I mean it was impossible surely? Hickman could never really take every entity, hero, and property of the Marvel universe to create a story with a satisfactory conclusion? Well he certainly did try and with the bitter taste of crossovers lingering in many readers’ mouths, it was a magnificent effort.
As a student of Hickman’s work I had invested many hours outside of the comics, writing about his stories. For the simple reason that I knew they would tie in together, but as I read this final issue I do wonder whether that was still true, and where some of the earlier concepts had disappeared to. The most fundamental ones concerns the characters Iron Man and Captain America. If you hark back to the very first Avengers issues, they were seminal in the building of the Avengers and don’t even appear in this final Secret Wars issue. Then you think further and wonder what the point of the Builders, or even the Gardeners were outside of the first giant story arc. Remember Captain America’s time gem story? That was a curveball just to draw out the Illuminati betrayal with Tony at the focus. They hated on one another for the whole of the second season story in Eight Months Later, but were never to feature prominently again.
The destruction of the Multiverse started as the most important aspect of this story, and when the Builders tried to destroy Earth 616, they were stopped by the Avengers and allied nations. When the Illuminati struggled to morally nullify yet another colliding universe, their pain was taken on by initially Namor and then the Cabal. And when it came down to the final two universes, Dr Doom harnessed the power of the Beyonders via the Molecule Man to recreate a new world in his image. The remaining survivors of regular and ultimate universes gathered onto a life raft and joined Victor’s Battleworld. It saddens me a little that there were certain events that were tacked onto these stories for the sake of management, such as the Terrigen bomb Inhuman continuity shake up, Miles being shifted to Earth-616 and the overwhelmingly unnecessary Secret Wars tie in stories. These served to only tarnish and take away from a great central story with so much promise. There was so much filler even amongst the delays in this title. That particular problem has been so poorly received, and yet we still none the wiser as to a reason. It is not as if all nine issues were necessary story. There was an comic purely based upon a big fight of lots of alternate territory patches and heroes we could just say were there. So the real question is, did Jonathon Hickman bite off more than he can chew?
The word epic has been bandied around frivolously with regards to this title. And in the main, it is not unjustified because the plot is literally universe shattering, the character rapports have been built over years of writing and the artwork is simply astounding. Ribic has been consistent and spectacular throughout in his ability to draw Olympianesque figures and deliver the most intense confrontations. His detailing is such that at times his characters look very realistic and express with great emotion. The moment where Sue looks at her husband seemingly in recognition but then as Reed realises she has no idea who he is, he gives her the most saddened downward glance, only to open his eyes with pure malice towards Doom. His vitriol towards Victor extends off the page, but it is the simple act of opening his eyes that conveys it so richly.
There are moments like these scattered throughout and T’Challa with Namor to his side is another such delight to pause and reflect upon. Esad loves to draw the Infinity Gauntlet and Panther’s status is escalated to the highest levels with this last story. His relationship with Namor has ben turbulent throughout New Avengers but ultimately they both had the same goal, except one more willing to destroy than the other. When it came to the common goal, as we had seen before, Namor and T’Challa had similar attributes as leaders of their people who truly understood sacrifice. Their confrontation with Doom was impressive and inspiring and worthy of their history together.
Ive Svorcina is fundamental to the aesthetic as he keeps Ribic’s line quite faint and colours very textured. There is softness to the work that allows the great expanses of white in representing power and transformation the space it requires. The panels above are already lightened with the sun slowly seeming to rise but the even lighter impact blows and yellow sound effects bear even more power. Even the scenes set around the Molecule Man are devoid of colour and when T’Challa grasps onto the yellow time gem, the world explodes into light. Panther maybe in a black colour suit but the outlines of his character are lightened to shine bright. Svorcina plays as much a role in the grandiosity of this book as anyone else and is exemplary in his performance.
Whilst the Panther and Namor relationship has been crucial to the New Avengers story, the Reed and Victor story has not. That particular relationship has snuck in through the back door from Hickman’s Fantastic Four run. It makes logical sense, especially as the God Doom plotline was one that showed his ability to manipulate a crisis and came with great surprise. Once Secret Wars began, it became obvious that Sue, Valeria and Franklin had been taken as Doom’s family unwittingly and became the set up for the final confrontation. This build was instant, taking in years of Hickman’s back catalogue to provide intent and reason for Reed’s vengeance. Their intellectual competition was back on the table but as it often does, reverted back to the simple ideal of physical violence. There were no grand ideas or witty repartee but simple blow-by-blow physicality. Throw in some ideas about living and dying, love and loss and holding on too tight and there is some vague concept to pin your final battle on. There is one simple difference between Victor and Reed and that is that one genius is more selfish than the other. Victor created the world in his image whereas Reed would have created a world for others. In fact his altruism does recreate the multiverse with Franklin’s help. His final thought processes take us back to his initial monologues about accepting everything living and dying. Whereas once he was trying to understand the natural order of the universe, he now beginning to understand a very unnatural order of the universe he is helping to build. This is a very tenuous link as it is not quite a lesson learnt but more a different class teaching about the philosophy of wielding universal power. These at their core are very different principles and bear almost no relationship to one another. The final pages demonstrate his benevolence in the creationism aspect, as Victor Von Doom is given a great gift. And in that Richards asserts his position, as being superior to him, because that is what it is all really about, isn’t it?
Perhaps it was all a little too much. The challenge of compelling writing and character building amongst a franchise trying to grow. It led to some wavering plotlines and confused themes throughout. But that is probably all based around the immense expectation of a spectacular opening year of Avengers books. There were no bad stories and heroes such as Strange, Namor, T’Challa, Tony, Steve and the Richards all reached beyond themselves in some wonderful tales. The artwork over the years from Opena, Dragotta, Walker, Bianchi and Ribic has been immense, to the point where they were also pushed to their creative limits. Marvel has reimagined a multiverse with a brand new set of universes, going back to where they were in the very beginning. Nothing has really changed has it? Oh yeah we have two Spider-Mans now. I find that a shame because a single universe seemed like an ambitious and adventurous idea, but it became quite clear that characters like Spider-Gwen and Logan were to remain dead in the main universe, but still needed to exist. The art of changing without changing is a difficult one to master and I doubt Marvel have any intention of learning that. Overall Jonathon Hickman has orchestrated a story of exceptional depth and adventure that maintained its excitement from beginning to very delayed end. The stories were always entertaining but didn’t always work and we lost some ideas along the way. It will probably read fantastically as an ensemble piece but as much enjoyment as I have derived over the years, it is time to finally say goodbye.