Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lies, All Lies!

A person in a comment thread once wrote, "Avengers Forever just seems to be a story consisting of really well-drawn explanations to questions 10 people had." That's as good a description as any for this twelve-issue series from 1999 which, aside from its main plot, sought to untangle and make sense of inconsistencies in Marvel continuity (as well as ill-considered character and plot decisions) which involved the Avengers, either as a group or individually.

In the midst of all the questions which a series like this must ask, there are two anchors around which everything else seems to orbit:

  • The attempted murder of Rick Jones, who's seen as a danger when his ability to manifest the "Destiny Force"--the power inherent in all humanity which he used to halt the Kree-Skrull War--reasserts itself.
  • The efforts of Immortus, the so-called Master of Time, to contain the Avengers, due to a bargain he's made with the "Time-Keepers"--a trio of beings who are convinced that the Avengers will be responsible for an aggressive move by humanity to spread its race and influence throughout the stars using the Destiny Force, heedless of the death and destruction they bring to other races. Rather than kill the Avengers, Immortus chooses to accomplish his task through a massive campaign to manipulate the team's activities throughout its history.

Rick, with the guidance of Libra, former member of the Zodiac crime cartel, summons a team of Avengers to investigate and deal with this crisis. But with Libra's studies in the area of balance, these Avengers are a mixture of members from different time periods, chosen thus for specific reasons:

Also in this struggle is Kang the Conqueror, who battles against both Immortus and the Time-Keepers in an effort to preserve his own standing in history.

With plenty of "time" to go around, and a title like "Avengers Forever" to live up to, the series spends a generous amount of that time exploring various points in Avengers history. But the real eye-opener comes when the extent of Immortus's tampering in that history is revealed. Providing key assistance to him in his machinations are the Space Phantoms--not a single alien race, as we'd been led to believe, but something quite different:

And so the Space Phantom we've seen in various stories, whose "home planet" Thor had once sacrificed his hammer's time-spanning energies to "save," was simply one of these beings who was conditioned by Immortus to take part in a ruse, such as this one:

And on the series goes, stopping at points to clear up discrepancies or wipe them away outright. For instance, in the climax of the event known as "the Crossing," we saw Henry Pym get this bombshell dropped on him:

The scene effectively nullified the entire storyline of Pym's mental instability throughout his years as an Avenger. Yet the Crossing is one of many such events which has a virtual eraser applied to it in Avengers Forever. First, as for Iron Man being under Kang's influence, we'd have to go back a bit further to follow the paper trail:

Which brings us to Pym, who, thanks to the Phantom, again finds he has no one to blame for his problems but himself:

Somewhere in this series should probably be a segment on what the heck Immortus was doing with the Scarlet Witch by making her some sort of energy repository for the Time-Keepers. In this issue of revelations, it seems they're instead exclusively concerned with her children:

Immortus takes a number of steps over various points in time which would finally allow Master Pandemonium to effectively deprive Wanda of her "children," and thereby satisfy the Time-Keepers--at least for the time being, that is. With the Vision later lost to her, the one flaw in the story's approach here is that there's always the possibility she might start a family with someone else--though I doubt Immortus would bring that to the Time-Keepers' attention, assuming he's even considered it.

Naturally for this kind of series, the opportunity is also taken to explain the discrepancy of the Vision's origin, given that the original Human Torch was later found dormant at a gravesite by the West Coast Avengers, with others popping up (including Phineas Horton, revealed here to have been a Phantom) to claim that the two could not be one and the same. The solution to the discrepancy left my head spinning:

Which all leaves the Avengers with one heck of a situation:

If that isn't enough to make your eyes glaze over, have a look at the final battle scene, where things come to a head:

What. A. MESS.

You're likely to find Avengers Forever to be a fun ride and a satisfying read, providing you don't dwell on what's truly happened here. In clearing up many of the Avengers' unexplainable contradictions, co-plotters Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern have apparently overlooked (or chosen to ignore) an important point: the fact that much of what we know of the Avengers' actions and history has now been revealed to be the result of the manipulations and/or mental coercion of Immortus. That will be an uncomfortable distraction when reading prior Avengers stories--but it also makes for a lousy footnote to a series which has made such an effort to tie up loose ends.

Avengers Forever (12-Issue Series)

Script: Kurt Busiek
Pencils: Carlos Pacheco
Inks: Jesús Merino
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Albert Deschesne


Murray said...

"What. A. MESS"...well put.

A little putty and paint every now and then to cover up some oddball contradictions in continuity is okay. Assuming a skilled hand, of course. This wholesale renovation without disturbing the furniture doesn't improve anything. One mess for another.

On another quibbly note of irritation...

"Destiny Force". This fetish of Marvel to give any big power a quasi-sentient, pseudo-science-mythical label makes me gag. Rick (and I'm willing to bet the first days of Jean Grey as Phoenix) wasn't possessed by some "Force". He wasn't given the keys to a Force like the keys to a Corvette. The original explanation was fine and dandy: humanity would someday evolve to this level of power. Similar to the Watchers or the Celestials, humans would one day stride the cosmos.

It's a minor detail, I suppose, but it cheapens the grandeur of the majestic evolution future. Humans can bench press buildings, but they're not allowed to be that powerful without some sort of cheat/help.

david_b said...

I purposefully bought this entire series when I went to DC for 3wks back in March. As a diversion from my military course, I'd read each issue during this time just to focus on the story, but many distractions became evident...:

1) Too.. much.. action.. in the panels, issue after issue after issue. No sense of pacing or dramatic pauses for a truely epic story. Just layers and layers of panel detail, it's hard to keep your mind on an otherwise courageous effort. Visually it seemed like a Phil Specter 'Wall of Sound' more than simply serving the intended story.

2) I never liked the Space Phantom previously, but seems like his stature was elevated here much better. Not quite sure how he fit in, but I've since sold the series, I'll never really know, I guess.

3) Really liked how the team members were plucked out of different streams, it was great to see the characters as they were back in the Bronze; however the story just seemed to convolute more than answer the old questions. Why the need to close threads in the first place..? Leave 'em to the imagination.

It was an interesting concept, however the ending didn't really satisfy as much as I'm sure it was meant to.

All in all, a nice revisit with old villains, a hugely-courageous attempt to bring stuff together, perhaps enhancing the original stories.., all in all it's ultimate enjoyment value depends solely on the reader. It just could have been drawn/told more simply.