In 2004, The Avengers ended their initial run at issue #503 when the team decided it was time to disassemble. A few months later, the New Avengers were born. This was not your normal flashy Avengers of old with the big powers and a god or two on their side. This was a more realistic and hardcore team for a world that needed a more realistic and hardcore team. When it was all said and done, the first incarnation was Captain America, Iron Man, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Spider- Woman (Jessica Jones who was the Skrull queen), Wolverine, and The Sentry. As always, the team continued to change for various reasons. But, there was always an Avengers team. Since the team broke up and started a new era, who have been the most influential members?
Who would have ever thought that the former "Hero for Hire", who spent most of his superhero career being a giant stereotype would one day end up leading his own team of Avengers and being their leader and not even knowing it. Maybe it was just him growing up and becoming a father and starting to get his life together. Regardless, Luke Cage has become, in my opinion, the most important Avenger in the last eleven years.
When Captain America decided to oppose the government and fight against The Superhero Registration Act, Luke Cage was his right hand man. When Captain America turned himself in and eventually died, Luke kept on fighting for what he believed was right and became the leader that a lot of people needed. He stepped up and continued doing what Cap would have done and never backed down. When Norman Osborn was put in charge, he kept on fighting and when it was time to sacrifice himself so his team could escape and he jumped on the opportunity because that is what leaders do. When the battle was over and things were back to normal, Cage became an Avenger for the people.
Cage still remains an Avengers for the people and fights the battle for the regular people who's problems sometimes fall through the cracks when the other heroes are out in space or fighting other threats to Earth:
Check Out New Avengers #22:
Luke Cage tells Iron Man where he can shove the Superhuman Registration Act and when S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up to take Luke Cage into prison, Luke fights them all and doesn't go down. In front of the neighborhood that looks up to him as protector, Luke shows them to never back down.
As much as I may not like him, he has always been important to the Avengers. Always has and probably always will be. He has made a lot of unpopular decisions over the last decade plus and those decisions have caused some major changes in the Avengers roster. Some people refuse to work with him and some people just work with him because he's right even if they don't like the way he went about making his points. Either way, Stark will always be important to this team.
Check Out "Civil War"
This was probably Tony Stark at his best. He wasn't fighting against some random villain. He was fighting for everything he thought was right for him, the superhero community, and for the American public. Whether he was right or wrong is debatable, but he did go at it with full force. We saw some different sides of Stark that we had never seen before and it made him a much more interesting character.
You can't have a pro Avengers list without mentioning Captain America. It may not have started with him, but as long as he is alive, he will always be what every Avenger aims to be like. Even though he can sometimes be a bit outdated, even the most ruthless of villains respect him for what he is, has done, and can do.
When Spider-man realized he was on the wrong side of the Superhero Registration Act, he went to Steve Rogers for advice. When People needed a leader, they go to Steve Rogers. When Luke Cage's team needed inspiration, they thought "What would Steve Rogers do" and it helped them make the right decisions. Steve Rogers sets the example for his team even in death or old age (as he is now). He doesn't quit, surrender, tire, or give up on what he feels is right. In some ways, he is the Avengers
Check out "Secret Avengers" by Ed Brubaker:
was a good representation of Steve Rogers as more than just Captain America. Steve Rogers had given up the mantle of Captain America and became a spy and Soldier again. This was a role he fit perfectly. He did a lot more in the shadows than he did as an Avengers and it was cool seeing him fight with more than just his shield.
The man Captain America once said would never be an Avenger ended up being one of the reasons why the Avengers became a different team. In the last issue of the inaugural New Avengers arc, Tony Stark tells Cap that the Avengers didn't truly come together until they found him (Cap)and in this time, for this team, Wolverine is him. Wolverine would go the places that need to be gone that the rest on the team may not want to go. Thankfully, they had him when things got rough. Every family needs an angry big brother so you can say "I'm going to get my big brother to beat you up". Wolverine is that guy. At first, he seemed like he was just another random member. It wasn't until Luke started ruining the team that Wolverine became important. Without even saying it, Wolverine was Luke's right hand man even when his best friend Iron Fist was on the team. Logan knew the darker parts of the world better than everyone on that team and was completely honest about what it was this team needed to do or be if they wanted to succeed.
Check out New Avengers 28-39:
These are the issues where things got crazy. Trying to fight crime the way they believe it should be fought all while every law enforcement agency is looking to arrest you. If that isn't enough, they find out that the planet is being invaded by skrulls. This run showed why Wolverine is a perfect fit for a New Avengers team. Sometimes things get down right dirty and disgusting and you need someone to lead the charge into the muck. Wolverine showed some of them a path they didn't know was an option. On a side note, this team became his family. Luke Cage and this team never looked at Wolverine as just a killer. Even Spider-Man learned that he may have been wrong about him all of these years. The two grew to respect each other more than I thought was possible.