*of course, huge spoilers ahead*
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Pencilled by Jim Cheung, Paco Medina, Nick Bradshaw and Dustin Weaver
Inked by Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortego, Juan Vlasco, Bradshaw and Weaver
Coloured by Frank Martin and David Curiel
Cover by Cheung and Justin Ponsor
Dated November 2014
“8 Months Later”—it seems like a cruel joke, or perhaps an oasis. In a comic series that mulishly refused to move forward, dragging out filler story arcs to painful lengths, we open a book that skips ahead eight months. Remember the classic “story arc” diagram your English teacher would draw for the class—the one with the rising line that pointed up to the word “climax”? Jonathan Hickman scribbled all over his.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up and take a look at the ever reliable recap page. It tells us that it all started with two men—Captain America and Iron Man. It tells us it all started with their idea: expansion. Apparently the world was more dangerous than ever, so they recruited more heroes, apparently “specific powers for specific needs”. I have a few problems with this.
First: yes, this volume of Avengers has a mighty impressive roster. You’ve got your basic Captain America, Iron Man, Thor trio accompanied by the ever loyal Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk and Captain Marvel crew. Throw in Spiderman for some reason, a dash of New Mutants with Cannonball and Sunspot and toss everything with a generous helping of new, interesting additions. Smasher, Hyperion, Starbrand, Nightmask, Manifold, Shang Chi—even Ex Nihilo and Abyss (sort of)—I love them all; it’s quite the exciting cast. Hickman has made sure to include lots of special character moments and give everyone their own time in the limelight—heck, he even managed to kick Wolverine off the team, the miracle I’d been pining for!
But honestly, as much as I love the characters, this roster doesn’t necessarily scream “expansion”. They wanted the Avengers to get bigger, but only marginally? Think of all the eligible Marvel characters that are left off this list. Sure, you can’t have everyone, but Hickman tries to make a case that at the core of this new team is the idea of “getting bigger”. According to one story (and the title of the non-Hickman related sister series) it’s now an Avenger’s World. We could have seen the Avengers go international, raise teams all across the globe and reel in every major hero they could think of. It’s been done before in other books, but for once Hickman was thinking small. He kept the cast manageable (which was absolutely the right choice) but there could have been minor players outside the immediate team. When Civil War ended (and more on that later) Marvel wanted us to believe they were setting up hero teams in every state. That was expansion. Hickman here threw us a few new players and sent them to space.
Second: specific powers for specific needs? More like let’s get ourselves a teleporter to zap us out of any tight situation (thank you Manifold) and the god of the cosmos to easily end any big threats we may face (Captain Universe, we love you). If you want a book about gathering specific heroes with specific powers for specific threats, I’ll always point you in the direction of Exiles. For a more modern choice, try Jeff Parker’s short lived JLU run. Both do the “specific powers” thing way better than this series.
Continuing along our recap page we hear that they “tore down what they had and built a new machine to achieve their goals”. When you’ve got all your basic Avengers on the team already, I don’t see anything being torn down. I interpret this as throwing off the Brian Michael Bendis regime that had been steering the team for the past decade or so and starting fresh. When this series began it exuded a special sense of new beginnings—a fresh air that filled my fanboy lungs. But that was all behind the scenes mechanics, in terms of the actual super team, not much has changed.
We read further that the Illuminati rose with the opposing idea to expansion: secrecy. Now the “idea” has been destroyed by betrayal and deceit. We end with the especially perplexing Hickmanism “the idea begun by two men. One who was life. And one who was death”. We’ve come a long way, but I’m still not sure what this means. Is Captain America life and Iron Man death? Iron Man has been relentlessly trying to save the multiverse from complete destruction. With his Illuminati, they’ve now destroyed one other Earth, probably wiping out billions of lives—but it wasn’t Iron Man who set off the bomb. And if Cap had his way, they’d all sit around trying to figure things out until both worlds crashed and everything ended anyway. And that was Tony’s decision in the end anyways, as we see him drink himself stupid instead of destroying another world to save his own. Are we finally going to iron out why one man is “life” and one is “death” in this upcoming arc? Or was Hickman just looking for something heavy to write. If you asked me a few years ago, I would have thought he’d be the clever type, but after reading his Avengers, it’s hard to say what’s up his sleeve…
Let’s go those eight months now and see what’s in store.
We start off with Ex Nihilo, Abyss and they’re cadre of yellow, horned life-givers attempting to stop a sun as it dies. Failing, they realize the star simply wanted to die, and Abyss attributes this to the multiversal collapse she feels in her bones. Of course, everything points to Earth, so they head in that direction.
On the Shi’ar home world, Sunspot and Manifold pop in on Cannonball. Turns out Cannonball and Smasher had been busy and everyone is introduced to their new baby. Something is up, though, and Sunspot wants them back home on Earth. Fun note: Sunspot decided to use his massive wealth to flat out buy AIM in a hostile takeover. It’s mentioned only in passing but the idea is simply brilliant (and more than a little funny). Hickman seemed to be working really hard to build up AIM as a serious threat and here his dismisses them, off panel, with a few simple lines of dialogue. It should infuriate me, but it’s so crazy it works.
