Avengers Re-Read: The 2010s — Part 4

The Avengers Re-Read arrives near the present day. It’s not the sort of project one every declares “over,” per se. There will be plenty of Avengers material to consider in the future. But this marks a watershed that wraps the main project.

Check out past installments in the Re-Read Archive.

Ragnarok Now (Uncanny Avengers #12–17)

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Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man plotted to double-cross the Apocalypse Twins by bringing the mutants to their ship in order to overrun them. Captain America, Havok and Wasp continued their quest to take out the tachyon dam. In the future, Kang panicked to realize that time was unraveling. A groggy Wolverine urged Rogue to stop the Witch; Rogue absorbed his powers and set out to kill her. Kang jumped through time and recruited some powerful allies. Rogue and Sunfire arrived as the Witch and Wonder Man started her spell. Unaware of the duo’s plan, Rogue killed the Witch, but too late to stop her spell. Plus, the Twins had anticipated the Witch’s treachery and thwarted her intention. The Grim Reaper then killed Rogue and Wonder Man seemingly died in an ill-fated attempt to save the Witch. The Witch’s spell accidentally imprisoned Havok, Sunfire and Wolverine in the Twins’ ship at an inopportune time. Wasp, Cap and Thor attempted to thwart the Twins’ plan, but had bigger problems when the Celestials’ executioner arrived to destroy Earth, blaming it for the death of a Celestial. Cap and Eimin both died in the fierce fighting. Ultimately, Wasp and Thor were unable to prevent the executioner from destroying Earth.

The plot Rick Remender had been building throughout the first year of Uncanny Avengers exploded in this arc, with devastating consequences. Given the time travel element in the plot, fans surely expected that the destruction of the Earth and deaths of several major characters were temporary, but it was still shocking to see it all unfold. It’s also an example of how, though the series was firmly “in continuity,” it benefitted from being left alone in its own sandbox to tell its story. And for all the big screen pyrotechnics, the emotional heft of the events and the failures of the Unity Squad to come together were the real impact here. Remender did a great job with all the cast, even making the Twins somewhat tragic and not just evil for its own sake. Daniel Acuña contributed another issue, continuing his strong work from earlier installments, and veteran Salvador Larroca did some classic, evocative work in another issue. Steve McNiven came aboard for the rest of the arc, clearly at home with epic, action-intensive sequences. Working with color ace Laura Martin, they produced some stunning, big ticket comic book scenes. Their major spreads included Rogue spearing the Witch, the arrival of the Celestial executioner, Thor and Uriel’s space confrontation in the executioner’s presence and the Earth’s explosion. The earlier volumes of Uncanny Avengers are necessary pre-reading, but once you’ve gone through those, Ragnarok Now is big, bold and daring comic book storytelling that demands close attention.

Other Worlds (New Avengers vol. 3., #13–17)

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At the Black Swan’s urging, the Illuminati built a portal that allowed them to view other universes and see incursions play out in different ways. They learned more about the Builders and Sidera Maris, as well as the Swan herself. Meanwhile, Doctor Strange went to the Sinner’s Market in an attempt to sell his soul in exchange for god-like power. Next, the Illuminati witnessed parallel Earth champions the Great Society, strong, moral heroes who found multiple ways to fend off incursions without sacrificing other Earths. The Illuminati found the Great Society inspiring, but despaired to realize their Earth was the latest incursion into the main Marvel Earth.

This arc was less action-intensive. Instead, Jonathan Hickman used it to explore and flesh out more aspects of the mythos he’d created for his larger saga and to provide some crucial development for Black Swan. He did some strong character work with Doctor Strange and played the lingering conflict between Black Panther and Namor rather well. The introduction of the Great Society proved interesting. The characters, modeled on Golden Age DC icons, provided a distinct moral contrast to the Illuminati that prompted some genuine soul searching. Simone Bianchi handled art for the earlier part of the arc, turning in his patented shadowy, distended work that crafted the right mood of darkness and desperation for the material. Superstar Rags Morales, in a rare bit of work for Marvel, came aboard for the two Great Society issues, an inspired choice. Morales’s distinctive, retro-influenced approach was a good fit for the virtuous, old school heroes of the Society and provided an interesting visual contrast to the moodier work of Bianchi that preceded it. This volume will be of most interest to fans who have already consumed the earlier arcs of the series, but is an important part of the build of Hickman’s master plan.

