Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Avengers 19, originally released September 11th, 2013. This issue is part of the Infinity crossover event. Click here for complete Infinity coverage.
Spencer: What’s so special about Earth? It’s funny; in comics, human beings are usually portrayed as a weak, technologically backwards race, yet Earth is constantly under attack for some reason, constantly finding itself in the center of some of the most significant events the Universe will ever experience. So why is the Earth so darn special? Jonathan Hickman hasn’t given us any answers yet, but in Avengers 19 he does show us just how surprisingly significant the planet Earth has become in the grand scheme of things; for better or worse, the Builders have taken notice of Earth and want it gone. Good thing it’s an Avengers World.
Turns out Captain Marvel was able to jettison the crew of her Quincruiser in escape pods, using the explosion of the vessel to escape the pull of the black hole; unfortunately, this lead to her team being captured by the Builders. They haul Carol to their quarters, fascinated by the fact that her team somehow contains an Abyssii (long thought extinct by her fellow builders), a Nightmask and a Starbrand, and even the frigging Universe itself! (They’re equally unimpressed by Hawkeye, but that’s par for the course.)
Meanwhile, as the other Avengers tend to displaced refugees on Behemoth, the Galactic Council tries to figure out a way to fight the Builders. Thanks to their discovery that the Builders are headed towards Earth and some choice inside intel given them by Ex Nihilo, they appear to have come up with a suitable plan. Unfortunately, J-Son may have ruined it all. Infuriated that backwards Earthlings are to blame for this whole fiasco, he attempts to negotiate with the Builders. That proves impossible; instead, the Builders simply lock onto his signal and appear to destroy Behemoth!
Okay guys, I’ve gotta say, I loved this issue. There’s so much going on, and all of it is not only interesting, but well presented to boot. I love seeing the various personalities of the Council bounce off each other, love seeing their stratagems take form, love seeing super-powers being used in more mundane ways (Ex Nihilo creating a garden to feed/occupy the refugees, for example), and I love that the whole shebang is supported by sharp, varied, funny dialogue. There’s so many sick burns being thrown around that I was ready to bust out a First Aid kit, and what makes it all the better is that they come from the most unexpected characters.
Still, what I keep coming back to is the role our Earth has suddenly found itself taking in the Builder’s intergalactic “cleansing.” As comic readers we’re used to Earth being important, being under siege every other week; over in the DC Universe, Geoff Johns once said it was because “Earth is where the Universe began” (what ever happened to that plot thread, anyway?), but I don’t know if Marvel has ever attempted a similar explanation. Regardless, as I said, we’re used to Earth’s importance, but it’s a joy to see other aliens and even the Builders themselves forced to ponder what makes our world so significant; it’s oddly patriotic, if one can be patriotic for a planet.
It also opens up a host of new questions. Why has Captain Universe graced the Earth with her presence? Why do the Builders seek to cleanse the universe by destroying the planet? I’d reckon that the latter has to do with the transformation of the Earth that began when Ex Nihilo launched his Origin Bombs; perhaps it’s made the planet dangerous somehow? Come to think of it, I bet that the signal sent out by Origin Bombs back in Avengers 14—and received by an Aleph in Avengers 15—is responsible for drawing the Builders’ attention to Earth in the first place; finally, we know why those issues were called a “Prelude to Infinity!”
Still, we’re obviously very early in the story of Infinity, so there’s no answers to those questions just yet. Avengers hasn’t always been forthcoming with answers in the past, but I’m more hopeful and psyched for them than I’ve been in a while. The title of this issue is “Building Towards Collapse”, and it definitely feels like it’s building towards something big. Fortunately, Hickman doesn’t let the “middle-ness” of this issue bog it down; instead he fills it to the brim with exciting ideas, excellent dialogue, and surprisingly deep characterization, even for its bit players.
I think I was most impressed by what Hickman managed to pull off with the Galactic Council. These are not the kind of characters I’m normally interested in, but I’m finding myself actually invested in the various perspectives these different aliens bring to the table. Hickman doesn’t have much room to flesh out these characters, but we still learn of their cultures, their goals, their nations, and even the way they relate with the other races present. Plus, I can’t help to root for anybody—no matter what species—who can take the wind out of J-Son’s sails.
Indeed, I postulate that a mutual hatred of J-Son of Spartax will eventually unite the whole universe!
