I have been waiting for that exact moment during the Infinity saga to jump in and produce a recap, and relay my excitement for the endgame. As you can imagine with Jonathan Hickman, that is not always easy to do, but with New Avengers Green (#11) that instant came with a clap of thunder. It was the moment we, or certainly I, had been waiting for, where finally Avengers and New Avengers are brought together under the Infinity umbrella. Up to now, we still had two separate stories involving the Illuminati and the Avengers as separate ideological entities. So I thought the best way to review these issues is to tackle them separately and culminate the post with New Avengers Green at the natural combination. Unfortunately that is not quite how the books read if you followed the Infinity checklist, because the main title provides the not so cohesive glue that intermingles the two plot threads without reason for doing so. Welcome to Jonathan Hickman!
(Apologies in advance, but I shall be referencing my preview article, which can be found here: http://wp.me/p2DUQc-HY)
The Avengers and the Builders
The War against the Builders is no small fight and an Intergalactic War Council convened, with multiple species together with the Avengers. The main players were gradually introduced throughout Infinity and Avengers, and it is worth getting to know them because they all have a part to play.
The once great Skrull Empire has been reduced to military factions with generals at the helm. They appear to be independent and unruly, until the Builder threat pervaded. The beginning of Avengers Blue (#18) saw the unification of the Skrulls under the leadership of Warlord Kl’rt. This was no easy feat because the first few pages are dedicated to the sacrifice of General Dm’yr. This great warlord baited the enemy fleet in an act of martyrdom, in order to provide means of escape for the others. It is a tragic and sad set of panels rendered by Leinil Yu, which asks us to feel empathy for an enemy we have rarely seen as anything but. The balance between dying honourably but needlessly, and combining forces with rivals, tips in only one realistic direction.
The Spartax Empire
We still know very little about this nation except that it is led by King J’son. He is quite the unpleasant character and is the father of Peter Quill aka Starlord of the Guardians of the Galaxy. His gnarled expression repeatedly refers to humans as backwater apes. Either way the only qualities he seems to have brought to the table is childish defiance and betrayal, which we will come to later.
The Kree are led by a supercomputer historian called the Supreme Intelligence. It is conceptually similar to the origin of Brainiac as a record keeper. He is accompanied by Ronan the Accuser, who represents the military and the judiciary of the home world. He brings with him the Accuser corps, who are his fleet of soldiers armed with giant hammer-like weapons. They certainly play an essential role later in the book.
Little is really mentioned about the Brood outside the fact that their Queen sits at the Council table. However she has been producing new Brood clones to supplement the attack force.
This insectoid was born in the negative zone and evolved from life giving spores, hardened in the depths of a volcano. He adapted and engulfed all other species in the realm and militarised his creatures. He brings the Annihilation wave, which represents the deadliest weapon held in reserve during this war.
Gladiator, for many a year, was the lead of the Imperial Guard, the protectors of the empire. Recently he has seen promotion and is currently the Majestor of the Kingdom. He brings with him an elite Shi’ar force, including the Avengers’ very own Smasher, together with brevity in leadership and experience in strategy.
Of course Earth is represents by the Avengers and Captain America, who pale in comparison to great empire and come across as minor players at the table. There was little doubt that was going to change quickly, as the first battle played out in disaster.
Fall Into Singularity
The initial confrontation occurred at a region of space called the Corridor, which is an asteroid belt known as the killing fields. Our resident heroes lined two quincrusiers with aerial support from the flyers of the group. The initial wave seemed successful and destroyed the enemy fleet, but, as deceptive the ambush was, it was predicted by the Builders. They de-cloaked a second line attack force that decimated our ships. There was no choice but to run and Manifold’s teleportation powers carried away Cap’s crew, but Carol and Clint were left floating in the wreckage. They are eventually captured and incarcerated by the Builders on a command vessel. One third of the Galactic armada was slain and Gladiator’s frustration at being a leader and not a soldier, led him head first into the battle. Oddly Ex Nihilo watched from afar being asked to stay behind, marvelling at the prowess of the galaxies greatest heroes. Whilst observing, he notices another of his own enter a planet, the life givers, the Ex Nihilii.