Adapt or Die (Avengers vol. 5, #24–28)

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As the extended Avengers team gathered for a celebration, a future Iron Man arrived in the present day to warn of the threat of a “rogue” planet on a collision course with Earth. With teamwork and ingenuity, the Avengers devised a solution to stop it. Next, Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D. discovered what appeared to be the body of Hank Pym in a battle site. A.I.M. managed to pull a crew of alternate Avengers from a dying universe, moments before an incursion destroyed their Earth. Resembling the team’s early line-up (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man, Wasp and Hulk), the Alternate Avengers turned out to be a darker version, the cruel rulers of their home Earth. The Alternate Avengers escaped A.I.M.’s facility. A.I.M. then used the genetic samples they’d stolen from the Avengers a few issues earlier to create a new generation of Adaptoids, which they sent to retrieve the Alternate Avengers. During the clash, the Adaptoids evolved beyond their programming and one killed Alternate Ant-Man, while Alternate Hulk escaped his teammates, eventually coming face to face with the MU Hulk. The MU Avengers and Alternate Avengers had a fierce clash, before A.I.M. retrieved the Alternate Avengers (minus their Hulk) and sent them to another dimension. The Adaptoids further evolved, becoming the Sidera Maris seen in New Avengers as servants of the Mapmakers. Having observed all of Tony Stark’s moves over the preceding months, including the nature and structure of the expanded Avengers team, Bruce Banner confronted Tony and elicited the truth about the universal incursions. Banner then became the newest member of the Illuminati.

Hickman continued to push forward his master plan with this arc. Banner and Tony got an especially good spotlight, with a tense confrontation across a conference table packing as much power as a bare knuckled brawl. Other characters had some nice moments; the image of “Grillmaster” Thor and his discouraging his teammates against hot dogs was priceless. The origin of the Sidera Maris was a key reveal, as Avengers and sister title New Avengers began to dovetail ever more closely. Hickman’s Alternate Avengers were an interesting twist on the concept and the importance of A.I.M. to the overall story became ever more apparent. Larroca was onboard for this arc, doing some strong work. He handled the subtle distinctions of the Alternate Avengers really well and managed to inject dynamism and drama into both the fight and talk scenes. This wasn’t a standalone arc, fans would need to have read what came earlier, but it was another strong link in the story and vital for anyone who’s been following Hickman’s opus.

Avenge the Earth (Uncanny Avengers #18–22)

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Several years after the destruction of Earth, Havok and Wasp were the last outlaws on the mutant Planet X. The duo were married; Wasp and their daughter Katie, who was human, were the only non-mutants on the planet, with Beast as their only ally. Kang and his Chronos Corp, accompanied by Thor, arrived on Planet X with a plan to go back in time and save the Earth. Eimin ruled Planet X, with several co-opted X-Men as her ruling council. She urged them to hunt down Havok to stop whatever he had planned. Kang proposed sending the consciousness of the surviving Unity Squad members back in time, to unite the team and prevent the events that led to Earth’s destruction. Havok wavered, but when Kang spirited Katie down the timestream, Havok had no choice but to cooperate. In fierce battles with the X-Men and other mutants, the Avengers and Chronos Crops liberated the captive Wolverine and Sunfire and attacked the tachyon dam. At the last minute, Havok convinced his brother Cyclops to trust him and Cyclops turned the X-Men against the other mutants to give Havok’s plan a chance. Kang sent the minds (complete with the memories of the prior few years) of Havok, Wasp, Wolverine, Thor and Sunfire into their past bodies. With the Unity Squad finally united, they sent Rogue to absorb the powers of most of the Avengers and X-Men on Earth to fend off the Celestial executioner, while Thor, Havok, Sunfire and Wolverine thwarted the Apocalypse Twins and destroyed the tachyon dam, allowing the Chronos Corp to arrive in the present. Thor used Jarnbjorn to kill the Celestial executioner, saving Earth, but Kang double-crossed the Avengers and began to absorb the Celestial’s energy himself. Havok and Sunfire jumped into that fray, at massive physical cost to both. Wasp managed to co-opt the Sentry Horseman to the Unity Squad’s side and both the Apocalypse Twins and Kang suffered sound defeats. But not without prices for the Unity Squad. In addition to Havok and Sunfire’s injuries, Wonder Man’s mind and energy were trapped in Rogue’s body, while Wasp and Havok realized that Katie was lost to them.

