Spencer: What do you do when a problem has you stumped, when you’ve tried everything you can think of to fix it, but nothing works? Perhaps you ask for help, hoping that a fresh set of eyes will provide a new perspective, or perhaps you examine how others have solved similar problems in hopes of finding an answer. Lately the Illuminati have been taken both approaches in their attempts to end the Incursions. The Mirror has provided them with an endless variety of alternate Earths to observe, but no matter how things differ on the various worlds, so far they have all been recognizable as versions of the Marvel Universe. Not so, though, in Jonathan Hickman and Rags Morales’ New Avengers 16, where we get to see how the heroes of the distinguished competition might handle an Incursion.
Namor finally returns to Wakanda and casually trades some barbs with Black Panther as he fills Namor in on recent events (I’ve sorely missed the sniping between these two characters, and Morales draws a wonderfully smug Namor, so I was quite happy with this short scene). After observing nearly 40 worlds fall in similar manners, T’Challa has located a world that has managed to fend off several Incursions in a variety of previously unheard-of ways. The powerful, dynamic heroes of this world band together to face a new Incursion, fend off the Mapmakers, and ultimately reveal a shocking source of tremendous power.
It’s obvious that these characters are meant to be stand-ins for DC’s Justice League. Each character has a direct counterpart (Sun God/Superman, The Rider/Batman, The Jovian/Martian Manhunter, Boundless/The Flash, The Norn/Doctor Fate, and I’m assuming Doctor Spectrum/Green Lantern?), but the parallels go further than that; the world of these heroes — Earth 4,290,001 (I got a good laugh out of the “one”) — has even taken on the tone of the DC Universe.
Traditionally, Marvel Comics have always been known for being more “realistic,” with more relatable heroes and less fantastic abilities, while DC’s always been known for its iconic, extremely powerful heroes who are often more important as role models than relatable figures. That holds true with the comparison between our Illuminati and these heroes — known as “The Great Society” — as well. Dealing with the Incursions has pushed the Illuminati into morally gray areas and kept them at each other’s throats, but the Great Society has not only managed to find creative, non-lethal ways to end Incursions, but have managed to stick together throughout the entire ordeal.
Even the ways that the Great Society have been ending Incursions — as the Rider mentions in the first panel of that image — are so over-the-top that they harken to some of the more ridiculous stories and concepts of DC’s Silver Age. Still, my favorite example of the more hopeful, optimistic Earth 4,290,001 — which the issue’s title refers to as “A Perfect World” — comes from Sun God’s grand speech.
We’ve seen a version of this speech in the first panel of the recap page of pretty much every issue of New Avengers, but while Reed’s speech could be seen as a little pessimistic, a little too accepting of death, Sun God’s is unabashedly optimistic, a celebration of life. This is yet another example of how different these two universes are (and how different DC and Marvel are, at least when DC’s not trying to be Marvel, anyway), but at the same time, it shows that there are some similarities between these two worlds as well.
For example, despite the contrasting natures of their speeches, both Reed and Sun God eventually reach the same conclusion: they will not stand for the premature end of the world. Moreover, despite the Great Society’s tremendous strides at fighting individual Incursions, they’re no closer to finding the cause behind the Incursions than our Illuminati are.
Even worse, the Great Society could be playing with powers far beyond even their control. When destroying the Mapmaker’s ravaged world, the Norn uses a dangerous, oddly familiar power:
Yup, he’s definitely using the same abilities as the Black Priests, and considering what they’re capable of, that’s a scary thing. Has the Norn somehow unconsciously created the Black Priests in the first place, or has he simply tapped into their power? Either way, it’s an uncomfortable sight. Even Norn’s teammates are concerned by this ability, and that doesn’t bode well.
If we’re listing the negative here, then I also wonder how useful any of this information will prove to be for the Illuminati. Power-wise, they just don’t have the ability to fight Incursions the way the Great Society has, and moreover, just observing their teamwork isn’t going to clear up the issues between Namor and T’Challa. Could there be better ways for the Illuminati to spend their time?