All These Things We’ve Made
As we cut to the Aleph accompanied by a male Ex Nihilo, we notice his sombre mood as he recalls the day he once used to give life. For the instructions from the Aleph are to raze the planet, and as he does so, his final words ring, “Those were better days”. This is the first revelation of the Builders mythos, as our resident Ex Nihilo is shocked and dumbfounded by the death and destruction his peer has instigated. There are some lovely panels of poignant words and rescue of innocents, as the suicide of an Ex Nihilo changes the rules of engagement.
The Broken System
Avengers Red (#19) allowed us to peer into the Builder’s command vessel, where our heroes are held captive. A female Ex Nihilo, an Ex Nihila is quite interested at Captain Marvel’s fortitude and display of power, after becoming shipwrecked. She is dragged to the bridge for questioning, where there are further Ex Nihilii who seem to be differentiated by their hair accessories. They are inspecting the captured Abyss, Nightmask, and Starbrand but also the comatose Captain Universe. This was her state on the P.E.A.K. headquarters of SWORD soon after she met the Knights of Galador. As much as Mother and the avatars were confused at their own inception, the Builders also question how these beings are in the possession of Earth. We return to the paradigm of a broken system trying to return to a backup, and repair itself. The suicide of Ex Nihilo was a huge turning point, because it is clear that the current Builder system is that of death and destruction. The older system is represented by our Ex Nihilo and Abyss and because they appear to be an anomaly, repair functions are in place producing a Starbrand and a Nightmask. Where Captain Universe fits into this is as of yet, unrevealed.
The War council reconvene to discuss their next movements and how to rescue their fallen. This is where J’son really shows his ineptitude, as not only does he reject Captain America’s input but he secretly asks for a parlay with the Builders. In doing show he reveals not only his location to the enemy, but also his betrayal to Carol, on the bridge of the Command vessel. During this discussion, Ex Nihilo discusses his superiors with the Council and relays his bemusement at the suicide and the realisation something is very wrong, The Builders have changed and they are hell bent on destroying all that lies in their wake. These scenes are interspersed with J’son’s discussion with the enemy, where a second revelation is made: The Builders wish to destroy Earth. This issue is written wonderfully with an excellent juxtaposition between the Builders as the fathers, and Ex Nihilo as the son. As J’son realises his error, the enemy fleet make way to the Behemoth Ringworld and 40 million refugees are left floating aimlessly in space.
“You cannot run from us” Infinity Yellow (#3)
During the middle of J’son’s folly, the Council hatched a plan and it involved surrender. The Builders felt they had made their intentions clear and offered terms of apeasement for the Council. One by one different worlds gave in: The Centaurians, the Kymellians, and of highest significance, the Supreme intelligence of the Kree empire. As Ronan returns to his homeworld to lay down his weapon, Cap instigates his ruse. A Council fleet is sent to attack the Builder’s Command vessel, who are caught unaware as they bask in their supreme mentorship. Hickman produces an amazing line during the midst of this battle, emphasising how egotistical the Builders actually are.
