Years of tension, cosmic battles, and multiversal genocide has led to this. “Avengers” #44 and “New Avengers” #33 cap off a large portion of Hickman’s massive saga and change the very center of the Marvel Universe forever. In order to accommodate this week’s release, we’ll look at both issues and talk about the entire story which started in 2012. And since we’re going to in-depth on this storyline, expect some major spoilers.
New Avengers #33
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Mike Deodato
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Stefano Caselli and Kev Walker
Okay. ‘Everything Dies.’ This is a story we’re tackling.
For the past two and a half years, Jonathan Hickman has been writing about Incursions. Earths from multiple realities are crashing into each other and wiping out the multiverse at an exponential rate. Iron Man and his Illuminati have been staving off our own Earth’s death by sacrificing other worlds while Captain America and the Avengers have been left out of the loop. After a year of alien invasions and the Avengers’ biggest roster upgrade in history, that secret spilled. Now, the Avengers, the Illuminati, and dozens of players are at each others’ throats while reality crashes down around them.
One reason why it’s so hard to talk about Hickman’s Avengers saga (which we’ll just call ‘Everything Dies’ for convenience’s sake) is because it’s just so massive. Thirty-three issues of “New Avengers” and forty-four issues of “Avengers”, along with god knows how many issues of “Infinity” and “Avengers World” lead to roughly a hundred issues worth of comic that haven’t even finished one story. In that sense, I have a hard time defining Hickman’s tenure with the series as a “run.” We’ll look back at Walter Simonson’s “Thor” or Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” and they turned out countless stories with a similar amount of issues. ‘Everything Dies’, meanwhile has all been one story. Everything from Alberta, Canada being infected with some interstellar spores to Thor screaming at primordial aliens until America won Space War has been a part of something greater, which fits into some of the themes of the saga. The Avengers Machine, the wheel of Rabum Alal. Whatever you want to call it, ‘Everything Dies’ is about beings finding themselves in a system greater than they are. Be it the humans scrambling to stop the end of days or the dozens upon dozens of comics trying to tell a story this massive.
The biggest anxiety surrounding ‘Everything Dies’, therefore, is whether the payoff will be worth it. Two and a half years of comics, literally hundreds of dollars, finished on Wednesday and will only be truly concluded after a seemingly endless crossover and all the tie-ins that accompany it. So, do the last parts of ‘Time Runs Out’ justify the years of hype?
The answer, and one that I’ve had as a staunch follower of this storyline since it began, is a “Golly, I hope so.” “New Avengers” #33 tries to explain one of its biggest twists: that Rabum Alal, the scary multiverse-destroying monster at the end of the book, is none other than Doctor Doom. And what seems like a cliche, Doom being Hickman’s favorite character, actually has an interesting angle that ties it into what the whole series has been talking about. While Steve and Tony have been arguing about whether its alright to sacrifice other worlds to stop the Incursions, Doom’s Incursions were built out of a grander exaggeration of that debate.
Years ago, Molecule Man told Doom that he was a bomb, created by the Beyonders to detonate across every reality and end all life as part of their grand experiment. So, over the course of years, Doom has been traversing the multiverse murdering Molecule Men and recruiting Black Swans to accelerate the process, thus creating the legend of Rabum Alal. The countless deaths of Owen Mercer eventually lead to the collapse of the multiverse and the Incursions the Illuminati have been fighting since Marvel NOW! began. While Tony, Steve, and the Illuminati have been debating how to stop these Incursions with their souls intact, the man with no soul has been destroying universes for the sheer chance of taking on beings greater than reality and saving what little he can.Continued below
Hubris is a favorite theme of Hickman’s (see: every time he writes Reed Richards, “The Manhattan Projects”) and it’s never been more apparent than in ‘Everything Dies.’ Doom’s raging against the white hot light of the Beyonders (adult Beyonders far more powerful than the jheri-curled baby in the original “Secret Wars”) is simultaneously one of the most tragic and badasses scenes in recent memory. Doom spits out the most poetically diabolical language he can, laying bare the trillions of lives he has destroyed in sheer spite of these creatures who think themselves better than he. The cosmos itself begins to spit back at him and Doom spits right back, declaring that he will erase these mighter-than-Gods from history. And the Beyonders’ response? To wipe him, Molecule Man, Dr. Strange, and hundreds of universes from existence. Even Doom never had a chance. Everything Dies.
