Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Avengers 20, originally released September 25th, 2013. This issue is part of the Infinity crossover event. Click here for complete Infinity coverage.
Spencer: Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver; the Avengers have a long history of welcoming reformed villains into their ranks. Ex Nihilo and Abyss are the latest Avengers to take advantage of this, but after serving as the villains of the first storyline of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers — and after spring boarding the series’ central conflict — their reformation has felt just a little too easy. They basically became Avengers just because Captain Universe said so. I’m sure she knows best (well, kinda sure), but while I had no problem believing that these two were no longer threats to the Earth, I had a much harder time believing that they could reliably serve as Avengers. Now Ex Nihilo and Abyss are faced with their creators, their brothers and sisters…how will they react? Are they heroes, or villains?
We once again open on the rescue of Captain Marvel and her crew, but this time we discover that, before escaping, Ex Nihila left an invitation for Abyss to come find her. What remains of the Galactic Council reassembles in an attempt to finish the Builders, but all their options seem to lead to certain death. Captain America offers another alternative; he opens a parlay with the Builders, and plans to surrender. Meanwhile, Ex Nihilo and Abyss follow the trail of Ex Nihila. They find her with the other Gardeners, who are all thrilled to see an actual living Abyssi. They reveal that the Builders made them stop harvesting worlds and creating life, turning them into glorified bodyguards. Ex Nihilo is suitably pissed.
So yeah, Ex Nihilo is so enraged about this turn of events that he somehow changes color; I’m going to assume that’s a bad thing for anyone who crosses his path. It also serves somewhat to alleviate my doubts about his allegiances; the dude is clearly Anti-Builder. Then again, I suppose I was always less worried about Ex Nihilo to begin with; though he toyed with life on Earth during his earliest appearances, he’s also been shown to love life and creating life, and to be against blowing up planets. He’s also had a chance to show his softer side in recent issues, such as when he created a garden to feed and occupy the refugees on Behemoth.
Abyss, however, always worried me more. Ex Nihilo states in this issue that her purpose is to judge life; back in the opening storyline Nihilo wanted to cultivate Earth, Aleph wanted to destroy it, but we never did find out whether Abyss deemed it worthy or not, and in the meantime we’ve never been given a peek into her motives like we have her brother. I suppose even now we don’t know how she feels about Earth, but at least she’s given us a clear response about something:
I know I’m harping on these two a lot, but out of all the many Avengers, they’re the ones who don’t fit. Even Starbrand and Nightmask were clearly designed to be defenders of Earth, but Nihilo and Abyss are wild-cards, and like I said, their induction into the Avengers came a little too easily given their actions earlier in the series. Considering all that, this issue was a thrill for me. Nihilo and Abyss have finally been fleshed out, and their rising against their very creators is a fine way of showing where their allegiances truly lie. Hickman’s given himself an unwieldy cast on Avengers, but when he gives his characters a chance to shine, they always rise to the occasion.
Another reason why I’m big on this scene, though, is for what it says about the Builders. We know the Builders are after Earth, but we still don’t know why, and we know even less about what the Builders are like and how they operate. This scene, combined with other snippets of Builder-backstory doled out across this series, tells us a lot about them: we know that they abandoned their old god — the Universe/Captain Universe — abandoned their original structures for universal design, and basically abandoned the Gardeners by corrupting them and stripping them of purpose. As creators and — judging by their creations — proponents of evolution, the Builders’ embrace of change isn’t necessarily surprising, but considering how destructive their actions have been, it’s incredibly cathartic to see their own creations rising up against them, much like the Builders themselves probably did towards their old god at one point. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Leinil Francis Yu returns as penciller this issue and, as always, turns in some impressive work. He — along with inker Gerry Alanguilan and colorist David Curiel — excels when working on crowds, aliens, and epic space battles, and particularly shines when portraying Nihilo and Abyss’ odyssey through space.
That said, the art in this issue feels inconsistent, and some of the work — especially close-ups of the women characters, such as Captain Marvel and Abyss—looks like it came from another penciller entirely. I actually assumed this was the case, and was pretty surprised to flip back to the credits and see Yu credited as the sole artist. I suppose it’s to be expected when Yu’s pumping out two issues a month — which is remarkable, really — and there are still some stunning moments this issue, but the art feels sloppier than I’m used to from Yu, which is a shame. Also, he can’t seem to keep Captain Marvel’s hair consistent from panel to panel; Yu’s far from the only artist with this problem, but it’s distracting nonetheless.
So what about the rest of the issue? I barely touched the scenes surrounding Cap’s surrender, but honestly, besides that one plot point, those scenes felt like they were just spinning their wheels. I’ve been loving Infinity so far, but I dunno, I’m ready to move past constant Council meetings now, okay?
Drew, did you get anything out of those scenes I might have missed? Are you feeling Ex Nihilo and Abyss and their little rebellion, or do they fall flat for you? What color do you turn when you get pissed?
Drew: Honestly, this whole issue was a little wheel-spinny for my tastes. Like you pointed out, we’ve already seen the rescue of the captured Avengers, and we’ve already seen the war council weighing their options (granted, we may not have seen them weighing these specific options, but that doesn’t exactly make me less tired of seeing it). You’re right to highlight Abyss and Ex Nihilo’s story as the emotional center of this issue, but what do they actually learn that they didn’t already know? The Builders have been marauding through the galaxy, razing every planet in their path since the start of this event — is it really a surprise that they can’t really be considered “builders” anymore?
I suppose the specific mindset of the Ex Nihila is important for explaining the apparent mutiny that has just solidified, but I’m not sure I understand the mechanism. The Abyssi, having been created to judge life, wasted away when there was no new life to judge, but the Ex Nihila, having been created to create life, are able to keep on truckin’ when there’s no new life to make? It seems arbitrary, but more importantly, it seems unnecessary: the “previously on” page recalls Ex Nihilo’s words about wonton destruction going against everything he was ever taught. It seems like there’s an ideological conflict that should be enough to pit the Ex Nihila against the Builders, and adding some bizarre beat about how that conflict also allowed their siblings to die just muddies the message. Maybe it will be clearer when we see the same scene four more times throughout the crossover.
Seriously though, I’m getting a little tired of rereading slightly different iterations of the same scenes in this event. I appreciate that Marvel is doing its level best to not alienate folks who aren’t reading this whole event, but that’s also making things shockingly redundant for anyone who is. I already talked about this a great deal in our writeup of Captain Marvel 16 (which, coincidentally also features a version of the rescue scene), and I’d hate to repeat myself (you know, because I’m not a Marvel crossover event), so I’ll just add that it’s starting to feel like this title is pretty disposable in this event — especially if you might be reading any other books that feature Avengers. I’m sure we’ll spend plenty of time debating Cap’s planned surrender, as well as a detailed explanation for the impending Ex Nihila uprising.
I think it’s fair to say that crossover fatigue has set in. It seems increasingly clear to me that all of the tie-in issues are pretty limited in where they can take their stories — and ultimately, disposable. You might think that this series, being so central to the event, might be exempt from that trend (like New Avengers), but nothing here felt particularly necessary. But hey, at least we got to see that time where Shang-Chi was useful again, huh?
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