Tackling the next bunch of characters I’d like to catch up with, we see Starbrand and Nightmask out in space taking down an Aleph (remember those guys?). Though we thought they were all long dead, this one seemed to be from another dimension, crashing through The Bleed, escaping multiversal collapse perhaps? They get a message from Sunspot and reluctantly head back to Earth as well. Fun note here: Nightmask was born a fully grown bald man, but he seems to be getting younger. He’s now looking like a teenager with an afro. I don’t know why, but I get a huge kick out of this.
In the Savage Land, we see that Hyperion’s Zebra kids have pretty much grown up. They’re working with the (now not so evil) AIM to build some sort of massive power…field…thing. It’s classic Hickman science talk that we aren’t really supposed to understand, but later (the newly bearded) Hyperion fills us in. It seems like both Hyperion and Thor are getting ready to do some major dimension hopping, jumping through that nothing space AIM was so fond of mining.
Back at Avengers Tower, we see that SHIELD is now in control (and Avengers Tower is actually referred to as Golgotha). Amadeus Cho breaks in, working for the Illuminati now, and hacks into Iron Man’s database. We learn the Illuminati has grown by a few members—Cho, Captain Britain and Hank Pym—and find out that Iron Man is missing. The new additions are great choices—having the original multiversal jumping hero Cap Britain in the Illuminati is a no brainer. He’s also one of my all-time favourites, so yes, my fanboy bone was thoroughly tickled.
The book ends with Sue Storm taking off her SHIELD helmet, revealing she’s in charge, asking where her husband Reed is. This again?
Look guys, Civil War happened. As far as the comic books themselves go, it wasn’t anything special, but the fact that it seemed to matter made it quite the unique Marvel event. I didn’t care for it, but there were consequences (however brief), one cannot deny that. So we’ve seen Captain America and Iron Man fight over ideals. Here it’s reversed, with Iron Man on the run and Cap hunting down an underground resistance of sorts. One could revere this scenario and call it a brilliant role reversal, reference or clever use of circumstance, but I see it more as a revision. This time, I’m actually invested in the situation. This time the stakes are higher, the morality is multi-faceted and it’s about more than heroes beating on heroes (well, one can hope). The only strange this is, with Sue and Reed at odds again, it would have been nice to have something of an explanation of their moral standings. I mean, Sue pops up and demands to know where Reed is, but we’re asked to believe that they are on different sides of the battlefield without any clarification. It’s only the heavy-duty Civil War callback that lets us buy into this scenario so quickly and easily. It’s a cheap trick.
There’s a lot to like in these pages too. Hickman’s ear for dialogue is especially tuned here as each and every character sounds spot on. He writes the bumbling new dad Cannonball with a deft hand, portraying a character that has grown up but hasn’t really changed. Hyperion and Thor are two gods—two brothers—who are in their prime at the brink of destruction, on the cusp of an adventure that only the most brave and powerful could survive. Amadeus Cho is a character that could easily be misconstrued in the wrong writer’s hands, but he is right at home with Hickman’s science speak and wit. Even Starbrand and Nightmask are beginning to feel like original characters, with personalities that I’m really starting to get attached to. And one of my favourite Hickman original creations, Ex Nihilo, still makes me smile. He retains his unique voice, proclaiming his love for Earth and appending it with that familiar sense of humor that’s relatable, yet built on an understanding that’s entirely alien.
Then there’s the pacing, the usual Achilles’ heel of this series. I’m happy to report that in these pages, it’s spot on. Repetition is kept to a minimum, characters don’t just talk in circles but having meaningful conversations that advance the plot, and we get multiple scenes that point to a new status quo—we’re given so much new information that our brains simply reveal in the processing. I bought this book accidentally, having failed to inform my local comic shop that I’d wanted to cancel my subscription to Avengers. Out of nowhere, Hickman pulled off all the right moves just as I was about to jump ship.
And the art! With Jim Cheung’s name on the cover, you can bet Marvel is pointing to something big. Though I’m never blown away by his work, it’s always a sign that big money is being spent and the following comic will be particularly important (see the first issue of Infinity). Of course, in classic Cheung fashion, we only get a few pages of his work. The rest is capably handled by Avengers all-star Dustin Weaver, X-Men familiar (and Art Adams enthusiast) Nick Bradshaw, the perennially underrated Paco Medina a host of inkers, all coloured with flair by go-to Frank Martin. Not a single page of this comic is weak and even with the host of different styles everything seems to fit. Nobody seems to be “filling in” here, everyone has their own scenes and not one decides to take a back seat.
This is exactly the comic we needed. No, I’m not talking about another Civil War; I’m talking about a well written, well-paced, beautifully drawn Avengers book—a book where something actually happens. A book that has that same fresh scent that the series started with, that takes a look at everything that’s made this series so good so far. It evolves original concepts, is acutely aware of its recent past and throws readers for a loop by forcing progression through a sudden jump in time. Folks, we have moved past the crap.
This book is everything I wanted it to be. It’s everything I needed it to be. Let’s just hope we can keep this up—according to that cover, there’re eight more issues to go!