''Awwright, let's get to work!''
Robert Downey Jr. struts onto the set of The Avengers wearing a gray bodysuit and boots and the bulky torso of his Iron Man armor. It's too hard to move in the full outfit, so the robotic limbs are often added digitally later. In any case, he looks a bit like a cartoon character forced to wear a barrel after losing every stitch of clothing except his long johns, but that hasn't dampened his confidence.
Downey strides over to Chris Hemsworth (who's wearing royal-warrior regalia as Thor) and Chris Evans (who has the cowl of his Captain America outfit pulled back on his neck like a hoodie) and teases them like little brothers. ''May I see that?'' he asks, reaching for Evans' star-emblazoned shield. ''May I?'' Evans hands it over, and Downey spins it slowly like he's studying a record for scratches. He attaches it to his arm for a moment, striking a defensive pose, then flips it over like a bowl and turns to a prop master nearby: ''Put some nachos in that, would ya?'' Downey hands the shield back to an amused Evans. He then gets down on one knee amid some rubble, like a man being knighted, as the costume crew attaches his battered gold faceplate and helmet.
The scene they're prepping is part of The Avengers' climactic battle, an assault led by Thor's villainous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who's planning to make Earth his new kingdom after being expelled from their family's celestial realm. Downey, Hemsworth, and Evans are standing among the battered cars, smoldering fires, and cratered asphalt of what is supposed to be a New York City bridge, but is really an abandoned train depot in the heart of Albuquerque, N.M., that's serving as a makeshift soundstage. Loki has enlisted an otherworldly army to aid his conquest something Marvel declines to confirm, though photos of extraterrestrial craft and weapons have leaked online, driving fans into a frenzied debate over which specific group of aliens from its vast comics history is causing the trouble.
For Avengers aficionados, there will be plenty of details to debate and drool over between now and May 4, 2012, when the film launches next summer's movie season. But the lure of the film, particularly for casual fans, is simply seeing the buff and (mostly) brainy all-star team Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow standing united at the law-enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D., which dispatches them in a giant flying helicarrier to danger zones around the world. Ironically, the actors tend to work only in small groups, shooting piecemeal, but the finished movie will feature a handful of sweeping battle shots of the gang in its entirety, fighting against impossible odds.
Loki, the troublemaker-in-chief here, was the villain in the Avengers' first comic-book appearance 48 years ago, when writer-editor Stan Lee and the late artist/co-writer Jack Kirby teamed up some of Marvel's most popular solo heroes in one place, just as rival DC Comics had done three years earlier with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and others in the Justice League of America comics. The Avengers No. 1 was published on Sept. 1, 1963, and cost 12 cents.