“Do you know what people will say about this day, thousands of years from now? What they will say about these creatures and their valiant last stand? Nothing…because we will not tell them.” Infinity Yellow (#3)
Whilst they ready a defence, Manifold transports a black ops team to their ship and infiltrate the control systems. The Builders soon realise they have lost the ability to engage the World Killer weapons, as it fires upon their own fleet. Manifold and Thor rescue their teammates, andthe Builders flee. Avengers Yellow (#20) supplements this Infinity issue, as it reveals an introduction between Ex Nihila and Abyss. As we know Abyss is a rarity amongst the Ex Nihilli, and one can only assume that her female counterpart was also struck with confusion. Ex Nihila turns and walks away with a message that only Abyss can hear, “Come find us”. Before leaving the ship, as one final act of empowerment, the Avengers unleash their prized avatar: Starbrand;
“This is when the heavens turned” Infinity Yellow (#3)
Without Judges We Are Lost
Avengers Yellow (#20) gives us a third revelation, the amassing of Ex Nihilli. Abyss and Ex Nihilo follow Ex Nihila to a location unknown, where they are received by this panel:
It is a gorgeous page drawn by Yu again, and he clearly enjoys pencilling of species of all shapes and sizes. The same question is asked from them all, how does Abyss actually exist. Our Ex Nihilo cannot comprehend being without her as she exists to balance his life giving purpose. It then becomes obvious that the Builders have changed the universal superstructure. The Ex Nihilii are no longer life givers and therefore have no need for an Abyss. There are no more gardens but only killers of worlds. It is here that our Ex Nihilo takes his place as a revolutionary amongst his species. He was always on the rebellious side and he now has his stage, as he dons a black façade and declares that there will be no more world razing. He takes his lead amongst a people no longer allowed to give life as they were born to do.
Obstinateness Within Submission
The Galactic Council debates their next move after the epic rescue and victory. They discuss unleashing the Brood armies or the Annihilation wave but, once again, Cap has another idea. This time it involves a ruse, wait a minute, have we not already done this? Surely the Builders would be foolish to fall for it again? However this time it involves the submission of the Council, which no enemy would be able to ignore. We travel to the Kree homeworld, where we see Ronan the Accuser bow down to a single Builder. The Creator procrastinates as he rejoices in the statistics of victory, relayed by the Supreme intelligence as Ronan and the Accusers grow weary of his proclamations.
When a message is received from Gladiator requesting to discuss terms of surrender, the Builder is too caught up in his own glorification to see it as anything other than truth. He certainly seems to underestimate the representative of the Council: The Mighty Thor himself. It is rare you see anybody slap Thor so demeaningly, and there was always going to be sweet retribution. The Builder describes humanity as a plague and a wound that needs cauterising; building only more evidence that Earth is marked for destruction. He makes a grievous error in addressing the Asgardian, Thor is far from a man. As Mjolnir is thrust into space as an act of peace, it is recalled back as an act of defiance. The Builder is unable to recollect the events that led to a hammer-sized hole in his midriff, as he crumbles to his agonising death. Ronan finally relieves his burden of subservience by smashing the Supreme Intelligence’s glass case, whilst rallying his Accusers. It is time for redemption; it is time for resurgence.
Captain Universe tends to her flock
Avengers Green (#21) takes us back to the realm of the Ex Nihilii. Ex Nihilo’s speech invigorates his people as he turns them from world killers to life givers once again. He begs of them one favour; unification of power in order to bring Captain Universe back to life. Yu produces some beautiful artwork as the Ex Nihilii unite and Mother is resurrected. Captain Universe immediately takes flight and tends to her unruly flock. This confrontation has been billed since her first appearance, as she always wondered why her creations turned their back on her. The Builders continue to defy her as she asks why death has become the way of her children. Their response is part of the fourth revelation, which is that the universe is dying. The multiple universes are decaying and only Earth’s destruction holds salvation. Mother understands but refuses to let any more innocent people die and kills the remaining Builders but one. She declares that she has lost something that must be found and we can only hope that it is the key to ending this war.
What remains of the Builders?
We began this tale with the Avengers and the Galactic War Council fighting a seemingly lost battle. Ex Nihilo and Abyss proved key in the resurrection of Captain Universe, who has seemingly stopped the entire Builder fleet. Whilst all this happened, our Council managed to rescue its fallen and kill a Builder, with their own humbled weapons and lesser intelligence. My favourite part of the story is how the Avengers never caved and continued to fight despite the unnerving odds, but also how Hickman has not relied on the Avatars, Ex Nihilii and Mother to end the battle. Though it seems that the war is essentially over, there is more to this story as we realise that there is more than just this universe to contend with. Now we are in a position to entertain the second half of this story.
