Review: Avengers Forever trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

[Hi all -- Collected Editions here. As you know, this blog has been mostly DC-centric over the past two years; however, we recognize that there are more trades out there, from more companies, some of whom are raising the bar for trade paperbacks even faster than DC is. To this end, we're now featuring select guest reviews about non-DC trade paperbacks! First up is reviewer Doug Glassman, who's also reviewed at the comixfan.com website. If you want to review a non-DC trade for Collected Editions, contact us at collectededitions(at)yahoo(dot)c-o-m. (And would you believe, there's still more super-secret surprises coming soon from Collected Editions ...) Take it away, Doug!]

As recent events in the Marvel Universe have shown, the Avengers have had a rather complex and tumultuous history. With the team torn apart and one of its most important members dead (for the time being), let's take a look at a book that both helped clear up and complicate Avengers history. It's Avengers Forever, by Kurt Busiek (with Roger Stern) and Carlos Pacheco (with Jesus Marino).

The book takes a winding trip through Marvel history past, present and future, uniting seven Avengers from various points in that timeline. From the past, there's Captain America from shortly before the Captain America No More story; Hawkeye from the Kree-Skrull War; and an absolutely insane Yellowjacket. The Wasp and Giant-Man represent the then-current Avengers line-up. That's not a misprint: the team has two Hank Pyms, which makes for a very fun story. Finally, representing the future are Songbird and Captain Marvel. This was the story that put Genis on the map, and while he's currently dead, I think he'll return soon enough. The team dynamics are intense and encourage some strong moments. For instance, Yellowjacket fears becoming Giant-Man, and while Songbird and the Wasp are friends in the future, the current Wasp only knows Songbird as a member of the Thunderbolts and therefore untrustworthy. The temporal villain Kang the Conqueror slowly becomes one of the main heroes of the book, equal to the ersatz Avengers, while Rick Jones does what he does best: hang around and get in trouble.

As for the actual plot of the book, it's rather complex, involving Kang trying to stop Immortus, who is the future version of himself. Sort of. I'd prefer not to spoil it here. Busiek and Stern take full advantage of twelve issues allotted to the story, taking a long detour about two-thirds of the way through the book to do some retconning of the history of the Marvel universe. Amongst the plot holes filled are the events of The Crossing (which precipitated Onslaught) and the history of the original Human Torch and the Vision. In another book, this would be out of place and distract from the action, but here it gives the reader some important backstory.

The entirety of part nine, for instance, is the history of Kang, and knowledge of his history and his many incarnations is required to figure out the last part of the book. At times, it seems like all of the backstory is overwhelming, but there is hope. Throughout the book, footnotes are provided on what characters are referring to, identifying people and places that go unsaid otherwise. And there are plenty of cameos. Encountering random minor characters from old stories is one of the great joys of the book. The 1950s Avengers encountered early in the book, for instance, are now appearing in the Agents of Atlas series. Marvel's Western heroes and sci-fi alternate dimensions are featured as well, and a certain bald villain from the distinguished competition shows up in a quick flash. At the end of the book, the cameos pile up to include alternate Avengers that are both good and evil, even including a few from the Avengers: United We Stand cartoon. The footnotes are great at pointing these out.

The art team of Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino does a great job in handling this massive number of characters. All of the action is nice and clear (definitely a boon when the writing gets complicated). Since it's a Marvel space-time epic, there's a massive amount of fun space visual effects, including lots and lots of varied explosions. I especially like Pacheco and Merino's version of Captain America: since the character is at a vulnerable point in his career, he seems vulnerable, and this changes as he becomes more and more confident. Yellowjacket, who quickly becomes one of the most fun characters of the team, is gleefully manic throughout and looks the part of the mad scientist. One odd art note: as the book progresses, Hawkeye's sideburns get larger and larger until they become epic 70's mutton-chops. It's a look that's not exactly out of character for him.

Avengers Forever demonstrates how to do an epic rooted in continuity that still knows how to have fun. By actually explaining what's happened before (or at least giving you a place to go to find out about it), the reader isn't so easily taken out of the action. Add in some strong characterization, great action and art that really conveys the plot, and you've got a book worth picking up. The book is not exactly hard to find, but it did come out seven years ago and is probably due for a reprint. Fans of Captain Marvel, Captain America, Hawkeye, the Thunderbolts and, of course, the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, should seek this out.

[$24.99 cover price. Includes an introduction by Kurt Busiek, main covers to issues 1-12, images of the alternate covers for issue 4, and source notes.]
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5 comments:

  1. I'm primarily a DC kind of guy but do pick up Marvel trades from time to time...

    Your review makes me think that I might not have enough background in the Marvel world to follow all the cameos and references.

    Would this be one that someone only casually familiar with the Marvel Universe would be able to enjoy?

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  2. The book's probably going to be reprinted in hardcover as an Avengers Assemble! book.
    You can enjoy the book as a casual fan; there's footnotes for all of the heavy continuity stuff. But you have to be willing to learn a bit of Marvel history.

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  3. Just wanted to say that even if I'm more of a DC guy myself, these Marvel reviews are a great idea. Keep up the good work !

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  4. As a former Marvel zombie, it's great to see Collected Editions tackling the Marvel universe.

    Looking forward to more reviews!

    P.S. Mentioned this review on the Graphic Novel Archive. :-)

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  5. Hey there..I'm a total Marvel zombie, the only DC titles I pick up are All-Star Superman and Superman/Batman,although after reading a few of your reviews I may pick up a few more. I think tis is a great storyline,even though I'm not a huge Busiek fan this in my opinion is his best Avengers story...if you want The Avengers at their best pick up The Korvac Saga.
    Great blog, keep up the good work.

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