With the release of the movie it seemed a good time to look back at how it all began. What is immediately apparent is the difference in writing style.
There is little pretence of any sense of realism. Things move quickly with little logic and that is part of the fun.
Over time it has become popular to re-tell existing stories to make them fit with the tone of the current Marvel universe. This gives games masters license to reinterpret these classics.
In brief this story concerns Loki’s attempt to provoke Thor into returning to Asgard. Loki hopes that once there Loki will be able to defeat Thor and escape the isle where he is imprisoned.
Using his power of illusion he makes it appear as if the Hulk is on the rampage. Rick Jones attempts to contact the Fantastic Four to prove his friends innocence but Loki diverts his radio message to Dr Don Blake, Thor’s human alter-ago.
By sheer chance Iron Man, Ant Man and Wasp all hear the message and band together to take down the Hulk. Between them they realise Loki is responsible, defeat him and vow to form a team.
What can we take from this story?
The Big Lie
There are so many odd elements to this story it can’t possibly be true can it? What if it isn’t?
We are shown Rick Jones reading a newspaper that says that the Hulk is responsible for destroying a train line. He waivers over whether it could be true.
Doesn’t it seem like a teenager like Rick Jones might just concoct a crazy story, like a Norse god tricked the Hulk and is creating illusions of the monster rampaging across the country, to explain what happened?
Note how the story ends with the Hulk becoming a member of the Avengers at the end of the story yet in Issue 2 they continue to fight him. This time it is because a ‘Space Phantom’ assumed his form.
By Issue 3 the pretence has been dropped and the Hulk is openly attacking them alongside Namor. Could it be that they’d simply come to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth trying to convince people that the Hulk wasn’t responsible for his actions.
Why would Thor, Ant Man, Wasp and Iron Man maintain that the Hulk was a founding member? They could worried how the public might view them, since they possessed such great power. If they could convince the public that the Hulk wasn’t a threat maybe they’d be more inclined to trust them.
It could also be that the lie is there to protect their reputation. The truth is that they did band together to capture the Hulk but they failed. Rather than admit this they claimed that they were now friends and even teammates.
The Avengers would never been known as the Earth’s Mightiest Super-Heroes is they were defeated on their first mission. So they lied and when people saw them fighting the Hulk again and began asking questions they claimed this time he’d been replaced by an alien.
When it was clear they’d never defeat the Hulk they announced that the Hulk had left the team. They now just had to keep clear of the Hulk and secure some victories to maintain their reputation.
This could come back to haunt them in your own Event or adventure. What if this secret was exposed? Players could assume the role of the Avengers, trying to stop the truth from getting out and ruining their reputation.
Only the original members of the group would know the truth which might cause friction amongst the heroes. Given recent events this would be another issue for Captain America and Iron Man to clash over.
Alternatively the players could be another group of heroes who learn that the Avengers are keeping a secret. Finding out what that might be could expose a conspiracy within the hero community.
Ultimately they’d have to decide whether to go public or whether all the good that the Avengers have done demands that they keep the secret themselves.
In any modern day retelling of the Avengers the Teen Brigade would probably need to be replaced by tweeters or bloggers. Whatever form they take they are a vital part of the Avengers origin story, the ones who are responsible for assembling the heroes in the first place.
The Teen Brigade can perform an important function in a Marvel Heroic game. They can be responsible for getting information out to heroes and sending out distress calls. They are independent reporters, fuelled with youthful enthusiasm.
They can be important supporting cast for groups of street-level superheroes. You don’t need SHIELD clearance to get their intel, you just need a radio or internet access. This makes them very accessible, although their information is likely to be based on common knowledge and eye witness reports.
An adventure might even cast the players in the role of the Teen Brigade. Their job would be to gather information and contact superheroes to deal with the immediate threat.
In an on-going campaign they could act as framing device. When a PC contacts a hero the player then assumes the role of that character. This would allow for a revolving cast of heroes, with whoever is closest to the threat dealing with the menace. Such a campaign could take its influence from ‘Global Frequency’, ‘Heroes for Hire’ and ‘Birds of Prey’.
What happens when the Teen Brigade are no longer teens? Could one of the members decide to turn it into a business? For a monthly subscription heroes could access the Brigade communication network or receive tweets about the latest crises.
One of the teenagers might decide that criminals have more money and begin selling information to them. Giving villains updates on where heroes are spotted, sending them photos when a hero is unmasked or compiling data files of their weaknesses could give the criminal underworld a real edge.
In both scenarios the Teen Brigade could find themselves in conflict with other intelligence agencies. They might also inspire specialised copies, such as a Teen Brigade that caters exclusively to the mutant community.
Lucky I Was Tuned In To The Right Frequency
When Loki changes the Teen Brigade’s radio frequency he created a point of divergence. The membership of the original Avengers is based solely on who was listening to that frequency at that time.
This makes it a simple task to create a ‘What If?’ with another group of heroes. What if it was on the same frequency that Spider-man can ‘hear’ on his spider senses or if Matt Murdock had heard it while listening to the radio?
You do not need to limit yourself to New York either. The Teen Brigade broadcast from the South West of the country, meaning anyone could have heard the call and responded.
