It seems that April has been a month of endings in the comics world. Not only has DC Comics departed New York for Burbank (leaving in its wake the mediocre crossover Convergence to bridge the gap in publishing), but several big titles from the past few years are ending. For Marvel, many of their titles including Fantastic Four release their final issues prior to the company’s big summer blockbuster crossover, Secret Wars, which begins in May. What the line-up of these titles will look like when that series concludes is up in the air right now and speculation of a line wide reboot is rife.
If you were looking for somewhere to start reading Avengers after seeing Whedon’s massive sequel, Age of Ultron, then perhaps issues 44 of Avengers, and 33 of New Avengers aren’t exactly the best jumping on points. Ostensibly dealing with the fallout of the past two years of Jonathan Hickman’s run on the title, both issues are the final ones for the current volume of the superhero team up book. Having said that, whilst many plots are brought to the forefront, neither feel like endings. We have Secret Wars to look forward to of course, and that’s what Hickman has been building up to all this time, and hopefully will be where many of these dangling threads will conclude. Despite the anticlimactic nature of these stories, the double sized issues both offer up some spectacular scenes – Iron Man and Steve Rogers going up against each other, Dr Doom creating a religion and positioning himself as God in the centre of it all, the imminent collision of the mainstream Marvel universe and their Ultimate counterparts – it’s all rather epic and breathless, and as a reader you will definitely get a sense of the world falling apart.
It’s not all perfect – Hickman’s final issues shoehorn a lot of exposition in (especially in New Avengers) which begs the question: why not reveal some of this earlier? Some of it, mostly centred around the Molecule Man (brilliantly retconned here as a multiversal bomb) would have had much more impact if we as readers had time to understand and process it. Instead, we are delivered the information just as the story winds to a close.
Hickman as usual gets to the core of each of his characters, no easy feat considering the enormity of the cast (New Avengers boasts a core cast of nineteen, Avengers has a whopping forty). His Stark, Thanos, Captain America, and especially Black Panther are perfectly written. Black Panther’s confrontation with the US President (a brief cameo once again from Obama, and a reminder that Marvel do love to reference the modern world, no matter how bizarre it makes their continuity seem) is one of the best scenes the character has had in decades and it barely covers two pages.
The art for both issues is, at best, a mixed bag. At least with New Avengers there is just a single artist, Mike Deodato whose computer aided art is at times distracting, but whose page layouts are often a joy (one sequence early on in the issue depicting Doom and Molecule Man spiralling into the background of the page is wonderfully constructed). His art is coloured here by Frank Martin, who does a great job of lessening the harshness of the computer effects, and bringing out a more rough image. Some of the pages here will remind the reader of, oddly, George Perez and his work on Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that’s no bad thing.
Avengers on the other hand suffers from too many cooks. Stefano Caselli and Kev Walker provide art here, with both pulling heavy lifting duties – Walker handles the Stark/Rogers conflict, whilst Caselli gets to draw the weight plot driven moments in the middle. Neither really achieves much here besides allowing the reader to be able to follow the story, and whilst there are emotional beats that really hit, that’s down to the writing over the art. The ending especially felt flat, which is a huge shame considering the content. Once again, Frank Martin’s colours do their best to link stories thematically, the red hues on pages of conflict for example, but for Marvel’s premier title, this feels oddly rushed and lacklustre.
Hickman’s run on these two titles has been a highlight of mine for the past few years, and the hype for Secret Wars is at fever pitch. It will be interesting going into May, to see whether the comic, and thus the conclusion to his entire run is successful, and until then, I suppose we’ll just have to take Hickman’s word for it when he writes at the end of his final issue of Avengers, ‘Everything dies.’