This new volume of Avengers Assemble continues collecting the Avengers title from the Heroes Return era from 1998-1999, when Kurt Busiek and George Perez collaborated on the title. In terms of classic Avengers runs, this one has become quite well-known and revered, as the creative team breathed new life into the franchise, after the debacle that was Heroes Reborn, not to mention the depths the franchise had sunk to just prior to that, with Avengers: The Crossing. It’s not much of a stretch to say that if it weren’t for the work of Busiek and Perez revitalizing and restoring what the Avengers were and could be, we may not have gotten the even larger revamp of the Avengers concept a few years later in 2004, when Brian Michael Bendis launched New Avengers.
This volume collects issues #0, #12-23 and Annual 1999, as Busiek/Perez continued their amazing run into its second year. This volume has three issues which were done by fill-in artist/writer Jerry Ordway, who brings his own particular brand of comic book magic to the Avengers. Busiek really helped make the Avengers fun again, by playing with the interpersonal relationships of the various members of the team, and playing with the roster as well. This iteration of the team was notable for bringing Wonder Man back into the land of the living, as well as focusing on Firestar and Justice making the “big time”, so to speak, and graduating from the New Warriors to the Avengers. The biggest story arc in this volume, however, is the critically acclaimed Ultron Unlimited story, which up until this point was the biggest and most ambitious Ultron story ever attempted, which had the villain destroy a country to make a point, before the Avengers ultimately took him down.
What has always made the Avengers different from similar supergroup the Justice League is that the Avengers for the most part lived together in the Avengers mansion, and as such had much more personal interactions in their book. This is a very fun book to read, because in between fights with the Wrecking Crew, Ultron, Thunderbolts, etc, the team struggles to run smoothly as Vision deals with Wonder Man and Scarlet Witch’s relationship, Scarlet Witch becomes deputy leader of the team, and Justice tries to get a handle on his hero worship and feeling out of place, even as Firestar becomes more comfortable with her role as an Avenger, once her health problems are cured by Hank Pym. Although the Ultron Unlimited story is the highlight and perhaps biggest name story to be collected in this volume, I myself am partial to the team’s confrontation with the Thunderbolts in Avengers #12, Beast’s return to Avengers mansion for a night out on the town with his resurrected buddy Wonder Man in Avengers #14, and Vision and Wonder Man finally coming to blows in Avengers #23. The meeting with the Thunderbolts was notable because it was the first time the teams had met since Thunderbolts #12, when Zemo almost defeated the Avengers completely, before members of his team rebelled against him and stopped him from winning, as well as the first time the team learned that Hawkeye had left the Avengers to mentor, train and lead the Thunderbolts, who were seeking redemption for their previous crimes. Beast’s return to the title in Avengers #14 is a lot of fun, as Busiek explores a different aspect of the Beast, which is normally only seen when he’s not in an X-book. Whereas Beast at the time was involved in trying to cure the Legacy Virus, the X-universe’s macguffin of the ’90s, his appearance in Avengers recaptured the light-hearted jovial nature of the character that was really brought to the forefront during his Avengers days, especially through his friendship with Wonder Man. Their adventures together in the issue are a ton of fun to read.
Bringing the Avengers back to basics, cleaning them up and revitalizing the classic superheroics of the team would not have been possible for Busiek were it not for the wonderful artwork of George Perez. Perez is one of the best all-time “team book” artists, as he is capable of deftly illustrating tons of characters in one book, hell even one panel, without sacrificing anything on the quality of the artwork. His pencils are crisp, and have a very classic-looking tone, and considering that this series was trying to fix and revitalize the Avengers, after their dark days in the ‘90s of wearing flight jackets, and ugly costumes, his artwork was the perfect medicine.
When it comes to classic runs on Avengers, Busiek/Perez’s collaboration is nothing short of a modern-day masterpiece, with excellent characterization and smaller stories set between larger-scale epics which never fail to grab the reader’s attention and make you take notice. This is the Avengers at the top of their game, and definitely worthy of sitting on any Avengers fan’s shelf. Recommended!