*of course, huge spoilers ahead*
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Adam Kubert
Coloured by Frank Martin
Cover by Dustin Weaver and Justin Ponsor
Dated April 2013
The first issue of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers started with a page recapping the birth of the Universe. Issue 6 begins the same way. And two-thirds of the way through this issue we get the story again. Hickman likes to repeat himself—in his defense, each time we get this story, it’s given slightly new meaning, so it’s not entirely pointless repetition but one would think the pages could be put to better use.
I’ve always liked Captain Universe, in general. It seems in the past the character was something of a novelty. The Uni-power would empower a host, they’d get all blue and starry and full of white connected dots, and then move on. I’ve never read any brilliantly executed Captain Universe stories, but I always felt there was a wealth of untapped potential there. Marvel’s poorly executed Captain Universe mini from 2005 (seeing the likes of Daredevil, Silver Surfer and the Hulk empowered, among others) was something of a travesty, but still I held out hope. Who’d have guessed Hickman would come along and, like many things in this series, practically read my mind and fulfill my wish. Finally we get a Captain Universe that’s powerful, original and full of a potential all their own.
Last time we saw Cap U she was Hickman’s dues ex machina, wrapping up the first story arc in a surprisingly quick and clean fashion (back in issue 3). Here, we go deeper and find out why the power of the cosmos is living inside an average black woman with a particular taste for pie.
With Shang Chi’s help, Cap U gives the cryptic messaging a rest and her host comes to the forefront. We learn that Tamara Devoux was just your average single mom when a car crash put her in a coma for 10 years. Her daughter was along for the ride, but her fate is unknown. As Cap U explains (once Tamara’s consciousness slips away again), the Uni-power lies in Tamara because she’s broken. Apparently, so is the Universe and Earth will be the epicenter for some important event. Impending doom—don’t let us forget now, Hickman!
Again, I love the new Captain Universe. An incalculable amount of power, using the comatose body of a confused, distraught single mom—it’s a neat idea that I’d love to see fleshed out. In fact, it reminds a lot of Jack Kirby’s Black Racer from his New Gods series. The Racer was a paralyzed, black Vietnam War vet who was possessed to become the immensely powerful avatar of death for the gods of the Fourth World. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s close enough to draw comparison. If Hickman’s making reference of attempting homage it isn’t clear, but I suspect somewhere in the back of his mind Jack Kirby was at play.
Elsewhere in this issue we get some funny scenes with Spider-Man (who is, at this time, the Superior Spider-Man, with Doc Ock in control of Peter Parker’s body), who acts like a snarky jerk and upsets Cannonball and Sunspot. Tony Stark is also eagerly at work trying to decode the mystery language of Ex Nihilo’s engineered perfect super-baby (who is now fully grown). Captain Universe strolls in, tells them his name is Nightmask and suddenly the grown-up super-baby is speaking English.
The issue ends with Nightmask telling us “the system is broken”, and the “white event” occurs. For those of you familiar with Marvel’s New Universe line of comics from the 80s, the name Nightmask is an instant trigger. With this “white event” happening, you know exactly where Hickman is going with all of this. Tackling the New Universe mythos and merging it with the main Marvel U—Hickman, if you’re anything, you’re strangely ambitious. I doubt there were too many folks out there clamouring for a new Nightmask and Starbrand, but I was one of them and here we are. Oops! Did I give something away?
Adam Kubert wraps up his tenure on the title and goes out in style. I think this was his best issue (in tight competition with issue 5’s Smasher story). His layouts depicting Tamara’s tragedy are particularly powerful and his rendition of the Superior Spider-Man is quite nice looking. There’s a lot of expression going on behind that mask, we can tell.
After reading this issue, I got the sense that we’d only see Captain Universe as the continual dues ex machina, as she seems to be integral to this supposed coming catastrophe. I won’t give anything away (until we get there), but the promise of her potential and the excellent origin story here are unfortunately underutilized. Bad move, Hickman, you had a real winner on your hands. But all is not lost…
Oh, and the last page of this issue? It’s the key to decode all that seemingly wasted, non-sense symbol-speak floating around in Nightmask’s speech bubbles. I’m not feeling anywhere near ambitious enough to decode all of that.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver
Coloured by Justin Ponsor
Cover by Weaver and Ponsor
Dated May 2013
So in a bunch of different universes, there’re places called “the superflow”. On these superflows reside some aliens who apparently work for the Builders (remember them? Reference my issue 2 review, these guys will be important).This issue opens up with the superflows from multiple universes being destroyed by some crazy blue energy tentacles. As one of the superflow stations falls, we see it’s caretaker ponder how the system that lasted millions is now being destroyed. He commands all stations to fire, and we end with Earth 616’s superflow station firing a beam towards Earth.