Thanos and the Illuminati
You can be forgiven for being irritated at the Infinity book, because it can be seen as a mish mash of evolving plot arcs. Avengers and New Avengers are not obviously related, as they produce differing plots involving distinct groups of people. The real question is what does Thanos have to do with any of the Builders story? It is quite the ambitious task of Hickman’s to resist combining these threads early on. At least prior to Infinity we had two separate Avengers books with seemingly contained stories. It takes a significant amount of perseverance to get to New Avengers Green (#11) before we finally see some assembly.
From what we know about Thanos so far, from his solo book and the beginning of Infinity, he is on a rampage to subvert all planets to his will. This involves a tribute of the heads of all the adolescents. If you note the subtleties of his backstory and his numerous illegitimate children, then it is clear this is also a mission of infanticide. He also desires another treasure, the sole remaining Time Infinity gem. This is where his interest in the Illuminati lies.
Infinity Red (#2) saw the herald of Thanos, Corvus Glaive visit Black Bolt in Attila with a message. He requests a tribute and provides a demonstration of his power and confidence. He asks all his guards to commit suicide and as they do so, he basks in his glory and indignation. He leaves with the ultimatum issued and Black Bolt summons his Illuminati compatriots to a pocket dimension. It is here that he reveals that Thanos has a son who is half Attilan, which explains the reason for the tribute. Black Bolt realises that Thanos is about to strike and passes a codex of Attilan history to the rest of the Illuminati. It is within this device that lays Thanos’ secret and he knows that Attila will be his intended target.
Thanos has a warbound and each one of these characters is sent to hunt down a member of the Illuminati. He sends Proxima Midnight to Atlantis where she successfully takes down the Atlanteans, and leaves Namor despairing amidst his fallen people. It is a sad and upsetting scene watching Namor bow in submission before her. Wakanda is approached by Black Dwarf, but the combined efforts of T’Challa and the new Black Panther leads only to dismal failure. Dr Strange is attacked on the astral plane, by the Ebony Maw who possesses him. He observes his actions in a ploy to have the time gem’s location revealed. The Jean Grey School is attacked by Corvus Glaive and Supergiant, forming a two-pronged assault physically and telepathically. The art by Mike Deodato is wonderful and dynamic in depicting the assault. Finally Attila is preparing for attack as Black Bolt and his brother Maximus conspire with deadly technology.
It is important to mention that in Namor’s resignation, he concedes the location of the time gem to Proxima Midnight. This is his moment to enact vengeance on T’Challa as he directs them towards Wakanda. Whether the time gem is there, remains to be seen.
New Avengers Red (#10) sees the aftermath of Thanos’ excursions and general failure in finding the gem or his son. Though Atlantis fell, there was little to be gained and the Jean Grey held strong but Corvus retreated upon the realisation there was nothing to be found. Oddly these scenes were was not actually shown. Black Dwarf returned beaten and empty handed from the Wakanda and was suitably punished by Thanos. The Ebony Maw remains in possession of Strange, and maintains his discretion whilst the others discuss the location of Thanos’ son. Proxima was dutifully sent to Wakanda as a second wave of assault, armed with the information that the time gem may be found there.
After their battles, the Illuminati are in search of Thanos’ successor and separately go about trying to find him. There is a gorgeous panel of six of the Illuminati travelling to various locations, depicted as a circular panel. The colouring and environmental contrast of the individual panels are gorgeous. Unfortunately the member of the team that succeeds is Dr Strange, as he gives away the location of the Greenland village to Ebony Maw. His possessor subsequently leaves him, without prior memory, and returns back to Thanos. Over the last couple of issues, the Illuminati have received signals indicating another incursion. The red implants imbedded in their hands glow, indicating the presence of an alternate Earth in close proximity. If you recall the earlier issues of New Avengers, you will note the previous incursion and the preparations made for further invasions. That time is unfortunately now and is the first step in combining the stories of Thanos and the Builders.
