Today, Spencer and Mark are discussing New Avengers 30, originally released February 25th, 2015.
Spencer: Jonathan Hickman and Dalibor Talajic’s New Avengers 30 reads a bit like a textbook on multiversal theory. It’s about as dry as beef jerky, and is focused so strongly on explaining every minute detail about the Ivory Kings that it largely fails to address why they’re doing what they’re doing. The information contained within its pages will likely prove important as Secret Wars grows closer, but for the moment, New Avengers 30 feels like an issue that highlights the greatest weakness of Hickman’s Avengers books: a focus on plot that supersedes “story” or characterization.
Hank Pym has returned from his trip through the Multiverse. He hasn’t found Rabum Alal, the supposed source behind the Incursions, but he has encountered the Ivory Kings, the last of the many multiversal threats Black Swan laid out for us so long ago. Turns out they’re actually Beyonders, fully evolved versions of the already immensely powerful Beyonder the Avengers faced long ago in the original Secret Wars. Pym watched as these Beyonders effortlessly destroyed the Makers — the same Makers, remember, who were all but untouchable back during Infinity, to the point where it took a Dues ex machina from Captain Universe to take them down (where has she been lately, anyway?) — the Captain Britain Corps, and eventually, the Celestials, veritable gods from dozens of universes, all at once. In response, the Multiverse itself somehow takes sentient form, and the Beyonders destroy it also, leaving Hank Pym broken and hopeless. What hope do the Avengers have now?
It’s a lot of exposition, a fact Hickman mercifully lampshades in one of the issue’s only moments of levity.
Manifold, too, gets a moment to question his origins and purpose, but otherwise, the characterization is thin-to-nonexistent. Captain Britain and Yellowjacket are both essentially mouthpieces for exposition, just describing events they witnessed without their personality shining through at all. Hickman seems to have chosen Pym as his multiversal ambassador almost solely because he can shrink, and therefore can view events without being seen himself. Otherwise, his traits as a character are almost entirely ignored, and even when Sunspot thinks Pym has gone mad, it’s more because of the incomprehensible slaughter he’s witnessed than any of the typical “Hank Pym madness” the character is (sadly) known for.
(Really, the cast is used strangely in this issue in general. Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, and Black Widow do nothing but stand around, even when penciler Dalibor Talajic poses them as if they’re important. I don’t know whether this is in the script or not, but Hulk and Black Bolt just randomly appear in the last panel of the issue with no explanation — in that same panel, Sunspot is miscolored as Cannonball. These faults may lie more with the art than the writing, but it does help highlight how insignificant the actual cast feels.)
We’ve talked about this before, so it’s no surprise to any readers who have stuck with Hickman’s story this long, but he’s using the Avengers more as cogs in a machine than as characters in their own right, and I still can’t help but to find that disappointing, if only because I know Hickman is capable of bringing out what makes all of these characters awesome. New Avengers at its best has actually been quite character driven, focusing on the toll the Illuminati’s impossible decisions have taken on them, so yeah, I’m a bit disappointed to see it become so clinical in its waning hours.
So does all this exposition add up to anything interesting? I’m not really sure; it probably depends on how fascinated you are by the inner workings of the multiverse. My attention was more focused on deciphering the Beyonders/Ivory Kings, especially since Hickman seems to be positioning them as our primary antagonists at the moment, and to be perfectly honest, they don’t do much for me. There’s no personality or motive behind their actions, and I don’t know whether that’s by design or if Hickman is just so caught up with plot and hype that he overlooked it. It’s hard to know whether the Beyonders are capricious, unfathomable forces of nature, or if they’re beings with motives yet to be revealed, or if we’re just not supposed to think about it. Either way, they’re so powerful, so beyond human understanding that I just can’t get invested in them as an opponent.
On the bright side, at least this kind of storytelling mostly plays to Talajic’s strengths, which isn’t his characters. Talajic’s characters are doughy and kind of lumpy, but he also has the strange, offputting habit of always framing his characters in close-up, looking directly at the camera, whenever they talk.
