The various Avengers characters aren’t related to each other in the traditional sense. Instead, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) connects these beloved characters in a variety of ways. With the newest film, Avengers: Infinity War, on the horizon, let’s take a look at this complicated web of relationships in the MCU’s Avengers “family tree.”
In this graphic, each color represents a different kind of connection: red for romance, light blue for friendship, green for a blood relationship (or a situation in which one character created another), and adoption or mentorship in navy blue. Grey text indicates characters who have died. Note: This image and article contain spoilers for MCU films up through and including Thor: Ragnarok.
Chronologically, the MCU begins with Steve Rogers (Captain America). Deemed too scrawny to enlist in the US army during World War II, Steve undergoes the experimental “Super Soldier” program, which gives him super strength and endurance. Aided by agent (and Steve’s romantic interest) Peggy Carter and inventor Howard Stark, “Cap” fights alongside US troops and defeats the nefarious Red Skull. Steve’s childhood friend James Buchanon (“Bucky”) Barnes tragically dies during a mission. (Later, we learn Bucky is revived by Soviet scientists and brainwashed into becoming an assassin—the Winter Soldier.)
Though Steve claims the title of “first avenger,” the Avengers universe begins with the Starks. Howard gives Steve his trademark vibranium shield and, with Peggy, founds S.H.I.E.L.D. Decades later, this mysterious security organization pulls all the Avengers together, discovering Steve frozen in a block of ice.
Howard’s son, Tony Stark (Iron Man), is also instrumental in creating the Avengers family tree. The first MCU film focuses on the billionaire/playboy/philanthropist as he tries to reverse the legacy of his father’s weapons company. Tony, along with assistant-turned-CEO Pepper Potts, rebuilds Stark Industries and develops Iron Man technology. His longtime friend, military man James “Rhodey” Rhodes, eventually steals one of Tony’s suits for the armed forces and adopts the title of War Machine. Throughout his journey, Tony also encounters former KGB spy Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), secret agent Phil Coulson and Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
At the same time, other major Marvel characters take root. On Earth, the US military attempts to re-create the Super Soldier program in modern times. Physicist Bruce Banner, exposed to gamma radiation, reacts poorly to the treatment. When angered, he becomes the Hulk, an indestructible, uncontrollable monster. Bruce, realizing the Hulk’s potential for death and destruction, places himself in exile.
Elsewhere, demigod Thor (son of the Norse gods Odin and Frigga) is exiled to Earth, where he befriends scientist Erik Selvig. After escaping Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D., who tries to confiscate his hammer, Thor returns to Asgard to defeat his adoptive brother, Loki. In a later film, Thor teams up with Bruce and Loki to defeat his estranged sister, Hella.
In the first major crossover event in the MCU, most of the characters come together in the original Avengers film. Nick Fury and Natasha recruit Steve Rogers, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner to help stop Loki from acquiring the ultra-powerful Tesseract. Thor joins the party as well, emboldened by Loki converting Erik Selvig (now a S.H.I.E.L.D. consultant) to his side. The crew is also joined by the sharpshooting S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Clint Barnes (Hawkeye). With help from Coulson, Fury and agent Maria Hill, the newly minted Avengers repel Loki and an invading alien army, saving New York City from total destruction.
Steve Rogers, still feeling out of place in the modern world, makes a few new friends in the second phase of the MCU. He continues to reach out to a tormented Bucky, and befriends Sam Wilson (Falcon), a fellow military veteran with a flight suit and other intricate gadgets. Steve also falls for Sharon Charter, a S.H.I.E.L.D.-turned-CIA agent who (as it turns out) is Peggy’s great-niece. Sam, Sharon and Steve team up with Natasha to expose S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corruption in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The MCU introduces even more characters by the end of the second Avengers film, Age of Ultron. Wanting to develop an artificial intelligence program that would protect Earth from future alien invasions, Tony creates the cyborg Ultron. Ultron, bent on destroying the human race, turns violent and recruits superpowered Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) and her twin brother Pietro (Quicksilver) to fight Tony and his allies. The two defect to the Avengers, but Pietro sacrifices himself to save Clint and a civilian. In a last-ditch effort to defeat Ultron, Tony and the Avengers create Vision, a benevolent embodiment of Tony’s J.A.R.V.I.S. program. The Avengers (new and old) come together to defeat Ultron, with Vision delivering the final blow against his pseudo-brother.
A house divided
Marvel brings even more characters into the fold for Captain America: Civil War, in which Tony and Steve lead warring factions of Avengers. Feeling outmanned, Tony reaches out to young upstart Peter Parker (Spider-Man). He gives Peter guidance and (later) a high-tech suit. In addition, former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Hank Pym passes on the mantle of Ant-Man to reformed criminal Scott Lang, who joins “Team Cap” after sparring with Sam. After the events of Civil War, Scott will join Hope van Dyne (Hank’s daughter via his wife, Janet van Dyne) in their own movie, in which Hope will assume the title of the Wasp.
Fan favorite T’Challa (Black Panther) also joins the Avengers in Civil War. In that film, T’Challa becomes king of Wakanda after his father, T’Chaka, is murdered. Believing Bucky to be the killer, T’Challa swears revenge and joins “Team Iron Man.” Once he learns Bucky is innocent, T’Challa provides a refuge for him.
T’Challa’s family tree is worth exploring in and of itself. In his own film, T’Challa confronts his usurping first cousin Erik “Killmonger” Stevens. T’Challa’s sister, a young scientist named Shuri, is expected to play a large role in Avengers: Infinity War. The head of T’Challa’s personal guard (Okoye) and his friend and military advisor (W’Kabi) will also appear in the new film. Learn more about the Black Panther family tree in our article.
To Infinity Wars and beyond
A handful of heroes in the MCU have yet to come into direct contact with the rest of the Avengers. Notably, the Guardians of the Galaxy have appeared only in their own films. Led by half-Earthling, half-deity Peter Quill (Star-Lord), the Guardians galavant across the cosmos. The team features warrior Drax the Destroyer, assassin Gamora, sentient tree Groot and sharp-tongued raccoon Rocket. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Gamora’s adoptive sister Nebula joins forces with the Guardians, as does the super-sensing Mantis.
Additionally, Thanos, the “Mad Titan” slated as villain for Infinity War, has only been mentioned in the Avengers films. He recruits Loki to invade Earth, and has also been pulling strings behind the scenes in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Notably, he kidnaps children from conquered civilizations, training his adoptive children (such as Gamora and Nebula) as servants. These relationships, along with his quest for the six all-powerful Infinity Stones, will bring him into conflict with the Avengers.
Last but not least, Dr. Stephen Strange, a neural surgeon empowered by the time-warping Eye of Agamotto, and his friend Wong have also yet to make a significant appearance outside of their own film. Dr. Strange helps Thor and Loki find Odin in Thor: Ragnarok, and will likely play a large role in Infinity War.
For more on famous family trees, check out our write-up on the Black Panther, Harry Potter or Skywalker family trees. And for more on superheroes, check out the book Rise of the Superheroes: Greatest Silver Age Comic Books and Characters. In it, you’ll learn all about the comic books in the 1960s, including how characters like Spider-Man, Captain America, Wonder Woman and Superman evolved.