Every good hero needs a supporting cast. Sure, everyone needs somebody but no protagonist worth a damn operates in a vacuum. It doesn’t matter if you’re Don Quixote, James Bond or Batman. Hell, even the Punisher has his tech-savvy pal, Microchip. In this, the Avengers are certainly no different. While the first three parts cover the adventurers themselves (here, here and here), let’s dial it back this time to look at some honorable mentionables running things behind the scenes…
Active As Of: Tales of Suspense #59 (Nov, 1964)
Current Affiliation: Honorary Member (Active)
History: Earth’s. Mightiest. Butler. (‘Nuff said!)
Perhaps better known these days as either a disembodied voice or Agent Peggy Carter’s lovably bungling tag-along thanks to portrayals by Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts, the comic book version is really more the spiritual glue of the Avengers’ history and tradition.
The Starks’ loyal family manservant Tony’s entire growing up, Jarvis ostensibly comes as part of the package when Iron Man offers up his ancestral Manhattan townhouse as Avengers Mansion.
However, despite his being the most upstanding of chaps, the straightforwardness with ol’ Eddie ends about there- as he also may very well be the unsung “Patient Zero” of Marvel story retcons…
For those not in the know, “retcon” stands for “retroactive continuity“. It’s a word typically thrown around when a late-breaking story element reframes (or sometimes overwrites) another previously-established work. A great recent example is the referential interaction between Rogue One and the original 1977 Star Wars. Everyone knows which historically comes first yet who among us is going to disavow the new intended viewing order??
So, yeah, think of Jarvis maybe more in those terms and it’ll be easier. Anyway, down the rabbit hole we go…
While Tony’s house may first appear in 1963’s Avengers #2, it’s only ever inferred that there’s an attending domestic staff (if that). That begins to change when the first Avenger takes up residence (Captain America, between Avengers #4 and 5). However, Jarvis doesn’t make an on-panel appearance until Cap (Steve Rogers) gains his own backing serial in the pages of the Tales of Suspense anthology (circa the time of Avengers #10). He’s not actually seen in the pages of Avengers until #16 (May, 1965).
Other flashbacks and retroactive “period pieces” place Jarvis on the hero scene even earlier, though- possibly the earliest depicting him absorbing the duties of the other servants who quit in haste over the idea of having to deal with the Hulk!
After Cap, the next live-in Avengers are a trio of young adults and a couch-surfer who just also happens to be an actual Greek demigod. That said, it doesn’t take long for Jarvis to become as much a beloved institution himself as the institution he himself is responsible for dusting.
Indeed, Jarvis is probably the factor that invites the most comparisons to those other (unrelated) “Avengers” of classic BBC-TV fame. It’s probably his apparent British-by-way-of-Brooklyn demeanor.
Yes, to further add to whole snag, there’s J’s actual origin (or definitive lack thereof). Official sources kinda negate one another and offer nothing but speculative conjecture. Furthermore, as Marvel’s “sliding timescale” moves away from World War II, the less plausible the whole “Jarvis ran away as a kid to fight Nazis” angle is. The “ex-Royal Air Force pilot and three-year boxing champ” part’s still good as long as it’s kept flexible.
His mom’s still around (gotta really be up there in age now) but good luck making more of this mystery by finding clues on her…
Regardless, what all incarnations can agree upon is that this man is put into the employ of Howard Stark and dutifully serves above and beyond the call- no matter how weird or mortally perilous his life becomes.
So, yeah, in all the years that the Avengers operate in the greater New York area, Jarvis is usually right there getting their tea tray ready for the big meetings and ops debriefs. Usually he’s in the Mansion but in later years makes the move to Avengers Tower. That is, understandably, except for the times when he’s hospitalized for being beaten within an inch of his life by super-villains or abducted and replaced by shape-shifting aliens.
In the “All-New, All-Different” status quo, the esteemed “Stark acumen” isn’t all that it once was, causing Tony to downsize and liquidate. As a result, Jarvis is offered a sizable severance upon the sale of the Tower.
However, not long thereafter, Iron Man and Captain America (Sam Wilson) resume operations of a new, wholly-unfunded branch of Avengers, taking up in a hangar out in an old Stark Industries New Jersey airfield (the All-New All-Different Avengers series). Unfulfilled in forced retirement, Jarvis returns to the fold.
As this incarnation of the Avengers fluctuates and Stark’s fortune (personal well-being and otherwise) continues to diminish, Jarvis is recast into an unlikely role: mentor to the Unstoppable Wasp, the genius daughter of Hank Pym.
With the extremely recent turnover of Avengers Mansion coming back from the investors that bought it as a superhero “fantasy theme” hotel, there is an air of hopefulness. On the other hand, it occurs at the cusp of HYDRA-makeover Captain America’s Secret Empire outbreak, so who knows how long before we get to see Jarvis reorganize the cabinets just the way he likes them. Undoubtedly, one “gentleman’s gentleman” in particular will be at the ready all the same…
Active As Of: Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #1 (Jan, 2005)
Current Affiliation: Associate (Deceased)
History: Special Agent of the National Security Council. The original gruff old dean to the Avengers’ metaphoric party dorm.
Never heard of him? That’s probably because he’s really only ever existed as a retcon character within the two volumes of the “untold tales of yesteryear”-style Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes series.
When Tony Stark petitions the US government for official recognition and security clearance for the Avengers, Murch is assigned to further investigate the legitimacy of the “mystery folk” gathering. Needless to say, there’s some convincing…
It’s not even just the obvious Hulk that raises red flags as the agent’s also quick to label Captain America an unfit-for-duty PTSD hot mess upon the living legend’s sudden re-emergence!
Despite racking up an increasing record of heroic displays, Murch continues to dangle “A-1 Priority Status” in front of the Avengers like some just-out-of-reach carrot. Eventually, repeated military coordinations demonstrate the Avengers’ effectiveness and Murch acquiesces- on the stipulation that, once better-acclimated, Captain America remains forefront in the organization.
Murch backs off for a while and only interjects himself again when, during one of Cap’s leaves-of-absence, a couple of new- if not slightly unorthodox- members join the ranks…
Even though he expresses mad reservations about the synthetic man sent to kill the Avengers that they instead welcome with open arms (the Vision), Murch is actually diplomatically accommodating in assisting a foreign leader (the Black Panther)’s establishment of an American schoolteacher undercover identity.
In this era, S.H.I.E.L.D. begins to overall assert itself as a natural bureaucratic firewall between the Avengers and the government. Murch finds himself more in the role of consulting advisor to liaison, Agent Jasper Sitwell. However, this doesn’t stop the Ron Swanson impersonator from training up his own successor as well. Enter deputy partner and future pain-in-superhumans’-collective-ass: Henry Peter Gyrich.
Not seen in continuity for years, it’s implied that Murch remains in the intelligence game for awhile, at least. Unfortunately, the next time he appears on-panel, it’s as a severed head- freshly murdered for his knowledge of state secrets. His assassin is a curious flash-in-the-pan anarchist nutjob named “Zodiac” (the final issue of the short-run 2010 Age of Heroes anthology).
Sooo… quite the legacy when the bright side is serving as Gyrich’s personal Qui-Gon Jinn, huh?
Oh, and those secrets Murch dies for? Who can say as Zodiac’s plans are never followed up!
Here lies Special Agent James Murch, truly the Shakespearean bit player. Sound and fury? Check. Signifying nothing? Yeah, big ol’ check right there…
UP NEXT: The Spangly and The Sporting Goods-y! Captain America! Hawkeye!