Anyway, I don’t think Hickman is trying to make any grand statements about DC Comics or Marvel Comics with this issue; copying the well-known tone and character beats of the DC Universe is simply an incredibly effective shorthand, a way to convincingly portray this “perfect world” without having to spend more space than necessary establishing the world’s rules. While I still don’t know if the Mirror is as important as Black Swan and the Illuminati have made it out to be, I do find the comparisons it helped draw in this issue between the Illuminati and the Great Society to be worth exploring.
Patrick, it’s been a while since we’ve talked New Avengers. What are your thoughts on the Mirror and the oddly repetitive string of issues that sprung up in its wake? Did you see the DC parallel with the Great Society as well, or did you get something different out of them and their “perfect world”? What do you think of the work of our new regular artist, Rags Morales?
Patrick: I’ve been a die hard fan of Morales since Identity Crisis, so I get a spark of excitement in my belly basically any time his name appears on a cover. And while I might have been too green at the time to enjoy Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, I always liked Morales’ work there as well. Oh, but Spencer, what do those two works have in common? Indeed what’s the common thread through all of Morales’ most well renowned work? He’s an asset of DC Comics. This only helps to support the connections that Spencer’s making above.
There are just too many signs pointing at the obvious: this is the story of the DC Universe dealing with Incursions. It actually got me thinking about what exactly an incursion is. Basically what’s happening is a collision between two versions of the same thing that simply cannot occupy the same space. What is a reboot (or relaunch or whatever) is not a publishing company dealing with the impossible decision of what to do when multiple versions of their world start running into each other? That’s a question that has about as many good answers as there for incursions.
The Great Society has gotten alarmingly good at wiping out conflicting worlds and simply replacing them. That’s been a goal of the Illuminati for quite some time — no matter how monstrous that is, their goal is to protect everyone on Earth-616. The solution that the Great Society comes up with is quick and clean, but there’s something forboding about that efficiency. It’s hard to say what to make of Namor’s response:
Almost looks like he’s intrigued, right? T’Challa’s face is easier to read – it’s a straight up grimace. We know that it cutting ties with — then then nuking — their own history is not something Marvel is in the habit of doing, but it is what DC has done with the New 52. I’ve been to a handful of Cons at this point, and I always make a point of attending panels with Tom Brevoort. He’s a Marvel legend at this point, and the depth of his knowledge is absolutely stunning. Plus, he’s a charming, funny, pleasant human being, and after a few hours on the show floor, we could all stand to be reminded that we like people. There are a few common choruses that Brevoort sings over and over again. One is that Marvel will never dump all it’s history (“unlike some people” he dryly doesn’t mention his competitors by name). And the second is that Hickman’s New Avengers is the “most import book” that Marvel is publishing right now.
I had always taken this as something of a plot-focused claim — y’know, like some big dumb event was going to be born out of these pages. The opposite has been true. No matter how many big stories pass through New Avengers those fucking incursions remain a consistent threat. Check your scorecards: we passed right through Infinity and flirted with Inhumanity, and they barely changed the trajectory of this series. That leads me to the conclusion that this series isn’t important for plot reasons, or even reasons related to the bigger “Marvel Universe,” but that it’s an important statement of how Marvel treats its Universe.
All of which is very interesting, and you know I’m a sucker for this level of meta-blah-blah-blah, but Hickman and Morales seem to be a little too keen on abandoning what we do love about this series (and about Marvel comics in general) in order to lay their metaphor out for everyone to see. I too was happy to see Namor and T’Challa getting a little one on one time, but it feels like some of the… we’ll go with “tension” between them seems to have been elided in order to get to this story. I mean, right? These are still leaders of countries that were recently at war with each other. Even when forcibly united to save the Earth from Builders or Incursions, they’re not going to just snap back to being chums.
What it comes down to for me is that Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers have always taken our emotional investment in the characters for granted. That’s a fair assumption — there are no shortage of great books that can build a reader’s affection for Thor and Cap and Hulk and Iron Man and whomever. Hickman’s books have leveraged that built-in emotional connection to tell stories far bigger than the character-based books could ever hold. My fear is that he is now taking that same principal and abstracting it one level further: now our affection for the Illuminati, and the world they serve, is being taken for granted.
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