*of course, huge spoilers ahead*
New Avengers #21
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Valerio Schiti with Salvador Larroca
Coloured by Frank Martin with Paul Mounts
Cover by Dustin Weaver and Jason Keith
Dated September 2014
Yes, there are still three issues left in this story arc. To avoid simulating that long-winded feeling one gets while reading these books, I’ll attempt to wrap up my summations all in one go. No need to draw things out, am I right?
So Doctor Strange has given up his soul for ultimate power. This has caused him to go quite mad and summon a whole mess of freaky tentacles to the fray between the Illuminati and the Great Society. Turns out “ultimate power” was no exaggeration either—Strange takes down the whole Society in just a few pages. He withers away the all-powerful Sun God to a shrivelled husk and impresses (and terrifies) both his own team and we the readers. Then, because Jonathan Hickman always has a dues ex machina up his sleeve, Iron Man blasts Strange and everything is back to normal. I ask you, if you were trying to set up a being of infinite, insane, demonic power, would you have him so easily felled by a “short frequency burst”? Suddenly this “ultimate power” doesn’t seem so fancy…
With the Great Society defeated, the Illuminati are left with the tough decision they’ve all been dreading: do they blow up the invading Earth, saving their own? Or do they let world’s collide and doom everyone? One by one each of our heroes look inside themselves and realize they can’t do it—they can’t destroy another Earth, ending billions of lives (to save trillions, sure, but we all get the conundrum). Even Black Panther gives it a whirl, revealing some major daddy issues (more on those later) but finds he’s just not up to the task. Oh, but Namor is.
It’s a smart move on Hickman’s part getting Namor to detonate the bomb. He’s always been something of an anti-hero at heart and the strength in his convictions come as no surprise. Of course, looking at that cover, we’d never guess he was the executioner.
Now there are a few other chunks of story thrown into the mix here, but they are better left alone. I won’t, obviously, leave them alone, but if they were not included at all, we’d all be just fine. The first comes with the opening pages. Black Panther has another little pow-wow with the various ghosts of dead panther’s past and his father turns out to be a total jerk. By the end of this issue, Black Panther is reduced to a whiny little kid who can’t live up to daddy’s expectations. It’s quite pathetic and exactly the opposite direction I’d like to see BP’s character go in. Let us remember, this guy once punched Mephisto square in the jaw. He found solutions to every problem with nerves of steel, tight fists and pure, seasoned intelligence. Black Panther was richer than Bruce Wayne, more politically powerful than Captain America and cooler than any cape and cowl crusader, regardless of color. Hickman even admits in these very pages that Panther is not a superhero—he’s a king! And you know what? He used to be the coolest king in comics. Now… now he just wants to make the dead ghost of daddy happy. I can’t get behind that.
The other little tidbit of story is really more of an excuse to layer some words over what would have been silent and/or empty pages. Maximus the Mad, still left to his own devices in the Illuminati’s headquarters (brilliant idea, guys) decides to chat up Black Swan. They say a lot without saying much at all and nobody is surprised. There is a lot of talk about how the Illuminati aren’t like other superheroes, because they are kings, but that only makes sense to a point. I mean, yes, Blackbolt, Namor and Black Panther are kings. Iron Man is a king of industry, I guess. Strange is the sorcerer supreme, which comes with some authority I’d imagine. Beast? Hulk? Mr. Fantastic? I see no kings there, just scientists—and yes, superheroes! You can wax poetic all you like Hickman, the onus is still on you to have it make sense.
This is Valerio Schiti’s last turn this arc (he’ll be back!) and it’s sad to see him go—especially mid-issue! The always reliable chameleon Salvador Larroca fills in the last few pages and does a very admirable job trying to make everything seamless. To be fair, I was waiting for the art change—had I not been reviewing this issue it may have simply passed me by. Everything in this book looks absolutely top-notch. If Schiti was rushed, it certainly doesn’t show. Take note folks, if you’re going to have a fill-in artist complete your issue, Larroca is a wise choice.
The Great Society is out of the way, the invading Earth is destroyed… we can move on now, right? Not a chance.
New Avengers #22
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Kev Walker
Coloured by Frank Martin
Cover by Dale Keown and Jason Keith
Dated October 2014
This issue took me five minutes to read. Black Panther gets angry and beats on Namor. There, I saved you the trouble.
Honestly, why does this exist? After blowing up the invading Earth, Namor feels pretty proud of himself, but everyone else is right pissed. Black Panther is filled with so much righteous indignation he starts up the whole BP/Namor feud right then and there. They duke it out for a bit, Namor admits to telling Thanos to invade Wakanda (way back in the much missed action of Infinity) and BP swears he’ll murder ol’fishhead. The rest of our heroes stir in anger, sorrow and confusion. And what does Reed Richards say?
Everyone on this planet.
Our sun, galaxy, and eventually the universe itself.
This is simply how things are.
And I accept it.
It ought to be a nursery rhyme by now! See, I know how to eat of time and waste space too! This article looks like it’s jam packed full of information and action, but I’m just re-hashing! New Avengers!
