Already one of the biggest box-office hits of all time, Marvel’s The Avengers opened this past Friday after months of heavy promotion and ubiquitous advertising, as well as years of build-up through a string of Marvel Studio’s superhero blockbusters including Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. To coincide with the film’s release, Disney and Marvel worked together to offer a variety of official tie-in material (from traditional comic books and kids picture books to complete novelizations) to bring fans up to speed with the characters and provide some backstory to the film. Marvel is also offering a number of special sales and promotions on existing Avengers titles to celebrate the big screen debut of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Marvel’s senior v-p of sales David Gabriel described a “more focused” approach to tie-ins than with the previous films, saying the publisher made sure to reach Avengers fans of all walks of life with a wide selection of releases. This was echoed by Rich Thomas, global editorial director at Disney Publishing, who wants the Avengers book program to be “all things to all people. Just like the film, from the youngest reader…to the Marvel enthusiast.”

It’s no coincidence that there’s been an influx of seemingly non-movie-related Avengers material available from both Disney and Marvel surrounding the movie’s release. Avengers vs. X-Men, Marvel’s major line wide crossover event, is currently being waged within the pages of the comics and was released in time with the movie and even “held back”, said Gabriel, despite the idea “bubbling up” in the past. The biweekly series is currently on its third issue (of twelve)

There’s also Marvel’s upcoming line of prose novels, retellings of the biggest events in Marvel history, beginning this June with the best-selling “Civil War” storyline, which prominently features Avengers mainstays Captain America and Iron Man. (Eagle-eyed fans may even spot some homages to “Civil War” during Marvel’s The Avengers, said Gabriel)

And Marvel Super Heroes Magazine, from Disney Worldwide Publishing, a new all-ages magazine, hit stands this month (as well as retail chains such as Target, Walmart and Barnes & Noble) with the Avengers on the cover. The magazine, which ships eight issues per year, contains games, posters, character bios and even an original Thor comic from writer Joe Caramanga and artist Terry Pallot.

Novels and Storybooks

Disney’s Marvel Press imprint is the main driver behind a wealth of tie-in material. Fans of the upcoming movie who aren’t traditional comic book periodical readers but still want to get all the available backstory need look no further than Marvel’s The Avengers: Avengers Assemble, a novel adaptation of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger and about the first third of Marvel’s The Avengers. Intended for ages 8 and up, the book hits all the major plot points of the Marvel Studios films, jumping from movie to movie each chapter in what is presumably the actual order of events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While not providing any new or extra narrative material, the book is an apt refresher of the past films’ stories and is short enough to breeze through and be ready for the film. Available in both print and digital formats.

Marvel’s The Avengers Movie Storybook is yet another choice for anyone looking to bone up on Avengers knowledge and trivia. Intended for ages 7 and up, the storybook only covers part of the movie’s plot, but contains more (and larger) full color screen shots and character profiles. Available in both print and digital formats.

For early readers (ages 3 and up) there’s a pair of picture books, Marvel’s The Avengers: The S.H.I.E.L.D. Files and Marvel’s The Avengers: Battle Against Loki. The former follows the assembly of The Avengers seen through the eyes of Nick Fury while the latter chronicles the film’s initial battle with villain Loki. (For those who may not know, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a fictional super-secret undercover agency headed by Nick Fury that takes care of all manner of threats in the Marvel Universe.) Thomas described these books, written by Scott Peterson and Tomas Palasios, as well as Marvel’s World of Reading titles, as “the gateway into the franchise for kids who might be too young to see the movie.”

While not an official movie tie-in, Marvel Comics’ Avengers Assemble: An Oral History of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes does provide a newly updated prose retelling of significant Avengers stories starting with the team’s origin. The story is written by Brian Michael Bendis and with spot illustrations by a variety of top talents, and originally appeared as backups in the Bendis-penned Avengers and New Avengers. Avengers Assemble: An Oral History of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is a great all-in-one history for collectors as well as new fans looking to immerse themselves in The Avengers’ greatest hits.

For fans who want the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at the making of Marvel’s The Avengers, there’s The Art of Marvel’s The Avengers, a coffee table book containing set photographs, concept art, production designs, script excerpts, cast and crew interviews and more.

Sales and Promotions

To celebrate the release of Marvel’s The Avengers, and to use the film’s appeal to attract new readers, Marvel is offering a number is special deals and promotions through its Digital Store for the existing Avengers library, mirroring the printed collected editions, said Gabriel.

From now until May 21, Apple’s iBookstore is offering a select number of Avengers digital graphic novels at highly discounted prices, including New Avengers Volumes 1-5 (all priced at $4.99), Avengers Masterworks Vol. 1 ($9.99), Avengers: Kree/Skrull War ($9.99) and more.

Over at Barnes & Noble, readers who buy two or more digital graphic novels from the “Avengers Collection” will get $30 off the purchase of a Nook Tablet. The collection includes much of the same books as the iBookstore deal, and is valid until May 7th.