The Remender/Acuña team stuck the landing and then some on this conclusion to their epic. While it was never in doubt that Earth would be restored and the major characters resurrected, this arc made it a tense, suspenseful story anyway. Remender injected the story with copious amounts of character detail. The moment of rapprochement between Havok and Cyclops was especially welcome, after years of tension between the brothers, and the Scarlet Witch/Rogue reconciliation also provided a nice payoff. Remender also made sure that just because the splashy death and destruction were undone, it didn’t mean that this saga had no lasting impact on the heroes. As for Acuña, this was some of his best work on the series. The moody, dreamy feel worked for this time- and space-spanning epic and he came up with some truly lovely visuals. Especially memorable were a Celestial-powered Kang splash; Havok freefalling over the capital city of Planet X; and a spread of time unraveling on Planet X. This volume isn’t something to be read in a vacuum, the earlier arcs in Uncanny Avengers are necessary pre-reading to appreciate this story. But in sequence, it’s a powerful ending to almost two years of stories.

A Perfect World (New Avengers vol. 3., #18–23)

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The Illuminati, including new member Bruce Banner, all were going through emotional upheaval as the latest incursion brought them face to face with the heroes of the Great Society. Back in Wakanda, Maximus played his own game, inflicting a minor flaw on the amber prison holding Thanos and his generals. The Illuminati’s attempt to explore peaceful solutions with the Great Society deteriorated rapidly, until Namor wantonly ignited hostilities between the two groups. The Illuminati found themselves at a disadvantage, until Doctor Strange unleashed a gruesome blood magic spell to defeat the Great Society. Badly battered, the Illuminati had only moments to detonate the world killer bomb to destroy the Great Society’s Earth, but found they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Except for Namor, who seized the detonator and destroyed the other Earth. The others were horrified and Namor and Black Panther nearly beat one another to death before the others banished Namor. The dust hadn’t even settled before another incursion began. Having lost heart, the Illuminati scattered to put their affairs in order before their world’s destruction. When that didn’t happen, they realized Namor must have taken action. Indeed, he’s formed a Cabal with Thanos, Maximus, Black Swan, Terrax, Corvus Glave and Proxima Midnight to help him destroy encroaching Earths.

This arc was one of the most emotionally-packed parts of Hickman’s Avengers opus. He did some strong character work across the board, but especially with the Panther, Namor and Strange. The Panther/Namor fight had been brewing from the outset and Namor’s willingness to damn himself to save the Earth played in stark contrast to the others’ wavering. That was especially powerful in the wake of the sacrifice of the Great Society. The focus on the characters’ emotional lives in the face of the end of the world was a quietly powerful end to the story. Valerio Schiti handled art on the first three issues of the arc, turning in some expressive, sophisticated work that really popped on the page, especially when paired with Frank Martin’s deft color work. The scenes of the Panther surrounded by the spirits of his ancestors were especially striking, while the Doctor Strange panels were appropriately unsettling. Kev Walker handled the quieter, final two issues. His style was a bit more cartoony, but still he injected a lot of drama into the Panther/Namor fight that helped sell that pay-off and he did a rather lovely job with the quieter scenes of the Illuminati facing the end of the world. As with prior New Avengers arcs, this isn’t a story a reader can pick up casually, the earlier volumes are necessary advance reading. But Hickman and his collaborators crafted strong, first rate comics packed with ideas and emotional payoff, making the commitment worthwhile.

