Thursday, 5 December 2013

New Avengers, Volume 1: Everything Dies Review (Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting)

T’Challa aka Black Panther makes a startling discovery – parallel universe Earths are crashing into one another and one is headed to crash into our Earth! With an INFINITE number of EARTHs all destined to be destroyed, the Illuminati are in a CRISIS. What would be a good title for this story? Everything Dies! 

T’Challa convenes a meeting in Wakanda with the Illuminat to decide what to do next. The Illuminati are the biggest brains in the Marvel U (sans Bruce Banner), Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Black Panther (left but returned for this book), Namor, Doctor Strange and Black Bolt, Beast as Professor X’s replacement, and the bizarre addition of Captain America. The only reason Cap might be on the Illuminati is because this book is pointlessly called New Avengers and apparently every freakin’ iteration of the Avengers has to have this dude regardless of whether he fits or not. 

Anyway, T’Challa captures an alternate universe character called Black Swan (Hickman’s character names are just the worst) who has a device that literally blows up planets! Everything Dies is a morality story as the Illuminati must decide how far they will go to protect their world and how many must die to save many more. 

After reading Hickman’s other Avengers title and the Infinity mini-series and utterly disliking both, I was surprised that his New Avengers book was really good, especially as it’s yet another Hickman story about the end of the world (a tired cliché of Hickman’s you’ll notice if you’ve read a few of his books). Part of why this book is better than the others is because Hickman’s managed to keep the cast to a reasonable level rather than the sprawling mass of costumes he’s got in Avengers and Infinity, and kept the crazy new characters to a minimum as well. Though calling this New Avengers is a bit misleading as it stars the Illuminati, and Cap, but the title Avengers has more recognition than Illuminati, so here we are. 

The story sounds like gibberish and yet you can follow what’s happening and more or less understand the story, a damn near miracle when it comes to a Hickman book these days! Because the Illuminati are the holders of the Infinity Gems, they predictably choose to assemble the Infinity Gauntlet to deal with this new problem but what’s unpredictable is the way that plan plays out. I won’t tell you exactly what happens except that watching someone as un-technical as Cap handling the Gauntlet is like watching your gran trying to figure out how an iPad works.

This isn’t a very action-heavy story with a lot of scenes featuring the Illuminati sitting around a table talking but Hickman’s got such a great handle on the characters that it’s never boring. Little scenes like T’Challa speaking bitterly to Namor, referencing the events of AVX show that the characters have history, while Cap is his usual idealistic and somewhat stuffy self, and Reed and T’Challa come off the best as conscientious participants in what is essentially genocide on a scale that dwarfs anything Hitler or any of history’s villains could ever accomplish. So are the Illuminati really good guys – or the worst villains of all time? It’s an interesting situation. 

A lot of cool villain characters show up like Galactus (yay!) doing his usual planet-eating stuff and his alternate universe herald Terrax (ol’ stone face) has a throw-down with the Illuminati. There’s even a scene in Latveria at the end where Doom is single-handedly taking on the parallel universe baddies and you find yourself rooting for the guy! So while there’s little fighting going on, when there is, it’s pretty damn good. 

Steve Epting’s art is what I really love about this book. His page layouts are always amazingly cinematic and well-placed, lending the story an appropriately dramatic gravitas. The characters all look amazing and every panel looks beautiful, finding the perfect balance between realism and cartoonish-ness. The way he presents the parallel worlds is really atmospheric where the characters step through a portal into what looks like the middle of a red eclipse. 

New Avengers is a well-written, engaging story that also features Hickman’s ambitious storytelling without missing out the characters - if only Hickman wrote this well in all of his Marvel titles! Steve Epting’s art is as absolutely blinding as it always is. Great Illuminati story all round! If you didn’t like Hickman’s main Avengers title, give this one a shot - it’ll remind you why he’s in the top tier of Marvel writers.

New Avengers - Volume 1: Everything Dies

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