Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Infinity 5, originally released October 30th, 2013. This issue is part of the Infinity crossover event. Click here for complete Infinity coverage.
Drew: The ubiquity of three-act structures often makes the form of a story predictable. We know what’s supposed to happen in a second act — even if we don’t know the specifics of a given story — but what happens when a narrative breaks that structure? Infinity takes the form of a six-part miniseries, with primary crossovers into ten other issues. To further complicate things, the series has long followed an A/B structure as the avengers face two very different threats in very different locations, and the event itself could be described as the third (or second and third) act(s) of narratives started in Avengers and New Avengers. What do we expect of the fifth issue of Infinity (itself the twelfth issue of the event)? What it supposed to happen? Unfortunately, writer Jonathan Hickman doesn’t offer a particularly compelling answer in the issue itself.
We open to find the Avengers mopping up after their definitive win against the builders. What? Oh, that’s right, the Alephs’ “Destroy Everything” contingency failed completely (off-screen), thanks to good old-fashioned American stick-to-itiveness — apparently this whole threat was solvable by simply trying harder. Anyway, as Cap is about to enjoy a celebratory beer, Gladiator arrives to inform him about Thanos’ invasion of Earth. Fortunately, the goodwill the Avenger’s have garnered by saving the entire universe has created a vast network of allies willing to back them up as they return home. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Ebony Maw has secured Thane for Thanos, while the Illuminati rush to Wakanda to secure their world-ending weapons (oh, and Black Panther’s home).
My biggest complaint is the utter takeout-iness of the threat of the Builders. I love a good twist, and I’m much more interested in the existential crises the Avengers now face as protecting Earth may jeopardize EVERY UNIVERSE, but the fact that the Builders — heretofore the biggest threat of the event — amount to little more than a red herring is disappointing. More importantly, it harms my faith in Hickman to deliver a satisfying conclusion to this event. I’m not sure what I was expecting in the way of a solution to the cliffhanger from Avengers 21, but completely ignoring it really isn’t it. Obviously, I don’t think Infinity 6 is going to gloss over the conclusion of itself, but this off-screen solution of “we beat them because” strikes me as incredibly cheap.
This late shift in focus also reemphasizes my issues with the reveal of the Builder’s true intentions. If this story is actually about the fate of the Earth vs. the fate of the Universe, why were the builders doing their universe-destroying tour in the first place? Why unite the ENTIRE UNIVERSE against themselves when they could have appealed to every non-Earth planet’s sense of self-preservation and united them all against us? Or, if they really wanted to go it alone, why did they bother to stop and destroy non-Earth planets? If it’s Earth and Earth alone they needed to destroy, their actions in this event make absolutely no sense — especially given that they eventually do get around to using their words.
But enough of my problems with this event as a whole — we’ve got an issue here to talk about. Unfortunately, the issue is almost all wheel-spinning. We normally talk about this kind of late-stage reshuffling of characters as “putting the pieces in place,” and while this issue undeniably sets the stage for the conclusion (you can bet the antimatter bombs, all but conveniently back in the hands of the Illuminati, will play a role), it’s hard to see this as progress. The issue ends with the Illuminati retaking the Necropolis, and Thanos closing in on Thane — basically exactly where they were before New Avengers 11. The only progress, then, is that the off-planet Avengers are about to return with what remains of the united universe fleet — hardly enough event to support a whole issue.
What I do like is that the Avengers have successfully expanded their purview to include the entire universe. Not because it makes any actual sense — even at it’s most bloated, the team has only been 22 strong (with room for two more, for some reason), hardly enough to patrol THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE — but because they win the hearts and minds of the people they saved. That is, the Avengers are just as capable of rebutting all physical threats to this universe as they are physical threats on the Earth we live on — not at all — but their power as symbols is incalculable. For all of Hickman’s design-y affects, he’s always understood that the true power of superheroes lies in their iconography. Seeing the peoples of the worlds they’ve saved hoisting their hand-made Avengers flags and declaring themselves “Avengers Worlds” felt like a respecting nod to fans (and perhaps a restatement of Hickman’s own fandom).
Maybe simply restating why the Avengers are cool is all this series needs to do — most superhero comics basically boil down to stressing the strengths of their respective heroes — but Hickman totally buries this message under more stuff kind-of-sort-of not going to plan. This stirring message is stomped out before it can ever take flight, which ironically defeats its own message. I don’t know, Patrick. Were you able to find enough here to latch on to, or did this feel rudderless to you, too?
