And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born—to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand! The Invincible Iron Man! The Incredible Hulk! The Mighty Thor! Captain America, the First Avenger! And now, they’re all together, along with a few other heroes and the super espionage agency SHIELD in what looks to be one of 2012’s biggest movies.
Face front true believers, if there is one thing that has been a constant throughout the Avengers’ almost five-decade legacy, it’s their technology. From Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to Brian Michael Bendis to Joss Whedon, the creative teams behind the Avengers have always made sure to give them some of the most bleeding-edge sci-fi tech around. Want to get a jump on the movie? This is your primer on the history of the tech seen in The Avengers. AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!
Iron Man’s Armor
No discussion about Avengers tech can even come close to starting without mentioning Iron Man’s armor. Tony Stark may, as Obadiah Stane said in the first movie, have built it, “in a cave, with a box of scraps,” but it has evolved since then from what was essentially a wearable flying tank into neurokinetic user-controlled morphologic nanoparticle wetware that hides in the hollows of his bones when he’s not using it. Tony Stark no longer just wears the armor; he is the armor.
In the movie, Tony debuts his Mark VII armor, but in the comics, he’s created so many different armors that Marvel has stopped counting. The latest version boosts Tony’s strength so that he’s capable of fighting the strongest baddies the Marvel Universe has to offer, has supersonic flight speed, automatically reconfigurable repulsar-tech weapons, and a computer package that would make Bill Gates and Steve Jobs combined cry. Most importantly, the suit is piloted by Tony Stark, a technological genius unlike any other, who has built most of the Avengers’ other tech as well.
The Iron Man armor has been ripped off by tons of enemies, including the Titanium Man, Crimson Dynamo, Iron Monger, and U.S. Steel. A variety of replacement pilots have also worn the armor, including James Rhodes and Bethany Cabe. But when it comes to the Golden Avenger, there’s only one Tony Stark.
Captain America’s Shield
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Cap’s shield was introduced to him by Howard Stark, Tony’s father, as being made of the fictional metal vibranium, the “rarest substance known to man.” In the comics, the shield was made by Dr. Myron MacLain in an experiment with creating a vibranium/steel alloy. MacLain fell asleep and an unknown catalyst turned the metal into the most indestructible substance known to man (A little extra trivia, MacLain’s attempts to recreate the experiment resulted in adamantium, the metal in Wolverine’s unbreakable skeleton).
Given to Captain America personally by President Roosevelt, the shield has been described almost as an extension of the hero’s arm. The shield has the ability to absorb most kinetic energy, allowing Cap to survive hits from brutes like the Hulk, but can be used as an effective offensive weapon as well. Due to its unique aerodynamic properties, the 12-pounds, 2.5′ diameter disc can also be thrown and rebounded off multiple surfaces, even by ordinary people, although it takes a master like Steve Rogers to do it properly.
As Cap’s shield is the most indestructible substance known to man, many villains have tried their strength at breaking it. No one, outside of reality manipulating, nigh-omnipotent beings of godlike power have even come close to succeeding.
The Hulk is not technically technology. Technically, Hulk smashes tech — especially that of the Army, because green men keep chasing Hulk, and HULK JUST WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE! But while Hulk is nothing but mutated muscle and sinew and bone, Dr. Robert Bruce Banner is a metaphor for humanity’s need to tinker in ways it shouldn’t.
In television and the movies, Dr. Banner created the Hulk through bombarding his body with gamma radiation in an attempt to cure human frailty, similar to the Project: Rebirth experiments that created Captain America. In the comics, Hulk was the result of Bruce getting caught in an accidental explosion of the gamma bomb he created, a nuclear device of unrivaled power, with the ability to mutate certain people into unstoppable monsters.
Whether an agent of SHIELD (Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division, later changed to Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate and Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division in the movies) like in the movie or a former villain made good like in the comics, there is no better archer than Hawkeye. While the bow and arrow may be one of the oldest pieces of weapons technology ever created, Hawkeye’s modular arrowhead system takes ancient tech and propels it directly into the realm of sci-fi.
As you can see from the image, Hawkeye’s quiver contains a wide variety of trick arrowheads designed by himself and Tony Stark, capable of doing anything from firing a rope to exploding to delivering an electric shock to planting surveillance devices. The arrowheads are modular, allowing Hawkeye to mix and match arrow shafts with heads as needed. As useful as they are, they don’t mean a thing without Hawkeye’s unparalleled aim, which isn’t a super power, but the result of constant, non-stop practice.
Black Widow’s Bracelets
When the Black Widow made her first appearance in the comics, she was less a superhero, more supervillain — an agent of the Soviet Union, less of a fighter, more of a honey pot, seducing heroes like Iron Man and would-be heroes like Hawkeye. She soon defected to the United States and started showing off physical prowess that put most other heroes to shame, using her high tech bracelets containing her Widow’s Line and Widow’s Bite.
The Widow’s Line is a spring-loaded cable capable of shooting a hooked wire 100′, allowing her to swing on it similar to other spider-themed heroes who also have movies due out this summer. The Widow’s Bite is an energy blast, capable of putting out a 30,000 volt electrical discharge for a distance of 10′. Widow’s bracelets are also capable of firing gas and explosive pellets, for when things get even rougher.
Iron Man can fly. Thor can fly. The rest of the Avengers? Not so much. To get Captain America or the Hulk anywhere from Latveria to the moon, the Avengers use their Quinjet aircraft. Created by the Wakanda Design Group (headed by T’Challa, better known as the superhero Black Panther), Quinjets are capable of atmospheric flight, space travel, and can even go underwater, perfect for your occasional Atlantean invasion. Powered by 2 x 2 symmetrically-mounted modified Pratt & Whitney J48-P-8A Turbojet engines capable of 85,000 pounds of static thrust, these birds make the X-Men’s Blackbird cry.
The Helicarrier may not really be a piece of Avengers technology, but it makes an impressive debut in the upcoming movie. Home to SHIELD., the Helicarrier is an aircraft carrier — that flies cloaked several miles above whatever hotspots and trouble zones it needs to.
Built by a team including Tony Stark, Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards, and the mutant technopath Forge, the Helicarrier serves not only as a mobile base for SHIELD, but houses all of the not-so-secret agency’s other amazing sci-fi tech, from jetpacks to dimensional jump devices. Unfortunately, anything that size makes an awesome target for bad guys and Helicarriers have a tendency to get smashed up real good. Still, as long as there’s a massive aircraft carrier flying overhead, don’t yield, back SHIELD!
And The Rest
When it comes to the comics, the technology listed here is only the tip of the iceberg. Flight suits, swords that shoot lasers, the ability to grow and shrink with a gas. That’s not even counting the half-dozen or so sentient robots and androids on the team. But this should give you a good idea of where the technology the characters in the movie use comes from.
To quote Stan Lee, “‘Nuff said! Excelsior!”