It’s fortunate, then, that there’s very little conversation in this issue. Talajic’s best work is the battle between the Beyonders and the Celestials, where he gets to let loose with some massive, unconventional designs and layouts. I’m particularly fond of the way he depicts a moment taking place in multiple universes simultaneously by splitting the image up in to multiple panels.
It’s a simple but clever way to depict a rather heady concept. I’m not sure whether it was Hickman or Talajic’s idea, but either way, I’m impressed.
Mark, I stand by everything I said about this issue, but I still wonder if I’m being a bit hard on it; after all, by now we should all know what to expect from a Hickman book, right? Did the clinical nature of this story work better for you than it did me? Were there any particular moments you wanted to dig further into? What do you think of Pym’s Yellowjacket identity? I love what the Avengers: Earth’s Mightest Heroes animated series did with the character, even if its cancellation left his arc unfinished, but I gotta say, Yellowjacket’s costume just looks silly here.
Mark: I grow weary, Spencer. I grow weary. You’re right, maybe by this point I should have my expectations for a Hickman New Avengers issue calibrated correctly. But as this arc ever so slowly grinds its gears to a conclusion, the clinical nature of it all is becoming exhausting.
Part of my problem is Hickman’s characterizations, or, more precisely, his lack of characterizations. To further previous discussion on the topic, in general, the best comic book characters allow for an author to tell a variety of stories, but they all fit within what we expect of the character. Perhaps the best example of this is Batman. A Batman story can be abstract and delve into the psychological aspects of the character a la Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. Or it be campy and fun like the animated series Batman: The Brave and The Bold. No matter the tone and no matter the writer, the character is always identifiable as Batman thanks to strong characterization. The way he talks, his philosophy, etc are all fairly consistent from title to title.
Good characterization can make up for a lot of shortcomings. I can’t tell you how many issues of comic books I’ve given a pass because, even if the plot is boring or ill conceived, the characters are well written and their interactions make up for narrative shortcomings. Hickman’s work in New Avengers has very little of this. These characters are not distinct people so much as empty vessels through which Hickman spouts philosophy and exposition. There is hardly any effort to give a character a unique voice. Hank Pym sounds just like Reed Richards who sounds just like the Caretaker from the earliest pages of the “Previously in New Avengers…” that opens the issue. Everyone is the same, because everyone is Hickman. Sunspot miscolored as Cannonball? In New Avengers, what’s the difference?
Just as it’s easy to get away with lax plotting if you have strong characters, it’s easy to get away with lax characters when the action is engaging. New Avengers 30 does not have that luxury. Even if I found the minute workings of the multiverse fascinating (which I don’t, but more about that later), it’s told in the most passive way possible with Yellowjacket recounting his time trying to track down Rabum Alal after the fact. Why not have an issue following Pym through the multiverse? I guess that’s what we have here, but it reads like more of a report than an adventure.
My other main problem with this issue is, because the writing is so clinical, the comic book science stands out all the more. Comic book science is almost always absurd, but we go along with it because it’s usually fun. Superman 38 gives Superman the power to detonate like a bomb, but then he has to take the time to recharge like a solar cell. That shit is goofy, but we’re in because it makes a weird kind of logic: Superman gets his energy from the sun, ergo if he expelled all his super energy he’d have to recharge. But in New Avengers when Pym is giving his lecture on the inner-workings of the multiverse, it’s a lot harder to care. It’s all such serious nonsense. For example, Pym’s explanation of how to navigate the multiverse:
What does that mean? I spent a bit trying to parse how the rotating particles give Pym the true north he’s looking for, but I’m at a loss. What’s more is that I don’t really care. I don’t really need an explanation, but if Hickman’s going to present one I guess I feel like it should make sense. Of course I’m also willing to believe that this explanation does make sense and I just don’t understand it. If so, someone please break it down for me.
So yeah, overall I’m pretty of down on this issue and honestly my enthusiasm for New Avengers in general is wearing pretty thin at the moment. In two months time runs out, and I’m fine with that.
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