[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at Hell Yeah '80s Marvel!]
Free Comic Book Day 2013 is coming up this Saturday, and Marvel’s offering this year is a doozy. Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity #1 is the start of a major event, with ties to current Marvel comics and, quite likely, the upcoming film appearance of Thanos in the next Avengers film. Hickman has taken command of the core Avengers titles, after over a decade of Brian Michael Bendis’s decompressed and rather talky tenure, with New Avengers and Avengers, the first six issues of which are collected in Avengers Vol. 1: Avengers World.
Taking his cues from the film, along with Bendis’s own Avengers Assemble book, the team begins in its six-person cinematic line-up. It’s a credit to both the film and Marvel’s own editorial choices that such a team makes sense in the modern Marvel universe. The only out-of-place element is the Hulk’s presence, especially since his founder status was revoked back in Kurt Busiek’s run. Thankfully, Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Avengers Assemble have helped improve the Hulk’s status quo. The series begins with Steve Rogers and Tony Stark stripping the team down to rebuild it later on, though they dismiss Luke Cage and Dr. Strange a little too casually for my tastes.
As it turns out, they’re immediately outclassed by a trio of aliens. Two of them, the dark Abyss and the golden, horned Ex Nihilo, enjoy fiddling with the building blocks of life and creating “better” organisms. Their guardian, the robotic Aleph, is a rampaging terror whose destructive impulses provide both a bit of comic relief and a genuine threat. The initial fight between the Avengers and Ex Nihilo’s forces is extremely well-done, proving the aliens’ bona fides while demonstrating that the Avengers aren’t fooling around either. Jerome Opeña’s artwork uses shading to a perfect degree, without going overboard like Mike Deodato and other artists tend to do. Opeña also draws an awesome, ape-like Hulk which looks closer to the Kirby original than nearly any other incarnation I’ve seen.
From here, Hickman rebuilds the team in a very deliberate way. Hickman’s previous career as a graphic designer often translates into his comic book work in page layouts and, especially, in his love of charts. Each issue of Avengers begins with a complex infographic featuring each member’s personal insignia. They’re connected to each other and to a central hub in a way that hasn’t quite been explained yet, but which ties into how the universe itself is laid out. Despite dismissing some of the New Avengers, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Wolverine, and Captain Marvel are quickly brought back in. At the same time, Hickman deliberately under-uses Spider-Man and Wolverine to give space to characters without their own titles. Other veteran Avengers include the Falcon and Shang-Chi, previously seen in Secret Avengers: Run The Mission.
Some of the newest team members include Sunspot and Cannonball, longtime veterans of the New Mutants who attempted to retire after that series concluded. They swiftly become some of the team’s best comic relief while also demonstrating Captain America’s desire to train the next generation of heroes. They’re joined by Manifold, a mysterious teleporter previously found in Hickman’s Secret Warriors series. The final trio is comprised of new heroes with old names: Hyperion, Smasher, and Captain Universe. After the three-part initial arc is over, the next three issues delve into these heroes as Hickman brings older Marvel elements into the forefront. These issues are drawn by Adam Kubert, whose style is similar enough to Opeña’s that the transition isn’t jarring.
Hyperion’s origin is told as the team clears up some of the aftermath of Ex Nihilo’s plan to terra form Earth. Marvel has tried to emulate Superman numerous times, most famously with Thor and the Sentry, but Hyperion is the closest imitation as a member of the Squadron Supreme, a Justice League pastiche. This is actually a different Hyperion than the one from Mark Gruenwald’s groundbreaking Squadron Supreme maxi-series and the one from Supreme Power. He has the right mix of internal turmoil, arrogance, and skill to come off as a good Superman imitator without getting annoying. Tying his origin into AIM gives that organization new life, especially now it’s become a key enemy in other titles like Hawkeye and Secret Avengers.
Smasher’s story in issue #5 begins with a flashback to New X-Men issue #122, published over a decade ago. I checked my New X-Men hardcover, and apart from some different angles and abridged dialogue, Hickman and Kubert did a beat-for-beat recreation of the previous Smasher’s demise as he and the other Imperial Guards (Marvel’s Legion of Superheroes pastiche) fled from Cassandra Nova. The story picks up a dangling plot thread from that issue: the idea that a human could have found the power-giving exospex wielded by that Smasher. Izzy Dare becomes the first human Smasher, and the parallels to Hal Jordan’s origins are obvious but underplayed. The revelation of her grandfather’s identity is a brilliant inside joke which brings a popular British sci-fi pulp hero into the Marvel Universe.
Finally, Captain Universe’s tale involves the revelation of her origin to Shang-Chi. For a while, many people online (myself included) thought that the new Captain Universe was Monica Rambeau, formerly of Nextwave. Tamara Devoux is a new character with a tragic backstory and ties to both the 1980s incarnation of Captain Universe and the failed New Universe publishing project, which will become the core story of the next volume. This issue also solves a problem many people had with the publishing timeline: how does Avengers interact with the new Superior Spider-Man? We find out here as Octavius-in-Parker’s body instigates a feud with Cannonball, and Sunspot and just generally makes an ass of himself.
Avengers: Avengers World is a story of building, both in the tale itself and in the paratext around it. The strong subtext of “creating the new from the old” plays out in Hickman’s use of classic Marvel concepts and characters. With clever dialogue and great art, it’s easy to see why Avengers has swiftly become one of Marvel’s core books.