In this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics!
— Homer Simpson
Drew: Conservation of both matter and energy are such fundamental concepts, we sometimes take them for granted. Or misunderstand them completely. Folks may choose to ignore the water cycle or how they keep gaining weight, but we’re generally pretty keen to the notion that systems have inputs and outputs. Of course, fiction allows us to break these rules, leading to notions of perpetual motion and unlimited energy — but what if we took those for granted, too? What if the boundless energy of an alien race of children distracted us from the fact that they don’t eat? What do you do when your kids start violating the laws of thermodynamics? In Avengers 13, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer explore this idea, throwing in a bad guy for good measure.
The Avengers are having a hard time picking up the trail of the zebra kids, who were abducted at the end of issue 12. They eventually find their way to the High Evolutionary, who has already loaded the kids into some kind of giant machine. Hyperion heads off to save the kids, while Thor et al. battle the High Evolutionary’s monsters and a giant robot. Turns out, H.E. is using the kids to power said robot, what with them being unlimited power supplies and all, and Hyperion manages to scoop them out of the robot before Thor destroys it. The two gods then share a drink and talk abstractly about fatherhood.
That last scene is really the point of the issue, as Thor warns Hyperion about how loved ones can be (and often are) leveraged against superheroes. Hyperion counters that he now has something worth fighting for, and then the Full House “tender scene” music starts and they all hug. Okay, that scene might be a little cornball for me, but it’s a good character moment for Hyperion, and an interesting enough twist on a kind of tired premise. We’ve referred to Hyperion as a generic Superman clone, which I actually prefer to think of him as, but I can see how others might be disappointed that there’s not more to grab onto here.
Otherwise, the issue is as straightforward as it gets: children are in danger, Avengers save children. Hickman has set the bar high for insane concepts, and this issue kind of left me wanting. The only moment that aroused much more than a shrug was the arrival of Captain Universe, whose sudden hunger at the mention of the word “humble” is a fun callback to her love of pie.
Don’t get me wrong — perpetual motion kids are cool and all, but they are a total MacGuffin here. Hyperion just needed to care about something, and ultimately, this doesn’t even feel like an emotional journey for him. All of the Avengers are worried about those kids — he can’t really claim that as his own. Moreover, I guess I hadn’t registered his emotional detachment from Earth, so the fact that he now cares about it felt like a non-arrival to me. Instead, we learn about the problem after it’s solved, and I never really come around to caring.
I don’t know, Spencer. I really enjoyed the previous two issues, but this one suddenly felt like it was just marking time until Infinity. Am I missing something? You’ve been great at picking out this series’ themes from the individual issues, but this one feels pretty transparent. Did Hickman and Spencer hide the subtext somewhere, or what?
Spencer: You know, Drew, I actually enjoyed this issue quite a bit, but yeah, it was all rather straightforward. In the past I’ve complained about this series getting so hung-up on its own high concepts that it forgets about its main characters, but this issue does the exact opposite, abandoning the theme of evolution that has come to define Hickman’s run altogether. It still tells an enjoyable story that would be an excellent issue of pretty much any other Avengers title, but I admit, I did miss digging for the subtext a little.
In fact, the choice to move away from the evolution theme is a little jarring, if only because Part 1 of this story spent so much time speculating about the future of humanity and the role the Hatchlings would play in this future, and while this issue picks right up where Part 1 left off, it leaves this particular subject completely unresolved.
It also makes the High Evolutionary’s appearance come across as superfluous, which is an absolute shame. The Evolutionary’s backstory, goals, and methods are so in line with this series’ overriding themes that I had high hopes for his role in this issue, but it yielded little payoff. The Evolutionary goes on and on about what he could do with the Hatchlings’ power, but ultimately, he uses them to power a giant robot. Sure, it’s a robot that is designed to destroy entire worlds, but that seems to have little to do with the Evolutionary’s modus operandi. This feels like a generic “mad scientist” plot; if we swapped the Evolutionary out for, say, Dr. Doom or the Mad Thinker, would this plot change any? No, and that’s ultimately why this is a waste of a villain who could have contributed an exciting new perspective on what Ex Nihilo has done to the world.
Still, there’s a lot this issue did right; like I said, I did enjoy it quite a bit despite its flaws. Mike Deodato continues to contribute strong, exciting artwork, and this issue finally gives him a chance to draw some real knock-down, drag-out brawls.
Deodato (and colorist Frank Martin) make the main action of this page pop, but use the smaller, angled panels to establish the sense of chaos and confusion Terminus’ sneak attack has caused. Deodato handles the other action scenes with similar aplomb; can we just keep him on this title forever, please?
I also enjoyed the character interaction in this issue. Backing away from the more lofty ideas of this title opens up space for the characters’ personalities to just bounce off each other a little; the scene where Hawkeye, Spider-Woman, and Spider-Man search for the Hatchlings is especially fun, but just like last month, the real highlight is Thor:
I am absolutely in love with the way Hickman writes Thor, and as an extension, also with the epic bromance he’s established between Thor and Hyperion. These two have such an easygoing rapport, connecting with each other because of concepts none of the other Avengers can even fathom, and it’s a joy to just watch them have a simple conversation.
But you’re right, Drew: Hyperion’s revelations in the final scene are the point of this issue, and as a whole, it probably won’t work for you unless you can connect with Hyperion here. I think Hickman has given us just enough information over the course of this series to allow us to understand Hyperion’s connection with the Hatchlings, but you have to read in-between the lines a little.
Way back in Issue 4, Hyperion is the one to first find the Hatchlings, is there when they hatch, and claims them then and there. Over the last two issues, Hyperion is the one who seems most concerned with these children on a personal level; Iron Man and Captain Universe are concerned with how they’ll integrate into society, Hawkeye views them as an assignment, and Otto regards them with disdain, but Hyperion views them as his children, and more importantly, they view Hyperion as their father.
It’s touching stuff, and it helps that much of it involves adorable little zebra androgynoids, but there’s a lot of telling and not much showing going on here. It’s up to us as readers to fill-in the blanks and make an emotional connection to this parent-child relationship, and while I had no trouble doing this, I can completely understand why some might have had trouble latching onto a relationship that largely plays out off-screen.
Hyperion’s other revelation is a little clearer, though. Drew, I don’t think that Hyperion was emotionally detached from Earth and is only now learning to care about it. I had a different read entirely.
Hyperion was a character whose every waking moment was defined by his greatest tragedy, but who has slowly come to realize that he’s moved on, that his defining moment is now a triumph, a new world and new friends and a new family. This is ultimately the story of someone who has recovered from a great tragedy and found a reason to open up to the world again, and I find that inspiring.
Ultimately, dropping the theme of evolution mid-storyline was probably a misstep, and it affected this issue’s quality some. Still, there’s lots of good stuff in here, and while none of it is exactly revolutionary, that’s not always a bad thing. Building up the characters and their world and relationships makes us care more, thus raising the stakes as we head into Infinity. I can’t wait to see what it brings.
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?