When it comes to naming the best Avengers ever, there are some very obvious choices for inclusion (Captain America and Iron Man, for example).
But with almost 60 years of adventures since the team's 1963 debut, narrowing down the rest of the list requires digging deeper into Avengers lore and focusing on which characters have not just been changed by their time as Avengers, but who have had an impact on the team itself as well.
We could name runners-up for our list till we're blue in the face (sorry fans of Dane Whitman and Black Widow, in particular). But without further ado, these are our choices for the best Avengers ever.
Did we miss your favorite? Tell us who you think deserves a place on the list on Twitter and Facebook!
15. Wonder Man
Simon William is perhaps among the B-List of Marvel's heroes (at best), but among the Avengers, he's one of the longest-running members and associates of the team, as well as one of the strongest and most powerful heroes ever to join their ranks. He was also a founding member of the West Coast Avengers. And as a character Wonder Man's best stories have been told as part of the Avengers.
14. Scarlet Witch
There was a time when Wanda Maximoff would have been a shoo-in for one of the top five spots on this list, given her history as one of the team's biggest powerhouses and narrative forces. But her years of conflict and antagonism with the team have tarnished the Scarlet Witch's Avengers legacy. Still, when it comes to Earth's Mightiest Heroes, she's earned a place among the mightiest of them all.
You may be doing a double-take right now, as everyone knows Beast best as a founding member of the X-Men. But in the '70s and '80s, he was a longtime Avenger who became one of the core members of the team, while also redefining his place as a superhero in the Marvel Universe. Beast is a lot different now, and fully dedicated to the mutant nation of Krakoa (though he's gone back to the Avengers a time or two over the years, even recently), but without the Avengers he wouldn't have become the classic bouncing blue Beast we all knew back in the '90s.
Jennifer Walters' cousin Bruce Banner may have been a founding Avenger (leaving the team almost immediately in 1963's Avengers #2 (opens in new tab)), but if there's a Hulk who truly embodies Earth's Mightiest Heroes in comic books, it's She-Hulk. Since joining the team in the '80s, Shulkie has been the Hulk most often associated with the Avengers. Her presence on the roster has indelibly changed both She-Hulk herself, and the storied legacy of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
11. Hank Pym
Hank Pym is a founding Avenger as the original Ant-Man, and for that, along with his time on the team as Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and even briefly as the Wasp, he deserves recognition as one of the best Avengers of all time. But as with Scarlet Witch's downfall, Pym's legacy is troubled by his association with Ultron (with whom he's currently physically bonded), so he doesn't quite crack the top ten.
10. Monica Rambeau
Kicking off the top ten Avengers on our list is Monica Rambeau. Though she hasn't been a full-time Avenger on the core team in a long time (some would say too long...), she was one of the team's core members, and even one-time leader, through the '80s. And though Monica has used several codenames, most recently Spectrum, she also has the distinction of being Marvel's first female Captain Marvel, and the first Black woman to join - and lead - the Avengers.
9. Sam Wilson
Whether as the high-flying Falcon or as Steve Rogers' handpicked successor to the mantle of Captain America, Sam Wilson has been part of the Avengers off-and-on since the late '70s. Sam hasn't heeded the Avengers' call since Steve returned as Captain America a few years ago, but before that, he earned himself a spot as the team's leader in the All-New, All-Different Avengers (opens in new tab) era.
8. Carol Danvers
Ms. Marvel, Binary, Warbird, and of course Captain Marvel - whatever codename Carol Danvers is using, she's an Avenger through-and-through. Since joining the team in the '70s, Carol has rarely been away from the team for long (her stint in a coma and struggling with her powers after being drained by Rogue way back in 1980's Avengers Annual #10 (opens in new tab) notwithstanding). Few characters embody the cosmic side of the Avengers as much as Carol Danvers, solidifying her legacy as one of the best Avengers of all time.
7. Black Panther
Black Panther's history with the Avengers is fascinating. Though several Avengers (even some on this list) started as the team's enemies before turning to the side of the heroes, only Black Panther started specifically as a spy intending to infiltrate the team to learn their secrets. Since then, however, T'Challa has given the rest of the team his trust, and his assets as the King of Wakanda - and one of the fiercest, most well-equipped warriors on Earth.
6. Clint Barton
Few characters have come as far since joining the Avengers as Hawkeye. Clint Barton may have started out as a two-bit super criminal being duped into fighting Iron Man alongside the Black Widow, but as soon as he joined up with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Hawkeye began his ascent to becoming one of the most capable and beloved Avengers ever - as well as being one of Steve Rogers' first proteges among the team.
We're getting into the biggest of the big guns in terms of Avengers legacy now - including Thor, the God of Thunder, the team's Asgardian co-founder and their original super strong powerhouse. Thor's mythos has been at the core of the Marvel Universe almost since he debuted, and indeed Thor's own brother Loki was the team's original nemesis, leading to the Avengers' actual formation way back in 1963's Avengers #1 (opens in new tab).
Janet Van Dyne has taken a back seat in the Marvel Universe in recent years, but for decades, she was one of the most well-known Avengers - and the only woman among the founding members of the team (as well as the person who came up with the name 'the Avengers'). Throughout her stints on the team, even as its occasional leader, the winsome Wasp has often been the heart and soul of the Avengers, and one of its most unlikely powerhouses.
3. Iron Man
As one of the founders of the Avengers, Tony Stark has been the team's biggest idea man and nearly bottomless bankroll since they first started out. During that time, Tony has been the Avengers' sometime-leader, their metaphorical central nervous system, and even - rarely - their enemy. Iron Man may have a legacy all his own in the Marvel Universe, but his legacy alongside Earth's Mightiest Heroes is almost as definitive.
Like the Wasp, Vision's role with the Avengers has decreased in recent years (being dead for a long time at the hands of his ex-wife Wanda Maximoff didn't help). But for years, the Vision was one of the foremost core members of the team, with his experiences and associations often driving some of the Avengers' most impactful moments. There's no question that in the long history of the Avengers - almost 60 years now - there's almost no one who has a stronger, more defining association with the team than Vision.
Almost no one…
1. Captain America
Though he didn't join the team until Avengers #4 (opens in new tab), Captain America was grandfathered in as a founding member of the team, as the Avengers didn't truly become the version of the team that has since spawned almost 60 years of stories till Cap came aboard. As the de facto leader of the team as well as its moral compass, Captain America is the individual character most strongly associated with the Avengers, and with good reason - and that's why he's our pick for the best Avenger ever.
All of these characters have been part of some of the best Avengers stories ever.