I railed against Marvel's decision to include the 12-issue AVENGERS FOREVER mini-series in their then upcoming AVENGERS BY KURT BUSIEK & GEORGE PÉREZ OMNIBUS, but I went ahead and pre-ordered it anyway, selling off my old AVENGERS ASSEMBLE hardcovers to subsidize the purchase. And, as it turns out, I'm quite happy I did.
This AVENGERS run, by writer Busiek and artist Pérez, was really my first time reading the series -- or at least the mainstream Marvel Universe version of it -- on a regular monthly basis. I knew of the Avengers; I'd seen them plenty of times in guest-spots in other series I read. I had even read a handful of issues from the period when Bob Harras was the series' regular writer. But it was actually Busiek's THUNDERBOLTS, which launched around the time the Avengers were rebooted via "Heroes Reborn", that got me to pick this series up. I loved that first year of THUNDERBOLTS, and when I learned that its writer would be handling AVENGERS and IRON MAN when they returned to the mainstream universe, I made plans to follow those titles as well.
So, as the first iteration of the Avengers that I read regularly, this series holds a special place with me. And I doubt I'm alone, as the run has been reprinted numerous times in both hardcover and trade paperback over the years. But, because of its importance to me, I wanted to own it in the best possible format. I had previously owned the AVENGERS ASSEMBLE hardcover volumes, but they were lacking in several areas: most importantly, some of the issues suffered from horrid reproduction, looking like blurry scans of the pages with no clean-up whatsoever. But beyond that, the covers in those books were presented with no logos, trade dress or blurbs, and crossover chapters that weren't issues of AVENGERS were usually omitted. This was all rectified some years later with the AVENGERS ASSEMBLE paperbacks, but I didn't pick those up because I preferred the oversized hardcovers, flawed though they were, to the standard-sized trades.
But now, in 2015, the highly evolved Marvel collected editions department has taken another whack at an oversized version of the Busiek/Pérez run, and this time they've knocked it out of the park.
This is a big book, almost 1200 pages long. The pages are perhaps slightly thin, though an examination of my sole remaining AVENGERS ASSEMBLE volume reveals that its pages were barely thicker than this book's. At any rate, the Omnibus is clearly superior to the ASSEMBLE collections in every way. The pages are glossy without being too shiny, and the reproduction is top-notch. Unlike the older volumes, there are no muddy scans to be found here. Every issue is beautifully presented, and Pérez's artwork looks amazing as always in the oversized format.
Physically, the usual checklist of praise can be heaped on the volume: sewn binding, lays flat, terrific graphic design, etc. Marvel has all this stuff down to a science by now, but it's always worth mentioning. The dustjacket features Pérez's wraparound cover to AVENGERS #1, oriented perfectly so that Giant-Man and Iron Man are visible on the spine. The vertically aligned AVENGERS logo on the front cover is a little jarring at first, but it allows the art to be spaced properly and it actually looks pretty neat when you get used to it. And, in a cool touch, the cover beneath the dustjacket is a slick trade dress-free version of the cover. Marvel's track record for lavish physical presentation remains strong as ever with this book.
The volume opens with the full all-time Avengers roster that was printed on the inside gatefold covers of the first few issues of 1998's AVENGERS volume 3, though the graphic design has been modified to match the Omnibus's formatting. It's a pretty nifty, and much appreciated, idea. From there, the book tackles all the Avengers comics of the era in chronological reading order. We begin with AVENGERS #1 - 6 pitting the team against Morgan Le Fay and then the Squadron Supreme, then the "Live Kree or Die!" crossover begins, giving us full reprints of IRON MAN #7, CAPTAIN AMERICA #8, and QUICKSILVER #10 before jumping back into AVENGERS #7. It should be noted that this crossover was also just reprinted in its entirety in oversize format a couple years back in the IRON MAN BY KURT BUSIEK & SEAN CHEN OMNIBUS, but this is a case where I appreciate the double-dip, since we're only talking about a few issues duplicated between the two volumes.
After the crossover we get the AVENGERS/SQUADRON SUPREME '98 ANNUAL, written by Busiek with beautiful artwork from Carlos Pacheco at the peak of his powers. Then we rejoin the main series for AVENGERS 8 - 11, introducing Triathlon and bringing us the long awaited, doubtlessly much-demanded showdown between the Avengers and Moses Magnum; followed by a fight against the Grim Reaper and a legion of unliving Avengers. After all this comes the controversial (to me) inclusion of AVENGERS FOREVER issues 1 - 12, by Busiek and Pacheco (with Roger Stern).
