Funny enough, the first Avengers comic I read/bought wasn't an Avengers comic, but a West Coast Avengers comic.
It was, in fact, volume 2, #17, of West Coast Avengers, and it featured a group of characters that were more or less foreign to me. I had some idea of who Iron Man was because I'd read enough of the "on sale this week" sections of Marvel comics. I was also an avid Marvel Age reader, so I'm sure I read a lot about Tony Stark there. Oh, and I also loved the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe.
I realize that Hawkeye is super popular now, but back then I had no freaking idea who he was. He was a Green Arrow knock off and I didn't even read DC Comics. Wonder Man? Really? Tigra? Mockingbird? Not really an A-list cast.But Steve Englehart's ambitious stories kept me interested and I'd enjoyed Moon Knight's solo tales enough that his edition to the team sealed the deal: I read the West Coast Avengers for probably a good five to six years.
I wasn't so dedicated to their east coast counterparts. It took me a long time to appreciate Tom Palmer's heavy inks over John Buscema's pencils, and by the time I did, Buscema had left the book. There was never really an east coast line-up that I felt strongly about. The closest was probably when Busiek and Perez relaunched the title.
The Avengers titles have been written by Bendis and Hickman for the last decade plus, but those teams never really interested me, either. There was one point, during Civil War, when the New Avengers line-up made sense. They were all anti-registration, so they were in hiding. A team like Cage, Ironfist, Wolverine, Spider-man (in black!), Spider-woman, and Dr. Strange made sense, and it was a nice mix of characters, to boot. But beyond that, it was mind numbingly heavy handed. I actually had high hopes for the post-Heroic Age teams, and I think the New Avengers lived up to that to a certain extent, but why characters had to be on both teams, and why Wolverine would be on the big, public face of the Avengers team was kind of insulting to those of us who cared about the stories. And, honestly, if you have to use the same characters over and over again to tell your stories, I'm thinking you've reached a creative rut. At least Hickman made Sunspot and Cannonball cool.
I'm getting off topic...
It was during the Bendis era that I discovered what is, in my mind, the perfect team of Avengers. Part of the appeal of this team might be that they were untouched by outside forces. Part of it might have been that they appeared in some of the best stories Marvel has published in the last twenty years. And part of it was the fact that these characters were new versions of existing characters, so they were unencumbered by history; these characters could be whoever they needed to be.
You think I'm going to say the Ultimates, don't you? No, not them.
This is the greatest Avengers line-up ever:
This Wolverine works on this team because this Wolverine hasn't killed hundreds if not thousands of people. This is Wolverine without all that baggage. This Spider-man has always been a member. This Bruce Banner has some semblance of control over the Hulk.
Janet Van Dyne as Giant-Girl was a brilliant move, better than any modified version of any character to be found in certain other alternate reality Avengers teams. Keep an original character, but update her so that she's considerably more modern and considerably more powerful. There may only be two women on the team, but between Giant-Girl and Storm, they're the heavy hitters.
I'll be honest: I'm not sure that this team would have worked as well as it did if it hadn't been written (more or less) by Jeff Parker. Parker knows these characters and he knows how to make fun comics. Each relationship gets screen time over the course of this series and seeing what each of these characters has (or doesn't) have in common is fantastic.
I know this team will probably never see the light of day again. But when I want to read some Avengers comics, I'll always turn to my Marvel Adventures digests. Avengers comics just don't get better than that.