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10 Things You Might Not Know About The Avengers

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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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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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