What’s crazier than a book of writer Jonathan Hickman’s sprawling Avengers saga reaching its conclusion? Dropping both parts of the finale on the same day! Although not exact bookends, it’s difficult to discuss one without the other.
Coming in at a combined total of sixty-eight pages, the reading experience is a non-stop rollercoaster- and not necessarily all in a good way. Highs and lows take all different shapes but if there’s a consistent ingredient in the herky-jerky, it’s Hickman.
Even wrapping as well as he can, there’s still a tremendous amount of open-ended “tune in next week” serialization. It seems reconciling the finality of the Avengers as the lead-in to next week’s big Secret Wars event is kind of an unenviable task. Unable to break from the perpetual long-game build, for every light-of-day reveal there’s still a cloud of “huh?” seeding future explanation.
Taken at immediate face value, it translates as a surprisingly frequent chain of hiccups for the writer. To his credit and despite the enormity of the scope he’s laid out, Hickman successfully keeps a tight character focus. However, the proceedings can’t shake the “finals cram” vibe. True to effect, there’s a bit of slop around the edges as is the byproduct of mass-output.
In that respect,the New Avengers issue suffers more. Not only is there outright narrative murkiness but it seems to extend to a disconnect with artist Mike Deodato. Turning in thirty-one compositionally glorious pages, Deo is technically in the clear. The pictures are pretty (if your idea of “pretty” is a Doctor Doom-centric sci-fi murder epic)- no one is contesting that. However, the significance of what you are looking at in conjunction with the words you are attempting to process is at times brainfreeze-inducing.
There’s also a slight bobble with a Molecule Man/Doom dialogue box but otherwise, color artist Frank Martin is the secret glue throughout. Tying together much of the run and indeed the final three artists (Deodato plus Kev Walker and Stefano Caselli splitting chapters on Avengers), Martin’s surely earned the unique title of “Cinematographer of the Apocalypse”. Warmth and vibrancy, cold and foreboding- all of arc’s leading tones represent and balance out like comforting old friends.
It’s not all “did you suddenly forget how to write, Hickman?” as a lot of the dialogue connects, specifically a bevy of unrelated one-liners from the Ultimate Universe portion. Whether it’s General Fury’s wry “no time for this yet I’ll quarterback” attitude, Agent Barton’s curt and flip sarcasm (no real difference there) or crazy house-guest Maximus The Mad’s dented-yet-saying-what-everyone’s-thinking deadpan candor, Hickman punches out spurts of something almost broaching light-hearted zing (again, if your definition of “light-hearted zing” is rallying the troops for a suicide mission, then yeah, warm fuzzies all around…).
However, the real teeth unleashes in a terse Oval Office scene involving Black Panther and and a very Obama-esque Marvel Universe US President. The exchange is not pleasant but there is poetic karma in its unfolding with no comfort whatsoever. Let’s just say it sucks being right sometimes…
No discussion of the offerings’ dialogue would be complete without examination of the origin story/flashback duality that is Doom and crazypants Molecule Man. It is indeed both blessing and curse but in an issue jammed to the gills with high-handed metaphysical rhetoric, it’s hard to parse commentary and clues from run-of-the-mill egocentric “elevated speech”. Granted, Doom does not know the meaning of “dumb it down” but as the main narrator of the final issue, it’s insufficient concrete grounding.
Hickman’s turn at “retconning” Molecule Man is also particularly noteworthy. Like nearly every writer before him, Hickman heads straight into explaining Owen Reece’s near-ominipotent powerset but to his credit flips paradigms and creates an out for all historical contradictions. It’s also an added nice touch utilizing story devices already on the board in diving into the initial Incursion’s whys and wherefores instead of introducing some other all-new thing at 11:59.
For anyone inclined to cry out “really?” during any of the proceedings, do not worry- your frustrations are noted. Moreso, they are conveyed most viscerally by Captains America and Universe. Her long overdue update appearance may play like a surreally-framed dream sequence, but Cap U touches off a righteous indignation in Old Man Rogers that catches like wildfire! Symbolism and speech-making gets pretty thick but Hickman does a pretty good job of bringing his seventy-seven issue tome full circle, returning to the polarity of the two-man nucleus.
In the end, costs are counted and prices are paid- and not just for the characters involved. Although just as collectively gargantuan as the recently released Deadpool #250, you will throw down just as much coin for less actual material.
The main difference, though, is the emotional gravitas- understandably more difficult to price-tag. Yes, the Avengers and Illuminati are now both functionally done as institutions and it seems they were, in fact, heading here no matter what. However, the story is far from over. As such, it’s difficult to quantify the twin conclusion of the volumes as a definitive end but more a long and reductive process of getting everything boiled down to two philosophical questions:
- Why keep secrets, offer false hope and lie in the face of a terminal situation?
- What is better about one all-powerful force destroying all of creation over another?
The answer to these actually harkens back to a mantra from Hickman’s earlier Fantastic Four work: “All hope lies in Doom”. Long-time readers can take comfort in that. If either of these stories are someone’s first-ever Marvel comic, they’re a pretty unforgiving read. However, if you’ve been invested, you won’t stop now but the immediate reward’s really down to what you’re willing to make of it. Beyond that, hyperbole does not lie- there is now “only Secret Wars”…
Avengers #44 CBH Score: 4.3 out of 5
New Avengers #33 CBH Score: 3.9 out of 5