Review: Prelude to Infinity (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

Despite the name and the main villain, the mega-crossover Infinity actually owes more to Maximum Security than Infinity Gauntlet. This is not a bad thing; I like that Jonathan Hickman and a cadre of Marvel’s best artists have taken up Kurt Busiek’s “universe-conquering human threat” arc. Nearly every ally the Avengers find in outer space has tried to take over Earth at least once. The fact that the Kree, Skrulls, Shi’ar, Brood, Annihilation Wave, and more all join under the leadership of Captain America proves just how powerful the Builder threat is. Thanos’ plotline is the lesser of the two, kicking in only after the Builders are finally taken care of.

There’s a lot to cover in the Infinity hardcover. This review will go over the “prelude” issues of Avengers and New Avengers, hence the image of one of those hardcovers at the top of this review. Four issues are shared between the huge Infinity book and the Avengers: Prelude to Infinity. The two left out constitute the excellent two-parter focusing on Thor, Hyperion, and the High Evolutionary, as mentioned in my review of Avengers: The Last White Event. Because New Avengers isn’t shipped twice a month, its second hardcover duplicates the six issues found here, even though issues seven and eight aren’t technically part of Infinity.

I went back and re-read New Avengers: Everything Dies and found that after reading Infinity, my stance on the title has softened a bit. It’s clearer to me that Hickman really does have a plan for the Illuminati. For instance, a plot hole about Reed Richards’ participation in the title while traveling through various realities in Fantastic Four is answered by using a portal to go between realities as needed. A gap of a month is established between Everything Dies and issue seven to make room for some other stories, especially Iron Man’s space escapades, to take place.

Even though New Avengers feels detached from Infinity at times, the story wouldn’t work without its characters, especially Black Bolt. I’m still not sold on the relationship between Black Panther, Namor ,and their respective warring kingdoms. Wakanda has gotten the short end of the stick for years now and the portrayal of its queen, Shuri, as holding the proverbial “idiot ball” isn’t helping. I also wish Hickman had done more with Doctor Doom (with Kristoff Vernard from Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four at his side), although I do admit that Doom tends to take center stage in any story featuring him. Doom is clearly not happy about the potential of Earth getting destroyed by merging with an alternate of itself ... especially when the merging point happens to be in Latveria.

Hickman recruited Secret Avengers writer Nick Spencer to co-write the Avengers prelude issues. This would have been a great opportunity to do a crossover with Secret Avengers and/or Indestructible Hulk, but that might have unleashed an indecipherable crossover Gordian knot unseen since the X-titles in the mid '90s. The tone of Secret Avengers is still felt as AIM unleashes one of Ex Nihilo’s creations as his other projects broadcast signals to the Builders, the creators of Ex Nihilo. These signals have the side effect of shutting down much of the world’s electricity ... and they happen to be broadcast every eight minutes.

The battle between the Avengers and AIM’s creature is a lot of fun, but the creature’s identity -- or rather, lack thereof -- is a bit disappointing. A lot of the blame falls on me for either misinterpreting or just making up what I thought Hickman and Spencer were going for -- it’s a silver robot with a red optic capable of spawning multiple weapons. Captain Universe and Manifold visit Galador, home of the Space Knights; considering the use of New Universe characters, I thought that this would be the return of another '80’s concept: Rom the Space Knight. Marvel has had difficulties using Rom and issuing trades of the classic series since the copyrights belonged to Parker Brothers. Since Hasbro now makes Marvel’s action figures, I thought that the rights issues had been cleared. AIM recaptures the creature in preparation to use it again, so perhaps we’ll get some more resolution on the issue in the future.

Speaking of Manifold, the need to set up the events of Infinity doesn’t mean that Hickman and Spencer forget to provide character moments. Manifold has a great, deadpan tone, and we get to see him do more than just teleport people into battle. Bruce Banner gets to be the scientist-in-charge since Iron Man is preoccupied; unfortunately, S.H.I.E.L.D. learns that they should give him unbreakable plastic monitors for when he Hulks out. Ex Nihilo, Abyss, Nightmask. and Starbrand finally prove their importance to this title by getting drafted into the ranks of the Avengers. Their recruitment is suspect at first, but they’ll prove to be invaluable members in the pages of Infinity itself.

One of the advantages of writing some of Marvel’s biggest titles is that Hickman can get pretty much any artist he wants for his rotating roster. For the Avengers issues, the winner of the artist lottery is Stefano Caselli, with some additional darkening of his art to bring it more in line with other series regulars such as Adam Kubert, Leinil Francis Yu, Jerome OpeƱa, Dustin Weaver, and Mike Deodato. Speaking of Deodato, he replaces Steve Epting on New Avengers, who had gone to work on Velvet with Ed Brubaker. I can’t argue with putting Deodato’s shadowy artwork on a story with such dark overtones.

Next week, I’ll take a look at Infinity itself. Here’s my preliminary opinion: If you’ve wondered where all the good space opera stories have gone in recent years, you can look to Hickman’s epic as proof that the genre isn’t dead.
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