisioned a story in which his demonic hero could fall in love with a pyrokinetic woman, and was particularly enticed by the image of that woman engulfed in flames kissing a fireproof creature. That particular storytelling decision made del Toro’s Hellboy significantly different from Mignola’s, who modeled the character after his father, but the creator ultimately allowed the departure in the final film.

6. RASPUTIN WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO LOSE HIS EYES.

In several sequences throughout the film, the character of Rasputin wears a pair of small sunglasses, even in scenes set at night. This was not done simply to make him look cooler (del Toro recalls comparisons made to The Matrix), but because del Toro originally planned to take away the character’s eyes. In the film’s opening sequence, Rasputin is sucked into the very portal that baby Hellboy is drawn out of, causing him to vanish from Earth for decades until he’s resurrected in the present day. Del Toro wanted the portal to create a “cosmic eye-gouging” effect that would rip the character’s eyes out of his head, but it simply didn’t work in a PG-13 film.

“I thought the eye-gouging, the cosmic eye-gouging, was not graphic enough for people to get the point,” del Toro said.

So, the shot of Rasputin losing his eyes was cut from the theatrical release, but restored for the director’s cut, along with a deleted scene in which the character is given a set of glass eyes.

7. LABYRINTHS ARE A RECURRING THEME IN THE FILM.

Del Toro is a director known for his keen attention to detail. As a result, various recurring visual themes appear in all of his films. For Hellboy, he focused on the idea that “a man is made a man by the choices he makes,” and while the film’s story conveys that as Hellboy must choose between the ideologies of Rasputin and Professor Broom, he also sought to convey it through visual metaphor. To do this, del Toro settled on the recurring motif of the labyrinth. It first appears as part of the opening credits sequence, when the entire logo becomes a kind of maze, then reappears as Ilsa (Bridget Hodson) and Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) weave through mountainous terrain to find Rasputin’s resurrection site. To bookend the metaphor, Rasputin’s mausoleum in Moscow also functions as a kind of labyrinth. Even the metal gates leading to the BPRD’s headquarters resemble the lines of a maze.

8. ONE SCENE WAS ACCIDENTALLY DELETED BY SEVERAL PROJECTIONISTS.

While several scenes from del Toro’s Director’s Cut were left out of the theatrical release, even the version of Hellboy shown in theaters wasn’t always complete. As del Toro later recalled, some “careless” projectionists in “dozens” of theaters accidentally removed one key sequence from the film’s final act as they were assembling the reels. At the end of the scene in which Liz activates her fire powers to burn the Sammael creatures away, a rock flies directly at the camera lens, creating a brief blackout. That scene is supposed to be followed by a shot of an unconscious Myers waking up on the ground to find Ilsa and Rasputin standing over him. The blackout confused some projectionists into skipping over the scene of Myers waking up, so some theatrical audiences were taken directly to the scene that followed, in which Myers has already been captured and chained up. According to del Toro, he set up an email contact form for moviegoers to report this misstep and got numerous replies, though the studio was not able to correct all of the errors.

9. IT FEATURES MANY FREQUENT DEL TORO COLLABORATORS.

Beginning with Cronos (1993), del Toro has built a large and diverse company of frequent collaborators, many of whom continue to work with him to this day. Several of these collaborators contributed to Hellboy, both in front of and behind the camera, including actors Ron Perlman (Cronos, Pacific Rim, Blade II) and Doug Jones (Mimic, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, and more), composer Marco Beltrami (Mimic, Blade II), and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim and more).

10. IT SUFFERED BACKLASH BECAUSE THE WORD “HELL” IS IN THE TITLE.

During the Director’s Cut commentary for Hellboy, del Toro praised the film’s marketing team for finding ways to sell the film to the public, noting that it wasn’t always easy to attract audiences to a film called Hellboy. Some theaters refused to show the movie, while others retitled it Helloboy in an effort to calm potentially offended patrons. The problem was exacerbated by the presence of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which opened a few weeks earlier and remained a big box office draw during the Easter holiday.

“Especially on Easter, some theaters mysteriously dropped the movie when it was still making money,” del Toro recalled.

11. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE FIRST FILM IN A TRILOGY.

Hellboy opened on April 2, 2004 to strong reviews and a box office return good enough to merit a sequel. Just weeks after the first film hit theaters, Hellboy II was a go, with del Toro, Perlman, Blair, and Jones returning. With the knowledge that he would get to continue the story, del Toro envisioned a superhero fantasy trilogy, which moved closer to becoming a reality when Hellboy II: The Golden Army opened in 2008 to more critical acclaim. As time passed, though, a third film began to seem increasingly unlikely, with Perlman in particular noting that the epic scope of del Toro’s plans could be too taxing on the budget as well as Perlman’s own physical health. After years of holding out hope that the trilogy could be completed, del Toro finally announced in 2017 that all plans for Hellboy 3 had been scrapped.

12. BUT A REBOOT IS IN THE WORKS.

Del Toro might not get to finish his version of the Hellboy story, but that doesn’t mean Big Red won’t hit the big screen again. In May 2017, just months after del Toro announced an end to his version of the tale, Mignola revealed that the character would be rebooted as part of a new film franchise. Directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent) and starring David Harbour (Stranger Things) in the title role, the new Hellboy film is set to hit theaters on January 11, 2019.

Additional Sources:
Hellboy: The Director’s Cut special features (2004)
Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities (2013)

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