May 27, 2012

The continuity geek's favorite epic

I recently pulled out another long box from the basement and snagged a certain dozen issues -- twelve of my favorite issues of all time: Avengers Forever #s 1-12. I've previously discussed AF here at Colossus (best trade paperbacks ever), and with good reason: It's simply a beautiful thing.

That is, if you like continuity.

For the uninitiated, [comics] continuity is essentially the maintenance of a character's (or group's) tapestry of history. In other words, something that was established in a character's past cannot just be arbitrarily ignored by a future writer. There must be some explanation for any change. Marvel used to be known for its fairly strict adherence to its universe's continuity; this, however, has changed quite a bit in the last decade. Writers and editors felt that continuity "strangled" the ability to tell good (new) stories. While this is true to a degree, fans of a character certainly do not want a good story to ignore basic foundations of that character.

At any rate, former ultimate comics fan-turned writer extraordinaire Kurt Busiek, back when continuity still actually mattered, scripted AF, a continuity geek's dream come true. And he does it all with such pinache and kick-ass action that you may not even notice. The more casual Avengers fan may not find AF his/her cup of tea, however, precisely due to the constant connections to the team's history and minutiae, so be forewarned. But at least give it a couple issues to see!

The plot, in a nutshell, is that Earth's Mightiest have been deemed a threat to the future of the very universe itself, with Rick Jones as the key focal point. Indeed, the series opens up with a scene from (one possible) future where the Terran Empire rules supreme, with a descendant of Jones leading the Galactic Avengers Battalion against some rebels from a nearby planet. (The planet just happens to be Yondu's, one of the original Guardians of the Galaxy, as the continuity geek will recognize immediately.) Longtime Avengers foe and sometimes ally Immortus is charged with preventing such futures, and decides that offing Rick Jones is the best bet.

But hold everything! Immortus' other self, Kang the Conqueror, puts the kibosh on that idea -- with not just a little help from the Kree Intelligence Supreme and Jones himself. Indeed, one of the major plot points is the "latent power" -- now dubbed the "Destiny Force" -- within all humans that Jones first manifested way back in the Kree-Skrull War. Jones now uses this power to bring forth several Avengers from the past, present and future to assist in thwarting Immortus' machinations.

Busiek masterfully ties together loose threads and likewise explains head-scratching plot ideas which were never answered/resolved. For instance, John Byrne went a bit ape-sh** "disrupting" continuity when he had the reins of The West Coast Avengers in the late 80s. He had popular Avenger the Vision completely dismantled and then rebuilt sans emotions, and "undid" his origin as being the Original Human Torch rebuilt. Not a problem for Busiek. Then there was the universally-loathed "The Crossing" from the mid-90s where Iron Man was apparently brainwashed by Kang and made his pawn. Eventually, IM was killed and replaced by a teenage Tony Stark. There were a ton other unanswered questions from that arc, but again -- not a problem for Busiek.

Every few Avengers Forever issues (on the back cover) Busiek provides meticulous footnotes for all his continuity references! It's unreal. Kurt also did this in his also-magnificent Marvels published a little while after AF.

While I absolutely love Busiek's love of comics and appreciation of fans and character history, you might recall I have an issue with his personal politics. Well, not so much his actual politics, but his outspokenness about such and how he responds to criticism of it. As I wrote in the link above,

If you're in the entertainment business, you run the risk of alienating a certain portion of your fanbase if you insist upon making controversial statements or taking up controversial positions on issues. This in no way means you have to shut up; however, you need to be aware that freedom of speech does NOT mean there's freedom from criticism -- or freedom from consequences.

At least Busiek doesn't infuse his stories with less-than-clandestine political posturing like too many of his contemporaries do ... I certainly gotta give him that. And, despite how I feel about how he personally handles political issues, I certainly would not refuse to purchase a good future Busiek-penned story. (He's done quite a few thoroughly awesome ones; I highly recommend the previously mentioned Marvels, especially the X-Men segment, and Superman: Secret Identity.)

This page has all the covers to Avengers Forever, as well as its own synopsis and commentary. (Interestingly, the cover to my issue #4 is different from this site's. I suppose there were variants.) And since I neglected to mention it already, the artwork in AF is simply dazzling. Carlos Pacheco's pencils and Jesús Merino's inks are at the top of their game. Their attention to every detail is jaw-dropping.

UPDATE: Busiek graciously has linked to this post via his official Facebook page. Thank you, Kurt!

Posted by Hube at May 27, 2012 12:12 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

The oversized hardcover of this story is wonderful as well. The artwork looks even better in the larger presentation.

Posted by: Jason at May 27, 2012 03:34 PM

Hey, Hube, good review of Avengers Forever. I received your e-mail.... that's my old e-mail address you sent it to; I changed mine today. I sent you a response to your e-mail address from my new e-mail.

Posted by: Carl at May 29, 2012 01:12 AM