Look -- it takes a big man to maintain that he was right but admit that something wasn't as big a deal as he'd made it out to be. And that's what I'm about do: I still think including AVENGERS FOREVER in this book was a silly decision, and I believe it completely ruins the flow of the main run by being slotted in the middle of the ongoing series as it is. But ultimately it can be easily skipped if a reader so desires and I suppose, in the end, it's better to have it than not. (And I should probably add that I have nothing against AVENGERS FOREVER; I seem to recall enjoying it when I first read it, and the artwork by Pacheco is breathtaking. But I've rarely had interest in re-reading it, while I've read the surrounding Busiek/Perez run more than once since those issues were first published.)
But I digress. After the twelve issue interruption of AVENGERS FOREVER, we return to the main title for issues 12 - 15, guest-starring the Thunderbolts, the New Warriors, and the Beast, followed by the 1999 annual by John Francis Moore and Leonardo Manco. Then issues 16 - 18 provide a mini guest-run by writer/artist Jerry Ordway pitting the Avengers against the Wrecking Crew. WIZARD's AVENGERS #0 comes next, penciled by modern-day Marvel superstar Stuart Immonen. Finally, we get AVENGERS 19 - 23, featuring the highly regarded "Ultron Unlimited" storyline, as well as a showdown between Wonder Man and Vision to close out the volume.
All of this sets things up for the next book to begin with the "Eighth Day" crossover, and then continue on with the remainder of the Busiek/Pérez run. Given that AVENGERS FOREVER was crammed into volume 1, I'm guessing volume 2 will include all of Busiek's post Pérez material, including collaborations with Alan Davis and Kieron Dwyer, as well as the "Maximum Security" event. I'm less a fan of the series after Pérez's departure; there's nothing inherently wrong with it, but it quickly loses the "Bronze Age throwback" feel that made the first few years so fun. But we'll save that tirade for next time.
Now here's where the book gets really interesting. Obviously the issues by Busiek and Pérez are the main draw here, and they're well worth the price of admission. But beyond the forty-one issues collected within, this Omnibus includes 128 pages of bonus material.
Let me repeat that.
128 PAGES OF BONUS MATERIAL.
This thing is an archivist's dream. Some of this stuff was printed in the original AVENGERS ASSEMBLE hardcovers and I suspect that even more of it was found in the later trade paperbacks. But I'm fairly certain much of it has never been reprinted until now. We have a WIZARD Avengers Mansion featurette hosted by Jarvis. Then the AVENGERS #1 "Rough Cut" edition, which was something Marvel did for a few issues back then; it contains Pérez's original pencils and Busiek's original script to the issue.
Though the Omnibus has no new introduction, we do get Busiek's intro to AVENGERS ASSEMBLE volume 1, Jerry Ordway's intro to volume 2, and Busiek's intro to the original AVENGERS FOREVER trade paperback. Now personally, given the absence of a new intro, I would've slotted Busiek's AVENGERS ASSEMBLE vol. 1 piece in at the beginning of this book, but that's a minor nit to pick since it's included at all. There are also promotional articles from the era, as originally printed in WIZARD, MARVEL VISION magazine, and the Marvel Catalog.
We have vintage house ads galore as well, even more than I remember Marvel running at the time these issues came out, plus a couple letters pages reprinted for their editorial columns (I would've loved to have seen all the letters pages in this book, but that doesn't usually happen with more "modern" collections like this one). Busiek's original proposal/planning e-mails to Ralph Macchio, Tom Brevoort, and Bob Harras from 1997 are here too, as well as all the promotional art Pérez did around this time: posters, magazine covers, trade paperback reprint covers; they're all included, along with logo- and blurb-free issue covers and selected original artwork pages reproduced at quarter size (four per page).
So bravo, Marvel. I will never stop questioning the inclusion of AVENGERS FOREVER in this book, but despite my histrionics, it's not like it hurts the volume. Busiek/Pérez was my first time reading the Avengers on a regular basis and, while I kept reading after their departure and have gone back to look at issues from before their arrival, no AVENGERS run has ever captured my imagination like this one. Between the story content and the copious bonus features, Marvel has pulled out all the stops to produce the ultimate archival version of what I consider to be some seminal material, and upgrading from any past editions to this one -- or, especially, picking it up for the first time if you've never read this stuff -- is an absolute no-brainer decision.
Available now from Amazon.com. And pre-order volume 2 while you're at it!