Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing New Avengers 12, originally released November 27th, 2013. This issue is part of the Infinity crossover event. Click here for complete Infinity coverage.
Spencer: Unsurprisingly for a group that claims to rule the world in secret, the Illuminati functions much like a government. Both are made up of various individuals each supposedly dedicated to bettering the world (or their country, whatever), but who are also devoted to personal causes of their own which quite often cause major conflicts of interest. In the past, we’ve worried that these conflicts could tear the Illuminati apart, but New Avengers 12 flips that situation by showing the Illuminati putting aside their differences (if only temporarily); their actions keep the world safe, but do serious damage to their personal lives.
In the aftermath of Thanos’ attack, the two Black Panthers meet in Necropolis; Shuri isn’t happy with T’Challa disappearing for much of the battle. T’Challa’s servants aren’t happy either; they betray their master and reveal that Namor has been to Necropolis frequently, which enrages Shuri. The Queen banishes T’Challa from Wakanda and threatens to do more. Namor witnesses the whole thing and seems pretty happy about it.
Meanwhile, Maximus treats Black Bolt and reveals that his brother has lost a significant amount of power due to the Terrigen bomb. Doctor Strange locks himself in his room with the Blood Bible in an attempt to rectify his lack of action and brainwashing during Infinity. Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, and Beast check on Black Swan, who knows a surprising amount about the conflict. She reveals that the Builders were (relatively) small potatoes, and that worse threats are on the horizon.
So yeah, T’Challa’s banishment is the real meat of this issue. It’s a gutwrencing punishment for Black Panther when you consider that his Kingdom is everything to him; that said, it also illustrates exactly how important T’Challa considers keeping the Incursions a secret.
As Namor points out, T’Challa could have said a lot of things to appease Shuri, but he didn’t because, no matter how dear Wakanda is to him, the fate of the universe is more important. T’Challa is a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he’s reached the point where he can no longer bear both that weight and the weight of his personal priorities. It’s a testament to T’Challa’s heroism that he is able to make this choice, especially when we compare him to Namor.
Namor seemingly believes that he and T’Challa are the same in this scene, saying that both have lost all they hold dear, but while T’Challa willingly let his last grip on his kingdom go, Namor had his ripped away from him during the attacks from Wakanda and Thanos. Namor was also unable to make the hard choice that T’Challa did; when threatened by Proxima Midnight, Namor offered up Wakanda to spite T’Challa, and in the process, led Thanos’ forces right to the Illuminati’s HQ, nearly damning the world in the process. Namor says that he’s applauding T’Challa’s bravery in this scene, but I have to wonder if he’s instead just enjoying seeing T’Challa suffer. I also have to wonder if he’ll ever see any consequences for his actions during Infinity.
Unlike Namor, both Doctor Strange and Black Bolt are willing to make sacrifices despite the consequences they could face. I’m still not 100% sure what Bolt’s final aim is with the Terrigen Bomb—he was apparently going to set it off even before Thanos attacked, and I bet we’ll address this more in Inhumanity than in any of Hickman’s books—but Strange was clearly both inspired and shamed by the actions of his colleagues into taking a risk himself.
We’ve complained in the past about Strange being passive to a fault, and its pretty gratifying to see that there were actual reasons behind this inaction and that it wasn’t just a result of Hickman not knowing how to use the character. Strange needed this moment to redeem himself, both in his own eyes and in the eyes of the readers.
Reed, Hank, and Tony, meanwhile, haven’t had to make any of these decisions quite yet, which is something Black Swan derides them for when she complains that yet another Incursion was resolved by forces outside their control. Unfortunately, the rest of this scene doesn’t really expand on this much, instead focusing on Swan hyping even bigger and badder threats to come. While I am intrigued by these threats, it feels unnecessary; we already know that the Incursions are bad news of the highest level, and we’ve also spent a lot of time in both of Hickman’s books hyping new threats. This scene would greatly benefit from more showing and less telling.