Kev Walker picks up the bat for this issue and his efforts are wasted. I appreciate his art most of the time (read his run on Thunderbolts with Jeff Parker, it’s astounding) but here he’s got very little to work with. Unfortunately, the moments with the most potential flat completely flat. An entire page is dedicated to Black Panther slugging Namor and I must say, it left me disappointed and underwhelmed. Now and then we get a neat panel (like Black Panther’s outburst near the end, declaring his bloodlust) but for the most part this is a nothing issue and the art cannot save it.
As of this issue, Namor is a legit villain. I hate that—he’s supposed to be the hero that’s also a jerk, not an all-out bad guy. Valerio Schiti’s art is absent and Kev Walker is biding his time. I hate that, Walker is a good artist that deserves better work than this. This story arc still has one more issue left and we just paid four Canadian dollars for five minutes of reading.
I hate that.
New Avengers #23
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Kev Walker
Coloured by Frank Martin
Cover by Christian Ward
Dated October 2014
Boom. Another incursion is on its way. Our heroes don’t feel like destroying another planet, so they give up and decide to let the end come naturally.
Really? This is how you’re going to play it, Hickman? For one, we know all things will not end—this is a Marvel comic book set in mainstream, Earth 616 continuity. If everything was really going to end, it would be in a big, majorly marketed event (like Secret Wars, perhaps?). In the meager pages of New Avengers? I think not.
And another thing! How are we supposed to buy the fact that the Illuminati simply gives up? Way back when, Black Swan told them all that there were numerous ways to save the day. They built a TV to check out how other heroes did it. Iron Man built an array around the sun, stole a world-destroyer from The Builders and fused Earth with a counter-Earth from another dimension. There are options, people! We can’t simply accept that our heroes, after all of their hard work, would simply say “well, another incursion, we better just give up”. But accept that we must, because that’s what this issue is all about.
In all fairness, should we somehow manage to suspend our disbelief, the scenes that follow are quite good: Beast has a heart-to-heart with his younger self (long story); Bruce Banner decides to accept the end where it all began—out in the desert; Blackbolt sits on the moon and howls away with the ever silent (and loyal) Lockjaw; Iron Man drinks himself silly (or at least tries to); Black Panther hits the sack one more time with Storm; Reed visits his family and heads to Doom’s castle to hug his daughter one more time. The only real folly here is Doctor Strange, who gets the shaft. Ignore his rich history and multifaceted characteristics—he goes out by sitting in his armchair, asking Wong if he is “a good man”. Wong says no, readers everywhere groan. It’s not nearly as dramatic or meaningful as intended.
Each personal end-of-the-world scenario is played out quite well (with that one exception). Most of the characters are written just as they should be. Kev Walker’s art truly shines. It’s actually well-paced and heavy enough to be effective, assuming you’ve accepted the initial reasoning for everything going down the drain. It’s well-crafted, undeniably, but also built on a faulty foundation.
When Armageddon fails to occur, our heroes are confused. They all meet up and seem pretty glum (what with destroying another universe for potentially no reason) until they notice Namor missing. And by golly do we get one conflicting ending.
Turns out Namor has re-gathered the Cabal—this time featuring Maximus, Black Swan, Terrax, Thanos, Corvus Glaive and Proxima Midnight. They’ve all joined together to destroy the incurring worlds that threaten their own. Heroes don’t have the guts to take down other realities? Why not gather up a bunch who would love to. It makes sense and it’s quite the exciting prospect. You see, Earth didn’t shatter because Namor and his gang of villains went out and blew crap up. The final page showing the Cabal wreaking havoc on another Earth is simply eye-candy.
What is not so awesome is the way we’re introduced to the new Cabal. Take a guess.
Yes, we get another iteration of that famous scene Hickman loves so very, very much—this time with Namor at the helm. Words are changed ever so slightly, but it’s all there in its space-wasting, repetitive glory. Much like the nature of these apocalyptic incursion scenarios, this scene cannot be avoided—it will always be there, again and again, no matter how exhausted you are, no matter what means you try to forget about it, no matter what. We’re beaten over the head with this scene so many times; we can truly empathize with our heroes’ frustration and seemingly unending plight.
One last thing before we sign off on this story arc: I’d like to conduct an experiment. To play out his “Illuminati vs. The Great Society” story arc, Jonathan Hickman stretched the story into six issues (that last one is pretty self-contained, to be fair). Let’s see how much of the story we can gather by looking strictly at the covers.
Issue 17: Our Illuminati encounters something ambiguous.
Issue 18: The Illuminati and The Great Society duke it out.
Issue 19: They continue to fight.
Issue 20: Doctor Strange busts out his ultimate power, putting an end to the fight.
Issue 21: Somebody sets off the bomb; the Earth goes ka-boom.
Issue 22: The Illuminati fight with each other.
Yes folks, we miss quite a bit of detail, but should you decide to save yourself the $24 and roughly half hour it takes to read these issues, you can get all the main points right from the covers.
Now, as I promised, we can finally hit the ground running and jump into the last arc of Hickman’s Avengers run! Is it everything we hoped it would be? Will all the mysteries be solved; all questions answered? Will it be epic in scope with the most dire of situations and the highest stakes at play? That last one I can promise.