Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing New Avengers 11, originally released October 16th, 2013. This issue is part of the Infinity crossover event. Click here for complete Infinity coverage.
Spencer: When Infinity was first announced, we knew very little about it besides the fact that it would be vaguely connected to writer Jonathan Hickman’s two Avengers books and that Thanos was involved; once the first issue dropped, I declared that it was “the story if what happens when two different universe-ending threats hit at the same time, leaving the Earth absolutely helpless.” We’re over two-thirds of the way through the crossover and those words are still mostly holding true, but New Avengers 11 takes this concept to a place I would have never expected when Infinity began — yet a place that makes perfect sense — by tying the space-bound and Earth-bound threats together.
Proxima Midnight has breached Wakanda’s walls and sent the Queen’s army into retreat; an interrogation leads her to T’Challa’s home in Necropolis, where she discovers, and later shares with Thanos, the Illuminati’s world-destroying armory and their prisoners, Terrax and Black Swan. Thanos is pleased. Meanwhile, as the Illuminati are investigating the newest Incursion in Australia, they are approached by an Aleph. He takes them to the ship of his masters, Builders from a parallel universe. They reveal to the Illuminati that the Avengers have defeated their Builders, but call that victory foolish, feeling that the destruction of every Earth is the only way to stop the Incursions from prematurely destroying the entire multiverse. Unable to travel through the Incursion themselves, the Builders instead destroy the parallel Earth and send the Illuminati home with the command that, for the sake of the entire universe, they must destroy their Earth.
So up until now, Infinity had been split between two fronts — Avengers’ space opera with the Builders and Thanos’ invasion of Earth in New Avengers — and both of these fronts were distinct and separate stories. Well, looks like this issue changes that. Poor Thanos is still strangely unconnected to the Builders storyline (not to mention increasingly marginalized as Infinity marches on), but by tying together the rest of the crossover’s disparate threads, Hickman has somehow managed to not only greatly increase its scope, but also to bring things closer to home by taking what started as a war story and boiling it down to one impossible choice: either the Earth dies, or the entire universe does.
While we’ve speculated about whether or not stopping the Builders and saving the Earth was the “right” decision before, it’s nice to see this question finally brought up in the story itself. It creates some gray areas in the previously black-and-white war between the Avengers and the Builders. In fact, this issue is so gray that it ultimately seems hopeless. If the Illuminati stay the course and continue destroying parallel Earths in Incursions, eventually the multiverse itself could collapse, rendering their efforts moot. Black Swan’s habit of hopping parallel Earths has the same issue, and the Builder’s plan to destroy all the Earths may save the multiverse, but it leaves the human race in the same precarious position: dead.
Captain America would argue that they could find another way, but the Illuminati seemingly rejected that kind of thinking when they ejected Cap from the group. More interestingly, the alternate Builders seem to argue that Cap’s brand of optimism has done more harm than good.
That shouldn’t mean much coming from a Builder, but these alternate Builders seem to have more authority than the ones from our Universe. “Our” Builders never bothered to explain themselves and, for some reason, felt the need to extinguish any planet in their path on their way to Earth, but these alternate Builders seem like they were once benign, and now are actually only acting on the best interest of the universe; I certainly take more stock in what they say, that’s for sure. Being a comic book, there’s sure to be another way out of this situation, but I admire how hopeless Hickman has made things look.
I worry about the Illuminati making the right choice, though, when so much of this issue seems devoted to exploring just how bad some of their decisions have been.
Oh, Namor. While taking rides and candy from strange Alephs is never a good idea, it’s far from the dumbest thing the Illuminati have ever done; right now I think the “worst decision” award goes to Namor himself. As a way to get revenge on Wakanda and Black Panther, Namor lied to Thanos’ men, turning the full might of his army on Wakanda and, in the process, giving Thanos access to the Illuminati’s armory and their prisoners. Leaving a whole cache of world-ending weapons in the hand of an uber-powerful alien dictator is never a good idea!
Ultimately, though, I think the most interesting part of this scene was Thanos’ encounter with Black Swan.
I wish I could read Thanos better here, because I’d love to know what’s going through his head. This actually reminds me of a scene from the most recent issue of Young Avengers: Mother, a multi-dimensional parasite and the series’ resident big bad, is offered a chance to chow down on the enigmatic and creepy Patri-not, but ultimately declines, showing the readers that even Mother, arguably the creepiest and most powerful character in the book, is even scared of this new villain. I can’t help but to get the same vibe from this exchange. Maybe Thanos isn’t actually scared that Black Swan could physically defeat him the way Mother might be, but there’s something about Swan that makes Thanos uneasy, and when do you ever see Thanos uneasy?
