*of course, huge spoilers ahead*
New Avengers #13
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Simone Bianchi
Coloured by Adriano Dell’Alpi
Cover by Simone Bianchi
Dated February 2014
There’s no doubt in my mind that Jonathan Hickman knows exactly where he’s going. Reading his Avengers and New Avengers series however, give one the impression that he only has a faint idea of how to get there, and has absolutely no idea how long it will take. There is an endgame in sight. These concepts will come together. I promise you that. It may not be as satisfying as you’d like—it may not even make that much sense, but it does fall into place. I can tell you this, because I’ve been to the future and read the remainder of Hickman’s series. Or maybe it was the past? Reading these comics, it’s easy to get confused.
I wish somebody had told me that in February of 2014. I was on the edge of dropping both Avengers titles. There was a thick web of things to remember—concepts and made up words that flew in the face of easy storytelling. It challenged readers to put the pieces together, but offered clues very sporadically, favouring further confusion, complicated science-speak and a pace that rode on the snail’s back down a river of molasses. We got crappy art here and there, subplots that seemed substandard and enough repetition to make you think Hickman had the complex hiccups.
*Everything ends*’cup *Everything ends*’cup.
These books also cost $4 Canadian Dollars each, adding up to $8 a month, ignoring the fact that Avengers was shipping twice monthly for a while. When you invest that kind of money into something, you want to get something, but besides the flawed-yet-enjoyable romp that was the Infinity event, it seemed like we were having the carrot dangled in front of us. I’m no mule—why did I continue reading, and paying?
Because I had faith (perhaps, misplaced) in that endgame. That wiry, sticking web of concepts Hickman had thrown up all over the Avengers franchise was too compelling to ignore. Given the opportunity, I’d be tempted to punch the guy in the head and scream “get to the point already!” But alas, I conceded to the pace, the repetition, the price, the art mishaps and everything else wrong with the books. I’m one of those suckers that wants to look back at his collection and, at the very least, see a complete story. I usually know when to abandon ship—and trust me this series would test those senses to their limits; but not here, not yet.
So…New Avengers issue 13, what do you have to offer us? I’m happy to report that unlike the main Avengers title, this one provides a story that increases my interest in the title. It sheds light on some of those annoying complicated factors Hickman’s been throwing around. It tries to do something with the pieces on the board.
But first, let’s have Reed Richards tell us one more time how everything dies. &^$#%*
Alright, so it’s a Reed Richards from a different universe, and at his round table sit not-really-variations of the Illuminati we all know and love. Oh, but Captain Marvel (the original) and Magneto are here, and Black Panther is rocking white duds instead of, y’know, black. On this alternate Earth, Maximus had set off a terrigen mist bomb and all the latent Inhumans began transforming. Just like on good ol’616.
Look, Hickman likes to show us that he’s an intelligent writer every chance he gets. He also likes to poke fun and convince us he can be a funny guy now and then. He handles grandiose drama like it’s nobody’s business, throws around techno-babble like it’s all stuff we learned in Sesame Street, and tackles Marvel history and its characters/concepts/stories with the grace of a most devout nerd.
All that being said, there are times when he really lets us down in the creativity department. I cut my teeth on comic books devouring titles like Earth X, Age of Apocalypse and (most importantly) Exiles. I love me some alternate dimension quirkiness. Hickman has unlimited reign to show us any number of brilliant variations on the heroes we love (heck, he could even create new ones if he wanted to!) and instead he gives us evil twins in the Avengers and practically the same team here in New Avengers. Honestly, is he even trying anymore?
Back in plot, we see that “Earth 23099” is about to experience an incursion. As they hit up the site of impact and see that other Earth come crashing in they notice a few uninvited guests—the Black Priests. As these creepy looking sorcerers touch down they attack everything in sight and say everything with a drawl on their “I” vowels. You know, like “FIIIIIIIND ANYTHIIIIIIING IIIIIIIINTERESTIIIIIING?” Crap like that; because their helmets are adorned with a single eye. Now moving your eyes across the words, it makes sense, but try to speak that sentence. The “I”s in “FIIIIIIND” sound right, because it’s a long vowel sound. The other “I”s are short, though, so it doesn’t sound like they are stressing the word “eye”—it doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps I’m looking too deeply into this, but it’s a gimmick that simply doesn’t work. That’s one point away for Hickman, the intelligent writer. Also, am I the only one who remembers 12 oz. Mouse, or is Hickman a big fan too?
So, right, those Black Priests: Magneto of Earth 23099 takes off their helmets and we see that they have no eyes, but they can still see. They all look the same, are extremely powerful and apparently not beings of science, but of magic. Bye-bye Illuminati of Earth 23099.
