Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing New Avengers 9, originally released August 28th, 2013. This issue is part of the Infinity crossover event. Click here for complete Infinity coverage.
Drew: The US is lucky to have never fought a modern war on its own soil. Wartime always divides our attention between the warfront and the home front. Of course, governing a country can be a handful even in peace, so one of these often gets put on the back-burner. During World War II, it seemed that the emphasis was on the war, with resources being reallocated such that almost every American was consciously aware of the war effort. It was this kind of attitude that made George Orwell see war as an effective means of controlling the populations of Oceania in 1984 — war acts as both an explanation for a shitty situation AND a rousing source of patriotism. More recently, however, it’s been the war front that people push to the back of their minds, at times all but forgetting we’ve been at war for over a decade. That very well could have been the attitude on Earth as the Avengers rode off to face the Builders, an abstract threat that no earthling has ever even seen (hell, it’s likely that the public doesn’t even know about the threat), but they sure start to feel it in New Avengers 9.
The issue opens as Thanos meets with his Black Order, insisting that they bring him the remaining infinity gem. Each Dreadlord tracks down a member of the Illuminati, and while none of them recover the gem, they meet with varying levels of success ruining shit. Black Panther successfully defends Wakanda; Namor sells out Wakanda in hopes of saving his own ass AND whupping T’challa’s; Dr. Strange is maybe holding up to torture; and the Jean Grey School has all but fallen (with Wolverine being taken out of the fight quickly). As the issue ends, Black Bolt has called the New Avengers to assemble, as Thanos descends upon Attilan.
Whew. It’s a fun issue, but between dense concepts like the Black Order, the Illuminati, Wakandan-Atlantean relations, etc., this thing is about as inside as it gets. If I had read that synopsis a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to make heads or tails of a single sentence. I’m kind of a sucker for impenetrability (assuming I’m in on it), but the specificity here is almost objectively impressive. The kind of years-in-the-making narrative — the kind you couldn’t shortcut to get the same effect — is something rather unique to the massive history that comics enjoy.
My philosophical enjoyment of this issue aside, it’s also just fun. Black Panther is the first of the Illuminati we see dealing with the Black Order, and that scene ends with him rushing into battle against Black Dwarf. The rest of the issue finds us checking in with the rest of the Illuminati, establishing just how formidable the Black Order is. Smash cut to Black Dwarf limping away from his fist-fight with T’challa.
Badass. The stat sheets on the Black Order makes it clear that Black Dwarf is actually the wimpiest of the group, but it’s still an impressive win for T’challa.
Then again, it may be an entirely pyrrhic victory — T’challa confesses that he is on his last legs after the fight, and this wasn’t going to be the last battle even before Namor sicced all of Titan’s resources on Wakanda. Namor may not yet understand that sending the Black Order to Wakanda is a bit like insisting the atomic bomb be detonated in the next room over, but the move falls out perfectly from the ever-escalating conflict between Atlantis and Wakanda, and seems appropriately underhanded. As ever, artist Mike Deodato sells every moment with his superb acting.
What a sniveling little shit. That overwhelming urge to punch him is a testament to just how well Deodato handles this scene.
The arrival of Thanos is certainly going to goose the tension, but I’m already at the edge of my seat about the T’challa/Namor stuff. The X-Men sequences seem like a total red herring — sure, impaling Wolverine is an impressive feat, but we all know he’s going to survive (maybe in time for a surprise attack). We’re led to think the Jean Grey School is in peril, but I’m all but certain that the Black Order will be sent packing when we pick up with them again.
I’m less certain of what’s going on with Doctor Strange. He looks to be doing magic stuff while the Ebony Maw caresses his head, but is he doing that stuff of his own free will? What exactly is the Ebony Maw doing to him? I don’t get it, and I’m hoping you can shed some light on that, Patrick.
