Tag Archives: Jonathan Hickman

Secret Wars, by Jonathan Hickman

What would you do with omnipotence? What would you do if the universe had collapsed around you, everyone and everything had died, and you were now the omnipotent being who could put something back together again?

That’s the question in the final collection of issues in Jonathan Hickman’s lengthy story of Avengers, Illuminati, alien doomsdays, and multiversal collapse. (Finally, the end! See all previous posts by searching for Jonathan Hickman or other tags to this post.)

At the end of Time Runs Out, the Illuminati team run out of options and devised a lifeboat that they hoped would save enough people to restart the human race, if that chance ever presented itself because they weren’t equipped to recreate anything. The man who was equipped for the task was the Fantastic Four’s arch-rival Victor von Doom. You could say he was in the right place at the right time.

With the help of Doctor Strange and The Molecule Man (who were with him at the aforementioned right time), he pulled together as many fragments of the multiverse as he could or wanted to into a small, planetary reality lamely called Battleworld. What I read in this Secret Wars collection is the metanarrative that holds many other stories together. I had thought to say the world wasn’t filled with battle and you could hardly call what happens her a secret war, much less wars, but I didn’t read the many other issues tied to this this set. Who knows what madness ran around in its diapers over there?

But here Doom, having reconstructed bits and pieces of Earth and the known universe, reigns as a god. He seems to have gotten everything he’s always wanted–worship, unbridled power, and Susan Richards, his enemy’s wife. But after a few years, scientists discover a lifeboat ship and Thanos and his crew are onboard.

The story works, and I’m glad it’s over. The only unsatisfying part of the conclusion for me is the complete avoidance of the rebirth and reconciliation of Captain America and Iron Man. Since so much time was spent on them in the third act, I thought Hickman was bring them into the fourth act. But the story shifted to the Fantastic Four characters, which was compelling on its own, and the inclusion of two Spidermen added a nice spice.

Avengers: Time Runs Out series, by Jonathan HIckman

Great! Walk away! It doesn’t matter. You’ll be back.

But make sure when you do come back–because you need me–that it’s on your knees. Both of you! Repentant!

Because I can’t save any of you, unless you realize that you need saving! And that I’m the only one on this entire planet who can do it!

In my last post on this apocalyptic Avengers series, Captain America went on a series of time jumps that appeared to clarify his moral compass. “I rescue the helpless. I raise up the hopeless.” That’s what he said. That’s what Captain America said.

And someone said to him that Tony Stark had caused a universal load of trouble for everyone and needs to be stopped.

The next set of issues, Avengers: Time Runs Out, Volume One, the story picks up eight months later, so yeah, a few gaps in the story would be fine. But why does Steve Rogers look thirty or forty years older and appear to have handed the mantle of Captain America to Sam Wilson (who is seen more on the character list page than any panel)? How did Thor lose his arm and what is this about being unworthy to wield Mjölnir? Did Bruce Banner take his own multiverse trip and bring back an alternate version of himself? As a casual comics reader, this is off-putting (there are other off-putting things I won’t mention).

The story told over this four volume collection doesn’t follow a linear pattern, which is mostly good. When you have so many characters doing so many things, it’s normal to tell the story slant with some flashbacks and revelations from conversations you didn’t see the first run through the timeline. Threats are reexamined and mysteries explored by characters revisiting what they understand and seeing it in new light. Hickman has an interesting, spralling story here.

But Steve Rogers is labeled the good man and life; Tony Stark is labeled the monster, death. And Rogers spends 90% of his time hunting his former friends and wanting to beat an apology out of Stark for lying about the end of the world. Stark is blamed for corrupting all reality and lying to the other Avengers that they had a chance to save Earth. “You knew we were all going to die!” Rogers charges him. “Say it! You lied about that and everything.” At one point, Rogers says that bringing the Illuminati team to justice was more important than anything else, completely forgetting that they would need to act when another planetary incursion comes. A little later he accused them of doing nothing over the last eight months to save the planet.

Of course, they had been knocking out various impossible things every day before taking an early lunch. That and running from their friends.

The story doesn’t run out at the end of Time Runs Out, Volume Four. No, sir. It just keeps going. Which is good in one sense, because the heroes had run out of options and everything actually dies. But I was left asking where was the man would not entertain necessary evils, who was committed to saving as many people as he could? When they learned of great cosmic destroyers–Rabum Alal, the Ivory Kings, the Mapmakers, and the Black Priests–how could they set that aside to blame everything on Tony Stark?

Infinite Avengers by Hickman and Yu

“I rescue the helpless. I raise up the hopeless.
“I don’t measure people’s lives. . . I save them.”

In this set of issues we reach the pivot point for the whole Infinity-Everything Dies series. The cover intends to remind readers of a scene I didn’t mention in my post New Avengers: Everything Dies, because a guy doesn’t want to give a whole story away. But I guess we have to go there now.

Captain America was one of the Illuminati faced with saving Earth from incursions from alternate Earths in other universes (see first post for more). He suggested using the Infinity Gauntlet, and when that didn’t work, he argued against considering necessarily evil options. “I know you,” he said. “You’ll create a doomsday weapon on the possibility of needing it, and then, one by one, you’ll talk yourselves into using it.”

At the other members’ consent, Dr. Strange wiped his memory and sent him away.

The timeline of these issues falls at the end of the middle of the fourth set of New Avengers issues, A Perfect World. There we see Tony Stark working with bruises and a bandaged nose. He tries to roll it off as wounds from the crisis they have just been through, but the truth is Hawkeye pummeled him for getting the everyone into this cosmic mess. That fight occurred as a result of Cap remembering everything he had been encouraged to forget and accusing Stark of working with Reed Richards and the others to destroy parallel Earths in order to save ours.

