"They bring the power and the glory, and we love them for it." – Van Allen Plexico
As a comics fan, I've never been a "Marvel Zombie" or whatever the equivalent is for DC. I tend to follow various characters from both companies, and I've tended to prefer solo books over most team-based ones. So while I was aware of The Avengers, I never read the book on a regular basis.
So in a way, the book Assembled! from the Jarvis Heads at Avengers Assemble.net is aimed right at comics readers like myself, as well as being stuffed with goodies for existing Avengers fans. The book is a guide and tribute to Marvel's premier superteam, with essays covering each of the team's major eras. It also has one of the most exhaustive indexes / chronologies of the tangled web that is Marvel continuity that I've ever seen.
There are a lot of things I like about this book. It is obviously a labor of love, and that love for this team and all its members not only radiates off the page, it's infectious. I now understand why The Avengers has run strong since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tossed that first batch of characters together.
However, it's not a blind love. The writers more than capably discuss where the book has failed, and why. As it did in the 1990s Heroes Reborn debacle, for instance.
The first set of essays, by different authors, cover each of the big Avenger eras. They give an overview of main storylines, but also the important subplots and themes that ran through them. There is some discussion of the "back room" editorial decisions that influenced the tales and who was on or off the team. The essays are in turns incisive, funny, informative, sarcastic and reverent, and make for a very quick and fun read. Each piece is also well researched, never feeling like fanboy rambling, but well reasoned and insightful commentary.
Mingled between the era essays are sidebars about what makes for a memorable Avengers run, The Kree-Skrull War, and the infamous treatment of Ms. Marvel in issue 200.
After covering all the major eras of the team, the book examines many Avengers-related projects, including The Ultimates, The Thunderbolts, West Coast Avengers, and the Civil War storyline.
Assembled! also looks at the various non-comics Avengers products, such as the cartoon series and the live-action treatments of Captain America (these two chapters are by RevolutionSF's Joe Crowe.)
The pieces are just as informative as the looks at the different eras, and examine each one through the lens of how they influenced or were influenced by the main book.
Assembled! wraps up with an in depth look at each of the core Avengers, examining why they remain on the team, a look at signature villains, and then the chronology, which is the definition of completist.
There are only a few minor problems with the book. One is the nature of having multiple writers, where they don't all see eye to eye. I enjoyed seeing some of the different opinions, but it was a bit jarring to see someone praising the Kree-Skrull War only to have the next author call it "interesting but disjointed."
The other problem, for me, is something the book doesn't address except as a question in "Tests of a Superior Avengers Writer." Namely, they never discuss Jarvis the butler with real depth, or why he's important to the team. Some of the essays touch on his friendships within the team, but it's usually in passing. I'd like to have seen a chapter fully devoted to why he's as important as Cap and Hawkeye to the Avengers.
Still, these are both minor quibbles with what is still a very good book. It's funny, informative, and great reading for any comics fan, be they regular readers of The Avengers or not.
Assembled! has filled me with a new respect for Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and it inspired me to re-read issues I already had, and to pick up some trades of ones I don't. There's not much better praise than that.