Now before I move on, let me just point out one thing. Hickman’s writing for the Marvel U has essentially followed the rules of Dragon Ball Z. Now bear with me on this one. For those that don’t understand the reference, don’t worry, it’s not important; the point is that Hickman wants to make every story he writes more epic than the last. Secret Warriors was epic—it had high stakes. His Ultimates series was epic, raising the stakes even higher and giving us an even more powerful enemy, one who it seemed could not be beaten even by the most powerful of characters. And then there’s his twin series FF and Fantastic Four. One would think the stakes had peaked there and such unsurmountable odds couldn’t get any grander. He went all out. Well, here we are again and Hickman’s trying to top himself. He’s saying “but wait! There’s a Super Saiyan 5 now!” I apologize for the reference, and I haven’t watched that show in over 13 years but my inner 12-year old self is beating me over the head. Hickman—after this, it’s over, okay? This isn’t just some bad guy wanting to rule the world, you’re saying the system of the universe is broken and all of existence is ending. That’s the ceiling. Stop.
Right, let’s move on. White event.
We get that phrase repeated 5 times in two pages. When Hickman was recapping the beginning of the universe several times in issue 6, each time had new meaning. Saying the same three words in every stupid panel here doesn’t give the phrase new meaning; it makes it annoying and goes beyond simply labouring the point. Yeesh!
So the white event occurs, and we now know what “The Light” was that Hickman was referring to in the first issue. Cool.
So what is this white event? Well, according to Nightmask it signals the ascension of a world to a universal scale. And this was “the last white event” and this was “not a normal white event” and “the machine is broken”. On one of the last pages, Bruce Banner states (of those repetitious, monotonous phrases, and Nightmask and Captain Universe) “I can’t be the only one here that finds them unbelievably irritating.” Well Hickman, if you knew it was irritating maybe you should have considered a rewrite. Irritation is not a good thing and pointing it out doesn’t help your case.
We then spend several pages getting to know a bunch of different kids at a college campus. Each has a page of their own, delivering little meaningful slice-of-life stories. There’s the jocks who like to fight, the boyfriend proposing to his gal, the brilliant student talking at a lecture—and guess what? Spoiler alert, none of it matters. The college gets blown up and all the people die… except one. In the background of each of those pages there was a fellow with glasses. The characters didn’t notice him and neither did us readers. He gets to be the new Starbrand.
Yes, this is Hickman’s third new character that relies on the “everyman getting unexpected, huge amounts of power” routine. He did it with Smasher and Captain Universe, and it worked well for both of them. With Starbrand it still works, but we’re getting tired of this happening after three issues in a row.
Now Starbrand is an old character concept from the 80s when Marvel tried to run a new line of comics under the “New Universe” banner. There were also titles like Nightmask, Justice, Spitfire and more, and apparently the white event is always supposed to create characters from those books. According to our new Nightmask, there is supposed to be a new Justice, and Spitfire, and so forth. Why isn’t there? Because this is not a normal white event, and this is the last white event and—yeah, we get it.
I like what happened in this issue, but I don’t like how it was told. The opening is fine—say it with me, “impending doom!”, but the whole white event stuff was a waste of space. Hickman took a basic idea—that the white event had occurred and that a new Starbrand had been created—and wasted multiple panels saying the same things over and over again. The whole “tricked you! These student stories are actually pointless!” stunt was a seemingly neat storytelling tool, but in the end you realize it was just another waste of time. I didn’t find it astute, I found it annoying—like Hickman was trying too hard to be clever. But onto the good news…
It’s Dustin Weaver’s turn on art duties now and his work is simply marvellous. Though occasionally stiff, his scenes are always expertly rendered and there’s just enough detail in everything. His attention to character work and expression, background and depth, and perfectly placed layouts makes for a lovely reading experience. His scenes with aliens, spacestations and the cosmos are as gorgeous as any artist working today. And Justin Ponsor knows how to dial in the perfect colours to match Weaver’s style. It’s a great package overall and a step up from Adam Kubert’s (still impressive) stint. If there’s one downside to the art, it’s that this is the book that probably caused Dustin Weaver to become too busy to finish his S.H.I.E.L.D. series (that other epic thing Hickman was working on).
This was the first issue of the series that really got to me. The repetition, the wasted space, the extremely short amount of time it took to read and the barely inched forward plot all left me with a bad taste in my mouth. This was the first time I felt cheated for paying $3.99. It certainly wouldn’t be the last.