*of course, huge spoilers ahead*
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Pencilled by Leinil Francis Yu
Inked by Gerry Alanguilan
Coloured by Sunny Gho
Dated September 2014
Let me try something here. I want to separate myself from my preconceived notions. I know when I first read this issue, it angered me. One of the main reasons I’ve decided to go back and re-read Jonathan Hickman’s entire Avengers run is to purge myself of that anger. I want to read these comics again with new eyes. I want to divide the intention, execution and all external influences. I want to see this as a story and not just a big money grabbing, time-wasting flop. I’m not saying I want to ignore what’s on the page and tell you it’s comic brilliance—I just want to detach what I’m reading from the reading experience.
Of course, if I were to indulge myself and focus on the entirety of the experience instead of just the story within the pages, I’d rant like I do every week about pointless blather, filler story-arcs, plodding pace, ridiculous cover price (for so little content) and the gross, prevalent use of decompression in today’s comic book world. But I’m trying my best to avoid becoming a grumpy comic curmudgeon. It’s tough.
We pick up with Captain America’s latest jaunt into the far-far future. We’ve seen him encounter various timelines with his rag-tag group of Avengers buddies, but they’ve all fallen off the radar by now. They’re cozy, back home. Cap’s still got an adventure ahead of him.
We find ourselves now in the year “Betrayal +51 028”. That’s looking mighty far ahead, Hickman. Cap stands in the dark, on a bridge, until it lights up. A few pages later, he makes his way to a door. Inside the door his finds a handlebar and a floating AI head telling him to grab it. Bad news, Cap, you’re in Ultron’s playground now.
The giant AI head goes on to tell Cap how in this future, a kernel of Ultron’s AI has grown to become the Worldcore. We’re told this is ideology made action. Some temporal, robot-looking versions of the Avengers surround a now trapped Cap as they try to extract his very being and turn it into information. Looks like this is the end…
But wait! Cap breaks free from the cyber-grip that held him in place! I guess even 51 000 years from now villains will still underestimate the physical strength of Captain America. An all-out brawl ensues, with Cap fighting off some vague looking sketches. This is not an impressive fight scene and the exposition overtop doesn’t help.
Eventually, Cap takes some cyber-arrows to the back (probably from computer-Hawkeye, I’m guessing) and defeat seems imminent. But remember that “bomb” that Cap had planted in his brain a few futures ago? Now’s the time! It turns out said bomb is a small bug-like thing that latches onto future-Ultron and shuts down the Worldcore. Cap says “Well… I’m done here, aren’t I?” and zips off to the next future.
Twist ending! As he’s falling into the white nothingness between time and space (as has been the nature of these excursions through time) Iron Man reaches out and grabs his hand. Could this lead to something interesting? Maybe!
As you can see, it takes some heavy-duty rationalizing to find this comic even remotely enjoyable. Believe me, I tried. Is it that obvious? As far as filler issues go, this takes the cake. You can practically hear Hickman yawning from his desk as he slaps together robo-speak, trying to fill the page requirement.
And the big twist with the “bomb”? Well, it didn’t really mean much now, did it? Why did evil-future/past Cap want to shut down future-Ultron? I can’t find motivation, rationalization or sense of any kind here. The bomb saves our Captain’s life with its dues-ex machina stunt (and judging from its trajectory, Cap should be without an eye now) but otherwise it doesn’t really make sense. Perhaps Hickman was getting tired of his own shenanigans and decided to plant and execute a mystery within less than eight issues. Perhaps we’ll get an explanation later. Perhaps it’s just lousy storytelling.
Leinil Francis Yu was probably yawning while drawing this book as well. If the future is anything, it’s vague. The sketchy work looks rushed, under-detailed and downright boring. I’m sure he didn’t get much to work with—perhaps instructions like “then the place collapses, take as many panels as you want”, but a background here and there would have gone a long way.
If anything is clear, it’s that both the reader and the characters are tired of this story arc. Captain America himself starts the book off by saying “Well…I guess I should start walking.” Other inspired tidbits of dialogue include “Now what?”, “What…what is this?” and the brilliantly constructed “Didn’t your records tell you how I felt about thinking anything is a foregone conclusion with me?”. End up with another solo-panel for Cap to say “Well…”, follow it up with a “Yeah…” and we’re out. Shakespearian!
*yes, that dialogue is all word-for-word. I might fantasize about what Jonathan Hickman thinks, but I don’t need to fabricate the terribly uninspired words he puts into his comics.
Our next issue promises to be the last in this Original Sin crossover. I still don’t see how it ties into that series, or why I initially paid $4 per issue, or why I went ahead and kept buying the series.
