Life comes at you fast. There are so many things happening and so many details to keep track of that you might find yourself stopping at some point to ask, “What the hell is going on?”

And when that happens you will no doubt find that there are a multitude of people who are more than happy to explain what the hell is going on to you. But inevitably when that happens you will soon find out that the hell one person thinks is going on will disagree with another person’s idea of the hell that is going on.  And soon you will be inundated with an abundance of hells going on …so much so that it will be nigh impossible to determine which of the hells is the actual hell that is going on making the answer to the question “what the hell is going on?” a living hell.

That my friends is what it’s like reading Avengers Forever.

Avengers Forever is a 1999 12-issue limited series written by Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern and drawn by Carlos Pacheco that attempts the humble goal of tying up every loose end in the Marvel universe ever. It is a sprawling time travel epic that touches on or references most of the major events in Marvel’s history and attempts to make sense of it all and place it into a concise narrative timeline. And in doing this the plot gets a bit …intricate. That being said, you don’t need to know the history and lore of the marvel universe to enjoy reading Avengers Forever – but it sure does help.

The story revolves around Kang the Conqueror and his attempt to thwart Immortus from erasing events from history. This is complicated because Immortus is Kang – that is a future version of Kang that Kang does not want to become. And eventually, when a team of Avengers are gathered from throughout time to try to stop all the time-changing shenanigans they are placed in a giant, flying time machine shaped like a sphinx that once belonged to Rama Tut – who is also Kang, a younger version of Kang who later becomes an older version of Kang before becoming Kang again who eventually becomes Immortus. All of which simply reinforces that comics are weird.

The Avengers team that is assembled seems random and mismatched. A disillusioned Captain America, a misogynist Yellowjacket, a shirtless Hawkeye, future versions of Captain Marvel and Songbird, a gentle Giant-Man, and a kickass Wasp. And this team is tasked with protecting Rick Jones, the most boring character in all of Marvel Comics but who inexplicably has a major role to play in every Marvel event from the 60 through the 90s and up to today. Of all the confusing things in this comic, this might be the most confusing thing of all. Together with the help of Libra – a former villain who wears monk’s robes and VR goggles and has powers of prognostication akin to shaking a magic 8-ball – they must navigate various periods of history and piece together the mystery of what the Kings want with Rick Jones, what power could he be concealing, and what terrible future could be waiting if nothing is done.

Along the way we encounter cowboys, dinosaurs, space phantoms, the war of the worlds, Richard Nixon, aliens, and gods, and every Avenger that ever existed or possibly could exist in all realities.

Avengers Forever is a complicated story. It is confusing, sometimes perplexing, and relies on having at least a passing knowledge of Marvel’s history – but it is also a fun romp. Busiek does an outstanding job explaining that convoluted and often contradictory history while moving the plot forward and telling an entertaining story, and adding a few twists of his own. And Pacheco makes every panel dynamic and interesting with splash pages that will take your breath away. This is a dense story with lots of lore and Easter eggs and you’re probably not going to understand everything that’s going on. But just strap in and let yourself take the ride and you will not be disappointed. And you still might be asking, “What the hell is going on?” But when the ride is this much fun, it might not matter.

This article originally appeared as the introduction to episode 97: Avengers Forever.

The Collected Edition is a comic book podcast where the hosts discuss the famous and infamous runs and story arcs throughout the history of comics. Please subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Sticher, IHeartRadio, and Spotify.