Years ago one of the local malls had a Virgin Megastore nestled smack in the middle of it. I didn't go to that mall often, but when I did I gravitated to that store and perused the shelves to see what was on offer. At that time I hadn't read comic books in years and the collections that were increasingly available offered a convenient way of getting caught up on what I had missed, so when one caught my eye I skimmed it and got a crash course on what had transpired in the worlds I hadn't visited in a long time. Three of these stand out in my memory today; Jeph Loeb's brilliant Superman: Emperor Joker, and two Avengers titles from the late 1990s; Kang Dynasty and Avengers Forever.
The two Avengers collections had a few things in common. Both featured Kang the Conqueror, who is one of my all-time favorite Marvel villains even if he had never been employed as well as he could have been (Kang Dynasty is the one that did it best). The other is that they were both written or co-written by Kurt Busiek, who may not enjoy the reputation of legendary superhero comic book writers like Alan Moore or the modern-day fame of a Brian Michael Bendis of a Geoff Johns, but who wrote some of the best stuff Marvel had going in the 1990s.
The best way of describing Avengers Forever is that it's the ultimate fan service for longtime readers of the series. The plot itself is so complicated so as to defy easy explanation, but it involves two time-traveling villains engaged in a struggle over the fate of humanity, with a team of Avengers pulled from various eras to save it from being eradicated from existence. The beauty of the series is threefold: the pulling together of an eclectic collection of people (including two different versions of the same character), the interweaving of their storyline into classic adventures, and an effort to resolve longstanding continuity errors by setting them as episodes in a longer conflict. The last requires long stretches of exposition and flashback; from a narrative perspective these are the weakest parts of the story and they don't always work, but Busiek does an impressive job with what he has, and his effort is more successful than one might expect.
Some people have referred to as a useful introduction to the Avengers comics. Yet the opposite is true; this is a collection that readers ought to turn to only after they are familiar with the classic run of the Avengers, something that is easier to do than ever thanks to the proliferation of bound collections and digital comics. While people new to the Marvel universe might still enjoy Busiek's tale, only those with a good command of the history of the Avengers can appreciate the genius of his effort, one that treats fans and the superhero team they love with respect. That's an achievement that is far more rare in comic books series than it should be.