The Bolt’s Tongue
Infinity Yellow (#3) was more focused on the Builders than the Illuminati, but it ends spectacularly with Black Bolt screaming. As the rest of the Illuminati face the oncoming incursion in Australia, the Attilans flee their home and leave only their Inhuman King sitting on the throne. Thanos makes his entrance and request not only the gem but his tribute. As Maximus readies his weapon of mass destruction, Black Bolt emphatically responds to his adversary:
The Attilan homeworld is set for destruction as Maximus sets off a Terrigen bomb. The Terrigen mists are a device that converts its users into powered beings. It is relatively selective and terrigenesis only occurs once a generation to a specific few. With the voice of Black Bolt, the bomb is ignited as the mists rain down across planet Earth. With the explosions, Attilan crashes upon New York as every damaged satellite seems to. An epic battle ensues within Infinity Green (#4) between the might of Thanos and the brevity of Black Bolt’s tongue. We see the Terrigen mists invade Greenland, transforming the begotten son into a shadow of his father, Thane, son of Thanos.
Meanwhile Proxima Midnight, Corvubs Glaive and Supergiant have opened the cracks in Wakanda’s defences and invaded the great city. The Black Panther failed to protect her home, without her brother in arms. Thanos enters the depth of the city and finds a couple of surprises. Not only does he find the weapon capable of destroying a planet, but also two prisoners, Terrax, the herald of Galactus but also our beloved Black Swan. Even Thanos is not arrogant enough to release these prisoners, without being able to deal with the consequences.
We have reached the moment where the Thanos story moves towards the Illuminati story and the amalgamation of world destruction and an ambitious overseer. Thanos has discovered their secrets and ponders their absence, as he collects the machine they developed to destroy a world.
New Avengers Green (#11)
It is here, on the beaches of Australia where another Earth is on track for collision. This is the first issue that effectively joins the plots together and gives a glimpse of the final battle. As Black Bolt lays afflicted in the remains of Attila, Thanos rejoices in his new found treasures whilst the Illuminati are greeted by a surprise guest: an Aleph. This alternate universe minion, requests the presence of the group on behalf of the Builders. As they are transported to a ship, a universe away, this is the welcoming party in tow.
There has not been an image like this in the New Avengers book, and the Builders and Ex Nihilii have never made an appearance. The red colour and insignia aberration of the Ex Nihilii, indicate they are not of our universe. The Builders look similar but come with an informal testimony that they are here to destroy a world and invite the Illuminati to observe it. It is finally at this point that Stephen Strange’s possession is revealed by an Ex Nihilo, as he relieves him of the shadow of Ebony Maw. Once again this is a beautifully rendered panel. The final revelation is delivered and it involves the multiverse. Way back in issue #7 of Avengers, we were introduced to the Superflow of the universe, which acted as a communication satellite between universes. The Builder describes its collapse and fracture, rendering them incapable of traversing the multiverse. This information was brought about from the capture of the Builder that escaped Captain Universe, fleeing towards the point of incursion. He re-iterates that Earth is the centre of universal annihilation, meaning that it’s destruction is the only measure left for survival. As Reed comments that destroying a single Earth will achieve nothing, he is met with an ominous answer: that all Earths must be destroyed across the multiverse. The Illuminati are ejected from the World Killer craft as they watch the Earth of another universe explode. The final words issue an ominous warning:
“Do you possess the ability to destroy your own world? Yes we do. Then what are you waiting for.”
Where does the leave our Universe?
