Sunday, November 22, 2015



Read about Volume 1 here.

It's called the AVENGERS BY KURT BUSIEK & GEORGE PÉREZ OMNIBUS VOLUME 2, but it's really an AVENGERS BY KURT BUSIEK & FRIENDS OMNIBUS. Of the forty-four issues contained herein, Pérez illustrates a whopping eleven. I wouldn't exactly call it false advertising, since the Omnibus does carry on from the Pérez section of the run and wrap up some loose ends established during his time on the series, but splashing his artwork all over the covers and including only his and Busiek's names on the cover and spine seems a bit misleading.

That said, there's some good stuff in here. The Omnibus leads off with AVENGERS issues 24 and 25, pitting the team against the Juggernaut and concluding a storyline called "The Eighth Day". This was an unusual crossover in that it had its setup in issues of IRON MAN, THOR, and SPIDER-MAN, as well as a JUGGERNAUT one-shot, then AVENGERS followed that story up with a sort of sequel/epilogue -- but both segments also worked as their own story with a beginning and end. Weirdly, I don't think the whole "Eighth Day" has ever been collected anywhere. The IRON MAN BY KURT BUSIEK & SEAN CHEN OMNIBUS and the THOR BY DAN JURGENS & JOHN ROMITA JR. vol. 3 trade paperback both collect the set-up, and this Omnibus collects the sequel -- but for the full experience, you'd need two books.

Anyway, following from "The Eighth Day", we're treated to an uninterrupted sequence of AVENGERS 26 (featuring guest artist Stuart Immonen) - 30, a run which sees the team roster revamped as the Avengers set out to battle Kulan Gath. From there it's into a crossover with THUNDERBOLTS by Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley, and the order goes THUNDERBOLTS 42, AVENGERS 32, THUNDERBOLTS 43, AVENGERS 33, THUNDERBOLTS 44, and AVENGERS 34. This saga, featuring both teams in battle with Count Nefaria and his daughter, Madame Masque, serves as Pérez's swan song, though it's hard to imagine him going out on a better note. The Busiek/Pérez AVENGERS was always a sort of love letter to the AVENGERS of the Bronze Age, and one of the best-regarded AVENGERS tales of that era was the original Pérez/Byrne illustrated battle with Nefaria.

And, as I said above, that's it for Pérez with still two-thirds of the book's 1,248 pages to go. AVENGERS ANNUAL 2000 is next and from there, it's on to Marvel's big 2000 crossover, "Maximum Security". Written by Busiek with art from Jerry Ordway (who had filled in as writer/artist on a story arc in the previous volume), we have the prelude, MAXIMUM SECURITY: DANGEROUS PLANET, followed by MAXIMUM SECURITY issues 1 - 2, AVENGERS 35 with artwork from John Romita, Jr., and then MAXIMUM SECURITY #3.

The Annual and crossover form a sort of "buffer" between the Pérez years and the post-Pérez era. With both of them complete, Busiek begins the series' next phase, continuing his established sub-plots while ramping up a new ongoing epic which will unfold through the entirety of the remaining issues, known today as the "Kang War" or the "Kang Dynasty". First up are AVENGERS issues 36 and 37, featuring fill-in art from Steve Epting, and then we hit the start of "Kang War" proper with Alan Davis on board, penciling issues 38 - 43. Strangely, my recollections of this era had Davis and Kang appearing immediately after Pérez departed. I was surprised to find this was not the case. But regardless, the artwork from Davis is magnificent, and one wishes he could've been Pérez's permanent replacement, illustrating the entire Kang storyline.

But such is not the case. Upon the conclusion of Davis's limited run, we have AVENGERS ANNUAL 2001 and then AVENGERS 44 brings aboard the new temporary art team of Manuel Garcia and Bob Layton. AVENGERS: THE ULTRON IMPERATIVE comes next, a "jam" one-shot written by Busiek, Roy Thomas, Roger Stern, and Steve Englehart, with artwork from an equally diverse crowd of pencilers and inkers.

The AVENGERS series proper resumes with issue 45 and from there carries straight on to issue 56, the finale of Busiek's run. Kieron Dwyer and Rick Remender arrive as artists with issue 48 and remain until #55. (Rick Remender, modern day Marvel writer, was an inker fifteen years ago??) Issue 49 was part of Marvel's ill-conceived "'Nuff Said" month, in which every title across the line was required to have a dialogue-free "silent" issue in the tradition of the classic G.I. JOE #21. While this concept worked for some titles in a vacuum, as part of a huge collection the sudden lack of any words for one chapter is bizarre and disconcerting.

As noted, it would've been nice to see Alan Davis stick around for the full Kang saga -- but barring that, at the very least a single artist through the entire thing would have given it some needed consistency. As it is, the transition from Davis to Garcia to Dwyer, in the middle of an enormous epic storyline, is jarring to say the least. Beyond that, the final pair of issues in the book, wrapping up "Kang War" and the Busiek run in general, are drawn by yet two more artists, Patrick Zircher and Yanick Paquette, respectively.

Like volume one, this is an impressively assembled book. Rather than going with another wraparound dustjacket, instead we have Pérez's cover to issue 25 on the front with his cover to issue 27 on back, and a piece of interior panel art on the spine, depicting Thor, Iron Man, Firestar, and Wonder Man soaring skyward. But beneath the dustjacket, the book is adorned with a lovely full wraparound image of a double-page spread from #34, depicting the Avengers and the Thunderbolts getting tossed around by Count Nefaria.