And they hash it out with their fists. Boy! These supers can’t resist flexing on each other. “You know I’m right! Look at my muscles!” I guess they know the fans are watching. It isn’t any better than the argument clichés that were used here and in other issues that escalate the tension without following an argument.

But maybe that flows with the sci-fi philosophical reasoning or leaping that abounds in this story. In the midst of Avengers flexing on Iron Man, the Time Gem reappears in Cap’s hand, and in blazing light they jump forward in time to meet new, future Avengers. They start talking about timelines, traveling between space and time, time as an organism not a measurable concept — it can make you ask questions. And everyone else seems to know all about it, but hey, this is just a comic book. You need to be moving on. [Flash!]

Now that I’m writing about it, I remember that I usually dislike stories with narrating characters who calmly explain what that freak of nature actually is and why it happened to you and maybe something about purpose; if they mention a prophecy, I’m out. It’s ugly, unnatural exposition. Am I reading or watching the annotated edition of this story? But with all of the exposition in these issues, I didn’t mind it. I wanted an explanation.

Pretty sure I didn’t get one.

What Cap gets is moral clarity of a sort. He remembers who he is now, and he’s going to take his righteous standard back to that shadowy group who think they can act alone.

New Avengers: Other Worlds and A Perfect World

Jonathan Hickman put a poetic balance in his New Avengers: Illuminati tale of the end of universes. Several times we read Reed Richards saying, “Everything dies. You. Me. Everyone on this planet. . . . eventually the universe itself. This is simply how things are. It’s inevitable. And I accept it, but what I will not tolerate–what I find unacceptable–is the unnatural acceleration of that end.”

The select men who form the Illuminati fear they must do horrible things to avoid the death of their instance of Earth (explained in an earlier post). So far they’ve only had to destroy planets that were dead or dying. In Other Worlds, the Black Swan tells them of a device she calls a mirror that allows someone to see into realities or universes. Because in this type of sci-fi all you need is to conceive of a thing in order have a working device in the next few days, they build this device and begin scanning for incursion points on other Earths. In this way they see other societies with other heroes being invaded by the horrifically deadly agents they have only heard about: Mapmakers and Black Priests. In the second book, Infinity, they return to Black Swan after defeating Thanos, and she ridicules them. Why worry about a dog when you have a demon charging you? she asks, because what’s coming is irresistable death.

It’s never clear whether she is shooting straight with them, and as the weeks burn up they see potential threats that only make them fear the worst. In A Perfect World the worst comes in the least acceptable form. The next world incursion is not filled with abominations but with heroes who could be their superiors. Are they willing to destroy a good world to save their own this time?

In this other version of Earth, we read Dr. Richards’ dialogue with a different spin from a Superman-like figure called Zoran, the Sun God.

“Everything lives. It lives before it dies and we are judged by what we do during that time. Like a brilliant, life-giving star, we illuminate the universe, chasing away the shadows. We create life and then celebrate that creation.”

After reading Zoran’s hopeful words, I thought they may right every wrong, even if it took turning back the clock. But now I see this is only part of a much longer story. It probably won’t turn hopeful or patch certain holes in character arcs. Maybe the bottom line comes from one of the characters, who said these men were not heroes but kings. Kings have authority from birth and do not reason within normal human morality; they commit necessary evil to defend their people, and even though you may be able to argue that certain acts were not necessary, if the people are safe, then the actions were acceptable.

That’s more like embracing the shadows than chasing them away.

New Avengers: Everything Dies and Infinity

I mentioned a few days ago that I was reading a series called New Avengers, and when I began considering what I could say that would be worth reading (a barrier to entry that you might say hasn’t stopped me before) I remembered some gaping plot points. A war is started and then shrugged off. A major cosmic villain appears and is suddenly neutralized behind the scenes. What am I missing?

I am missing another entire series that fills in the story. Why isn’t there a note at the end of one issue that the story continues in another series’, because when you finish issue 6 and pick up issue 7, you tend to expect the story to pick up with you.

Cover of New Avengers: Everything Dies by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting

I’m reading the 2014 New Avengers series by Jonathan Hickman, a four volume set. This is the first cover, showing Steve Epting’s excellent artwork. Each volume has a different lead illustrator; all of them impressive. In Everything Dies, seven heroes who aren’t necessarily Avengers, if that term means something, gather as the secret rulers of the known universe, the Illuminati (which is the only name that can be given to that sort of group, even if no one ever uses it).

They meet because Black Panther witnesses a woman, calling herself a black swan, jump to our planet from another one that hung perilously above. She then detonates the first one, and swoosh, all returns to normal. She claims there’s a natural order to the multiverse (infinite parallel universes, infinite parallel realities), and while everything will eventually die, something happened on an Earth in a universe somewhere that caused it to come to an untimely end. That weakened the walls between universes apparently, because it led to two universes touching each other at their point of Earth. As you’ve likely seen in the news, when two universes reject social distancing guidelines, they eliminate each other.

When universes are eliminated, it bothers people, particularly those who wear the same form-fitting suit to work everyday.

The other Earth that the black swan dropped from was an Earth in its own universe. Soon another one will appear in the sky, and if one of the two planets is not destroyed quickly, both universes will perish. The heroes begin work on an early warning system, hoping to give themselves eight hours to save one or both universes. And then someone remembers he has an old infinity gauntlet in his car trunk, and since they have all the infinity gems already, why not try using it?

Continue reading New Avengers: Everything Dies and Infinity