Following a series of increasingly intense issues, Jonathan Hickman’s latest somehow elevates the phrase “we’re boned” to an unparalleled height. Framed largely as a sequence of flashbacks, “Beyonders” is an unrelenting twenty page tale of woe. Latter-day Illuminati members Yellowjacket and Captain Britain take the lead, in turn conveying to the Avengers that the ongoing Multiversal collapse is a terminal problem on the most macro of levels. In short, confirming that even if the heroes somehow triumph, there’s no going back. As in: there will be nothing to go back to. Their ticket is punched, one-way and irreversibly.
Needless to say, weighing the severity of the diagnosis and taking all of the heady existentialism and astrophysics gobbledygook into account, this issue warrants several re-reads. One alone just to parse through all of Hank Pym’s crazy- which, as narrative lead, is present in copious amounts. A character who hasn’t really hit the radar since Hickman took over the franchise, it seems like Pym’s been held in reserve just for this occasion- the fractured deep space probe that irretrievably looks into the mouth of madness.
In fact, this speaks greatly to Hickman’s long game as there are heavy allusions to subplots laid out prior to 2013’s Infinity event series coming to fruition with Yellowjacket’s current inclusion. Dazed-and-confused Pym is actually the perfect mouthpiece for Hickman, blurring the line between techno-babble dialogue intentionally incomprehensible to other characters and cold, detached analytical meta commentary geared specifically for the fourth wall. The designation between the much-maligned jheri-curled Beyonder of classic 1980s Secret Wars infamy and the even-older yet once-more-relevant Beyonders of Mark Gruenwald’s Marvel Two-In-One notoriety is a particularly noteworthy, if not slightly humorous, passage.
As inoperably forward-facing as Hickman’s story is, this installment is not without moments that would do fans of Bronze and Copper Age Marvel proud. On one level, the script functions quite well at itching one old school scratch: the exposition round-the-horn. Once a matter of usual course, long gone are the days where one hero would regale his or her cohorts with an involved multi-page recounting only to have it corroborated and bolstered by another in attendance.
Sometimes unlikely second-hand recollections would facilitate these “comics talking about comics” with disbelief suspended that Johnny Storm just happens to speak expertly about an adventure the West Coast Avengers had “months ago” thanks to some quick reading in the shared computer files. There aren’t any old comics to reference in editorial footnotes this time around but with such “deep in the bench” attention given to one and two-panel background characters, the flavor is definitely in the air.
The bittersweet combination of nostalgic Easter-eggery and utter obliteration begins at the cover. It is only fitting that Captain Britain Corps co-creator Alan Davis should illustrate their achingly devastating fall with Captain UK Linda McQuillan, Hauptmann Englande and Spider-Verse’s Spider-UK prominent among the casualties. Getting Davis and regular inking partner Mark Farmer to do the corresponding Captain Britain interior page would have been the ultimate fan treat. As a consideration to the legendary penciler, maybe then there would be a little more clarity as to what’s up with Braddock’s eye.As it is, there is some ambiguity.
Acting as a surprise last minute sub, artist Dalibor Talajic is hit and miss across the issue. In this particular case, there’s visual clarity but it causes a bit of narrative disconnect, distractingly suggesting something not outright addressed in Hickman’s script. A journeyman talent with many mid-tier credits, Talajic’s first A-list foray leaves a bit to be desired. There are visual inconsistencies of characters throughout to say nothing of a troubling lack of distinction differentiating various robotic and body-armored factions engaging in a fight scene.
Some of the art difficulties may also stem from pairing Talajic with inker Rick Magyar, whose thick heavy-handedness plays against the pencils more often than it compliments. Regular color artist Frank Martin also underperforms in this chapter, at one point depicting Sunspot as the absent Cannonball. The art team does pull it together in spots, though. There is one full-page splash that will either delight the most hardcore of Marvel Cosmic fans or make them hurl curses skyward like none other. The same goes for fans of dinosaurs wearing business suits but in this instance, it’s more of a “why just this one tiny panel?” complaint.
Jonathan Hickman isn’t being shy that he’s picking up pieces and calling in markers readying for the upcoming Secret Wars. With preliminaries already announced regarding the creation of a new reality mash-up Battleworld, the actual mechanics put in place to that end reduce the Marvel Universe to the ultimate game of Katamari Damacy. This issue is absolute (though brutal) testimony to the analogy. In light of this video game comparison, perhaps the best outlook would be a paraphrase Stanley Kubrick so that the Avengers should stop worrying and learn to love the “clump soul”…