Apr 16, 2015

Detours on the Road to "Secret Wars"


It's been a while, but the Secret Wars are almost upon us. So let's move along the road the Jonathan Hickman's been navigating.

I call this section detours because, for me, it's the least coherent section of the Avengers titles run. It's sandwiched between the intensity of "Infinity" and the countdown issues that jump us 8 months into the future, and while the stories it tells do have resonances to the larger arc, they somehow don't catch one's attention quite so much. Perhaps it's just me.

Avengers v.5 #24 (24.Now, to be specific, though it also sports a giant "#1" at the top of the cover)(??) - A perfect jumping on point for new readers! I hate when they say things like that, especially with a comic like Avengers. Also, no it's not, so the #1 on the cover is super-disingenuous. The story within is not bad at all, though. A rogue planet heads for Earth, an Iron Man from the future comes back to warn everyone at a barbeque, and Tony Stark gets told that he won't be able to keep his secret much longer. Good foreshadowing, and the planet does get put to good use....eventually.

New Avengers v.3 #13 - 15 - three very, very grim issues of the series. We've heard for a year now that other Earths are being destroyed one by one across the Multiverse. These issues give us a look at the alternative versions of the Illuminati and how they failed, and against whom. There's also some interesting back story on the Black Swans, and though I feel I may have missed it, I'm still not entirely sure of their role in this whole saga. Perhaps that'll come to light some time in the next month or so. Or it's come to light, and I've just been reading too many comics to keep track. Also, Doctor Strange finally goes totally darkside, and it's pretty great to consider the ramifications. Oh, and shades of the Cabal at the end of issue 15.

Avengers v.5 #25 - 28 - An interesting counterpoint to the dying Earths in the New Avengers, here we see A.I.M. pulling an alternate team of Avengers from their world just as it is destroyed. They're almost spitting images of the very early Avengers, both in appearance and line-up, but, as often happens with these parallel dimension alternates, they're evil. It's almost like a Crime Syndicate version of the Avengers, which is ironic considering the New Avengers storyline that follows this one. I will admit that when it came down to the two versions of Banner here, I got confused both times I read it. And again, as with the rogue planet, there are ramifications that ramifications here that have only recently been picked back up as the titles come to their climaxes. I noted above that I feel like these stories are less coherent than those that have preceded and those that follow, and I think it's because some of them feel like they could have taken half as much time as they have. But, if we consider that "Secret Wars" is dropping at the same time as Avengers: Age of Ultron, perhaps the editorial powers that be dictated that these issues needed to be here. I could be being cynical there, but I prefer to think of it as being realistic.

New Avengers v.5 #16 (.Now, with the #1 at the top, just as disingenuous as the other one) - okay, I'll admit, the run of New Avengers that follows this one is really amazing. We're introduced here to the Great Society, a.k.a. The Justice League. I love stories like this that take barely-concealed versions of the characters from "the distinguished competition" and tease out the ramifications of conflict between Earth-Marvel and Earth-DC. Squadron Supreme leaps immediately to mind, but there have definitely been others. So this is our intro to the Society, and I think, of these detours, this is my absolute favourite story. But, fair warning, it's not a happy story.

Avengers v.5 #29 - part of the "Original Sin" crossover, though I really don't see how this and the stories that follow have anything to do with that event series (which, I'll admit, I read 3 issues of and then lost interest). But sin is the order of the day here. Captain America finally remembers the events of the very beginning of this saga, from New Avengers 1-3, and he and a remarkably impressive array of Avengers go to have a "chat" with Tony Stark. Who, it must be admitted, manages to hold his own against them for a bit, which really lets you know what a force to be reckoned with Stark really is. And then the lost Time Gem returns, and throws everyone into the future....but first, the Illuminati have some business to attend to.

New Avengers v.3 #17 - 21 - this is just such a great story. I'm not going to say much about it, because honestly of all the stories in these runs, this is the one I'd hate to spoil. Yes, the Illuminati fights the JLA, but they also talk to them. Hickman here deploys what are ostensibly the greatest and smartest heroes on Marvel and DC Earth, and pits them against the death of the Multiverse. Beautiful and tragic, just as you can imagine a story like this would be. More shades of the Cabal when a decision is made, finally. Again, though I call these stories detours (and, much as I like it, I think this story could have taken up a couple less issues), this story is not simply filler (and nor are any of them), but a meditation on how great heroes can often have come from remarkably different points of view.

Avengers v.5 #30 - 34 - the "Original Sin" issues of Avengers, in which Captain America's team that confronted Tony Stark is catapulted into various distant futures. There are a couple of things I want to say about this run of Avengers. The first is that Lenil Yu's art is terrible. Sorry, I know that's a really big thing to say, to completely disparage an artist's output, but I've never liked anything he's done, and for some reason he's still put on relatively large titles. What is it about him that makes him a superstar artist? Okay, I'll relent. His art is perhaps not terrible. But I don't like it. The other thing I'd like to say about this run is that grown-up Franklin Richards comes back! One of the greatest parts of Hickman's Fantastic Four run was the interaction between little Frank and older Frank. So to see him return, even for just a little while, is a treat. The time-travel story is cool, and gives us some notion of the future of the Avengers. We understand that with the destruction of the Multiverse, the Avengers are fighting to stop things from their present, but these issues also drive home the notion that it's the future they're trying to save as well.

New Avengers v.3 #22 - 23 - the shattering of the Illuminati. What rises in their place, over the course of the 8 hours that these two issue encompass, is probably the baddest of badass villain teams to have ever been presented in a Marvel comic. Any team that counts Thanos as a member is pretty heavy. But that's not the best part. The best part is the Illuminati surrendering to the workings of fate, the ways in which they all face what they've come to see as inevitable. And then their defiance in the face of that inevitability. Over the course of New Avengers, it's easy to forget that these characters are actually superheroes. Issue #23 reminds us of this, just before time starts to really run out.

The countdown begins next.

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