AXIS Prelude (Uncanny Avengers #23–25 and Annual #1 and Magneto #9–10)

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The Avengers Unity Squad struggled to overcome the scars of the Apocalypse Twins saga. Rogue remained especially afflicted, unable to dispel Wonder Man’s essence, though that created a bond between her and Scarlet Witch. Red Skull and his S-Men returned, establishing mutant concentration camps while the world looked the other way. Magneto discovered the camps and confronted the Skull and the S-Men, before becoming their prisoner. The S-Men ambushed and captured Rogue, the Witch and Havok. The Avengers escaped and freed Magneto, before confronting their captors. After a fierce battle, during which the full depravity of the camps was revealed, Magneto killed the Red Skull, somehow bringing about the return of Onslaught. From the Annual, the Avengers ran afoul of extradimensional villain Mojo and his Avengers of the Supernatural.

After setting the bar so high with the Apocalypse Twins saga, perhaps Remender was due to underperform with this arc. The emotional fallout of the massive fight was well-handled, especially Wasp and Havok’s grief over their lost daughter. But overall this story felt slight. The Magneto tie-in issues (by Cullen Bunn and Gabriel Hernandez Walta) were decent enough, but did little to make the return of the Red Skull or his machinations make sense or feel like a logical progression from the previous saga. How the Red Skull plus Professor X’s brain and Magneto’s aggression resulted in the return of the not-especially-interesting Onslaught was a mystery that wasn’t very compelling. The Annual story was fine, but ultimately seemed slight and left the impression that there was a more essential purpose to which an Annual could have been put. On the art side, Acuña was joined by Sanford Greene, Salvador Larroca and Paul Renaud, artists with some wildly divergent styles. While each issue was fine in a vacuum, the lack of visual continuity sapped any momentum the story might have managed. Ultimately this arc felt like a placeholder, waiting for the AXIS crossover to commence. While some of the character moments were nice, ultimately AXIS Prelude feels like a skippable collection.

Infinite Avengers (Avengers vol. 5, #29–34)

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The events of the Original Sin event retrieved Captain America’s memories of being mind-wiped after the Illuminati’s initial experiences with a universal incursion in New Avengers. With Hawkeye, Black Widow, Thor, Hyperion and Starbrand at his side, Cap confronted Iron Man. The reappearance of the Time Gem hurled all seven into the future. The group kept moving further up the timeline, with a couple members being pulled back to the present with each jump. Each time, Cap and company encountered groups inspired by the Avengers and even got some insight into certain recent events they’d experienced. Ultimately, Cap wound up at the end of time, where he confronted Kang, Immortus and Iron Lad, who intended to keep him there, believing Cap’s presence in the present day could lead to the destruction of all time. Cap escaped the trio and returned to the present, determined to hunt down the Illuminati.

This arc was a good example of the smart way to tie an ongoing series into an exterior crossover event. Cap’s recovered memories sparked the end game of the grand saga Hickman had been building toward for a couple years. It interfaced with Original Sin enough to ignite the plot, then went its own way. While the other characters got some decent time in the spotlight, this was a Cap story and a great one, at that. Hickman had a strong grasp of the essentials of Cap’s character and found dramatic and exciting ways to illustrate them. Leinil Francis Yu was back on art duty for this arc and did some of his strongest work. The shadow-drenched, dreamy feel of the art was a good complement to the dark, time-traveling plot and Yu’s imagination got a good workout the further into the future the action moved. Infinite Avengers was a rarity in Hickman’s run, in that, while it was an essential part of his larger story, it can also be enjoyed on its own merits. All the info a reader needs is incorporated into the story. While it has more impact if a reader has already tackled the earlier volumes in Hickman’s run, it can be appreciated on its own just fine.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on March 24, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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