Back in our home-dimension of 616, the Illuminati converse with Black Swan. She tells them that they can build a mirror to observe and learn from other incursions. It takes essentially half the issue, but they eventually figure out that this mirror she speaks of is basically just something Reed had already built. Hickman put a lot of effort into giving us as much techno-babble as possible and it gets quite annoying. No, I don’t care what powers the thing or how many fractal variations it takes to discern unlimited singularities. We know where this is going—they are building a thing to observe the incursions taking place in other dimensions, just get to the point.
The issue ends with the Black Priests destroying the incurring Earths, saving the universes but taking out entire planets in the process. The Illuminati from 616 look on. Oh, and Dr. Strange gets ready to sell his soul to the dark forces—but we already saw that a few times before, it’s just fancily drawn filler here.
Simone Bianchi handles the art and I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s a nice change from the Mike Deodato work I so despised, but it’s also at times very muddy, strangely detailed and hard to make out. Bianchi’s work really has to be judged panel by panel, as some scenes are quite amazing (Dr. Strange and his demons) while others seem a mess (the battle with the Black Priests). Overall, I like the work and in a book that stresses the importance of words over pictures, I can put up with the inconsistencies.
I walk away from this issue both excited and frustrated. To see more of these Black Priests and learn more about what’s really going on with these incursions is a prospect I just can’t pass up. To read more pseudo-science chatter and crawl right along with the unforgiving pace—well, it’s not something I look forward to, and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
New Avengers #14
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Simone Bianchi
Coloured by Adriano Dell’Alpi
Cover by Simone Bianchi
Dated March 2014
No. No no no no no no no no no. You don’t get to do that, Jonathan Hickman. Not when the page count of comic books is shrinking and the price is rising. You don’t get to start us off with the same two stupid pages you’ve given us a dozen times before. I don’t want to hear Reed Richards tell us that “everything ends”. I don’t want to see the roundtable of Illuminati heroes, slightly altered for each dimension, getting the same spiel. I understand what you’re doing. There’s a point somewhere in your repetition. But no, I’ve had enough. Stop. Please.
This issue plays out exactly like the last one did. Here we’re introduced to Earth 2319, where an incursion is about to take place. This Illuminati consists of the basics, plus Captain Britain, Hank Pym and Doctor Doom are in there, and Emma Frost because why not (I did like that Betsy Braddock was included as another Captain Britain, but it’s not like that went anywhere). We also get some backstory about the mutants of this dimension, but it’s all very inconsequential and basically put out there to show the pattern between this issue and the last (Inhumans last time, mutants this time). In fact, everything patterns the last issue, right down to the panel layout (and a bunch of dialogue, too!).
Attentive readers will notice that this time, the incursion is blue, not red. That means Mapmakers (and their underlings, the Sidera Maris), not Black Priests. As the team rushes to the site, they take on the Sidera Maris, who we’re told are simply cannon fodder and forerunners of the Mapmakers. They seem to hold their own, but once the Mapmakers themselves touch down, the Illuminati get taken down pretty hard. I like the little touches Hickman throws in here, recognizing Captain Britain’s ability to traverse the multiverse and Doctor Doom being “an omega-level threat” to the Mapmakers.
One confusion to note: once the Mapmakers realize Doom is no pushover, they blast him and Reed Richards jumps in front, saving Doom. We then see Doom get all mad, but switching over to where our 616 Illuminati are observing, they note Doom’s splattered corpse. So, Doom was an omega-level threat, Reed sacrificed himself, and then the Mapmakers defeated Doom anyway, off-panel? It’s not exactly clear, but I’m not sure that really matters.
The other half of this issue concerns Dr. Strange and his soul-selling. He enters the market of the magic, approaches the throne of, I don’t know, the all-powerful lady-goddess (I’m no Dr.Strange expert, so perhaps these forces had been established before?) and sells his soul for as much power as can possibly be given to him. It’s well written, well drawn and kind of neat, but nothing we didn’t expect.
Simone Bianchi’s art is the same here as it was last issue—inconsistent, nice, but confusing. The action is often muddled and incoherent, faces and features are splotchy or altogether absent and yet, the overall style is alright with me. I can understand many readers being completely turned off by the fluid nature of the panels, characters and effects, but it didn’t bother me.
I like that we’re seeing more of these mysterious elements Hickman has been toying with. We haven’t really learned much, but there are subtle hints abound and seeing the Mapmakers and Black Priests in action is, at least in my opinion, a step in the right direction story-wise. This is stuff I want to see more of! Yes, we waste away pages on the same crap that’s been repeated over and over again (because if the point hasn’t been made yet, might as well show us again!) but I feel like we’re one step closer to discovering all the hidden factors at play in this apocalypse scenario.
Don’t worry, we’ll get there someday.