Patrick: The phrases “What, exactly” and “Doctor Strange” are often lumped together in my questions about Marvel comics. Ebony Maw seems to know that the Time Gem is a lost cause, and he’s in search of the “tribute.” I must be missing some of the nuance, but the tribute that was presented in Infinity 1 just seemed to be a sack full of skulls – and I’m sure it was a very nice sack of skulls, but I’m not totally clear on why Thanos needs it. He does need it, right? It’s not just some ego thing? I think Ebony Maw chose Doctor Strange for tribute-related reasons. But who knows? It’s all delightfully mysterious at this point. The one thing that might be worth remembering is that Strange has learned a magic spell that has the power to destroy a planet. Remember? He learned it in case the Illuminati came across an Incursion they couldn’t bomb their way out of. The good Doctor has mostly been a background player in this series, but he steps up to do the real dirty work – like when he blanked Cap’s memory is issue 3.
I’m most impressed with the introductions of the Cull Obsidian. First of all, what a awesome fucking team name. Further, each of their individual names are cool and ominous, combining language that’s both cosmic and violent into super compelling little packages. Let’s break down some of these names – someone put some work into inventing them, let’s put the work into enjoying them.
Corvus Glaive: “Corvus” is the name of a constellation and is the Latin for “raven” or “crow,” and a “glaive” is kind of crazy long-range sword. Corvus is evidently unkillable while his blade still exists, so it makes sense that the weapon is part of his name.
Proxima Midnight: This one’s pretty easy – it basically means “nearest midnight,” but the term “proxima” is commonly paired with “centauri” to refer to the star closest to Earth’s sun.
Black Dwarf: Maybe we can ding this one for giving us another character in this series with the word “Black” in his name (Black Bolt, Black Panther, Black Swan, Black Dwarf, Black Tony Stark). But do I like it as a play on White Dwarf, which is a kind of fading star remnant.
Supergiant: First, props for just jamming those words together like that – no space, no hyphen, just the bad-ass confidence that those words belong together. It’s not dissimilar to the word “supernova” in that regard. But I also love that it’s a superlative describing another superlative. In astronomy, as everywhere else in language, “giant” means a particularly large object. A gas giant is a massive gas planet – like Jupiter or Saturn. Combining the words implies such hugeness, it’s remarkable that the character isn’t very big at all.
Ebony Maw: This one’s a little more straightforward, but also not quite as much fun as the others. Hey, it’s still an intimidating name, and it manages to swap out “black” for a synonym, so well done there.
The little stat-sheet at the end of the issue is helpful, but I’m so glad we get to see them all in action before any of their abilities are spelled out to us. In fact, if you wanted to ignore that last page and just let the story itself feed you the relevant details, you’d be just as well informed. However, if you skip that last page, you miss some quintessentially Hickmanian turns of phrase like “mentally unstable omnipath” and “celestial nihilist.” Hickman was born to write this stuff.
I was a little surprised to see the X-Men feature so prominently in this issue. Up until this point, Beast has been the sole mutant representation in this series. Drew, you pointed out that Deodato does some excellent sensitive character work, but he’s equally capable when it comes to throwing Wolverine headlong into bad buys.
Between the ice shattering dazzlingly behind him and the neat trick of perspective on Wolverine’s claws, Deodato demonstrates that he’s a surgeon, even when using the bluntest tool in the kit.
But the fact that we do check in with yet another camp does make this issue remarkably dense. Drew, I think we might be taking for granted just how much goes into our clear understanding of the events taking place here. That scene at the Jean Grey School makes perfect sense to me, but then again, I’m reading three different X-Men titles. And Atillan makes sense to me, but I’m reading two different series featuring Inhumans. Inside pool, indeed. But it’s all worth it when months of reading and research and conversation can lead to layered revelations like the image of Thanos’ ship above Atillan, which is in turn above New York City, and know exactly what that means.
The Illuminati are literally standing between the Earth and the armies of Thanos – so fucking cool.
Oh man, there’s just so much here. I cannot wait to see what Black Bolt has been working on and how it will empower our heroes. It really is amazing that something this dense is so much fun.
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?