Written by Jonathan Hickman
Pencilled by Steve Epting
Inked by Rick Magyar
Coloured by Frank D’Armata
Cover by Jock
Dated March 2013
Jonathan Hickman knocked my socks off with his debut issue of Avengers. This sister title, questionably titled New Avengers had a lot to live up to.
But first, because it will never stop bothering me, let’s look at that stupid title.
New Avengers was the name given to the main Avengers title back when Brian Michael Bendis took control in 2004. It was an apt name, considering the team was brand new and the direction quite bold. The name lasted into a second incarnation, again under Bendis, but this time focusing more on a street-level Avengers squad. I never did buy into that volume—I’d taken off much earlier, fed up with the Avengers franchise altogether. So before this re-launch with Hickman, we had an Avengers and a New Avengers. It worked for those books, so I guess Marvel decided to stick with the formula. I can’t stress this enough, however: this book does not contain any sort of “new” Avengers team. In fact, I don’t think the group of characters here ever even considered themselves an “Avengers group”. This is the Illuminati Bendis created—a round-table group comprised of Marvel’s brightest minds, operating in secret and usually involved in some heavy business. A few changes have been made, but really, this is an Illuminati book, not an Avengers title. If I haven’t convinced you, look to the back double-page spread in this issue. We get a big fat title that declares we’re reading “New Avengers (in small type) ILLUMINATI (in big type)”. So it’s a stupid title, I just had to get that out of the way.
This book may not open with the creation of the Universe (like in Avengers), but Hickman starts with an equally bold statement. Reed Richards (in my opinion, the character Hickman writes better than anybody) stands against the shadows and declares that everything will come to an end. And he accepts that. But our Reed won’t let existence end before its due time. Cool.
Switch to Wakanda. A group of young guards come upon a strange obelisk and aren’t sure what to make of it. Enter Black Panther. Hickman writing Black Panther? Already I’m completely sold on this series. Soon the obelisk throws the party into another dimension and we meet Black Swan, Hickman’s new villain for this series. Swan’s got a small party of her own, including someone named Manifold and an Earth destroying bomb. Noting the planet clearly visible in the sky and attempting to decipher Black Swan’s seemingly non-sensical rantings, Black Panther flies into action and starts kicking butt. He’s too late however, and Black Swan screws over Manifold, sets off the bomb and gives readers lots to think about with phrases like “incursion” and “Rabum Alal” (her death god?).
Suddenly, Black Panther is back home, there’s no planet in the sky threatening to crash down and Black Swan and her troop are gone. What just happened? Neither the Panther nor the readers are sure, but by the final page we get a nice group shot of Captain America, Tony Stark, Black Bolt, Reed Richards, Namor and Doctor Strange all touching down in Wakanda. Something big is up, that’s for sure.
Now if Hickman was playing it ambiguously in his first issue of Avengers, he’s downright cryptic here. The world is ending? A device that can level planets? What the heck was the deal with Black Swan? It’s all very unclear, but the weight of impending doom is certainly palatable.
Steve Epting was a wise choice for this book, having ample experience with both Mr. Fantastic and Captain America already; he knows how to draw the biggest name sin the Marvel U. His Black Panther is wonderful and the action is both energetic and well-choreographed. Altogether, it’s a very professional art package that, while not as impressive as Jerome Opena’s outing in the pages of Avengers, still proves that Marvel bringing their A game to this book. Just look at that cover from Jock—it’s downright awesome!
I was more than excited to see Hickman tackle the Black Panther, and he does a great job in this issue. The Panther rules Necropolis, the “land of the dead” in Wakanda, as he is no longer their king. But you can’t take the regal out of this guy as he launches off to defend what’s right! The Panther plays it like a true hero in this first issue and I couldn’t be prouder to call myself a fan.
Now I felt my head spin a little during my first read-through, as Hickman wants to play things very close to the chest here, but I still went away feeling more excited than confused. The ideas, set-up and possibilities here are just as ambitious as they were in Avengers, but it felt like Hickman was saying “just keep buying and things will make sense”. Though there isn’t too much information you’d need to know going into this first issue, it doesn’t feel new-reader friendly at all. For us well-informed comic buffs, however, Hickman is pointing at some pretty neat things to come.