Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Jerome Opena
Coloured by Dean White
Cover by Dustin Weaver and Justin Ponsor
Dated Feb. 2013
Chris: Here we are; the very first issue of Jonathan Hickman massive, year-spanning Avengers epic. It’s important to note that, while comic buffs like me were surely interested in the Avengers new direction, Marvel was also re-launching this title at the peak of Avengers popularity. The film had hit in the summer of 2012 and set box-office records. This was a huge opportunity to capture new fans, to translate the film audience into monthly comic book patrons. Though Marvel would also be releasing their new-reader-friendly title Avengers Assemble, Hickman’s Avengers would be subject to a huge wave of new readers and old fan-boys alike.
Now, when I approach a Marvel comic, I feel like I’ve got a substantial understanding of the characters, their histories, their relationships and an encyclopedic knowledge of names, events and powers. I have an opinion of this first issue, but I wanted to see what a complete comic-novice thought of this book as well. Who better to turn to than my fiancé? Last time I asked her to check out a comic book (my beloved Doom Patrol #19), this happened.
So I sat down my fiancé, Emily, and said “here, you know the Avengers, read this and write down what you think about it”. To my surprise, I got quite the response.
Emily: It’s kind of weird that I’m reviewing a comic book, when my knowledge of comics is limited to what I overhear you say. My opinions are essentially, “Well, Chris said…” because honestly, I don’t have the patience or energy to invest in a story arch that stretches out over months and months with no clear resolution in sight. In fact, the only comics I gravitate towards are self-contained graphic novels, because I can read and appreciate them as individual, encapsulated narratives (that don’t have five spin offs I have to follow in order to really “get what the author is saying”). I tend to eschew the superhero-with-a-self-sacrificial-messianic-complex stories and go for novels that have innovative ideas or artwork (Blacksad, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival) or brilliantly cover biographical or historical content (MAUS being the obvious example here, but also lesser known gems like Scott Chandler’s Two Generals or Kyle Baker’s King David). I’m taking the time to share my preferences as a reader because my bias and tastes spill over, informing my opinion on single issue reads and superhero stories like the premiere issue of Avengers by Jonathan Hickman.
The writing in Hickman’s opening issue was ambiguous, to the point where a little more direction in the opening issue would’ve drawn me in more. There’s a huge assumption that the reader will know enough background information about Hyperion, The Guard and Ex Nihilo (the only one I could infer anything about, thank you Latin!) to not feel disoriented during the introductory panels. Additionally, veiled references to The Light, The War and The Fall didn’t create a sense of mystery that excited me; in fact, they seemed like fairly obvious clichés that were introduced surprisingly quickly—and then left dangling without the kind of elaboration that could’ve made them interesting plot features. The one part of the introduction I did like was the well-paced dialogue between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers (which had some traces of generic, overused superhero lingo, but wasn’t too bland).
If I were to summarize the plot of Hickman’s introduction to the entire series in a nutshell, it would be this: Yellow muscleman Ex Nihilo wants to create, transform, build and perfect worlds—and likes to wax poetic about doing it. His cohorts, Aleph and Abyss (whom I know nothing about) think humans should not be spared (or improved on) because of their dangerous nature. They happily duke it out with the Avengers when they touch down on Mars to investigate the funky green globular eggs (known as Origin Bombs) that Ex Nihilo shoots towards Earth. (He’s spreading his seed—get it?) Apparently, Ex Nihilo (which means “out of nothing”, in case you missed the reference to his purpose as a character) has powerful ‘seeds’ to sow: we’re told the first two Origin Bombs to touch down on Earth’s soil completely changed the biospheres at their impact sites. While Ex Nihilo argues the merits of his plan with the good guys (as all great villains are obligated to do), Abyss controls Hulk’s mind so he attacks Thor. Aleph and Captain America exchange blows until Ex Nihilo intervenes, and Captain America’s unconscious body is sent back to earth as a ‘warning’. Fast forward three days to the closing call to arms from Rogers, who asks all Avengers to unite forces and “assemble at dawn” against Mr. Yellow Muscles, who is busy pondering just what he should do with the band of superheroes still trapped on Mars.