Comixology, the leading distributor of digital comic books, is also getting in on the action, offering a one-day sale on many of Marvel’s recent Ultimate Marvel Universe series at $0.99 an issue including Ultimate Iron Man, Ultimate Thor, and Ultimate Captain America.

Periodical Comics, Digital, Book Collections

Marvel’s The Avengers is a superhero comic book movie, so obviously Marvel, one of the “Big Two” superhero comic book companies that dominate the category, has published (and is publishing) a number of tie-in periodical comics. These are easily identifiable, with the actors’ likenesses and costumes depicted for their respective characters and the metallic “The Avengers” logo.

First up, Avengers: Road to The Marvel’s Avengers, a collection of previously released movie tie-in miniseries from the last few years including Iron Man: I Am Iron Man!, Iron Man: Security Measures, Iron Man 2: Public Identity, Iron Man 2: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America: First Vengeance. These all feature retellings of scenes from the movies but from different perspectives, or stories not seen before such as what happened to Tony Stark between Iron Man and Iron Man 2, behind-the-scenes action featuring S.H.E.I.L.D. agents Nick Fury, Black Widow and Agent Coulson, and some Captain America backstory and further WWII adventures. As an “official in-movie-continuity” book, Road to The Avengers is perfect for fans of Marvel’s previous movies who want to get a little more of the story of their favorite characters. According to Gabriel, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue even after Marvel’s The Avengers opens, with more tie-ins and prequels on the way including a new Iron Man series to bridge the gap between Marvel’s The Avengers and Iron Man 3, currently scheduled for summer 2013.

For a direct lead up to the movie, try Marvel’s The Avengers Prelude: Fury’s Big Week, an eight-issue digital comic which follows S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury, Hawkeye, Black Widow and fan favorite Agent Coulson during the events of the previous Marvel movies leading right up to Marvel’s The Avengers. As the constant thread throughout all the Marvel Studios movies, the exploits of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its agents also provide a convenient timeline for the Marvel Cinematic Studios universe (co-writer Chris Yost, along with Eric Pearson, describes the clandestine organization as “the eyes and ears on all the stuff as it happened”) The first issue is available to download for free on the Marvel Comics app, new Digital Comics Shop or through digital comics vendor Comixology. The series was also released as four print issues, and a collected edition arrives on shelves in May. Fury’s Big Week is again great for fans that want the entire Marvel Cinematic story (particularly that which focuses on Nick Fury and Agent Coulson) and to be fully prepared by the time Marvel’s The Avengers hits theaters.

Despite making her debut in 2010’s Iron Man 2, the Black Widow, played in the film by Scarlet Johansson, is finally getting her due with Marvel’s The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes, a three-issue miniseries that takes place between Iron Man 2 and Marvel’s The Avengers that follows S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Russian super spy as she hunts down stolen Stark industries technology in her home country. Notably, the series is currently serialized in the Russian version of Maxim magazine and contains more mature themes than the average Avengers book. The first two installments of Black Widow Strikes will be released in May, with the final issue following in June. Marvel’s The Avengers may produce some die-hard Black Widow fans who won’t want to miss out on this.

For younger readers, Marvel’s The Avengers: The Avengers Initiative is an all-ages monthly miniseries and prequel to Marvel’s The Avengers, providing a quick and easy introduction to each of The Avengers. Avengers Assemble is another ongoing series that isn’t a direct tie-in, but does feature the same Avengers lineup as the movie. The series, written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Mark Bagley, began in March and is currently on its second issue. Avengers Assemble will continue beyond the movie, and, while not able to be specific, Gabriel did admit the series will have some very significant effects on the greater Marvel Universe.

Collecting the complete runs of the three “Ultimate Avengers” series (originally published as just The Ultimates) the new Ultimate Comics Avengers By Mark Millar Omnibus collects the complete runs of The Ultimates (and its two sequel series) and Ultimate Comics Avengers Vs. New Ultimates. Originally published 10 years ago, the series took a decidedly more modern and realistic approach to the Avengers concept, and much of the look and feel of the Marvel Studios films have been heavily influenced by it. Basically, it’s the closest thing in comics to the movies.

Finally, The Avengers: The Heroic Age is not a movie tie-in (despite its appearance), but does provide fans of the movie a perfect starting point to enter the current world of The Avengers, containing Avengers issues #1-6, Avengers Prime #1-5 and New Avengers #1-6 (all written by Brian Michael Bendis).

Future Avengers Assemble

As extensive as the above is, it’s still only the beginning. Disney’s Thomas sees the strong “backlist potential” in the film and hopes publications aimed at younger audiences will continue to sell, perhaps “buck[ing] the trend of peaking at the film release.”

Marvel’s The Avengers is already on its way to becoming one of the biggest movies of the decade, and it owes much of its success to Disney and Marvel’s years-long coordinated build up through its previous films as well as an array of ancillary material to keep fans invested. The companies are spreading that success beyond the screen, using the property’s unprecedented visibility (not likely to be seen again unless, of course, there is a sequel) to offer an abundance of new and reprinted Avengers books for fans of all ages and levels of expertise. It’s certainly a good time to be an Avengers fan, and never so easy to become one.