*of course, huge spoilers ahead*
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Pencilled by Leinil Francis Yu
Inked by Gerry Alanguilan
Coloured by Sunny Gho
Cover by Yu and Laura Martin
Dated December 2013
It’s been a while, let’s catch up.
The Builders are the first race of the Marvel Universe as we know it. There were probably different “systems” and such before them, but as far as we need to know right now, they were the first. Their “mother” is Captain Universe—the name given to whomever hosts the Uni-Power. The current host is a mother/car-crash victim from Earth. The Uni-Power chose her because she’s broken. Makes sense, the Universe is broken. We know this because in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers title, alternate Earths are crashing into each other like a huge row of dominoes. The Multiverse is falling apart. We don’t know why (yet).
This upsets the Builders, as they like their Universe and they don’t want to see it cancelled out. Their plan? Destroy Earth—it’s clearly the epicenter of this problem. Wipe it out and everything should be okay, right? The Avengers don’t want to hear it. It seems the Builders have a nasty sense of refinement and decide that on their way to Earth they are going to enslave or destroy every planet they come across. Their armies are huge and so far they’ve wiped the floor with most of the known Marvel cosmos—Kree, Skrull, Shi-ar, etc. They also have a huge, powerful army and seem to be unstoppable.
Last issue Thor smashed a Builder to pieces and the good guys are feeling lucky again.
Not to be forgotten is the small matter of Ex Nihilo and Abyss. See, the Builders created the Ex Nihilos (or Nihilii, or whathaveyou) to plant life throughout the Universe. The Abyss (or Abyssl, or Abyssi, or whatever) were created to judge that work. The Alephs (essentially the foot soldiers of the Builder’s army) were there to destroy said life, were it deemed unworthy. The Nihilo that we all know seems to be the last still aware of his purpose—Abyss is the last “abyssl” altogether. The rest have been told to stop spreading life, rendering them nothing more than a mass of extra foot soldiers. After a brief rally, they decide they aren’t going to take it anymore and suddenly there’s a small army of Nihilo on the side of the good guys. They elect to try and wake of Captain Universe. Finally, our issue begins…
(If all of that doesn’t catch you up, dig into past articles of this column where I’ve covered every issue of Hickman’s Avengers, New Avengers and Infinity so far—that should help)
On Hala, the Kree home world, the Supreme Intelligence gets patched up. Seems he irritated Ronan the Accuser but trying to convince everyone that Thor’s little victory was nothing more than luck. Ronan took a swing, left a hole and ran off with the Kree army to help out the Avengers and allied galactic forces. In quick succession Hickman shows us the outcomes of various battles—The Avengers win some, they lose some. Turns out the Spaceknights are still kicking despite their planet being destroyed. In the end, it looks like the Builders are still too tough. What’s there left to do?
They let loose the Annihilation Wave. Yikes.
Opening a gate to the negative zone, Captain America and Shi-ar leader Guardian give the “okay”. Annihilus is set loose on the Universe with his uber-destructive drone army. These guys took an entire Marvel event to defeat (go read Annihilation, it is amazing) and in these pages the weight of their release is truly felt. Hickman knows this isn’t a simple parlour trick to zap a few bad guys. It’s a desperate move that could potentially cause even bigger threats. It’s tossing the toaster in the pool to save the drowning man.
Unfortunately, the Annihilation Wave is thwarted before it does any real damage. Somehow, the Builders flick a switch in the drones’ minds and they start to devour each other. Having such a serious gambit pop up and get tossed out so quickly shines some scary light on the Builders power. If there’s one thing Hickman is great at, it’s creating hopeless situations.
Of course, we still have the Nihilos to rely on. They wake up Captain Universe and tell her that her children are misbehaving. Well, she’s having none of that. The Cap storms the Builders’ headquarters and tells them that despite the collapse of the Multiverse and the impending doom of the known Marvel U, they can’t destroy Earth. They rebel, a fight ensues and the Builders are as good as defeated. Without masters, the Alephs (remember, they’re the Builder’s army) decide they need to destroy everything.
Now, Hickman has used Captain Universe as his dues ex machine before, but this is ridiculous. For starters, it was long established that Cap U knew about the Builders (she showed Manifold their destruction a whole stack of issues ago). Why she suddenly decides she can do something about it now is rather unclear. We know she’s all powerful, but more often than not she’s simply a cryptic mouthpiece reminding us that “the system is broken”. Waking up and wiping out the seemingly unbeatable enemy leaders in a few short pages is unfortunately anti-climactic. The threat isn’t gone—the Aleph army is still out there ready to take down our heroes, but Cap U’s sudden intervention seems all too convenient and an easy out for Hickman’s carefully crafted “hopeless situation”.
