You can’t tell the players without a program!
Spencer: I actually bought a program at a ballgame once, and while it made a nice souvenir, I can’t say it helped me follow the game any better — if anything, it was a bit of a distraction. I didn’t need to be able to tell the players to follow the action on the field, but the same isn’t true for Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers epic; thankfully, Avengers 38 provides us with a pretty snazzy program of its own, free of charge!
While only the characters in color actually appear in this issue, almost all of them play some sort of role in its story, making me increasingly grateful for this handy run-down. Actually, in its own way all of Avengers 38 is a program; the issue sets up the players in the upcoming conflict between the various Avengers teams as well as their motivations, allegiances, and weapons, and I have a feeling we’re going to be referencing this issue for quite a while to come. It’s place-setting, but place-setting is rarely this entertaining.
The majority of Avengers 38 takes place at Sunspot’s base in the Savage Land as he fills his New Avengers in on the events of the past few months and what it will mean for their future. Bobby’s ultimate goal is actually rather simple:
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Fortunately, Bobby not only has contacts within the S.H.I.E.L.D. Avengers and the Illuminati to give him every last piece of relevant information, but he’s also learned how to use Ex Nihilo’s Origin Bomb sites to power his little venture.
It’s that last fact that I find most interesting. Ex Nihilo originally meant for the Origin Bombs to remake the Earth, and even after the Avengers foiled that plan, they still found themselves faced with bizarre and often terrifying discoveries at the bomb sites. I quite enjoyed those early issues’ focus on exploring the sites and the effect they had both on the world and on the Avengers, and while I still miss that, I’m just as interested in Sunspot’s using them to support his New Avengers.
It might actually be a bit of a cynical take; these fantastic, life-giving sites full of potential to advance mankind are being turned into weapons, just like everything else humanity gets its hands on. In a way, though, it could almost be seen as a way of reclaiming tragedy. After all, the Origin Bombs killed hundreds of thousands, but now Sunspot’s found a way to use them to reunite the protectors of Earth and possibly even end the Incursions; what better way to start making up for the unfathomable number of lives the Illuminati and the Cabal have sacrificed for their crusades?
(Fortunately, whatever grimness or cynicism I found here was immediately forgiven as soon as I got to that last page reveal of what Shang-Chi found at the final Origin Bomb site; it’s just the kind of absolutely ridiculous twist I love in my comics, and it’s without contest the most fun Hickman’s had with this title in quite some time).
Like I mentioned in the introduction, though, this issue largely functions as a program, showing us how the events and characters we already know are going to be important in the future, and that’s why I’m so excited to see the Origin Bombs pop up again; knowing the larger role they play in Hickman’s narrative helps to justify the time he’s spent on them and gets me psyched to see more of them. Pod is similarly fleshed out here, and while I don’t know if finally knowing its origin and purpose helps justify the excessive amount of time devoted to it back during the Infinity prelude, it at least helps to make sense of a storyline that, at the time, was awfully baffling.
Y’know, I can see this being a polarizing issue. There’s a lot of exposition, a lot of set-up, and Hickman goes out of his way to make everything as explicit as possible; there will certainly be readers turned off by all the place-setting, but personally, I found it all to be quite entertaining. Hickman has a gift for grand speeches, yet he wisely avoids them here, allowing for characters to interject themselves into Sunspot’s presentation, to make jokes, and generally be funny and charming even in the midst of such a heavy conversation.
The characterization doesn’t quite cut to the cast’s core the way it did in issue 36, but there’s still some insightful stuff going on here, even down to which Avenger ended up in which group. With the exception of Hawkeye (who just doesn’t seem like he fits in with Steve’s group), every character’s inclusion on their respective team makes sense, as does the defection of Jess and Nat to the New Avengers and Hank’s growing unease with the Illuminati. I’m the kind of nerd who would have a blast tracking these various stats no matter how impersonal they got, but fortunately, Hickman provides enough characterization to make it all not only feasible, but interesting to boot.
There’s been plenty of times during Hickman’s runs on Avengers and New Avengers where it’s felt like he was spinning his wheels or padding issues, but that is absolutely not the case here; this issue is clearly a vital piece of the mythology that we’ll be referencing for issues to come, yet it manages to inject consistent characterization and humor into all that important place-setting. That’s a winner for me, but Drew, I’m curious to hear what you think: did you enjoy this issue, or are things moving too slow for you? Were you happy to see the Origin Bombs referenced again? And since we’re talking about programs here, what do you think happened to the Avengers who aren’t on that roll-call? Obviously Wolverine is dead, but Spider-Man and Captain Universe are still unaccounted for.
Drew: My best guess on those absent Avengers is that they form the “secondary and tertiary teams that almost no one knows about”, as Natasha put it, which would explain why we wouldn’t have seen them recently. My gut says they’d have both stuck with Cap, but I imagine we’ll find out soon enough.
Honestly, I’m more curious about figuring out what happened to Tony. When Bobby casually mentioned that the Illuminati already sent someone across the multiverse, I was sure this was our explanation, but then we get that cryptic panel of Tony in one of those cube prisons they used to keep Black Swan and Terrax in.
Even more cryptically, when pressed for details, Jess admits that they “thought someone needed [their] help…[they] were wrong”. I have no clue what that might mean, but I sure can’t wait to find out. Hickman expertly avoids giving us any actual answers, which kind of typifies what makes this series so great or so frustrating, depending on who you ask.
Another great example is the Origin Bombs. Yes, it’s exciting that these are finally paying off, but on the other hand, that payoff required that he spent over a year setting a thing up, only to leave it dangling for the better part of two years. Like, unless I missed something in Avengers World (which is totally possible), this is the first time we’ve seen Validator since her very brief cameo in issue 14. There was no pretense that any of the origin bomb stuff was even resolved, Hickman simply distracted us with the flashier threat of Infinity for long enough for us to kind of forget about how there are still cities overrun with alien viruses.
But, its for that very reason that this issue is so exciting. The Origin Bombs and the Incursions were the two initial threats that Hickman introduced in his sister series, so to see them on course to finally crash into one another feels like it might lead to an actual conclusion. Moreover, breaking the Avengers into all of these factions makes it feel like they’re actually doing stuff. Heck, when you asked “where’s Spider-Man?” my mind jumped to something much more interesting than “eating Sam’s lunch,” which is what this series had led us to believe back when everyone was together.
Though again, I think it’s telling that I’m more excited about what this series means for the future than anything within its pages. I think you’re right to suggest that this issue has the potential to be polarizing — large swaths of it could be dismissed as a presentation on the mythology the series couldn’t be bothered to follow up on a year and a half ago. Heck, if that doesn’t sound exciting enough, Bobby has prepared a nice power point presentation to punch it up. I don’t want to overlook the new bits of exposition we get here — Spencer is right to highlight what the shifting allegiances say about the situations and the characters involved — but they’re surrounded by so much recap that nothing actually happens in the issue. Even the reveal of Shang Chi’s army is delivered in the past tense, making even that new information feel like recap.
In many ways, this was a kind of typical issue of this series — it seeds juicy ideas, but distracts us before we can come to any satisfying conclusions, and it promises more future action than it actually contains — which I suppose makes it as divisive as the series itself. I think it does point to a more satisfying conclusion on the horizon, which may actually be the shot-in-the-arm this series needed. Indeed, the countdown on the cover is the most urgency we’ve seen in the series in months. Actually, that may loop around to your program analogy, since ultimately, the names of the players aren’t nearly as important as a basic understanding of the structure of the game. Hickman has finally told us how many innings are left, which I guess finally makes this a ball game.
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?