Today, Drew and Mark are discussing Avengers 40, originally released January 14th, 2015.
The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Drew: I think it would be fair to say that Dostoevsky’s polyphonic style — one built upon the perspectives of an array of characters — is antithetical to the notion of the hero’s journey. Indeed, Dostoyevsky’s philosophies (as articulated in the quote above) suggest that there’s an active tension between caring about an individual and caring about humanity at large. I’ve always been partial to the depth of understanding achieved by sticking with one protagonist — especially when it comes to comics — which has made me wary of the kind of expansive, Dostoyevskian scope of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers. In my mind, a tight focus on a single character more accurately reflects how we experience the world, but with Avengers 40, Hickman makes a compelling case for how his dense interconnectedness reflects how the world actually is.
This issue finds all of the double-agents of the various Avengers teams making themselves known. I’d actually lost track of them all by now (it’s hard to make them fit cleanly into the categories provided at the front of the issue), but it doesn’t really matter: they have a cadre of bad guys to beat, and a plan to actually do it. It’s quite simple: during the next incursion, they will trap the Cabal on the other Earth before blowing it out of the sky.
Of course, first, they’re going to have to convince Cap to go along with it. It helps that the alternate Earth in question is already devoid of life (save a few villanous mapmakers), but he also needs assurances that the Illuminati will answer for their crimes against multiversal humanity. Namor and Hank agree, but T’Challa is defiant to the last. Reed manages to smooth things over for the time being, but it leaves T’Challa’s motives tragically unaddressed, meaning nobody really sees his final coup coming. That is, T’Challa betrays Namor in the final moments of the plan, leaving him for dead with the rest of the Cabal.
But that begs the question: is the Cabal really dead? That would be a contentious question even if we saw the bodies, but because we only saw a planet blowing up, I think it’s safe to assume that these characters will be back within the next few issues. Black Swan saw Namor making his escape, which could have put any number of contingency plans in her head in motion. Facing down Thanos and his cronies will definitely be a roadblock for the Avengers, but I’m much more invested in Namor’s rekindled vendetta against T’Challa.
Come to think of it, this battle between kings — indeed, the “master morality” I’ve brought up in previous discussions of this series — may offer another parallel to Dostoyevsky: the tension between classes. While I may see the very presence of master morality as more Nietzachean, I think it’s clear that Hickman doesn’t condone T’Challa’s actions here. Indeed, the only ones in this series who have ever espoused being above the slave morality of the rest of us have all revealed themselves to be murderers (which is why I think it’s important that Black Bolt is complicit in this particular murder). This series is no longer just about presenting two different moralities, but about how they clash when pushed up against one another.
So what happens next? Will T’Challa and Black Bolt attempt to take on all of the Avengers assembled here? Perhaps the double-crosses are not yet over, and a few will come out in favor of T’Challa’s actions? With so many plates spinning, it’s hard to predict what happens next in a series like this, but with the long-gestating tension between T’Challa and Namor boiling over here, it seems like absolutely anything is possible. Maybe it’ll be Doom’s machinations. Or maybe the evolution bombs from the first arc will play a role in ultimately saving Earth from destruction.
It turns out, I’m bad at predicting this stuff. Like I said, I tend to relate better to series with just one character to follow — all of the threads here make my head spin. I suppose with Secret Wars coming at the end of this arc, there aren’t really any guarantees about anyone ending up on one big happy team — or even that the good guys will win. Shoot, maybe I can’t really predict anything about the outcome. Mark, do you have any insights to where this all might be going, or are you as clueless as I am?
Mark: I’m as clueless as you are, Drew. My only thought is that it would run counter to everything that came before if we ended with a solidly happy ending for our “heroes.” Marvel has always been about the more relatable and flawed superhero, versus DC’s pantheon of gods, but as we reach the end of this run I can’t help thinking about DC’s Identity Crisis event from a little more than 10 years ago. No one comes out of that series looking very good. It seems like one of the conceits Hickman has been operating under is that the Avengers are bad at their job, and if the very recent announcements concerning the inciting incident of Secret Wars are any indication (I won’t spoil it here), Avengers is not yet finished in that regard.
I’m honestly a bit relieved at the plot momentum we have going in this issue. After months of slowly moving his pieces into place, Hickman dispenses a surprising amount of closure. Steve Rogers and Mister Fantastic finally have their tête–à–tête, the Cabal are dealt with (though I suspect you’re right that we haven’t heard the last of them), and T’Challa confronts Namor in climactic fashion.
Drew, you mention preferring stories that follow a single protagonist versus ones with expansive scope, and I’m wondering if Hickman isn’t beginning here to frame these last few remaining issues as T’Challa’s story. The title of this issue is “We Three Kings,” and the runner throughout is a glimpse of T’Challa’s history with his father and his sister, all rulers of Wakanda, as the King’s Blade is passed between them. Fittingly, the emotional climax comes when three kings, (Namor, T’Challa, and Black Bolt) clash.
I agree that Hickman is not condoning T’Challa’s actions at the end here, but I’m not sure he wholly condemns them either. The line between right and wrong, and where people draw that line for themselves, is at the core of the conflict in Avengers. And while individual characters might come out of these events looking relatively unscathed (good ol’ Steve Rogers, for example), the institution of the Avengers has taken a mighty beating.
Where does this all end? I imagine nowhere happy. But then has anyone’s actions here really left them deserving to emerge unscathed?
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?