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Comics: Avengers Assemble, Volume 3

Avengers Assemble, Volume 3

by Kurt Busiek (script) & George Perez (art)

Marvel Comics, 2012

The third and final volume of the great Kurt Busiek/George Perez run on Marvel Comics’ “Avengers” comic book arrives in bookstores just as the big-screen movie adaptation of “The Avengers” is poised to become the highest-grossing film of all time, and in these pages readers get one last blast of the comic at its best. As in the first volume and the second, Busiek serves up almost non-stop action and features a big, varied cast of Avengers, from the team core of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor to team regulars like the Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, and the Vision, to team newcomers (in this third volume not quite as bumbling) Firestar and Justice.

This third volume starts off with an enormous battle (the type of thing Perez excels at drawing, bristling with detail and motion) and ends with an even more enormous battle, but the pages in between take readers all over the spectrum, from tense political discussions (the team is saddled with yet another cost-counting law-quoting federal liaison) to fraught romantic entanglements to some nicely-done quiet moments (including one between brother and sister Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch that manages in four panels to convey their special bond better than some comics have done in four issues).

The singular strength of what Busiek is doing here lies in his respect for – and complete absorption of – the long and complicated continuity that came before him: these Avengers (and their supporting cast and villains) are constantly, wonderfully in character throughout, written as the culmination of all their back-stories rather than the freewheeling negation of them. To put it mildly, this is not how most comics writers operate, which makes it all the more refreshing here.

Bittersweet too, since a movie franchise that clears a billion dollars in its first year of existence is pretty much certain to become the whole of the universe. That’s great news for comics fans who’ve long dreamed of seeing live-action versions of all these characters, but it can’t help but have a flattening effect on the profuse world of the comics themselves. What chance do minor characters like Warbird or Living Lightning have of some time in the limelight, with A-listers like Captain America and Iron Man making millions at the box office? In the movie, the team’s roster is rounded out with Hawkeye (a dour, colorless version of him, anyway) and the Black Widow, and already these two are now making mandatory appearances in every Marvel comic on the stands. The Vision and the Black Knight don’t stand much of a chance, at least for the moment.

Not that it matters in this rip-snorting volume, which can be enjoyed without any thought to a movie franchise. These three “Avengers Assemble” books represent this old series done just about as well as it can be done – fans will be re-reading these adventures for decades, even while they’re lining up at the movie theaters to see “Avengers IV – Atlantis Strikes!”