Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing New Avengers 6, originally released May 29th, 2013.
Patrick: My favorite game in the Resident Evil series is the 2002 Game Cube remake of the original. There were a lot of ways that it improved on the quality of the first game, while finding inventive new ways to escalate that feeling that everything could fall apart at a moment’s notice. The most startling addition to the game was that any zombie that hadn’t been properly decapitated (or burned) could re-rise from the dead and attack you as some kind of super-zombie. The in-game written materials speak of this in vagaries, but you’re largely left to discover this new gameplay mechanic by experiencing it first hand — usually while screaming that you hadn’t saved in over an hour. But that moment when you’re walking through a room you cleared out 20 minutes earlier and you’re set upon by an enemy you can’t easily defeat is one of the most effective expressions of horror in video games. Just when the Illuminati seem to have figured out how to defend themselves against a collision of parallel Earths, the threat is immediately revealed to be well beyond what any of them understand, so why do they all look so relieved?
Hey, that’s right, we’re covering New Avengers now. Traditionally, we’d do a 1-6 to get things started, but I kinda wanted to focus a little bit more on issue 6 specifically. We will — no doubt — be discussing the first five issues a little bit here, so please forgive the ever-so-slightly rambling nature of the post.
The smartest superheroes in the Marvel Universe have teamed up to defend the planet Earth against “incursions.” Five-issues-of-exposition-made-short: Incursions are what happens when parallel universes come into contact with each other. Earth — being the center of goddamn everything — is always the connection point, and when the two worlds come within range of each other, one is destroyed while the other survives — a fate which extends to the Earths’ respective universes. So, saying that the stakes are high is kind of an understatement: every single one of these things means the end of a universe.
And that’s what’s got our heroes in such a tizzy right now — using the guidance and technology of a woman they encountered during a previous incursion known as Black Swan, they have a world-destroying explosive at their disposal. It’s kill or be killed, and they don’t like either of those options. Fortunately / unfortunately, the blue sky that accompanies the most recent incursion over Latveria heralds the arrival of world-marauding dimension-hoppers known as the Mapmakers. The Mapmakers are old pros to this incursion business, and they make a life out of encountering new Earths, draining them of their resources and destroying their old world. Doctor Doom and his son Kristoff Vernard (he better take on the name Kid Doom), do an admirable job fighting off the Mapmakers while Black Panther et. al use their device to save their own world.
This is another in a series of issues that seem like they’re going to be able heroes making a hard choice, but we’re ultimately left with our heroes’ hands forced in one way or another. This is something writer Jonathan Hickman does: he takes characters that already love and moves them dispassionately around his impossibly intricate game board. And that’s not to suggest that he doesn’t understand the characters, or even that he neglects to express them very well, but the end-game is always to keep the plot climbing to greater and greater heights. And this specific instance is an important step for our heroes: it’s the very first time that they have to destroy another world and they get a free pass. Of course they’re going to be okay nuking a world that’s maliciously out to get them. It’s a weird kind of collective character development, and Black Swan is quick to draw our attention to it.
I’m curious as to how other readers react to this development. These are some pragmatic motherfuckers, and we’ve seen most of them make amoral (possibly immoral) decisions to achieve their goals — both Reed and Beast are currently staring in series where they put stability of the space-time continuum in jeopardy. But now they’re basically acting like supervillains to parallel universes. At first, I thought this was the manipulative puzzle-boxing of Hickman’s writing, but it’s also becoming clear that Black Swan is pulling their strings pretty hard.
I suspect that your mileage on this series depends greatly on how much you can get behind Black Swan. She seemingly knows everything. It’s possible that she’s even controlling everything. Like, is it convenient storytelling that this incursion involved a morally killable world or did she engineer this somehow?
I usually really like reading the interactions of the smartest minds in the Marvel Universe. All their supergeniuses are superheroes! There’s not much room here for the smarty-pantses to bounce dialogue off each other. Still, Beast gets in one hilariously stale expression of affection in between dense clouds of exposition.
