Last week I shared a set of visualizations I made, exploring the history of The Avengers – the Marvel comic series which first appeared in 1963, and was last week released as a bombastic, blockbuster film (which, by the way, I enjoyed tremendously). I looked at the 570-issue archive as a whole, and tried to dig out some interesting patterns concerning female characters, robots, and gods (as far as I know, there are no female robot god avengers – though I guess Jocasta comes pretty close). If you missed that first post, you might want to give it a quick read right now, as I’ll be picking up where I left off.
So far, the discussion has been mostly around the characters of the Avengers, at a collective level. Lots of data is available about each individual character, as well – for example we can look at any Avenger and see every appearance they’ve made over the last 50 years. Here’s Captain America’s record number of appearances:
And Iron Man, who’s not too far behind:
An my personal favourite, Hawkeye:
In each of these graphics, I’ve marked the issues where the character has returned after a significant absence. We also, of course, see their first appearances (Hawkeye’s being in issue #16th, ‘The Old Order Changeth‘). You can see a pile of other Avengers’ ‘appearance maps’ in this Flickr Set – if there’s another character you’d like to see, let me know.
For the first time here we can see that we can gets some information about the individual issues past the issue number. We can look at the title, the characters who appeared in the issue, the geographic locations involved in the issue (from Alaska to the Kree homeworld), and more (the Comic Vine API offers the possibility of concepts to be linked with individual issues as well, but this information hasn’t been well-populated in the wiki).
One thing that you might have noticed from the graphics so far is that there are a lot of spikes – issues in which a lot of Avengers characters are present. The most spectacular example of these ‘party issues’ is Volume 3, #10, ‘Pomp & Pageantry”, in which a whopping 119 Avengers appeared! Here are all of these party issues since 1963:
We can see that these heaps-of-heroes issues are a pretty new phenomenon – and also that the current Avengers writer, Brian Michael Bendis, LOVES a party. He’s written lots of issues with more than 30 avengers, and even a couple with more than 50.
Which brings us nicely into a discussion about creators. So far we’ve been focused mainly on fictional characters – what about the real people that made these comic books? Like, for example, Sam Rosen, and Artie Simek:
Mr. Rosen and Mr. Simek hand-lettered all of the dialogue, and drew all of the word balloons for most of the first 50 issues of the Avengers, most often alternating back and forth, issue to issue. They’re part of a group of about 7 letterers who have been responsible for most of the Avengers typography:
Similarly, we can see that there are about 10 people who have been editors on the series for long stretches of time:
You don’t see nearly this kind of consistency with pencillers:
I wondered after getting a look at how these creators were involved in the history of the series, if perhaps they (particularly the writers & editors) might be responsible for some of the content decisions that I examined in the last. For example, are there certain editors or writers who included more female characters in their books?
I overlaid a heat map onto the creator maps just saw above, with red stripes to indicate a high number of female characters and blue/green stripes to indicate the boys-club issues. Here are all of the editors again:
And all of the writers:
While it probably begs for some statistical analysis, it does seem that the gender balance gets a boost when Jim Shooter takes up the series in the early 70s. Indeed, he’s in charge during the high water mark of Avengers feminism in 1983-1984, a level which the series never gets back to.
We can see similar correlations for the numbers of gods/eternals per issue:
Or robots/synthezoids/androids per issue:
From these we can see that while Brian Michael Bendis DOES like to party, he DOESN’T particularly like robots, and definitely isn’t a big fan of the gods.
Besides that, what have we learned from this two-part data-exploration of the Avengers? You’ve probably learned that I have too much time on my hands. I’ve learned that I really need to get my old collection out of storage and revisit some of these excellent stories. I’ve also learned that, if there’s one form of punctuation that defined the silver age of comics… it’s the ellipsis. So, to finish us off, here’s a medley of the 53 ellipsified issues in the history of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes:
(You might see a blank box here, in which case you might want to try viewing the page in Chrome).