In 1961, Stan Lee had been working at Timely Comics for over 20 years, and across town, a rival company, National Comics, was selling a lot of copies of a book called The Justice League of America, which featured characters you may have heard of like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and their pals. Stan’s publisher had noticed how well it was selling and asked Stan to work up a similar book to cash in on the trend. The Avengers are often viewed as Marvel’s flagship team and a counterpart to the Justice League, so it makes sense that the Avengers would be born!
But there was a problem with that. Timely, which would later become Marvel Comics, weren’t publishing any popular superhero books at the time. They focused more on comics that featured monsters, romance, cartoons, and war stories. Stan didn’t have a stable of superhero characters to bring together, so he and Jack Kirby made up a whole superhero team from scratch, and the Fantastic Four were born.
Fast-forward to 1963, and after the popularity of the Fantastic Four, Stan had overseen a new line of comics that featured characters like the Hulk, Thor, and Spider-Man. He had also started up a new team of characters called the X-Men in their own series, but again, those were all new creations. Sales were doing well, so the original idea of a book that teamed up popular solo characters together wasn’t really needed any longer.
But the young Marvel Comics had discovered that its readers were passionate about this new line of characters. They started to get fan mail, which was practically unheard of with its non-superhero titles. The fans asked questions about their heroes and gave suggestions for who should meet and team up. The sheer volume of requests for a team that featured a variety of Marvel’s solo characters finally prompted them to act, and the Avengers were actually born this time!
So the franchise was created in part due to the shameless attempt to copy another company’s success and through the unsolicited ideas of comic book fans, two things that do not get very much respect, but it turned out all right this time.