Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Avengers 18, originally released August 21st, 2013. This issue is part of the Infinity crossover event. Click here for complete Infinity coverage.
Spencer: I’m not a huge fan of the genre, so this might be a complete oversimplification, but in my mind most war stories seem to be divided into two categories: the stories that are about glory, honor, and the beauty of warfare (which I’m not fond of), and the stories about the people who sacrifice themselves to protect others (which I appreciate more). Avengers 18, an Infinity tie-in, takes the form of a war story as the team joins a massive Anti-Builder Armada, and while it largely falls into that second category, a few early scenes even manage to make aspects of the first compelling to me.
On Nomad, an Assembly of War has formed. Representatives from thousands of worlds—including the Skrulls, the Kree, the Shi’ar, the Spartax Empire, the Brood, and of course, the Avengers—have gathered together to find a way to defeat the Builders. Thanks to the sacrifice of Skrull Warlord Dm’yr several days prior, the Assembly is able to create a sneak attack tactic that seems certain to succeed. It does, at first, until the Builders reveal that they knew the plan all along, and decloak dozens of their ships. The Assembly is forced to retreat, and while Manifold manages to teleport away one of the Avengers’ Quincruisers, the second malfunctions and is now being sucked into a black hole!
Infinity 1 was all about building up the threats of Thanos and the Builders, and this issue takes little time reminding us of how dire the situation is; it takes the sacrifice of a Skrull armada and a sneak attack and AN EXPLODING SUN to take out just a handful of the Builders, and taking them on in an open assault is tantamount to suicide. This, of course, leads to the Assembly of War, and to an Avengers storyline that has transformed into a war story through and through. It’s much less contemplative than previous issues of this title, but after a Prelude that was more than a little hard to follow, a straightforward battle in space (a…space war? No, that’s not right…) is a welcome change of pace.
The Avengers and their allies battle to defend all their worlds from sure destruction, and that makes for a war story that falls squarely into the second category I mentioned in the introduction, a story about sacrifice and people fighting to protect others, and that’s an element I appreciate in any war story. Dm’yr’s sacrifice was especially touching—more on that later—but I also loved the fact that all these disparate factions are working together despite their numerous issues. The Skrull and the Kree are archenemies, The Brood are generally a very hostile race (reluctant Valkyries notwithstanding), J-son of Spartax is kind of a jerk, and almost all of these races have invaded Earth at one time or another; some of these conflicts even hit home on a much more personal level:
Spider-Woman was kidnapped and replaced by Skrulls for a while a few years back, and is obviously still holding a (totally understandable) grudge, but like the other parties present, she’s able to put her grudge aside for the sake of the greater good. While I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these races eventually turns on their allies (as is known to happen in these kind of situations), I really hope they don’t; there’s something not only inspiring, but also incredibly fun about this massive outer space team-up.
In the introduction, I also mentioned a kind of war story I’m not usually fond of. Tales portraying warfare and killing as beautiful and deserving of glory really grind my gears; in many ways that’s the ideology the Skrulls live by, yet I wasn’t bothered by their prelude. Maybe it’s because they’re not human, or more likely, maybe it’s because the Skrulls have fallen so far and have been forced to show a little humility, but there’s something compelling about Dm’yr’s last stand.
Yeah, Dm’yr is one of those guys who wants to go out in a blaze of glory in battle, but he also chooses to meet his end as bait to afford his fellow Skrulls a chance to formulate a new plan. He absolutely deserves the brief, anonymous eulogy Kl’rt gives him, the tribute to a Skrull that refused to bow to anyone, but who also turned that pride into an asset.
Despite the massive intergalactic war story, writer Jonathan Hickman still takes the time to highlight the Avengers himself (as he should, since they are ostensibly the stars of the book). There’s been a prominent but unspoken trend in recent issues of Captain Marvel stepping up as second-in-command of the team; not only does Carol deserve the honor, but nobody even questions it, and that’s fantastic. I also loved Bruce’s cynicism, more motivational speeches from Shang-Chi, Falcon’s crazy new space armor (I guess that isn’t technically a character moment but it’s still cool!), and an adorable little scene with Cannonball, Sunspot, and Smasher that might just have a hint of darkness lurking beneath?
Am I misreading this, or might there just be a love triangle a’brewin’ between these three?! As much as I love the idea of any of these pairings ending up together, it almost pains me to think of anything coming between Sam and Bobby. Bromance on the rocks, anyone?
So Drew, we haven’t had the chance to talk about Infinity yet—are you feeling its dual threats and the massive space opera it’s spawned for the Avengers? Do you appreciate the change of pace its war story has brought, or would you prefer to stick to the Evolution Bomb plots? And just what does it take to get Spider-Woman to share her snacks, anyway?
Drew: Well, if her snacks are at all related to her spider- heme, they very well could be paralyzed bugs, or even the bodies of former mates, so Bobby probably doesn’t want some, anyway.
Honestly, I loved the change of pace here. My favorite issue of this run is still issue 11, which was a similarly out-of-character genre installment. This may just be my Community fandom creeping in, but I would love to see this series vary its style more issue-to-issue. It would give each installment a bit more to remember it by, and I think that kind of shifting background actually helps define the characters a bit more. It would allow us to see them in a different light than the at-times-too-serious tone this series lives in. There’s no doubt in my mind that Hickman has the chops to pull something like that off, though it would probably slow the master-plotting down even more, if such a thing were possible.
Of course, the annihilation of everything in the universe is pretty serious, so I won’t really begrudge penciller Leinil Francis Yu all of the scowls here. Still, the latter half of the issue — where the scowling takes a backseat to actual action — is when this event finally kicks into high gear for me.
Yu provides several equally awe-inspiring wide shots throughout the battle, emphasizing the massive scope of this battle. It’s incredibly effective, but forces Hickman to explain exactly what we’re seeing, having Gladiator and the Shi’ar Imperial Guard basically narrate the battle in real-time. It’s actually an elegant solution, but it draws our attention to just how far our focus is from the Avengers — basically all of the character moments Spencer mentioned happen before the battle begins.
But how about that battle? I think we can all put aside the lack of character focus for that kind of epic action, right? The builder scouts may have taken the bait with the Skrulls, but they throw that strategy right back in the galactic army’s face here, tricking the armada into an open battle they’re hopelessly outgunned for. It’s basically the Emperor’s plan from Return of the Jedi, with its own heart-sinking “fully armed and operational battle station” moment.
So…what do we make of the second quincruiser going into the black hole? It seems like there’s no coming back from that, right? Like, it’s not like Manifold could conceivably teleport into a black hole, pick only the atoms he wants to take out, and hope that they re-expand (and jump back to life) when they teleport away. I’m kind of hoping Hickman is building towards a Hulk vs. black hole battle, which seems like the ultimate (and appropriately Hickman-y) test of Hulk’s strength. We’ve tested basically everything else on Earth, so why not put him against a collapsed star? I have no idea how that would actually work, but I want to see it. My only other hope is that the the cruiser didn’t go into the singularity — we simply see it drifting towards it with the wreckage of one of the builder command vessels, and then both are gone. Perhaps the builder ship’s cloaking randomly turned on and hid both ships? It would be a cheap move, to be sure, but would save trying to explain getting several beloved characters (and a few more narratively important ones out of a black hole.
Honestly, this issue got me more pumped for this event than any of the prelude issues, or even Infinity itself has yet to do. Showing, rather than telling, go a long way towards explaining stakes that are so inconceivably high. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
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?