Kang the Conqueror is locked in battle through space and time with his future self Rama-Tut. The Master of Time Immortus pulls the two into his realm of limbo. Then he forms an alliance with Kang to plot against the Avengers. Kang uses Immortus technology to not only bring the Avengers to limbo, but also pull dead individuals from various points in time to form his Legion of the Unliving. -summary
Trade paperbacks like these have to be taken with a grain of salt. For the most part, I'm not really a fan of them. Avengers: Legion of the Unliving is a collection of the Avengers battles with various incarnations of the Legion. This is fine because at the very least you will get to see some cool action; however, the problem is that story completion is abandoned for the sake of a showcase. I enjoyed most of these stories from the POV of a fan because I'm familiar with all of these storylines, and I know how they turn out, but casual fans and newbies will probably find it hard to enjoy a couple of incomplete stories. In all fairness though, some are complete so this book isn't something that should be skipped.
This TPB collects stories from 1975 on to 1998, so one can see this book stretches across two decades. Therefore, you can expect a revolving door of artist (Sal Buscema, John Romita Jr.) and writers (Roy Thomas, Kurt Busiek). The issues included are Avengers 131-132, 352 - 354, Annual 16, Giant Size Avengers 3, Avengers West Coast 61, Avengers Vol. 3 10-11.
The book kicks off with the Avengers taking on Kang's Legion. The story has an interesting narrative and the action has some good points with an Avenger even being killed in this battle. Unfortunately, this battle takes place during the Avengers: Celestial Madonna saga, so it becomes apparent that the focus is on the character Mantis. This is something I don't even recommend getting too attached to the story outside of the Legion battle, since none of those story elements introduced will see any conclusion, because it's part of a larger arc. And sadly, not even the action can really save this one with its average feel. However, if you find something of interest here, thankfully you can always pick up the Celestial Madonna arc. Avengers West Coast 61 is even more of a truncated story, and anyone will be able to see there's plenty missing. I can't fathom a casual fan unfamiliar with these characters enjoying this story for anything other than the action; witnessing US Agent taking on reincarnated versions of Left Winger and Right Winger will only appeal to long time fans who read Captain America: The Captain. This even goes for present day Iron Man battling his descendant from the year 2020. These two stories aren't bad in their collected arcs, but solo, well that's something different altogether.
Fortunately, the rest of the book doesn't feel this way. The reader will get a full story and an excellent encounter with the combined Avenger teams, as they go against the most powerful incarnation of the Legion of the Unliving, which is assembled by the cosmic menace the Grandmaster. He was able to rob Death of her powers, then he decides to create five bombs that will wipe out sections of the galaxy. He breaks the Avenger teams into five groups and pits them against the Legion. Some of their members include Dracula, Terrax the Tamer(former herald of Galactus), Nighthawk (former Defender), Michael Korvac, the original Green Goblin, the original Captain Marvel (former Avenger), and even Drax the Destroyer. This story has some pretty good and very brutal fights. Despite this story being very entertaining, it's hard to shake the glaring continuity issue created years later involving the Green Goblin and Bucky.
Issues 351 - 353 is the three parter called Fear the Reaper; this follows the Grim Reaper whom has been reincarnated, and is now in full control of Black Magic. He challenges a team of Avengers to enter his lair with intentions on making them pay for his death when he fought them the final time. This arc sports more of a horror like feel, as the undead actually have intentions on devouring the Avengers warm flesh. This is indeed the darkest story in the book with the undead Red Guardian taking a bloody bite out of the Black Knight's thigh. The final two parter written by Kurt Busiek sees the Reaper from the afterlife taking it to the Avengers again, and this time he brings back fallen Avengers to attack the team on an emotional level. The side plot involving the Scarlet Witch is easy enough to follow, because there is some type of story development here. It doesn't feel like it's missing anything like the first two stories I described.
The artwork is by far the best during Busiek's run, as you get to see some awesome character designs with great inks. Wonder Man looks awesome in his purple energized state, and the decayed versions of the Avengers have this creepy feel to them. And speaking of creepy, Fear the Reaper may not have the best artwork, but it works very well with its atmosphere. Almost the entire fight takes place in a very dark labyrinth. There's this feel that the Avengers may even die here, especially when watching Hercules being viciously smashed. The earlier stories have some cool moments as well, like Korvac firing off a huge fireball to engulf the Silver Surfer, plus other characters taking vicious, spine shattering blows to the back. The action really is easy to watch for the most part.
Avengers: Legion of the Unliving will prove more valuable to fans who are already familiar with them. And it bothers me to say that, because I like for casual fans to get into these stories too; they can get into them though, but the two incomplete stories will definitely leave them feeling bitter for those. Fortunately, I think the good outweighs the bad here since you are getting three good, full stories to satisfy your superhero crave. I recommend this to hardcore fans without a doubt, others, I think you should give it a look only if you want to satisfy a crave for action.
Pros: Some complete stories, cool action
Cons: Some incomplete stories