Patrick, any idea what’s up with these two? How do you think the Incursions are going to be resolved? Will the task fall to the Avengers or the Illuminati? What do you think of the Corvus Glaive/Proxima Midnight romance? I think they’ll make Prom King and Queen for sure. And hey, what’s up with Doctor Strange’s mind-spider? That’s a pretty big deal, but both the Illuminati and the book itself proceeded to ignore the situation altogether.
Patrick: Oh, man — that mind-spider thing was pretty horrific. I was reminded of that moment in The Matrix, when they pull the bugs out through Neo’s bellybutton, and then they turn into mechanical parts. That is a similarly big deal that the better-informed characters blow off because it’s not a problem anymore. I mean, we gotta take our cues from some authority, right? Maybe it’s just the fact that Beast sees the much-more-pressing issue to be “you’re Builders from where now?”
I’ve heard editor Tom Brevort say — on numerous occasions — that New Avengers is “the most important book” they’re publishing right now. You know me, I tend to turn up my nose at statements like that. I like this series, but the second someone claims it’s the most important, I’m going to start scrutinizing the book’s perspective, its morality, what it has to say about art and culture and society. But this one isn’t that kind of “important.” New Avengers simply contains the mechanism through which the entire multiverse is threatened. Spencer makes explicit the question implicitly raised in this issue: is it worth saving Earth if it means continuing to put all of creation into jeopardy? I was turning that question over in my head, and wondering if that could be the big important message we’re supposed to take away from this series. It’s a little bit of a false dilemma, isn’t it? Of course you’re going to continue to put the multiverse at risk – the alternative is the end of all the stories we’re reading.
But it’s not like the Marvel editors aren’t in the business of completely wiping out realities. Except for a few people reading Ultimate Spider-Man, I don’t know that anyone ’round these parts is particularly well-versed in what’s happening over in the Ultimate Universe. Guys, Ultimate Earth is going to be destroyed by Galactus — straight up. Presumably, this is act is being undertaken in service of the mothership: why continue to divide the Marvel readership when they could all be united on Earth 616? In that way, Marvel editorial is not unlike the Illuminati, making the best bad choice and hoping for… well, the best.
Let’s put all that meta-plotting aside for now, and focus on one aspect of this series we usually scuttle past — the art. Mike Deodato is an insanely meticulous artist. He’s the kind of guy that’s always going to include every single piece of piping and detailing on every costume, in every panel. This is true even when he allows the characters to hide in the inky shadows. It’s sorta hard to see, but notice how Deodato still draws some details in these characters which would — under like 99% of other artists — simply be presented in silhouette.
It’s that mix of drama and attention to detail that make these pages come alive. I’m constantly impressed with the acting Deodato is able to imply with Iron Man’s costume, even though we all know full-well that the helmet isn’t expressive at all. It’s all just about staging and light and the camera. Oh, occasionally, it’s also about hilarious body language.
There’s no time to pop under the helmet to see Tony’s face alight by the suit’s HUD, but there’s also no need. Spencer mentioned how hard it is to read Thanos, but it’s also remarkable how easy it is to read characters with far less expressive faces. (Interesting to note that both Thanos and Iron Man seem to be engaged in perpetual frowns.)
Deodato is also just a master at so many narrative and thematic short cuts, that he’s able to take a story like this — one that should require a fair amount of flipping back a page or two and saying “wait, what?” — and simplifies it. He pulls off the ol’ beginning-of-Star-Wars trick when we’re introduced to the Other Builders, showing the enormous, infinitely powerful ship in the foreground with our tiny heroes struggling for relevance below. I think the most helpful trick he employs is presenting the anti-gravity bombs in exactly the same way he presented them six months ago. Check it out — it may even be the same drawing, only with slightly different coloring and Thanos and co. in place of Reed and Tony.
It’s such a good drawing the first time around — again, it’s a trick of perspective that enforces the idea that the Illuminati are in way over their heads. But then to see the same drawing recontextualized several issues later: it’s a visceral gut punch. We know these guys have been playing with fire, and that fire just fell into the wrong hands.
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