If you are an American, you probably only know of one set of Avengers, and they belong solely to Marvel. The line-up has changed over the years, but the team remains steadfast, decorating our comic shelves since 1963.
But there's another set of Avengers, and they have no connection to Marvel. They were the subject not of comic books, but a popular and sexy television show. These Avengers are British, which means they hail from the same place as Harry Potter, Downton Abbey, Paddington, The Tudors, and the Royal Family. They too hail from the 1960s (they predate the Marvel team by two years), but unlike the superhero group, they never truly escaped it. Despite their absence from 21st century pop culture, when you say "Avengers!" in the United Kingdom, everyone thinks of them.
Or, at least, Marvel thinks they do. When summer rolls around, the United Kingdom won't be seeing The Avengers, but Marvel's Avengers Assemble, lest anyone confuse it with a long gone television series. They're not as worried on this side of the Atlantic, presumably because they think Americans have shorter memories, and don't even remember the awful attempt at big-screening the series with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes.
Nevertheless, we here at Film.com have decided to create a guide to tell the difference between the British Avengers, and Marvel's. It's easy to get confused – they not only share the same name, but both fight creepy villains, and boast girls in improbably skintight outfits. We wouldn't want anyone renting the Thurman/Fiennes monstrosity in a belief that it's starring Iron Man, and we want to ensure that no one from the United Kingdom believes they will be seeing Diana Rigg in a catsuit.
1. In the British Avengers, everyone – good, bad, or neutral – has an English accent. In Marvel's Avengers, only the bad guy has an English accent.
America has always had an awkward relationship with their former ruler. On one hand, we idolize English tea, royals, castles, and Winston Churchill. On the other, we can't resist casting the English as evil whenever we can. It's easy to say that we're cashing in on our young cultural history and tapping into our revolutionary memories for quick emotional resonance, but if that was the case, we wouldn't go all starry-eyed for an accent or a duchess. I think it's more that we need villainy to sound different, but not so European that our grandparents can't understand them.
2. There are only two British Avengers. There are six Marvel Avengers.
The British Avengers were a duo, always comprised of Mr. John Steed and a pretty female partner. They worked for some shadowy branch of British intelligence, and were called on for rather ludicrous and creepy tasks. Marvel's Avengers are much the same way – they work for S.H.I.E.L.D, a shadowy branch of the American government, tasked with solving only the most overwhelming and inhuman problems. (It must be said that in the comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. has a more international flavor, whereas in the cinematic universe, it's stressed as a homeland department.) There's a joke in here somewhere about British efficiency and the Americans being too vulgar and flashy, but I don't think I can make it.
3. Only Marvel's Avengers have the Hulk
They may both have hot women in black leather, which can confuse things, but only one set has the Hulk. He's pretty easy to spot. If your screen has a big green CG monster swinging around, then you're definitely not watching the British series.
4. The British Avengers took place in an alternate universe. Marvel's Avengers are supposed to be in our own.
Actually, this is a bit of a thin and weird line. The British Avengers was set in a slightly off-kilter England – it was never explicitly stated, but it just wasn't the world most UK citizens would recognize. It was one populated by villainous weirdos, where a hero could wear a bowler hat and a woman could wear a leather catsuit, and neither would be considered odd. Marvel's universe is meant to be our own, full of colorful heroes that could easily be on tomorrow's news. But come on, we really know it's some alternate Earth where the Stark family is inventing all kinds of useful, energy saving stuff.
5. The Marvel Avengers actually have a god on staff, the British Avengers just suffered delusions of grandeur.
John Steed is one of pop culture's most arrogant heroes. He has every reason to be – like James Bond (who was his nemesis at school, and no, I'm not making that up), he's suave, sophisticated, intelligent, and tough. But he knows it, which can make him awfully unlikable at times. Something tells me that he'd happily take on Thor ... and lose. But he'd probably find a friend in Tony Stark. A drinking friend!
6. Marvel's Avengers fight with superpowers. The British Avengers fight with guns and gadgets.
Well, sort of. Black Widow and Hawkeye both fight with conventional weapons (she has a gun, he has a crossbow) and Tony Stark is big on gadgets. But for the most part, their offensive tools are pretty extraordinary. The British Avengers stay a lot more realistic. All of the ladies were martial arts experts and packed guns, and John Steed favored an umbrella sword and an armored bowler hat. (Possibly manufactured by some subset of Stark Industries...)
7. Marvel's men are better looking
Sorry, John Steed, but it's true. But take heart. Few men on either side of the Atlantic can compete with that team of beefcakes.
8. Black Widow's catsuit is much, much tighter than anything the British lady Avengers wore.
It's amusing to look back at photos of Emma Peel and Cathy Gale, and see just how baggy and odd their leather dominatrix outfits were. Even Peel's infamous zipper covered catsuit is prudish (and maybe even loosely fitted!) by our standards. You know you're watching the British Avengers if the lady in question has wrinkles in her outfit. If the catsuit appears painted on and about to experience a wardrobe malfunction, it's the Marvel Avengers, baby!