Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Avengers 16, originally released July 17th, 2013.
Drew: Infinity is an incredibly abstract concept. By its very definition, it is beyond comprehension. It is often treated — especially by children — as just a really big number, something you could multiply yesses by or supersede by adding one to. Infinity might simply be the next step in a logical progression, from hundreds to thousands to millions and so on, usually following shortly after “bazillion.” Adults are a little less prone to these misconceptions, but I can’t claim to have any true understanding of what it would mean for something to be infinite. That is, until I started reading the interminable prelude to Marvel’s Infinity event, which doesn’t feel “big” as much as it does “endless.”
This issue finds the Avengers battling the creature that escaped from the origin bomb location on A.I.M. island, and getting their asses readily handed to them. Meanwhile, Nightmask trains Starbrand in preparation of escaping jail. If that doesn’t sound like much: it isn’t. Sure, writers Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer offer a few throwaway pages to show Captain Universe warning Manifold, Bruce Banner hulking out at the S.H.I.E.L.D. observation station, and A.I.M. hatching a plan to retrieve their creature, but the bulk of the issue is given over to a big fat fight scene which is really only distinguishable from the previous few issues of fight scenes in that the Avengers don’t win this one.
I mentioned my “who are we fighting next?” fatigue with issue 15, so in the interest of not simply copying and pasting that review, I only want to add that the fight scenes are kind of boring. After the initial entrance, each page features one or more Avengers attacking and being knocked out by the creature. Anyone just looking for punch-em-ups would have long been discouraged from Hickman’s run, so it’s hard to see this fight scene as anything other than unnecessary padding.
With only one real event happening in each location, it’s difficult to not see much of this issue as padding. Banner turning into Hulk is a perfectly fine story beat, but I’m not sure why Hickman and Spencer opt to cut back to the scene later.
I guess this kind of sets up the cut to A.I.M. island, but since we just jump into this scene without any prep, I’m not sure that really explains anything. It feels a lot more like a page we just don’t need.
I could say the same thing about much of the Nightmask/Starbrand bits if I didn’t like them so much. Four pages is a lot to devote to what boils down to a training montage, but when the bits of training feature concepts like being able to watch hydrogen atoms fuse as the sun burns, or discovering the ability to detect all sentient life within a few miles, it’s hard to begrudge a few more examples. Starbrand is insanely powerful, and I absolutely love the idea that his demonstration of that power ends with him asserting that he isn’t yet ready to leave. He may be capable of incredible things, but he has yet to develop the confidence that goes along with those abilities. It’s an extremely Hickman-y idea, but is unfortunately the only real moment of interest in the issue.
At the end of the day, the Avengers lay defeated, but we haven’t seen everyone take their shots at this creature yet. A.I.M. seems to have a plan, but I’m way more interested in how this thing holds up against the Hulk. Otherwise, I’m just anxious to get this show on the road. What about you, Patrick? Am I underestimating the pleasures of seeing the Avengers thrown around like rag dolls, or did this issue feel a bit light to you? Do you have Starbrand’s patience, or do you just want to get things started already?
Patrick: No, I think “get started already” is about the speed I’m going at too. The panel that sort of exemplifies the repetitive nature of this issue is when Cap calls on his team, which is already all around him, and demands that they assemble. Even though, you know, there’s pretty well assembled at this point.
Even the broader strokes of this issue seem to be suggesting the same broad strokes from the very beginning of the series. Issue 1 started with Steve and Tony deciding that they should have a protocol in place for increasing the size of the team, and by issue’s end, Cap is putting that protocol into action to rescue the core Avengers. This issue finds Captain Universe sending Manifold back to Earth with two orders: 1) warn everyone and 2) make the Avengers even bigger. For all the abstract ideas about world-consciousness and expedited evolution and observing fusing hydrogen atoms, it seems the solution — as put forth by the living embodiment of the universe — is “throw more superheroes at it.”
I guess I wouldn’t have that much of a problem with that solution, but only if the heroes were all projecting their unique, compelling personalities during their non-stop-punch-fests. About half of the Avengers involved in the Perth Battle don’t say anything, and even those that do have almost interchangeable dialogue. There’s one page where Spider-Man, Cap, Thor and Wolverine each say one very quick thing before launching back into the fray, but there is nothing one of them would say that the others wouldn’t. There are no Asgardian declarations of War, no stuffy supervillain quips, not even a single “bub.”
I mean, I’m not even sure why we check in with each of these guys before the fighting just continues anyway. It’s starting to feel kinda tedious – which is a quality that I actually really like about New Avengers, where the Illuminati’s need to constantly be on Incursion Alert is supposed to be fatiguing.
Also, I’m a little confused about that robot creature that’s attacking them. I hadn’t put it together in the previous issue that this thing is the same monster that hatched from A.I.M.’s egg. Not at all the design I expected, especially considering the Avengers were just doing battle with bug creatures. Right? I’m not alone in thinking he should look more like a Xenomorph? There’s also this weird thing that it does over and over again as it fights our heroes: we catch glimpses of the robot running programs that determine its attack patterns or upgrade its software or evaluate its targets. It’s a rhetorical trick we saw Hickman use in the most recent issue of Manhattan Projects, only it was put to much more effective use in that title. In Manhattan Projects 12, the computational inner-monologue betrayed the struggle between a machine’s blood-thirsty programming and the friendship Drone Fermi had formed with Harry Daghlian. So every little blip of information from the Fermi Done was heartbreaking, whereas these blips of information from the… whatever it is… are essentially unusable.
But Starbrand and Nightmask are an interesting pairing, and I absolutely love that we don’t really have any indication where their loyalties lie. Presumably, they will defend the Earth against whatever threats come its way, but doesn’t that A.I.M. robot come from a similar source? Are they all on the same side? And does that mean that Cap et. al are going to have to fend off Starbrand and Nightmask too? Maybe they do need to get bigger.
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 DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?