Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing New Avengers 8, originally released July 24th, 2013.
Patrick: “What have you done?” This phrase appears a couple times throughout the issue. It’s a fantastically loaded question, both accusatory and sincerely seeking an answer. With so many balls in the air, and so many mysteriously motivated characters, I find myself asking the same question of our heroes. But rather than being motivated by anger or desperation or any emotion whatsoever, I’m asking for clarification. “Hey, Tony,” I ask, hands sheepishly in my pockets, “what did you do?”
The Illuminati gots problems. Writer Johnathan Hickman is surprisingly cagey about what those problems are until this issue’s final reveal, at which point he lets us know that their real problem is something else, entirely unrelated to the the problems that occupied the previous 15 pages (and the 7 issues before that). But maybe that’s for the best. I’ll be honest: I don’t know what half of these characters are trying to accomplish, and even when I do, I can’t figure out why they’re acting the way they’re acting. Perhaps this is the point – we can’t possibly track the ambitions, goals and methods of the most brilliant minds in the Marvel Universe.
The issue starts with Reed Richards and Tony Stark convening on Earth for the first time in a long while. Tony mentions that the rest of the Avengers have gone into space to deal with some threat, but Tony has volunteered to stay behind in case they fail in their mission. But Tony’s real reason for staying behind is he believes that “everything is breaking down.” The two super geniuses discuss this in cryptic terms, and then discuss the solution in even crypticer terms. While they’re off having whatever fun adventure, we check in on the various supernatural kingdoms at play in this series. Black Bolt takes a tour of some dimension that will allow him to conduct completely secret meetings and then has a conversation with his wife, Medusa, about choosing the real world over their shared psychic reality. But then it’s over to Wakanda, where Namor is making a nondescript deal with Black Swan. That deal gets cut short when T’challa walks in to inform his friend that, despite his best efforts, their countries are at war. Namor appropriately freaks out and heads home to heal his kingdom. And then just as Reed and Tony make it back to Stark headquarters — having apparently recruited someone to solve their aforementioned “everything is breaking down” problem — a fleet of spaceships invade Earth.
Oh and just so we don’t forget about them, we see the aliens marching on Beast and Doctor Strange’s respective homes.
If I sound a little frustrated, it’s because I am. Hickman asks a lot of intellectual investment of his readers — the first 6 issues of this series set up such an elaborate threat against Earth, and you need every single page to simply grapple with the mechanics of what’s happening and what the ramifications of failure would be. I obviously can’t say for certain, but it sure seems like Reed and Tony found someone else to take care of the whole “incursion” issue for them, conveniently freeing them up to fight the aliens they didn’t even know were on the way. I’ve always read that a good ending should be both surprising and inevitable: you want to catch your audience off guard, but you also want them to say that they “should have seen that coming.” It’s alchemy, for sure, so you can’t be too upset when it doesn’t happen perfectly every time. But the ending of this issue is tangential to everything that happens within — an odd non sequitur to both the incursions and this side war between Wakanda and Atlantis.
Perhaps it’s my fault for projecting “ending” expectations on an issue clearly labeled as “Prologue.” Together, this issue and the previous have accomplished two things: 1) establishing that for whatever reason (possibly no reason), the incursions are currently not a problem; and 2) established that while all the Illuminati are on Earth, they’re not all on the best terms. Still, sorta seems like Hickman somehow interrupted his own series with his own crossover.
But even putting my expectations aside, there are so many gigantic question marks in this issue. Like there’s a page of “explanation” of what Tony’s been up to in deep space.
Unless Nova lied to me, that’s not deep space, it’s the moon. The dude with the giant head is The Watcher, and he vaguely mentored kid-Nova for a few issues. The identity of that third guy is beyond me. Should I recognize him? Is that a Marvel Big Bad that I should know? Or maybe I’m missing out from not reading Iron Man? I can raise the same question about the aliens that march on our heroes in the final pages. Marvel’s trailer to infinity suggests that they’re fighting the “Thanos’ Black Order,” but fuck if I would have known that from this introduction. And each of these Black Order characters is given such a specific design as to make me think I should know them from elsewhere, but hey: I don’t.
So, Drew, now that we’ve read five-sixths of this Prologue to Infinity, do you feel appropriately teased? Or are you starting to feel like we’re reading shaggy dog stories that end in an alien invasion? And just what the fuck was Maximus up to? I have no concept of why he would need access to a super secret silent dimension. Hasn’t he heard of the Cone of Silence?
Drew: It’s interesting: last week saw me chiding Avengers 16 for treading water, but this issue seems more interested in convincing me that drowning was never the problem, anyway. It’s exceptionally strange to pull a bait-and-switch after working so hard to develop the bait, but that is exactly what this issue does. This series has done such a beautiful job capturing just how wearying a never-ending parade of world-ending events can be, it’s been easy to read it as representative of the experience of reading big events in comics. It’s kind of clever, then, that Hickman can so blithely swap one world-ending cataclysm out for another, or that the prospect of the universe ending is so routine that our heroes can just put it on the back burner for a while. That last one also implies a toothier dig at the absurd size of crossover events — I still have no idea what the thereat of Infinity will be, but I know that whatever it is takes priority over saving the universe.
Taking those as jokes may be a willful misreading on my part — the tone otherwise is distinctly serious — but everything is too over-the-top. The Watcher is always goofy, Reed and Tony’s meeting is crypticness ad absurdum, and I love that Wolverine only shows up to go “Snikt! Snikt!”
There’s a lot of big, dumb comic stuff going on here, but it’s the right big, dumb comic stuff. It rides the line between fan service and mocking fan service, which is a great way to kick off Marvel’s big summer event.
Mike Deodato’s art is a perfect match for this line-riding tone. Deodato’s deft ink work is gorgeous, but pointedly “serious.” The art plays everything perfectly straight — and brings reality to the absurd concepts Hickman calls for, from trans-dimensional portals to underwater Pietàs.
It never matters how absurd the idea, Deodato renders it with a hefty reality, which ultimately draws our attention to the absurdities of the ideas. It’s a fun cycle, and is a perfect match for the tone here.
Back on the subtler side, I actually really enjoyed the Black Bolt/Medusa scene. Their shared psychic reality is a beautiful symbol of their relationship, and Bolt’s choice between “complete honesty and loss of this place or denying us this place and maintaining the memory of it” effectively distills my attitude about every break-up I’ve ever had. Ultimately, I think Medusa’s insistence that they are one or they are nothing just drives this point home. Do you let a dying relationship linger until you can’t remember what was good about it, or do you end it to preserve that memory? I’m not entirely sure what happens as that scene ends — did Black Bolt just destroy their reality? — but that ambiguity works perfectly for the scene.
This issue worked for me much more than any of the other ostensibly “prelude” issues — it clearly focused more on tying up loose ends than it did setting anything up, but it did so with just enough of a wink for it to kind of count as setup. To me, the never-ending cycle of universe-threatening problems makes the question less “what have you done?” and more “what have you done?” Infinity may prove to simply be the “same shit, different day” for our heroes, but that’s such a unique attitude in comics, I’m willing to forgive the conceit for calling attention to itself. I’m not sure Infinity itself will be nearly as self-aware, but I would love it if it was.
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