Today, Spencer and Ryan are discussing Avengers 44 and New Avengers 33, originally released April 29th, 2015.
Spencer: Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers saga has gone through three different phases. The first, which lasted from the series’ debut through the end of Infinity, found Avengers exploring the forced evolution of the planet Earth via Ex Nihilo’s Origin Bombs while New Avengers established the threat of the Incursions and the drastic measures the Illuminati would have to take to combat them. The second phase found Avengers essentially spinning its wheels, waiting for the Illuminati in New Avengers to reach their limit and, ultimately, fail. Then the books skipped ahead in time eight months, and both lost a bit of their former identities as they became swallowed up in the Incursions storyline. New Avengers has spent most of phase three explaining the mechanics of everything that came before, while Avengers explored the personal fall-out between the members of all these various teams. While the Incursion storyline is continuing into Hickman’s upcoming Secret Wars, the final issues of Avengers and New Avengers focus on wrapping up the ideas they’ve been exploring since phase three began. One is decidedly more engaging than the other.
For New Avengers 33, this means answering any remaining questions surrounding the Incursions themselves. It turns out that the Incursions are an experiment by the Beyonders, who have become bored of existence, using an infinite number of identical Molecule Men across the multiverse to trigger the Incursions. Doctor Doom became Rabum Alal in an attempt to murder every single Molecule Man before they could bring about the early end of all existence. All of this backstory is delivered by Doom to Strange in a manner reminiscent of New Avengers 30, which found Pym similarly describing a tale of the Beyonders, but this issue worked much better for me than that one, mainly because the answers Doom delivers are simply more interesting — after all, we’ve been wondering what caused the Incursions since New Avengers began.
Still, for an issue so focused on delivering answers and wrapping up loose ends, there’s a few moments that are frustratingly unclear. For example, I can’t figure out why Black Swan turned away from Doom, or what Doom’s big secret weapon is. In the latter case I suppose that maybe we’re not supposed to know yet, that it may be explained during Secret Wars, but it’s hard to tell for sure — either way, it makes the grand climax of the issue almost indecipherable.
Seriously, what just happened? I understand Doom tried to destroy the Beyonders and failed (wiping out most of the Multiverse in the process), but the details of exactly how or why any of that happened are completely lost to me.
In contrast, Avengers 44 is surprisingly clear, with its focus on the rift between Steve and Tony making the core conflict of this series more explicit than ever. In general, Avengers 44‘s ability to wrap-up character arcs as opposed to dryly answering questions makes it more engaging than its counterpart — perhaps my favorite moments comes courtesy of Black Panther, who declares that he wouldn’t help the U.S. Government combat the Incursions even if he could because of the way they abandoned Wakanda to the Cabal. It’s a ruthless moment yet one that rings absolutely true, and it feels like a far cry from the T’Challa who couldn’t bear to destroy a world to save his kingdom — the hardships of the last eight months have absolutely changed him, and Hickman establishes that in an amazingly subtle and succinct way.
Still, the focus of this issue is the conflict between Steve and Tony, and Hickman cuts to the core of the rift that’s formed between them with newfound clarity. What Avengers 44 shows me is that Steve’s current hatred of Tony isn’t really about the work the Illumaniti’s been doing, or even Tony’s tampering with his memory, not really. All those things bother Steve, of course, but Steve actually seems ready to overlook those sins at the issue’s outset when he sees some of the good Tony’s accomplished recently.