Fortunately, Black Swan is complex enough to keep things interesting. Her in-depth knowledge of the Builders is a pleasant surprise, but my favorite moment is when she comes face to face with Thanos, mirroring a scene from last issue.
Mike Deodato absolutely nails that smug smile, but is Swan simply happy to see the tables turned, or is there more to it? After all, we still don’t know exactly why Thanos refused to free Swan, but he seemed worried by her, and it’s always troubling when Thanos of all people is rattled.
I can’t wait to see Swan’s layers explored further. I’m almost starting to wonder if she’s an omen, a vision of what the Illuminati could become if they sacrifice too much of their humanity; we applaud the sacrifices T’Challa and Strange make this issue, but what if they become willing to sacrifice entire planets and people the way Swan is? We’re counting on the Illuminati to find a way to save the universe, but is Black Swan what they could become in the process?
Patrick, what do you make of all this? What’s your feelings on Black Swan and the threats she’s hyping? Are the Illuminati’s sacrifices heroic or dangerous? Are you still as excited about Mike Deodato’s art as you were last month? (I am.)
Patrick: Oh Deodato’s on fire in this issue – he takes so many opportunities to make the individual character sacrifices explicit. In some cases — like Black Bolt — he literally puts the character up on an altar, laid bare for us to take the strength we need from them. Necropolis is the same way: its ruin is detailed and beautiful, and we feel everything that’s precious about that sacrifice. I’m still a little too new to the Marvel Universe to automatically feel how big of a deal it is that Necropolis’ walls have fallen — an event that has only happened this one time EVER — but Deodato sells the hell out of the solemnity here.
It’s still very stoic and warrior-like, and that’s totally fitting with the themes of the issue, and of the series as a whole. Spencer, I can definitely understand being a little weary of Black Swan’s warnings in the final pages. After all, we just watched the Avengers et. al defend the planet (and the universe) from two unequivocally huge threats. That was the big hook of Infinity, right? Swan’s laundry list of possible threats goes on and on, each one reportedly “worse” than the Builders or Thanos’ goons. Mapmakers, Masters, Black Priests, Sinnua Sarim, Ivory Kings – each one of these names could represent Big Bads specifically set into motion by Hickman or simply teased for some undetermined future-use. The point, however, is clear: there’s always going to a job for the Illuminati to do, and it’s always going to suck for them.
This is sort of a common theme for superhero books – the fight goes on and on… just so long as there’s money to be made from drawing their adventures. The ending of Batman Incorporated swung this theme around with such regularity, that it was starting to get on Shelby’s nerves. Batman and Superman have both been around for the better part of a century, so it makes sense that we’d see that idea popping up in their stories, but it’s another idea entirely to crop up in a team book – especially one that feels as niche-y as New Avengers. Ask your grandma – she’ll tell you that they’re always going to make Batman movies, but she’ll be hard pressed to tell you who the hell Namor the Submariner is.
The characters soldier on. In-Universe, they do so in secret, but their real-world presence is about the same. Marvel’s got some superstar characters — no one’s going to debate the popularity of Wolverine or Iron Man or Spider-Man — but the entire Marvel cast is important on the same scale, whether everyone realizes it or not. That’s one of the fascinating things about this series – it started out as a battle for power between Iron Man (A-List character) and Captain America (A-List Character), and has since found both its heart and it’s mythological momentum from Black Panther, Namor, Black Bolt and Black Swan (who all barely even register on any List). This is Jonathan Hickman’s way of asserting that these characters are worthy of the unending paces he puts them through.
I also think it’s super neat that the Illuminati just sorta hang on to their Thanos figurine. (Poor Proxima Midnight, destined to be a footnote in the fate of Thanos, the Mad Titan.) Obviously, it’s a mistake to keep him “alive,” right? Why not send him off with an anti-gravity bomb taped to his back during the next incursion? There’s something to be said about Illuminati refusing to move forward and take the necessary steps to save the world. Black Swan says as much: that the time for talking about it is over. Maybe this means the hemming and the hawing are things of the past, and come the next incursion – it’s go time.
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