Drew, this is the first time we’ve touched base about this series. It can be tricky to see where this thing is going, and I frequently feel like I need to import my empathy for these characters from other series. From that perspective, it’s and interesting science fiction story with superheroes at the middle of it. But am I doing myself a disservice by meeting Hickman halfway on this? Or maybe he’s writing this kind of world-smashing parallel-dimension opera with these characters precisely because he knows we’re already happy just to spend time with these characters? Also, I haven’t mentioned the art, which is quietly consistent if sort of unremarkable. No, wait, I take that back: I almost can’t believe how respectfully a woman dressed like Black Swan is drawn throughout this series — nary a gratuitous tit or ass shot to be found! High praise, indeed.
Drew: I think there’s more to praise of Steve Epting’s art here than just his disinterest in cheesecake. Patrick already pointed out that great Beast deadpan, which I think only comes across because of Epting’s restraint. I actually got a similar chuckle out of that other exchange you posted, Patrick — where Black Swan expresses pride, and our heroes realize just how ashamed of themselves they are. I see what you mean about it being unremarkable — it’s so highly polished as to feel almost featureless — but I think that dry detachment is one of Epting’s biggest strengths. Indeed, its a perfect match for the dispassionate tone you described in Hickman’s writing.
That is to say, I totally agree with you that Hickman doesn’t do much to create empathy here, but this isn’t that kind of comic. We often love those honest, character driven stories, but superheroes are also great at representing abstract ideals (obviously, these aren’t mutually exclusive, but sometimes writers favor one at the expense of the other). This is a classic example of the latter category — we already know who these characters are and what they represent, so Hickman is more interested in exploring how they deal with this situation.
The best example comes from earlier in the run, where Captain America draws a hard line at destroying another Earth. The rest of the group eventually decides that they need every option on the table more than they need a strong moral compass, and boot Cap from the conversation, but his ideals have hung over their every move since. In fact, they cast a pall on the proceedings even when they don’t fit. The incursion of this issue features an Earth that we’re told several times is entirely dead, so why is there all of this hand-wringing about destroying it?
I mean, okay, I get that they’re somehow also destroying the entire universe associated with that other Earth — one that presumably has all kinds of alien species — but that’s such an abstract an arbitrary idea that I kind of choose to forget it. You destroy the Earth, you destroy the universe? I mean, I get that the Earth is where we leave, but are we really so egotistical to call it the center of the universe? When Reed was explaining this whole incursion business, he made a point of saying that the universe was here before Earth, and will continue to exist after Earth…so it seems like destroying an Earth shouldn’t literally be the end of the universe. All that is to say, I’m much more interested in the implications of destroying an Earth than I am of destroying it’s respective universe.
At any rate, Hickman’s abstract approach works beautifully for our heroes, but makes Black Swan a total cipher. We don’t know if we can trust what she tells us about her past, so we can’t really trust her motives. Moreover, the end of the issue reveals that she might have her own plans, involving one of Thanos’ minions (who was apprehended for basically just wanting to watch an Earth get destroyed at the previous incursion. That gets us back to whatever we think Infinity might turn out to be, but it almost certainly has something to do with the Infinity Gauntlet, which Cap accidentally destroyed trying to prevent an incursion. Actually, every individual gem shattered, except for the time gem, which disappeared. I don’t really know what that means (the team has also mentioned that there must be other infinity gems on these other Earths), but I can see the through-line to Infinity a lot more clearly than I can over on Avengers.
This is a fascinating series — every issue, the cast will very likely have to make a decision where billions of lives hang in the balance. It deals with big ideas, couched in even bigger conflicts, but I love that stuff. I can see how it might come off as cold, but I can’t get enough of the moral ramifications of protecting the planet. Oh! And I forgot to postulate on the ending of this issue, where we learn that Dr. Doom has a piece of the Earth the Avengers just blew up — something that can sere as a homing beacon of sorts for the Mapmakers. I’ll leave it to the comments to guess what might happen with that.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?