Whoops. Sorry folks. Seems I’ve gone full-blown curmudgeon. Seems I can’t find a more polite way to say “you can’t shine a turd”.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Pencilled by Leinil Francis Yu
Inked by Gerry Alanguilan
Coloured by Sunny Gho
Dated October 2014
Look, nobody ever accused Jonathan Hickman of thinking small. That’s what makes his comic books so (potentially) thrilling. He’s not afraid to say “well, there’s something even bigger out there”. His threats go to the extremes of the spectrum and he’s still able to inject neat smaller moments into the mix. He combines impressive sounding pseudo-science conflicts with fan-servicing moments and a keen grasp of the characters he controls. When he gets it right, he makes some of the best superhero comics I know. When he spins his wheels, runs out of steam and can’t organize his ideas, it all comes crashing down. Such is this series. Such is this issue.
Captain America comes to the end of the line. The Iron Man that plucked him from the nothingness of time travel last issue turns out to be Iron Lad—also known as a young Kang the Conqueror (and if you’re not up on your Marvel mythos, he’s one complicated villain). Iron Lad was also a hero, briefly, with the Young Avengers, so Cap knows he’s a good kid at heart.
Here at the end (referenced as “Betrayal +Forever”, for some reason) Iron Lad has some good news and bad news for our good Captain (and us, the readers!). With an almost audible cheer from Avengers fans around the world, Lad tells us that this is the end of the trip. The story will actually move on from here. It’s finally happening!
The bad news? First, we’re told “it’s complicated”. Later, we find out he means morally complicated, not complicated in a way that would make it hard to understand or explain. But this is a Hickman book, so of course “it’s complicated”.
Now I like the way this book kicks off—Cap and Iron Lad, in the last days of the last Avenger. What’s that? Yes, as they enter a throne-room amongst the jungle landscape of the far-flung future, we see Kang, Immortus and Iron Lad all together. They are the same person, from different points in time, all meeting in the same spot. And according to Iron Lad, he’s the last Avenger. It’s a mind-bending moment that put a huge smile on my face. I’ve always loved Kang and Immortus. This is the kind of fan-service I was talking about!
Understandably, Cap gets his guard up. He trusts Iron Lad but not the other two. As the time-gem appears, the three Kangs blast it into stasis, preventing it from shattering and sending Cap on another trip. It’s a very cool panel that comes as a neat surprise in a book that’s lacked decent art for quite some time.
With the gem frozen, we finally have time for explanations. When I first started reading this, I became very excited. They start to talk about the incursions and what the future holds. They tell Cap that they’ve sent him to the past before, to stop Tony Stark and the Illuminati, and everything went to poop. Now that they have another go at it, they want Cap to go back and help Tony. End excitement for explanations, begin war on morality.
For the next few pages, Cap tells us all that we have the wrong idea. We think he’s simple, ignorant and clearly can’t comprehend the nature of these multiversal threats. He tells us (and the Kangs, more directly) that he isn’t simple; he sees people in need and helps them (which sounds pretty simple to me). He doesn’t weight lives, he saves them. And he can’t sit idly by and watch Tony and the Illuminati blow up other Earths to save their own.
The Kangs are pissed. Clearly, Cap still doesn’t get it as he throws his shield and smashes the stasis field holding the time gem. It turns out what Old Hawkeye secretly whispered into Cap’s ear all those issues ago was basically “they will tell you to help Iron Man, but you don’t have to”. In a strange waste of pages, we see the Avengers back home sitting around worried that Cap will never return to the present… and then he does. Filler at its lamest!
So despite the overwhelming evidence against him, Cap decides to rally the troops—all the troops, to stop the Illuminati. When balancing everything he’d seen on his little journey, this conclusion makes sense, but just barely. Remember, future-Franklin Richards said the Illuminati would fail because Cap opposed them. The Kangs said that everything would end if Cap didn’t help the Illuminati. Hawkeye said he should take out Iron Man. It’s a lot to juggle.
So we’ve ended up back where we started. Cap is mad at Tony and they are ready to go to civil war. We’ve seen this before—Cap and Tony have different sets of morals: Cap wants to help people and believes there is a better way, against all odds. Tony would like to believe that, but he’s more inclined to agree with the statistics. They are all heroes and nobody wants to kill the innocent, so they’ll all have to duke it out to decide how to handle the situation. It’s Civil War all over again, but the stakes are infinitely higher.
And that’s what is so darn disappointing. Hickman thinks big, yes, but he’s also not afraid to recycle. The Cap/Iron Man rivalry is nothing new, but it’s now the focus of the series. Instead of slowly revealing the mysteries behind his enticing, original ideas (the incursions) Hickman teases and relies on tired concepts. This issue was genuinely exciting until it became a grandstand for Cap’s morals and a disappointing set up for the next story arc. I mean, we started out with a Captain America that was filled with righteous anger, ready to tear down the Illuminati and put an end to their (well intentioned) world-destroying. And that’s exactly where we end up. We’ve gone nowhere and it’s taken six awful (and awfully expensive) issues to get there.
How about some good news? Things actually get exciting from here. I’m not kidding—just when we seem to have hit rock-bottom, Hickman gets this series back on track. Things start to happen. We’ve got a bit more filler to wade through, but I can tell you with confidence that where we’re heading is actually quite awesome.
You can’t shine a turd, but you can clean it up.