Changing the membership of the original Avengers is just the starting point of the divergence. Everything else would have changed as well due to their alteration. A new set of heroes might have gained more prominence, the relationships between Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and the others would be dramatically different.
While the Avengers are busy assembling the Hulk has come up with a brilliant disguise. He has been taken in by a travelling circus who believe he is a robot.
With the exception of Loki and his Norse magic this is probably one of the craziest elements of this story.
Who are these circus performers who happen across the Hulk and assume that he must be a robot? Apparently they’ve not been keeping up with the news since we’ve already seen that the Hulk is making the front page of newspapers. What did the Hulk do to convince them that he was mechanical?
It is very odd that the Hulk, forever wishing to be left alone, seemed happy enough to perform in front of crowds of people juggling a horse, a seal and an elephant. I’m sure that animal protection services would have a thing or two to say about that!
While ridiculous an adventure could be focused on Hulk’s time with the circus. He’d have to maintain his secret identity as a robot but could still build a relationship with the other workers. Maybe they found it comforting to tell their secrets to the robot.
What would the Hulk make of the caged animals? Would he feel some sympathy for their situation. Was his juggling act actually part of plan to help them escape? If the Avengers hadn’t interrupted maybe he was about to throw them to freedom.
The circus could have encountered trouble along the way and the Hulk might have had to step in to save them, even if under the guise of a robot. A scenario could be based around criminals attempts to sabotage the circus and the Hulk saving the performers and defeating the villains.
The Isle of Silence
Once Thor realise that the Hulk he is chasing is just an illusion he immediately realises that Loki must be responsible and leaves for Asgard without telling the other heroes.
This illustrates how a limited number of villains, with distinct gimmicks, make it easier for players to work out who they are dealing with.
Upon arriving in Asgard he makes the perilous trip to where Loki has been imprisoned, the Isle of Silence.
Tangle root provides a natural hazard, attempting to overwhelm Thor in their tendrils. Soon after he encounters a volcano that spews forth volcanic gas globules that can sap the strength of even a god.
Thor comments that only he and Loki know the magic incantation that can bring the volcano to life. It is unclear if he means that specific volcano on the Isle of Silence or if Thor can activate any volcano in the world. In either case why are Thor and Loki the only ones who know how to do this?
The final challenge are The Silent Ones, the trolls that give the isle its name. These orange, lumpy monsters in their purple pants are renowned for their strength, none can break their grip. Their motivation is to capture Thor and make him their slave in their mines. Luckily their eyes are sensitive to light and so flee when Thor summons some lightening.
The Isle of Silence would make an exciting location for an adventure. Any group of heroes might run the risk of being enslaved by the Silent Ones. PC heroes could be tasked with rescuing allies who have already been captured.
The flora and fauna might also find its way to Earth. Tanglewood could devastate wildlife as it grows out of control. The volcanic gas globules might be harvested by the government or a villain to use against gods or other powerful heroes.
Hank Pym, Leader?
Re-reading this story it is surprising how big a role Ant Man plays in it. While Iron Man and Thor can only engage the Hulk in physical combat it is Ant Man that is directing them and luring the villains into traps.
This makes a certain amount of sense, given that one of his main powers is to direct ants. It is also clear that he is used to giving orders to Wasp.
Later stories indicate that Ant Man had an inferiority complex, resulting in his change to Giant Man and eventually departure from the group.
None of this is shown in this first story. He remains ant-sized throughout, even when it would make sense to return to human sized when speaking with the other heroes. He certainly isn’t worried about being small.
His biggest failing is under-estimating his opponent. Twice Ant Man attempts to immobilise the Hulk, once using a steel cylinder and once with nylon safety netting. Needless to say the Hulk is able to destroy these in seconds.
By the end of the story he redeems himself by organising the capture of Loki, dropping him through a trap door into a lead tank. This either indicates that he react very quickly when Loki turned himself radioactive or that this was actually a trap for the Hulk. It has been suggested that the Hulk gives off gamma radiation and so the lead tank could have been meant for him.
Regardless it is Ant Man who suggests that they stay together as a team, and although Wasp suggests the name, it is Ant Man who decides that it what they’ll be called. The other heroes seem happy to follow his lead.
What if Ant Man had established himself as leader of the group? Would this have given him the confidence to retain his original identity and content himself with directing the other Avengers, much as Professor X did with the X-Men?
If you’re running a game set during this period you might like to explore this scenario. The arrival of Captain America is likely to shake things up but he might prefer to be a solider rather than a team leader.
Without his mental instability things could be very different in the Marvel Universe. He probably wouldn’t create Ultron, which in turn would mean that Vision isn’t made.
Hank’s relationship with Jan could be stronger, without any domestic abuse. Together they could rival Mr Fantastic and the Invisible Woman as a superhero couple. Their strength and dependability could form the cornerstone of the Avengers.
If you wanted to go in the other direction Hank could be criticised for treating others like ants, seeing them as tools rather than people. He might develop his powers to control not just insects but humans as well, taking control of them and making them sacrifice themselves to carry out his orders.
This could lead to a dark What If scenario in which PC heroes find out that he has turned the Avengers into his slaves. To the outside world they appear to be a self-sacrificing group of heroes but the PCs find out the truth and must defeat Hank. First they will need to get through the Avengers and try to keep casualties to a minimum.