The Avengers have always proved that putting all the star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time, even when Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent. That allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly. Of course, the founding stars are regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy, and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either.

This handsome hardback (or digital edition) takes us back to 1978-1979 with the team again in transition after the epic Masterworks Vol. 17. Transitions are always tricky and several water-treading fill-ins were necessary before progress resumed. For behind the scenes details, read David Michelinie’s fascinating introduction.

Roger Slifer and George Pérez open strongly with ‘Spectrums of Deceit!’. It sees the sentient power-prism of Doctor Spectrum systematically possessing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The upshot is another blockbusting battle against the Squadron Sinister and ethically ambivalent Femizon Thundra, and another guest shot for mighty Ms. Marvel.

There’s a change of pace and tone in ‘The Martyr Perplex!’ by Steve Gerber and Carmine Infantino. It sees the Beast targeted by a master brainwasher in a tense psycho-thriller teeming with shady crooks and government spooks, after which Tom DeFalco and Jim Mooney’s two-part yarn introducies tragic mutant Bloodhawk and an ambitious human hitman in ‘Slowly Slays the Stinger!’

‘On the Matter of Heroes!’ finally gets back on track, introducing new regular creative team David Michelinie and John Byrne. Intrusive and obsessive Government Agent Henry Peter Gyrich lays down the law and winnows the army of heroes down to a federally acceptable team of seven. Who will make the cut?

Gyrich’s methodically calculated plans are in tatters immediately as elderly Romani sorcerer Django Maximoff attacks. He claims mutants Wanda and Pietro Frank as his long-lost children and traps their souls inside little wooden dolls. The resultant clash in ‘Honor Thy Father’ creates even more questions, as overwhelming evidence seems to confirm Maximoff’s story. The upshot sees the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver leave with him on a quest for answers. Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel is cleared by Gyrich to replace Scarlet Witch in time for ‘The Redoubtable Return of Crusher Creel!’ The formidable Absorbing Man has decided to leave the country and quit being thrashed by heroes. Unfortunately, his departure plans include kidnapping a young woman “for company”, leading to a cataclysmic showdown with the heroes and resulting in carnage, chaos and a ‘Death on the Hudson!’

Historical continuity addicts Mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant plot ‘The Yesterday Quest!’, previously a standalone graphic novel, for Michelinie and Byrne to execute. In the USA new robotic ally Jocasta strives to entice the Vision even as his wife and brother-in-law arrive in Balkan Transia. In the shadow of Mount Wundagore, Wanda is beguiled by Modred the Mystic, leaving Quicksilver to perish if not for the ministrations of talking humanoid cow Bova. ‘Nights of Wundagore!’ then unpicks years of mystery with secrets of the mutants’ origins, at least for the time being, leading to‘Call of the Mountain Thing!’

The way home is just as momentous. ‘Elementary, Dear Avengers (by Bill Mantlo and Byrne) begins with a side trip to Inhuman City Attilan and news that Quicksilver is about to become a dad, and ends with the team causing an international incident by diverting over Russian airspace. Mantlo and Don Newton then introduce a lethal secret from the past locked beneath Avengers Mansion.

Two shorts round out the chronologically completist action. This archival tome and type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these stories informed all those movies everybody loves.