Leinel Francis Yu’s art is also a huge part of why this issue works. Before I gush too much, I admit that there was one panel of his that made me really uncomfortable:
Still, that’s only one panel. For the rest of the book his sketchy work helps capture alien and human characters alike with equal aplomb, creates dynamic new landscapes, and his use of dramatic close-ups in the Council helps to build a sense of tension and adds gravitas to those scenes. Yu is an excellent choice of artist for any book, but especially for the epic scale of Infinity and its tie-ins.
So Patrick, why do you think Earth is so important to the Builders (and to the universe)? What’s up with Captain Marvel’s powers? Any idea what the Council’s big plan for fighting the Builders might be? And hey, which scathing insult was your favorite?
Patrick: Oh, that’s gotta be when the Aleph refers to Hawkeye as “Basetype Human Male.” Robot insults are always the best because they’re true.
I don’t know what the Council’s plan is going to look like, but it’s gotta be something huge, right? Infinity 3 is due out just next week, so I don’t mind waiting a little bit to find out, but it does irk me a little that the good guys have a plan, but I just don’t know it yet. You know how that happens in cartoons – where the heroes generate a plan and then whisper it to each other hurriedly? They do it so the audience can still be surprised by the trickier parts of the plan. But an important part of this “I have an idea! <whisper whisper whisper>” equation is that the audience gets to see the idea play out in the very next scene. Otherwise, it’s just the weirdest kind of dramatic tension, one where we’re not quite sure why that piece of information is being withheld. But on the flip side, I suppose you can’t reveal the heroes’ battle plan in a tie-in, no matter how integral that tie-in is… Like I said, Infinity 3 will be out soon, and then I can come back and delete this whole paragraph.
Hey, who wants to speculate as to what J-son’s deal is? I thought the guy had declared Earth off limits from alien intervention. Are we seeing the pay-off on that right now? Maybe he knew all along that the builders were going to snap into action and start down this very linear warpath, and he saw Earth as the ultimate bargaining chip. That supposes a good deal of foresight on J-son’s part, but not enough that he would have prepared a better way to communicate with the Builders. Don’t get me wrong – “send a robot-man with my holo-head on it” seems like a great fun plan, but a) it gives up the location of the Galactic Alliance and b) it turns out they can still hurt him… somehow.
It’s one thing that the Builders have an impossibly huge armada of insanely equipped warships, but these guys seem capable of feats of violence that don’t even physically make sense – and that’s terrifying.
Actually, now that I think about it, Hickman is being very careful about what information he doles out about the Builders. As a point of comparison, take Thanos and his Black Order. Both the last issue of Infinity and the last issue of New Avengers saw fit to characterize the villains as much as the heroes, and the five designs of those characters are unique and instantly recognizable. There’s no such individualism with the Builders. Even on the Cast Page, there are no named characters in the Builder’s section, just a list of Character Classes (whoa, Patrick’s using D&D language).
They’re more of an elemental threat to the Universe, so I suppose this facelessness makes sense. The only exception, of course, are these Gardeners. The Gardeners are immediately more sympathetic for a couple reasons – chief among them being that we’ve known once since issue 1 of Avengers. We might not have always understood Ex Nihilo’s actions, but we were always charmed by his smile and his enthusiasm for making new life. The Gardeners design is also very human – uncomfortably so, as Spencer mentions above. But I don’t think Yu intends us to leer at that drawing — guffawing about how close one set of titties is to the next — but we are supposed to recognize that the shapes of their bodies are the same. If that means that we respond to Ex Nihila’s body uncomfortably, it’s only because we’re trying to reconcile these conflicting ideas: she is a monster, but is also sexual (which is like the most “human” characteristic I can think of). It’s the same reason we respond so severely to the aliens in Alien – we can’t quite put our finger on what makes creature so sexual… but, ew, gross, it totally is.
The Gardeners are also the only class of Builder that gets individual designs. I loved seeing a small sampling of them in this issue. Look how varied they are!
The other Builders are straight-up boring by comparison.
I do wish the New Universe characters would have had something more active to do in this issue. With the Exception of Ex Nihilo, they all just hang out in tubes and are gawked at by the Builders. I mean, who am I to object? Hickman is the hype-master here, I’ll defer to his judgement on how long to talk about unstoppable characters before unleashing them.
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?