Avengers Forever is a late ’90s gem that took an offbeat approach to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

When long-time Avengers associate Rick Jones became possessed by a primal power, the enigmatic Time Keepers sent their agent, Immortus, to kill Rick, in order to, they claimed, save humanity. An unlikely trio of erstwhile Avengers foes (Kang, Libra and the Supreme Intelligence) recruited a septet of Avengers from different time periods to protect Rick and battle against Immortus and the Time Keepers in a brutal war that spanned eras and dimensions before a wild final battle at the end of time.

Written by Kurt Busiek, with co-plotter Roger Stern, Avengers Forever was a true love letter to the team, embracing the far-flung aspects of the concept, while revisiting key moments in the team’s history. The main cast was rather fascinatingly selected. Casting mega-villain Kang in something of a heroic fashion was a calculated risk that paid off, especially with the contrast between the villain and his “future self” represented by Immortus. Rick is always an effective wild card and proved so again, inspiring the team to protect him even as he chafed against playing the victim.

Busiek and Stern made some canny selections with their cross-time band of Avengers. From the then-current period, they picked stalwarts Wasp and Giant-Man, providing a solid grounding to the makeshift team. From the past, they recruited another Hank Pym persona, the wildly unstable Yellowjacket, who emerged shortly after Pym’s first major breakdown; an emotionally shattered Captain America, fresh off the demoralizing events of the original Secret Empire saga and soon to abandon his best-known heroic persona; and Hawkeye, from the period when his stint as Goliath was winding down (he’d lost his growth powers, but was still sporting the costume). The future choices were even more intriguing. They brought in Captain Marvel in the guise of Genis, the formerly dissolute son of the original hero, and Songbird, the former villain who at that time in present day Marvel was at the beginning of her redemption arc, but was a stalwart Avenger a few years later.

The dynamic of this often-contentious group was played for maximum drama and not a little bit of humor, as it bounced from one time period to another and encountered a horde of heroes and villains from different eras. Built on Stern’s impeccable research, the plot snaked through decades of Marvel history, touching on stories famous and obscure, as part of an action-jammed spectacle that was a riot of ideas, imagination and well-executed character beats. As interesting as the character work was for the heroes, Avengers Forever was a particularly effective spotlight on Kang, always one of the team’s more complex foes. Busiek and Stern nicely played the character’s layers and contradictions, infusing a relatable world weariness and odd nobility that made him the most magnetic part of the ensemble.

The art was handled by the talented team of penciler Carlos Pacheco, inker Jesús Merino and colorist Steve Oliff. An assignment like Avengers Forever is pretty much a license to go wild and let your artistic imagination run amok. In that regard, the art team did not disappoint, handling everything from futuristic space scenes, Old West action and end-of-days dystopia to ’50s Sci Fi homage, non-linear dimensions and crumbling fortresses. If there was any genre, trope or character type that was omitted from the story, it would be hard to identify what it was. Pacheco demonstrated his skills as a draftsman and designer, crafting engaging, expressive characters set against wild backdrops and surrounded by outlandish creatures. He excelled at the plethora of “big screen” moments, with the final issue’s character-packed final battle an especially impressive feat. Merino and Oliff were ideal collaborators, helping to add definition and nuance, giving every page the care it needed to make the images pop. It’s a great example of an art team stamping its collective personality onto a work and an achievement that’s held up very well in the two decades since it originally appeared.

No prior knowledge is required here. Avengers Forever is a sleek, entertaining ride that’s worth taking in for fans new and old alike.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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