I often criticize Hickman and his Avengers book for moving too slowly. Here, that problem is remedied, albeit rather inconsistently. Entire wars happen in small panels, the defeat of the Builders occurs within but a few pages—and yet we still get conversations that go in circles. Ex Nihilo and Abyss spend a good long while discussing the rate of miracles. Is it supposed to mean something? It points to Captain Universe’s awakening, I’m sure, but instead of giving meaning to the event it simply comes off as pretentious blather. We also get our fair share of Hickman’s famous “white title cards” giving us titles for scenes as if they were mighty chapters in an epic saga. All well and good, except that they occur so frequently and with so few meaningful scenes in between that the reader’s eyes skip past them as if they were unmotivated advertisements. When Hickman gets his pacing right, his comics are gold. When they are as uneven as this one it’s a jarring experience that can be poignant, yet sloppy.
Leinil Francis Yu’s pencils are just as uneven. He draws one ugly Captain Marvel, but his Annihilation Wave is beautiful. His layouts and details all seem rushed, but there are still inspired moments. I’m not a fan—but the art is serviceable.
Now let’s hop across the pond to New Avengers territory. It’s a whole other, complex, confusing ballgame.
New Avengers #11
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Mike Deodato
Coloured by Frank Martin
Cover by Deodato and Laura Martin
Dated December 2013
Finally, plots from both halves of Infinity tie together. Thanos and his new nasty crew were bugging the New Avengers (or Illuminati, if you will) for the time gem and aiming to murder his long-lost Inhuman son, while the Builders were out in space wreaking havoc across the cosmos. Sure, little threads would pass through each title, begging to be sewn together to make sense of the big mess Jonathan Hickman created, but never did the two plots touch in any concrete way. Until now!
Last we checked in, Blackbolt had been duking it out with Thanos on the now-abandoned floating Inhuman city of Attilan. It blew up, a huge Terrigen Mist bomb went off and now it seems that Thanos is fine, brushing off the dust and moving on. This makes his new focus the Wakandan ancient crypt (and Illuminati headquarters) known as Necropolis. Black Panther and his sister were fortunate enough to repel Thanos’s forces the first time, but upon his return they aren’t so lucky. With the main man BP out on business (more on that later), Wakanda eventually falls. Thanos and his gang investigate Necropolis in search of the time gem but—what’s this? They find a huge cache of world-destroying anti-matter injection bombs and a prison containing Black Swan and Terrax. That’s a nasty little arsenal suddenly falling into the hands of our mad, purple titan.
Elsewhere, the Illuminati have gathered at an incursion point to deal with the latest world-ending crisis. As you ought to know by now, Universes are crashing into each other and the scenario can only play out in a few different ways: either one Earth dies, or both. Reluctantly, our heroes have decided to blow up other Universes to save their own. To their surprise, an Aleph plops down at the incursion point and invites them up to his world-destroying spaceship.
Upon said spacecraft the Illuminati finally meet some Builders—though these guys are from the incurring alternate dimension. Their Nihilos are red, not yellow, so… different, you know. The Builders explain that they are about to destroy their own Earth, thereby saving their Universe as a whole. Turns out they’ve also discovered a runaway from good old Marvel 616—a Builder who escaped the wrath of Captain Universe back in Avengers 21 (remember that!?). These alternate Builders scold the Illuminati for taking out the Builders of their world and explain that, were all the Earths destroyed, the rest of creation may be spared. They proceed to total the planet and send the Illuminati on their merry way, fresh with the idea of blowing up their home rock as well.
Might I remind readers that way back in this series Black Swan mentioned that throughout all the dimensions she’d been to, there had been a whole assortment of ways that heroes dealt with the incursions. Hickman seems to want us to forget this fact and simply focus on the one solution—the destruction of Earth. There are tactful, perhaps even peaceful ways to deal with this threat but we’re constantly being told that sooner or later, someone’s going to blow up our planet—and it might just be the heroes.
Though much of this issue is filled with Mike Deodato’s less than impressive renderings of the battle for Wakanda, the rest of the art didn’t bother me all that much. The fighting was poorly choreographed and drawn with that digitized look Deodato is so fond of these days—a look I have come to despise. The Builders, Nihilos (or Nihilii, who knows), Alephs and other aliens look downright neat. It’s a mixed bag that draws plenty of attention to its flaws, but I’ve also learned to appreciate the finer moments. Overall, it’s Mike Deodato and we have to deal with it.
I was impressed by Hickman’s pace here, surprisingly. There are still plenty of wasted panels, with barely registered character reactions or simple filler, but the plot moves along at a brisk enough speed. We get enough of Thanos’s progression and the meeting with the alternate dimension Builders is shown in its entirety here, which is saying quite a bit for an issue of New Avengers. I felt satisfied with the amount of story, instead of demanding a cheaper comic or more content. That’s rare when it comes to me and a Hickman book.
Infinity has officially taken a turn. Thanos is still looking for his son, the Builder’s army is still attacking, but a lot has changed as well. There are still five books left in this event, let’s hope things don’t slow down.