There’s a part of Tony which Steve still admires, the part that’s willing to track down the daughter of Captain Universe’s host in order to bring her back to her senses, and despite all the anger Steve feels, Tony almost wins him over here. The real source of Steve’s anger is revealed a few pages later by one very pissed Captain Universe:
Yes, what Steve’s really been mad about all this time — what’s fueled his fanatical pursuit of the Illuminati since the time-skip — is the fact that Tony lied about their chances of stopping the Incursions. Tony said there was hope, but never really believed it, and that’s unthinkable to Steve. Hickman himself compares Steve and Tony to “life and death” respectively later in the issue, and that’s certainly their roles here: Tony’s the cynical “realist” while Steve will never give up hope and never stop fighting for what he believes in. It’s why these two have always been stuck in an endless cycle of friendship and antagonism, and with stakes as high as “the end of the universe,” there was never any chance that this could end without these two coming to blows — it was an inevitable as the Incursions themselves.
Hickman helps to highlight the tragedy of this conflict by flashing back to the first issue, to Steve and Tony’s creation of the “Avengers Machine,” as they beat each other senseless. In a way it brings Avengers full-circle and shows that this particular volume was never really about the Origin Bombs or even the Incursions, but instead the doomed relationship between these two core Avengers. This clarity of purpose is something New Avengers has lacked since time-skip, but for better or for worse, both these final issues illustrate the strengths and the weaknesses of Hickman’s Avengers epic. There’s some fantastic characterization and some complex, interesting plotting, but Hickman often struggles to integrate them in a satisfying way. Reading these two titles has been a wild ride, sometimes frustrating yet sometimes exhilarating, and I suppose their conclusions are no different. Ryan, how do you feel about the end of this era?
Ryan: I feel happy for this era coming to a close for many reasons. But first, I would like to agree with a few of the points made by the lead-in.
As Spencer said, Avengers 44 reads as the more organic of the two issues. After the defeat of the fleet invasion, the issue focuses on the Stark/Rogers feud and the scramble on Earth-1610 to prepare for the Incursion. I found the final battle to be eerily reminiscent of the last fight in the film Gangs of New York , in which we find Amsterdam Vallon and Bill the Butcher locked in mortal battle, poised to settle the score, when explosions rip them apart as Union ships bombard the city. Both scenes tear us back from the personal grudges to bring the audience back to the larger context.
Does it leave the audience a tad unfulfilled, wanting a shade of closure? Of course. We can guess, however, that these two may be throwing some hands at each other come Secret Wars. As much as I enjoyed this throw-down and the teasing of The Maker’s machinations, one moment in this issue seemed a bit forced. In the following page of talking heads, I felt as if the leap from “Tony has been acting pretty sketchy” to “I don’t care if he just stopped an invasion; Stark must be beat up POST-HASTE” came quite abruptly.
In a comic featuring universes colliding and fighting, is it odd that this dialogue is what forced me to suspend my disbelief?
Speaking of unfulfilling, it certainly is darn difficult to appreciate the pay-off of New Avengers 33 when the entire issue leads up to what seems like Doom throwing an office building at a glowing, sentient slash in space. I, personally, am much more intrigued by the human elements in plots over the grandiose universal threats; give me Daredevil or Moon Knight stopping petty crime over Galactus trying to eat a planet, any day. That being said, the idea of Doom traveling through time and space to kill Molecule Men intrigued me in the same way that time travel works in the Chuck Palahniuk novel Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, wherein someone could kill their own ancestors to guarantee themselves immortality. While, in this case, Victor Von Doom’s journey ended up as a vehicle to begin his religion and build his super-weapon, it seemed a lot less involving than it could have been, and also may play a much smaller role in the upcoming comics than the events in Avengers 44.
I can only imagine the meeting when Hickman was told that he would be almost solely responsible for ending and rebooting the entirety of the Marvel Universe. I can name few other writers with the scope of vision to attempt what he has accomplished by ending this saga. That being said, as it concludes, I hope Hickman gets a chance to breathe and focus on one project which he can truly imbue with the wit, sardonic humor, and depth which he breathed more consistently into past titles like FF or Manhattan Projects. And let’s be hopeful! However you felt about this story ending, Jonathan Hickman is the only thing stopping Secret Wars from being pornographic nerd-sploitation. Good luck, Jonathan; we’re all counting on you.
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