Patrick: “Rudderless” is an interesting way to describe this, but I think the more accurate way to diagnose this issue with folksy boating metaphors is to simply call all wind and no sail. Or even to borrow your term: a rudder with no boat. I didn’t mind the “blah blah blah, the good guys won by winning” precisely because I know that we’ll see those stories play out in Avengers and whatever other tie-ins that come out between now and the final issue. And frankly, massive battles in comic books almost always overstay their welcome — how much of Trinity War did we waive away as “the heroes fight?” Come to think of it, unless the spectacle is really something special, long action sequences will wear me out in any medium. “Fighting” is such a handy excuse to take it easy on the storytelling for a few minutes.
Hickman has always shown that same kind of impatience with it. The dude seldom gives up full pages to violence-for-the-sake-of-violence, and this issue is no exception. Drew’s right to say that it is cool how tightly focused the issue is on the effects of the Avengers’ victory — that’s basically all our big guys are experiencing in this issue, the thrill of their enemies’ defeat. But we also spend a fair amount of time with the extended cast of Infinity: Thanos, his Black Order and his son. Surprisingly, that’s where Hickman starts to sprinkle on interesting character choices and subtle ticks and nods to internal conflict within their ranks.
Thanos is — by all accounts — something of an asshole. He affects a pissy authority even when addressing his generals, and that puts so much intention behind his evilness. Consider the evilness of The Builders: sure, they’re cocky, and they represent a threat to the Earth, and they are merciless. That’s fine, at the end of the day, we know they simply had different goals. But Thanos? Naw, man, Thanos exists in this story to find and murder his son. Why does he need to murder his son?
Because he’s a shitty, shitty person, that’s why. Whatever drives this pathological need to expunge the universe of his own offspring, it’s rooted in the Mad Titan’s ego — with all the shame and all the pride. There’s nothing noble about his goals, and this is echoed beautifully in the way there’s nothing respectful or honorable about the way he treats his staff. He addresses them as “servant” for crying out loud! Even in the moment that Ebony Maw has found his son, Thanos can’t simply thank his faithful servant, he has to throw in a jab about him being “an irritant.”
I also thought it was hightime we saw the Illuminati kicking some ass together again. They’ve obviously got a lot of shit to sort through when this is all over, but it does my heart well to see Namor and T’challa fighting together against a common enemy. That page is beautiful, by the way — a perfect example of how you can show a the bigness battle in a single page.
Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver pack so much detail and so many characters into that bottom panel, that there’s not even space for a background. The whole thing is FIGHT. I also really like the way Black Panther’s glowing purple knives in the first panel focus our attention down to the panel below, where — of course — the knives are engaged in the chaos of battle and are now flinging our focus everywhere. It’s a nice way to transition from tight and quiet to chaotic and loud.
Three-act, five-act, sixteen-act — look, we may never really be able to predict the pacing of a comic book story. Hell, this whole thing may end up being little more than the first act of Inhumanity. Or the epilogue to Age of Ultron? It’s a 10-billion-act structure, that’s what I’m saying.
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?
Patrick, I’m with you on this ultimately being a 10-billion-act structure, but I still think it’s fair to call this event lumpy. Each character’s motivations change every issue, making them all feel like ADD-addled puppies. The stakes have stayed largely the same, but the character’s investment in them have been all over the place. Thanos alone vacillates from wanting to destroy the Earth to wanting to kill Thane to wanting to protect Titan. It makes the events feel random and arbitrary.
Yeah, I had a few problems with this issue.
The first comes from hickman’s style of storytelling itself. He’s building things up past this and therefore Infinity suffers as being part of a longer, overarching story rather than having it’s own definitive conclusion. I guarantee that the ending will be open-ended enough to keep things going past Infinity and therefore it won’t be emotionally satisfying
The second problem is how quickly things are moved through. Take the Builders for example. Built up to be this huge, universe-spanning threat that can take out damn near anybody, and what happens? They get killed off-panel like it’s nothing. This probably stems from Hickman wanting to tie things off properly but it just feels weak and distant, like I have no reason to care.
The final problem I have deals with characterization.Many character moments are sacrificed for grandeur and epic scale which leaves the book feeling hollow