Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]
After a perfect break point at the end of the second collection, Avengers: Time Runs Out Vol. 3 starts out with Jonathan Hickman spinning the wheels a bit on both stories to get the various plot points aligned. There’s an unevenness in the storytelling which comes from Avengers and New Avengers bleeding into each other. To its credit, it wasn’t the total grinding halt that I remember it being when I read the stories on a monthly basis. What makes it feel a little choppy are some subplots staying in one book rather than progressing over both; this is particularly true for New Avengers, which has to juggle the Cabal, Doctor Doom, and the Black Panther/Namor feud all at once.
A great deal of headway is made in that final plotline, which is a relief since no one’s quite been able to figure out what to do with the Black Panther for a while now. Giving the role to T’Challa’s sister Shuri was a mistake in retrospect and Hickman does his best to define how the Black Panther siblings work in tandem to rebuild Wakanda. Much of this involves Namor getting his just desserts for flooding the African nation when it was at war with Atlantis. Even though the Cabal is dealt a temporary defeat, the various heroes of Earth-616 have to deal with the sudden shrinking of the multiverse, with only two dozen universes remaining out of millions. This is when Time Runs Out regains its footing with the introduction of the Ultimate Universe.
Even though the Ultimate Universe was teased as having importance in the lead-up to Secret Wars, crossing over in such a direct fashion was quite a surprise. In a move that greatly assists in following the story, all of the Ultimate characters speak in the "Ultimate font" that all of the Marvel books used in the early 2000s. It’s a very distinct difference since this font uses both upper and lowercase letters. The story is written so that you don’t have to read Ultimate Comics Ultimates to understand the situation with Ultimate Reed Richards and his abilities and plans.
Avengers: Time Runs Out Vol. 3 closes out with the start of new and important subplots, with New Avengers reintroducing Doctor Strange. Meanwhile, Avengers brings in yet another invasion of Earth by alien races. It’s the natural conclusion of the "Earth will conquer the world" plot started in Avengers Forever as the Shi’ar lead an all-out assault to blow up Earth to avert the next Incursion. This part of the story feels a little flat since it’s a repeat of Infinity, but all the same, it’s interesting to see the alien fear that Earth will destroy them all finally manifest. The alien invasion also allows the Guardians of the Galaxy to fit into the action with five issues left to go. The final hardcover, Avengers: Time Runs Out Vol. 4, is able to avoid the weaknesses of its predecessors by delivering a rapid-fire series of fantastic stories.
This is the volume with all of the answers, so if you’re waiting for Secret Wars to come out in trade, you might want to skip to the end and avoid some massive spoilers.
Ever since the start of the current New Avengers run, the name "Rabum Alal" has been mentioned by the Black Swan as a key figure in the end of the universe. The reveal that he is Doctor Doom could have been underwhelming and some readers found it so; as far as I’m concerned, Doom was the only answer that made sense. He’s the only person capable of the feats of magic and science involved to investigate the collapse of the universe and his lack of scruples means that he can do what the Avengers and Illuminati refuse to do. How the Molecule Man is involved is fairly hard to explain here, and I’m still not entirely sure I understand what happened, but it feels like something that Secret Wars will get into.
While this goes on and the Cabal teams up with Ultimate Reed Richards and Ultimate Nick Fury, the Avengers launch their own scheme to try and avert utter devastation from the Beyonders. Yes, there’s more than one, apparently. Again, Secret Wars will likely explain this as it goes along. It’s at this point that characters start dying off while battling the twin threats of the Beyonders and the alien invasion. The former fight is chronicled in a particularly excellent issue; Thor and Hyperion go out as the warrior blood-brothers they are while the second wave joiners -- Nightmask, Abyss, Ex Nihilo, and Starbrand -- prove their worth as well. Meanwhile, the entire "Rogue Planet" storyline from Infinite Avengers finally comes around, leading to one last important duel before the end of the world.
The reason for rapidly aging Steve Rogers is made apparent as, The Dark Knight Returns-style, he dons a suit of battle armor to take down Iron Man. Were he still young, the moment would feel hollow if he armored up. After forty issues of secrets, invasions and Inversions, he finally takes on Tony Stark to get answers to his -- and our -- questions. Their fight does have a solid ending, but it also leads to the opening pages of Secret Wars as the Ultimate SHIELD invades Earth-616 for the final Incursion. I’m not much into "shipping" these two characters together but their dialogue really did feel like two lovers having a brutal argument.
The art breakdown is a little more complex than it was for the first two trades, although Kev Walker still does the majority of New Avengers. All of the artists are excellent and they do their best to make the individual issues flow together. Even with some of the odd pacing, I can’t recommend Avengers: Time Runs Out enough, especially since the story will be out in paperback by the end of the year.
Next week: Superior Foes of Spider-Man.