It’s not a bad plot, and it’s not a bad opening. However, I have an embarrassing confession to make: I figured out this timeline because I had to, since I decided to summarize the plot as part of my article. The description I gave you above is not the impression I had on my first reading. It’s what I figured out while writing and flipping through each page, looking at each panel again, thinking on more than one occasion, “Ah, so that’s what happened there”. The fact that I had to consciously map out the plot, coupled with the generic hallmark signs of superhero comicdom (vague language, unexplained characters and events introduced in rapid succession, and then abandoned), made this a solid “it’s alright” read. I might pick up another issue or three, just see how characters are fleshed out (or if they continue to exist as undeveloped, one dimensional devices), but Hickman’s first issue of Avengers confirmed my suspicions: I’m definitely a graphic novel girl.
Chris: Well, there you have it, folks. Not exactly new-reader friendly, perhaps too ambiguous and interesting but unimpressive. Here’s my take on it:
Hickman opens the book (and series) with four panels depicting the creation of the Universe, or all of existence… or something. It’s all very grand and ambitious. Clearly, he wants to start with a bang.
We turn to find what would become a staple of this volume, an info-graphic depicting the Avengers roster, with each character represented by a symbol. It reminded me of the old Legion of Superheroes roster guide back in the Paul Levitz/Keith Giffen days. Neat, stylish—cool! This graphic design element kicks things off in a bold new direction and everything feels fresh. I’m instantly impressed.
Continuing this trend, we get scenes that mean nothing yet (Hyperion and some sort of machine, the fall of the Shi’ar Guard) but are beautifully rendered by Jerome Opena. One gets the feeling that his work is too lush and detailed to last on any sort of monthly scheduled. One would be right, but for now let’s just enjoy his work.
Hickman ploughs through the ambiguous scene setting with his mention of “The Light, The War and The Fall”. Reading all this after the fact is sort of neat, seeing how he would execute each event, but I’m still not entirely clear on a few points. As an introduction, it’s exciting to see event planning this early, but it’s also easily forgettable.
From here we hit the start of this new team of Avengers. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers (that’s Iron Man and Captain America, but even Emily knew that) begins their big plans. Apparently, the Avengers need to get bigger and better. Enter two big white pages for credits and skip ahead.
Now we’re on Mars. Hickman introduces us to new characters Ex Nihilo, Abyss and Aleph. Nihilo has been throwing “origin bombs” at Earth in an attempt to recreate it the way he wants it and the Avengers are having none of that. He’s also been working on creating his own, “perfect” human as the new Adam for his new Earth. Hickman writes Nihilo and Abyss well, as ultra-powerful brother and sister, each with their own sort of god-complex. He writes Aleph as an annoying robot that says things like “ERROR: DEITY NEGATIVE. CORRECTION: RECODE. NOT RECREATE”. I hate that stuff.
So the Avengers mainstays make their way to Mars and duke it out with the three new villains and things don’t go exactly as planned. Luckily, Cap makes it back to Earth to grab a rescue team. End issue on a super-cool team shot of these new Avengers and we’re all done with issue one.
I must say, this was one cool introductory issue. The brilliant art from Jerome Opena and the top-notch colouring by Dean White makes everything look like, indeed, this is Marvel’s flagship title. They spared no expense on production values. Even the cover from Dustin Weaver screams “get ready, this is going to be huge”.
Hickman’s creations, Ex Nihilo, Abyss and Aleph are intriguing villains here. Apparently the robotic Aleph means to destroy Earth, Nihilo wants to recreate it and Abyss is just sort of there to observe. The way they handle the Avengers is also impressive, shrugging off the likes of Thor and the Hulk. The set-up is great with just enough exposition to get us exciting for the things to come, impressed with the things we see here and titillated with the possibilities for this new direction.
Quite the impressive first issue, I must say, even if Emily disagrees.