3. M.O.D.O.K. joins the Avengers

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Right down to the name "Secret Avengers," this series is a little bit hinky. In effect, the winding collection of books was part of Marvel realizing that comic-buying customers tended to buy more of them when you put Avengers on the title. Books like Heroes for Hire, and The Illuminati became The Mighty Avengers, and The New Avengers. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., meanwhile, became The Secret Avengers.

If you needed any more indication that the series was less about superheroes, and more about spies (besides the word "secret" in the title) you need look no further than the credits. The series' first volume was penned by Ed Brubaker. Before The Secret Avengers Brubaker wrote a seminal, and espionage-laden run on Captain America that introduced us to the Winter Soldier, and launched a trilogy of pretty solid Marvel movies.

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Although he didn't stick around to lend his particular blend of subterfuge, and superheroics for more than 12 issues. It was then passed on to writer Nick Spencer, who was replaced by resident Marvel snark-lover Warren Ellis, who passed the mantle on to blood-and-guts fan Rick Remember, before finally he gave way to Spencer again. Oh, and then a new guy called Ales Kot took over before the series was cancelled 15 issues later. It's just the kind of story that inspires you to become a contracted writer with unstable pay, and no ownership of your creations, isn't it?

 With that many chefs in the kitchen it's no wonder that The Secret Avengers doesn't really have its own core identity. Were these characters -- led by S.H.I.E.L.D. bigwigs Maria Hill, Nick Fury, Jr., and Phil Coulson -- vigilantes, or agents of a vast and shadowy government organization? Were they fun-lovin' knuckleheads like then Ant-Man Eric O'Grady, or cold-hearted killers like Moon Knight?

That was sort of the premise of the series. At least until Kot took command. That's when the series about moral dilemmas, friction between wacky and lethal characters, and a robot uprising got weird.

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That's when M.O.D.O.K. -- a floating, talking coffee mug with a face whose name literally means "mental organism designed only for killing" -- became a superhero.

Kot took the comparatively serious series, and made it into a comedy. One with suicidal, sentient bombs, a hero-killing robot impregnated with Cthulhu, and guns made out of fungus.

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While the change in tone irked some, especially after the series was launched by recognizable names like Brubaker, and Ellis, the results were just fine. The story kicks into gear when M.O.D.O.K. falls in love with S.H.I.E.L.D director Maria Hill (maybe it's because they're both into acronyms?), and catalyzes a rollicking blend of super-science, and insanity.

4. Cyclops' Angry Years

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Scott Summer is no angel, but he used to be a boy scout. More specifically, he used to be boring -- the goody-two-shoes foil to Wolverine's more exciting stabby-times. There's a reason one of them has three of his own movies, even though the first one was the worst thing since pretty much any Fantastic Four project committed to film, and the other one is Cyclops.

Making that guy the three-quarters-of-a-face-and-ruby-quartz-glasses of Marvel's "mutant revolution" seems almost laughable. But that's exactly what happened under the guiding hands of writers Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, and Kieron Gillen.

Grant Morrison helped a bit, too, by revealing that Scott is way into kink. The series New X-Men finally allowed Cyclops to unwind by sexually, and psychically submitting to Emma Frost. The one-time villain, and all-time fan of lace saw something in Scott, and managed to bring it out. Gillen continued that confident streak by making Cyclops the leader of the "Extinction Team."

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If that doesn't sound like a pessimistic job opening, then you've been watching cable news too long. Recognizing that threats to the continued survival of mutankind as a species might require a harder touch, Cyclops continued his road toward the dark side by recruiting fellows like the aforementioned Emma, Namor, Magik, and freaking Magneto.

It wasn't an extinction-level event that finally changed Cyclops into a cold pragmatist, however. It was open war with The Avengers, and an ironically softer set of X-Men led by Wolverine that finally got Summers's goat. The stress of trying to make the world a better place for mutants, fighting his friends, and trying to wrangle the fiery bird monster that killed his ex-girlfriend -- the Phoenix Force -- pushed Scott to murder his mentor, Professor Xavier.

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 All of this, and a looming murder trial, pushed the once white bread hero into hiding. Although he didn't stop there. He donned a newer, more appropriately dark and form-fitting suit. That's how we all knew he finally meant business. Well, that and his forming a team of new X-Men designed to proactively, and, if necessary, violently fighting back against oppression. Despite taking decades to fulfill, this remains some of the best, and most interesting character development in a Marvel hero... Ever, basically. And it all started with a guy played by an actor who got his start on Saved by the Bell: The New Class.