Spencer: Writer Jonathan Hickman has been playing with the metaphor of the Avengers being a machine throughout his entire run on Avengers. In theory it seems like a perfect idea, and Infinity has proven its efficiency in-universe, but there’s one little problem; it turns the various Avengers themselves, each an unique individual with their own skills and personalities, into little more than parts that can be moved around within the machine as needed. Hickman’s writing has often followed suit, using the Avengers to further his own grandiose mythology, but the most enjoyable part of Avengers 24 is the few pages where the machine grinds to a halt and the Avengers are allowed to just be themselves.
A celebratory Avengers barbeque is disturbed by the arrival of Iron Man 3030, who brings a warning from the future: a Rogue Planet has broken free of its orbit and is currently hurtling towards Earth; even worse, evidence points towards it being fired by someone like a massive bullet. Iron Man 3030 helps the Avengers build a device that phases the Rogue Planet through Earth; instead of allowing it to pass through fully, however, they fuse the two planets together so that the Earth can use the Rogue Planet’s resources like a power source. Iron Man 3030 reveals herself to be Tony’s granddaughter, and she leaves him with a gift she says will come in handy very soon, when the secrets of the Illuminati come into the open and everybody Stark knows will be out to kill him.
Woah, that’s a lot to unpack, isn’t it? Yet, despite it all, the most fun I had with this issue was the early scene at the Avengers barbeque where the cast is allowed to cut loose and enjoy themselves. Hickman has an excellent handle on the personalities of these characters and uses these brief scenes to explore the camaraderie between teammates. I had so much fun with this scene that I just want to screencap the entire thing, but instead I’ll simply settle for my favorite moment; no surprise, it comes courtesy of Thor:
From there, though, we immediately cut to a strategy session with Cap and Iron Man where they—especially Tony—seem to discuss their teammates more in terms of interchangeable cogs than people.
Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something disconcerting about this whole conversation. The shift in tone between these two scenes also applies to the issue as a whole; as soon as the Avengers machine goes into action, much of that spark of characterization goes out the window. It’s not that the action the Avengers take to neutralize the Rogue Planet isn’t interesting or exciting, because it is, but there’s just something occasionally dispassionate about the whole process because the characters just seem to be filling a need instead of acting based on their own personalities or interests.
Maybe that’s just me, though. One thing I do find interesting about the idea of the Avengers as a machine is that they’re far from the only machines Hickman pays attention to. Machines, systems, and superstructures have been a reoccurring element of Hickman’s Avengers, and it’s worth noting that, aside from the Avengers themselves, all these systems have been broken. Whether it’s the Rogue Planet breaking free from its gravitational superstructure or the broken systems and superstructures of the Builders, it’s an idea that we’ve seen a lot.
So what does this mean for the Avengers machine? Is it destined to break as well, or is the flexibility and, perhaps, the very humanity of the Avengers making up the machine enough to keep it functioning where other systems have failed? I’m intrigued to find out.
Still, this is far from the only idea presented in this issue; if anything, it’s overflowing with ideas. The threat of the Rogue Planet itself—and the additional threat of whoever actually fired it—is fascinating, as is the solution to merge it with Earth, but there’s a lot of detail about this that feels ignored. On the one hand I applaud Hickman for his brevity, but on the other, the compression occasionally leads to a jarring feeling. For example, Iron Man 3030 mentions that using the Rogue Planet as a power source will “be a good way to sell its existence to those that would normally have a problem with it”, but that just reminds me that the Avengers fused an entire planet to the Earth without really discussing it with anybody. How do the people of Earth feel about it? Besides providing free energy, does it have any other effects on the Earth? Like, I’m honestly not sure what this solution even means for the everyday life of the people of Earth, and I get the feeling that Hickman isn’t very interested in exploring that any further.
Also, there’s just the fact that even more threats are looming on the horizon. We still haven’t resolved all that business with the Origin Bombs, but now we’ve also got the mystery of whoever fired the Rogue Planet to deal with, not to mention the escalating threat of the Incursions; fortunately I find all three ideas fascinating, but the feeling that we’re getting more and more questions with no real answers isn’t comforting.
Drew, how do you feel about all these upcoming threats; interesting, or simply too much at once? Any thoughts on penciller Esad Ribic and the other artists working with him on this issue? Does the thought of Thor’s Beer Pies appeal to you?
Drew: I think I’d have to agree with Jess — that beer pies as a concept kind of disgusts me — but I think if Thor was cooking, I’d at least have to give it a try. Dude just knows his comfort food, especially when alcohol is involved. Jess and Nat seem to enjoy them, but then again, they’re from the UK and Russia, respectively, neither of which are famous for their cuisine. Ultimately, as long as there’s plenty of butter in the crust, I think I’d be down with any pie.
Seriously though, Spencer, I’m totally with you on that barbecue being the best part of the issue. It just humanizes the characters in the most adorable way possible. Sure, they’re capable of fending off an intergalactic threat, but they’re going to celebrate the same way you did when your cousin graduated from high-school. It’s a party I want to attend, for sure, but it also feels strikingly like a party I’ve already attended.
One of the things I was most struck by in your summary, Spencer, is the stark contrast between the character work and the saving-the-day business. It drove home to me how generic heroes are when they’re actually being heroic. Like, most superheroes will selflessly do the right thing when needed, so they can only really distinguish themselves when they aren’t put in that situation.
Take, for example, the plan the Avengers ultimately enact to marry the planets, which requires Hulk to first punch a thing and then Thor to hammer another thing. Those tasks are ultimately interchangeable in the ultimate outcome, and maybe even could have been completed by the same character. Nobody would say that of their interactions at the barbecue, though. Who’s going to eat meat cooked by Hulk?
(I just want to take this opportunity to say how weird it is that Banner is Hulked-out at this party. What’s the deal? Did he just lose at that golf game? Did Cannonball insist on playing “Friday”? Is Bruce just an angry drunk?)
Intriguingly, I think Hickman is acknowledging his tendency to just treat these characters like cogs when he has Tony chastise Steve for doing the same.
The only problem is that Tony goes on to suggest that how the machine is filled or how it operates doesn’t matter, so long as it’s there. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a boring-ass pitch for a comic. “I don’t know. Some heroes. Who cares who they are? And they’re a team because they have to be.”
I’m hoping Hickman is setting up Tony to fail. I’m hoping this series is ultimately about not treating superheroes as interchangeable action figures, but this issue serves more as a question mark than anything else. I’d like to think that Hickman’s command of the characters in the party scene — and the contrast between that and the generic action in the rest of the issue — signifies that he knows which is more interesting, he’s just making sure we know it, too. But, he might also just be more interested in the crazy plot machinations. I’m holding out hope for the former.
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