Compared with the first volume's titanic section of bonus material, however, this book falls a bit short. I suspect that by the final few years of the run, after the initial excitement of Pérez's involvement had worn off, and once they realized it was a solid seller in any case, Marvel stopped promoting the series as much. As a result, all we have are a small handful of WIZARD covers by artists other than Pérez, a few pages of original artwork reprinted four to a page, and textless covers at the same reduced size strewn throughout the book between issues.

In the back of the book are some letters page excerpts including Busiek's farewell note from his final issue, and the plot to the "'Nuff Said" installment (though I'm not sure this should be considered an "extra" per se as I believe all the "'Nuff Said" issues included the plot at the end). The meager bonus features are rounded out by a few pages of 2001 Marvel Legends trading cards (and my, how that line had fallen from the days of complete sets of fully painted character portraits).

Also included is AVENGERS #1½ by Roger Stern and Bruce Timm, chronicling an untold tale from the earliest days of the Avengers. It's not labeled as bonus material, but that's essentially what it is, appearing at the very back of the book, and being produced by neither Busiek nor Pérez nor tying in with any of their work. Still, it's a fun tribute to the days of Lee and Kirby and it was produced around the same time as the rest of the material, so its inclusion here is logical and appreciated.

As to the book's story content -- well, most of it is taken up by the "Kang War", a storyline I freely admit I haven't read in a very long time; not since picking it up month-by-month as it was first published -- while I've read the preceding Pérez issues much more frequently. There's a bright and colorful Bronze age throwback feel to the Pérez material which I adore, and which vanishes almost instantaneously upon his departure. I don't necessarily think Busiek changes his scripting style at that point, but something about the tone of the stories is different, perhaps due to the more modern-looking artwork.

That said, there were also upheavals going at Marvel at the time, with behind-the-scenes changes in editorial philosophy which became quickly apparent across nearly their entire line of books, and it's kind of remarkable in retrospect that Busiek was able to remain on AVENGERS, to continue writing in a traditional "thought balloons and third person narration" style, and keep his epic going all the way to the end. Even without Pérez and without the Bronze Age feeling, Busiek's run still has Comicraft on letters all the way through, retaining a bit of the late nineties Marvel aesthetic which launched the series. The artwork is uneven after Davis departs, but never outright terrible -- and the work by Dwyer, while far removed from the more realistic styles of his predecessors, is usually very good.

Would I have collected this differently? Of course. As noted in my review of volume 1, I would've omitted AVENGERS FOREVER in favor of giving it a separate collection, and I would have therefore lumped all the Pérez material into one book. I would've added the AVENGERS INFINITY limited series, by Roger Stern and Sean Chen, to the start of volume 2, as it contains the same group of "cosmic" Avengers seen in issue 35. AVENGERS TWO: WONDER MAN & THE BEAST, a three-issue mini-series by Stern and Mark Bagley, probably would've made the cut for volume 2 as well. (I don't believe this has ever been collected anywhere, which is kind of a shame.)

But in spite of what I consider to be imperfections in the selection and distribution of contents, as a companion to the first Busiek/Pérez volume, I recommend this book. It's big and sturdy, and lives up to Marvel's usual archival standards with excellent artistic reproduction.

The bonus features are a bit skimpy, though that's really dictated by what was produced at the time, so no one at Marvel today can be blamed for a lack of promotional tie-ins fifteen years ago. I question the volume's title, given Pérez is only involved in about a third of the book's content, but I can understand the decision from a branding perspective. George Pérez sells comics.

In any case, the Omnibus looks terrific next to its companion on the shelf, and much as the post-Pérez material doesn't always float my boat, I'm nonetheless pleased to have this complete Busiek run together in two big hardcovers.

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  1. Yeah, "Kang War" really suffers from the inconsistent artwork - as you say, none of it is bad on its own, but transitioning from one to the to the other to the other robs the story of consistency. Had any one artist stuck with it to the end, I think it would be better regarded today.

    Also, it bugs me to no end that the story occurred during the height of the Jemas/Quesada regime, when they were determined to keep the books as self-contained as possible. So you had something HUGE like "Kang War", which destroyed Washington DC on a level beyond anything before and found the entire planet subjugated by Kang, but literally no other titles, including solo Avengers titles, could be bothered to tie-in or even acknowledge it. Even a simple "Casket of Ancient Winters"-style "gee whiz, Cyclops, we should probably stay clear of DC, big things are going down there" would have been appreciated.

    1. I'm with you on the lack of continuity with the Kang storyline. I recall one issue of THUNDERBOLTS with a cameo by Wonder Man and Scarlet Witch, which touched on it ever so slightly, but that's not really surprising since Fabian Nicieza and Busiek worked pretty closely on the various AVENGERS/THUNDERBOLTS crossovers.

      Though I'm not sure I would've liked the alternative of a few years later much better. True, at the height of Jemas, continuity was thrown entirely out the window. But once he was gone and "events" became the order of the day, the pendulum swung completely the other direction. In the post-Jemas world, we would've had a KANG WAR mini-series, with every title in the Marvel line devoting issues to telling their aspect of it. Unfortunately I don't think Marvel has found the happy medium between those two extremes.


  2. I really liked the Busiek/Pérez Avengers and enjoyed Avengers Forever as well. Moving Forever to the companion volume with #1½, Maximum Security, etc., and calling that volume Kurt Busiek and Friends, though, makes way more sense logistically, especially since you’d probably fit all the actual Busiek/Pérez Avengers in the first volume.

  3. Want to let you know how much I appreciated these two reviews - have used them as a guide to putting together my issue run of this series, plugging the final few gaps before re-reading the whole of this section of the series. Hugely useful to get the detail you've put into this post, thank you.

    1. Thanks, Sam! I'm glad these pages are of use to you and I appreciate the comment.