With the inevitable rejoicing that will come from the defeat of the Builders, there is an uncomfortable nausea that will spread. The universe may be saved but the multiverse is still under threat. Both Avengers and New Avengers have supplied enough information to provide us with two unquestionable truths:
- The Builders of the universe were planning to destroy Earth
- The multiverse is collapsing resulting in incursions
Whilst we were engrossed in the systems and avatars of the Avengers books, we were only given hints of the impending doom of the multiverse. Whilst we were immersed in the immorality involved in destroying an alternate Earth, we failed to notice the incoming threat to our own. If we take the prophecies of Black Swan, Captain Universe and the single-minded determination of multiple universe Builders to destroy Earth, then it would appear to be inevitable that our planet has to be forsaken. The systems in place to govern and repair planets are broken, and the Builders have rewritten the code purely for destruction. The Galactic council may have decimated the Builder fleet, preventing our world from death, but this would appear to be far from sufficient to ensure survival.
The multiverse appears to be the next stage of this story, and any solace gained from having a tribe of Ex Nihilii and Captain Universe back in our midst, withers away quickly. They may be able to save our world, or even create new life but can they affect the multiverse. Are there other Gardeners out there that can affect change? Can there be another Captain Universe? How does the presence of a multiverse affect the existence of Mother as a God? A moral argument was presented in the last issue, one that was presented to the Illuminati a long time ago: can they destroy a planet for the survival of their own? That question has now been reversed: can they destroy their own planet to save the existence of life itself? How can the Avengers get bigger adage possibly affect this? These paraphrases may have referred to the War we have just witnessed and have no further role to play. As the chapters progress we read less prophetical passages and gritty realism has hit the Avengers.
It would appear that Thanos has stolen their world killer device and is likely to use it for his own benefit. This sub plot must involve the character Thane, who I imagine will inevitably fight his father for his own survival. The death machine is then likely to be returned to the Illuminati who will do what needs to be done. There is also a time Infinity gem to be found which is an incredible power resource. This may provide the key to saving everyone especially considering we have the Ex Nihilii on our sides and Captain Universe having just been resurrected. Salvation either lies in a combined approach or a further escalation of power.
It has become a fascinating tale and the individual facets of war and prophecies have been incredible. To think this began so long ago and now it approaches its climax. I can appreciate that homework is needed to read Hickman’s work, and that this post, and the one before, are testament to that. However it is worth persevering with, because I am relishing the developing plotlines and how they are being resolved. This is one of the purposes of this post, to provide you with information that you many have forgotten, that will hopefully increase your enjoyment of Infinity. I thank you very much for your time and I leave you with an interesting thought.
With all the writing at the beginning of the titles regarding life, death and rebirth, it seems we have uncovered all the supreme beings and deities we require. As religious as the quotes all sounded, we have almost stripped Infinity of theological connotations. All that remains are chapter titles such as Prayer, Emancipation and A War in the Heavens. We have dutifully been introduced to our Gods and they do not appear to omniscient or omnipotent. Captain Universe may be the most powerful entity in the book but it seems foolish that she can save the multiple universes. The determined pursuit of Earth’s survival, may mean the destruction of multiple universes and their Earths. The Avengers have gotten bigger and are already our saviours, but can they keep making these sacrifices given that alternate Earths are trying to survive all the same. Perhaps there needs to be the ultimate sacrifice. Given we have the means for creation and regeneration of life, maintaining the stability of the multiverse may involve self immolation. Can the Avengers of this Earth become the martyrs to save the multiverse, given the power exists to be reborn? This is how I envisage the natural progression of the plot, but I would be incredibly impressed if that is what Hickman delivers. Instead I suspect that there will be some kind of device created by the Avengers or Mother or the Ex Nihilii, which will repair the universes. It will provide a simple answer and Hickman can then bring back religion as an afterthought. An appealing final piece of theological doctrine could foretell that the universe collapsed, not because of the Age of Ultron, but because we lost our faith in Mother and in God. If Hickman can reconcile the ontological themes he presented from day one, with the immensely powerful beings found throughout Infinity, I will love him forever. Until then I will sit here thoroughly enjoying the ride of an impressive feat of crossover storytelling. The proof will lie in the finished appearance of the timepiece created our beloved watchmaker, Jonathan Hickman. I look forward to seeing you on the other side.