I've dropped the ball on this one a bit, I admit, but the responsible part of me actually understood that getting my candidacy exams written had to take precedence over commentary on the road to the Marvel U event this summer.
We'll ignore that responsible part for a bit now.
The final part of my summary will be brief. What we have in the countdown section is a pretty well-laid out reading order, with one or two exceptions. Hickman and Marvel have been pretty good at making explicit the order one reads Avengers/New Avengers in, most obviously from publishing schedule, but there's always a glitch or two.
I'll give the brief list of the reading order I've followed, and then some of my thoughts about this part of the road.
Avengers v.5 #35
New Avengers v.3 #24
Avengers v.5 #36
Avengers v.5 #37
New Avengers v.3 #25
Avengers v.5 #38
New Avengers v.3 #26
New Avengers v.3 #27
Avengers v.5 #39
New Avengers v.3 #28
Avengers v.5 #40 (ostensibly the first inkling we have of what the countdown is heading toward - the banner at the top now reads "In 4 months...Time Runs Out! Secret Wars."
New Avengers v.3 #29
Avengers v.5 #41
New Avengers v.3 #30
Avengers v.5 #42
New Avengers v.3 #31
New Avengers v.3 #32
Avengers v.5 #43
New Avengers v.3 #33
Avengers v.5 #44
( I just had one of those moments where I typed the word "Avengers" so much that it started to look completely wrong."
And that's it. I have to imagine that Hickman will not be continuing on with the Avengers after Secret Wars, and I'd honestly be surprised if he continued on at Marvel, at least for a little while after the event. He's literally torn the whole damned thing down and it telling what I'm pretty sure is one of the most searching and interesting stories about these characters that we've ever seen.
I know, 2.5 issues in, it's really hard to say that. But now coming to an understanding of what's constituting the "Secret Wars," the levels of the factions involved, the fact that it's Doom, because of course it's Doom (Secret Wars might make an interesting contrast to Waid and Kitson's Empire at this point. Fodder for a later date.)
But what about the countdown to the event itself? Much like the build to his climactic Fantastic Four story, things start off a bit slowly in this run of issues. It's 8 months later, so we have to play catch up a bit. But once the lay of the land has been established, once the players have been outlined, things kick into a particularly high gear. I'm sure one day I'll go back and re-read all these again, when I've a bit more time, but the overwhelming sense I took away from the countdown was of futility, of a group of characters who have never faced something that they couldn't stop facing something that they cannot stop. There's a particularly beautiful moment just at the end of the last run (the "Detours) in New Avengers where the Illuminati basically just walk away and decide that they can't stop the end of the world, so they should accept it. Then the Cabal happens, of course, and things get bad.
I will admit that the thing that saddens me is the rift between Captain American and Iron Man. I have loved their relationship in the Avengers comics for a long time. They represent, for me, the two poles around which the team vacillates, and when that vacillation is harmonious, we see the pantheonic inflection on the Avengers that reflects that same sort of mythic state as the JLA. But when acrimonious, things fall apart quickly. I'll be interested to see how these characters are taken up in Secret Wars.
So that's done. I highly recommend, if you haven't read them, reading all of Hickman's run on the Avengers titles. Actually, all of his Marvel output has been stellar thus far. Secret Wars is two and a half issues in (you did get the Free Comic Book Day prologue, right?), and it's really, really good so far.
I guess I'll see you further on up the road. I'm sure the Secret Wars will give us all a lot to talk about.