Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]
Instead of just shoving annuals into a title's next trade, recently Marvel has been using annuals to have mini-crossovers like The Arms of the Octopus which brought together the disparate All-New X-Men, Indestructible Hulk, and Superior Spider-Man. However, the Avengers: Revelations trade takes a different approach. It uses the assumption that the four titles it collects have large enough fan crossover to support an anthology of annuals. It helps that three of these are the cornerstones of the Avengers franchise and the fourth is a Thanos story by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim.
That Thanos annual is the first in the book and is essentially the prologue to the Thanos: The Infinity Revelation graphic novel. It doesn't move Thanos's narrative forward, especially since he's still a statue as of the events of Infinity. Instead, Starlin and Lim illustrate an untold point of his history: his resurrection after being killed by Captain Marvel. He's saved from being press-ganged into Mephisto's service by his Infinity Gauntlet-wielding future self. Knowing that he's destined to lose the gauntlet soon, Thanos has cast part of himself back in time to become his own Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and show his younger self the future.
The interplay between old Thanos and young Thanos is a highlight. While the older version knows about his fatal flaw of self-loathing, his younger self isn't having any of it and tries to take the Infinity Gauntlet within moments of meeting him. Their walk through time provides a broad sketch of the various Thanos stories with some fun commentary along the way. Personal favorite bits include a running joke about how much Thanos dislikes Pip the Troll and some fourth-wall humor about Drax the Destroyer's massive change in looks and persona. Starlin even makes references to Marvel: The End and ties it back around into the current collapse of time and space that will result in Secret Wars.
I'm going to skip over the second story for a moment and go right to Frank Barbiere and Marco Rudy's New Avengers tale. Doctor Strange gets a much-needed moment in the spotlight. He's too often in the background in New Avengers unless the plot calls for him. Strange has been summoned to a mystical city in Tibet to exorcise a powerful demon from a little girl. As they battle on the astral plane, Strange flashes back to his time as a surgeon and we see how his arrogance used to define him.
The story is a little simplistic at times, but that's helped by the artwork. I've never seen Rudy's work before, but I'll be seeking out now (I hear his and Matt Kindt's Marvel Knights Spider-Man is great). From some of the reviews of his DC work, it sounds like he's improved a lot over the last few years. His page layouts are highly complex with numerous layers of art. For this story, he uses a mandala theme, presenting simultaneous events in interlocking rings and thematically tying into the Tibetan setting. Strange's final victory over the demon is yet another chip in his broken soul; even in an annual, he can't catch a break.
Kathryn Immonen and David Lafuente close out the trade with an Avengers annual set at Christmastime. Along with Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, and the Hulk, Shang-Chi gets an important role as the leader of a retreat for gifted students. (Tony Stark is so scatterbrained from his work that he thinks they're in a scared straight program.) Amongst them is Zamira, a girl with the ability to manifest the voices of others as physical aspects of herself. Exactly how her powers work is hard to explain and the story itself has some difficulty conveying it, but she's the kind of potential superhero that would work in a relaunched Avengers Academy title. Her numerous vocal duplicates cause chaos in the voice-controlled Avengers Tower before the Avengers are able to calm her down.
There's also a nice little subplot about the team members claiming to be going away for the holidays but secretly staying in the Tower until they all stumble upon each other. It foreshadows the troubles seen in Hickman's Avengers ... which is more than I can say for the Uncanny Avengers annual by Rick Remender and Paul Renaud. I've mentioned before that Remender is not a particular favorite, and this annual pegs down many of the issues I have. What should be a fun story about Mojo pitting the Uncanny Avengers against a team of supernatural heroes starts off with a screed against people who like “cerebral” comics, people who value Marvel's continuity, and comic book reviewers. As a cross-section of all three of those demographics, that didn't endear him to me at all.
If you're going to call people out in your comic, you'd best have a good alternative. Warren Ellis challenged the Justice League's complacency with The Authority and the result was an all-time classic. Remender's annual instead has muddy storytelling and numerous missed opportunities due to not paying attention to continuity. Satana and Man-Thing are on the “Avengers of the Supernatural” but their unique relationship in Jeff Parker's Thunderbolts doesn't get brought up. Much like Brian Michael Bendis, it seems that Remender forgot that Wonder Man and Scarlet Witch dated at one point -- a better reason for a renewed relationship than Wonder Man being the “prototype” for the Vision. I frequently tell new readers to read Busiek and Perez's Avengers Volume 3 as a starting point ... I shouldn't have to advise the person in charge of 2014's biggest event to do the same.
I'm sorry to end the review on a down note; Avengers: Revelations luckily puts the best story first and the second best story directly after the worst part. It's not an essential trade and the Thanos and New Avengers stories will likely be collected elsewhere, but it's worth it if you find it cheap.