Avengers 40

Alternating Currents: Avengers 40, Drew and Mark

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.

T'Challa and Namor

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. 

Avengers Assembled

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?

8 comments on “Avengers 40

  1. Am I the only one actively annoyed by Steve’s portrayal in this title? I realize he’s in the right, but his insistence on making war with the Illuminati seems bone-headed when the Cabal exists and when the ENTIRE UNIVERSE IS COMING TO AN END. The teams come to him with a solution to at least one of those problems, possibly both, and he refuses to even listen to it until he can settle his vendetta. Have the Illuminati done horrible things? Yes, though I should point out that Namor was the only one who actually killed any inhabitable worlds. Should they pay for it? Probably. But Steve’s prioritization of their punishment over much more urgent problems comes across as short-sighted and petty. It’s like he’s coming after them to get revenge over their wiping his memory, not because of their world-spanning crimes. Heads-up, Steve: The Illuminati going to prison is pointless if the entire universe is destroyed!!!

    But then again, I never got the impression that Hickman was painting Steve as the one in the “right” as you guys did, although that could just be because he’s written the Illuminati as much more nuanced characters than Steve’s group. I dunno. If you spend two years presenting me with reasons why the Illuminati have to do what they have to do, it can be a little hard to suddenly swerve and present them as the straight-up bad guys (especially when the Cabal fill that role so much more strongly), even if we knew from the start that what they were doing wasn’t entirely ethical.

    • I’m really into the idea that perfect morality can be a hindrance to progress. Steve knows who he’s dealing with, and all he’s asking for is an admission of guilt. I don’t know that it’s quite as petty as you’re painting it Spencer, and it could very well be an important thing to acknowledge. Maybe not necessarily IN THAT MOMENT, but some time for sure.

      • Steve’s unswerving righteousness does seem to fall somewhere in the neighborhood of Ahab-level obsessiveness. There is definitely something to be said for the “perfect morality being a hindrance to progress” mindset Patrick has put forth in Rogers’ portrayal. However, I’ll go one further in trying to decipher Cap’s stubborn logic in that the Illuminati (individually and as a collective) are too much of a wildcard factor for him NOT to lock down in one fashion or another- especially framed against the greater issues of the Cabal and the Incursions…

  2. Also, I’d bet money on Thanos and Black Swan surviving — Thanos should be able to survive an exploding planet, and Black Swan’s story doesn’t feel over yet. I was pretty convinced that Namor was dead though, especially since this is such a strong ending to the feud that’s gone on between he and T’Challa since before this title even began.

    The rest of the Cabal are a toss-up, they don’t really matter one way or the other.

  3. I’d stopped buying this title at about 24. I got through Infinity (barely), gave it one more chance and realized I didn’t like what Hickman was doing. Then, last Wednesday, I saw “SECRET WARS” on Avengers 40 and as far as I know it’s the first Secret Wars on a comic, so I bought it.

    I liked it. I liked Namor buying the farm by basically a planet falling on him. That’s pretty badass. This (along with the little 25 minute video Marvel just released with Brevoort and Alonso) have me excited about Secret Wars. I’m going to pick up some Avengers and New Avengers the next couple months (I’m getting 30% off my pull list at my LCS, so I can afford it. Otherwise it would be dropped).

    • Kaif, if you’re looking to catch up for Secret Wars, start picking these titles up from Avengers 35 and New Avengers 24 up through the present. Both those issues are essentially a new beginning after an 8 month time skip, and all of Hickman’s build-up to Secret Wars begins there.

      • Funny, I was at Half Price Books today and found Avengers 35-39 for $1 each. I was going to let them slide (I pretty much knew what was going on from you guys) but for a buck, what the hey, I’ll buy. I wouldn’t have, but seeing Namor get a whole planet dumped on his face in this issue kind of got me pumped.

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