Now... it's time to get cosmic.
Volume four of "Avengers Assemble" steps up the threat level, putting it on footing similar to the "Avengers Forever" miniseries. In fact, "Maximum Security" is a partial sequel which sews up a major thread left loose in the final pages of Busiek, Roger Stern and Carlos Pacheco's dimension-hopping epic.
The meat of "Maximum Security" is contained to four issues - a three-part mini and a prologue. While it would expand far beyond, you don't really lose too much with just what's collected in this trade. Fed up with Earth interference in galactic matters, the planet is cut off from the rest of galactic civilization. Making things worse, to keep Earth's heroes occupied, the world is turned into an alien penal colony. Criminals from throughout the cosmos arrive on Earth at an alarming rate, though the ulterior motive of one alien in particular is far more sinister.
To be more precise, an Ego parasite infects rural America (in a delightful little send-up of Superman's origin) and begins to turn Earth into a sentient planet, absorbing everything and everyone in its wake. Jerry Ordway's art here is magnificent, a step up from his fill-in issues during the Busiek-Perez run which were pretty darn good to begin with.
Despite George Perez' exit, the art in the ongoing "Avengers" series continues to be excellent. There are guest pencils by the likes of John Romita Jr. and Steve Epting, and Alan Davis has a short run as the regular artist. Ivan Reis has a strong guest shot in charge of visuals for an Annual that examines Hank Pym's identity crisis.
But, again, it's the writing that shines above all else. In another link to "Avengers Forever," Kang shows up at Earth's doorstep meaning to conquer it once and for all. So begins what's easily the most ambitious story from Busiek's time on the main "Avengers" title, "The Kang Dynasty." The ominous tone of Kang the Conquerer's arrival bleeds from the pages as he makes prophecies about what is to come for the planet. Before you know it, they're coming true... as he goads the world's forces into attacking each other simultaneously.
If there's a pattern I sense from Busiek, it's that his work gets better as the situation gets worse for his characters. And things are about to become way, way worse for the Avengers.