The nihilism that permeates that phrase, Everything Dies, may seem disgustingly nihilist and, honestly, what’s more nihilist than a hundred-issue long saga about how useless our heroes really are and how that uselessness divides them? It’s why I can’t read “Civil War.” If I wanted to hear about how superheroes are useless, I’d watch the trailer for “Superman vs. Batman” and read that Frederic Wertham book. Yet, while “Civil War” artificially thrust our heroes into “CURRENT EVENTS” like the Patriot Act, ‘Everything Dies’ is completely removed from our world. Its threat is an utterly Marvel one and the catch comes from how nothing can be done to stop it. You either let other worlds die or you sacrifice your own people, your own universe. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s not a matter of our heroes being useless perverts who can’t stop jerking into their masks or whatever Garth Ennis is writing about. It’s The Avengers finally finding themselves in a situation that can’t be solved by a battle cry and punching.
“Avengers” #44 brings the futility of this conflict to a head with the climactic confrontation of Iron Man and Captain America. While “Civil War” featured the two going at it for reasons like LEGISLATION and FREEDOM OF SPEECH, their conflict in ‘Everything Dies’ feels much more justified. Millions of people are dying every second and each man has a different idea of how to fix everything, neither solution being more than temporary.
With everything they’ve lost, Iron Man and Captain America finally exchange fists in a particularly brutal fight sequence from Kev Walker, one of the many artists to work on this project. And while each artist is different, from personal favorite Stefano Caselli’s intimate and close-up friendly look to Michael Deodato’s cosmic landscapes in “New Avengers”, every artist on this series has run along the same nihilist and gloomy sci-fi feel, uniting what could have been a disparate hundred issues into a fairly unified story. Devices in a great machine, yo.
Kev Walker in particular has some of the most brutal few pages of his career with the fight between Cap and Iron Man. The two decimate each other, with frail old Steve Rogers (don’t ask) flying his shield right into Tony’s face. These two have fought before, exchanged blows and lasers. But I can’t think of a time when the two have gone for the jugular quite like they did here. And when contrasted with flashbacks to the first issue, when these two were bright and full of hope, this becomes the most decimating couple pages of the week. And then just as the battle begins again, a falling helicarrier* from another world crashes into them as another Earth invades Manhattan. Everything Dies.
As I said in the beginning of this review, ‘Everything Dies’ is pretty difficult to talk about because of its size. Hell, everything I’ve described happened in the last two issues. But, I’ve also left out a lot of other plots and characters that make up the entirety of this story. Like I said, ‘Everything Dies’ is massive and one of the few Marvel story lines that incorporates everything from its universe, if not multiverse. It’s also a comic that is defiantly confident in its themes. Where other comics take for granted that the heroes will save the day, ‘Everything Dies’ throws all that out the window. Now, with a problem greater than any they have faced before, heroes must decide what they are truly willing to do to earn their happy ending. That assumes of course, that a happy ending is still possible.Continued below
Final Verdict: 9.3 – Although the long build seemed monotonous and unpromising at times, ‘Everything Dies’ is quickly becoming one of the strongest story lines of the modern comics era. While definitely too male-focused and iffy on art from time to time, ‘Everything Dies’ isn’t afraid to take our favorite characters and push them as far as they can go, all without the forced pathos that makes other “subversive” superhero comics a chore to read. Rather than arbitrarily turning our heroes into scumbags, Hickman and an army’s worth of artists have fully explored these (too-often) men and built them into deeply complex portraits of what they stand for. A singular storyline going on for this long may seem like a large gamble, but if “Secret Wars” can stick the landing, it’ll likely pay off.
*How incredible is it that a helicarrier is always crashing, even when no one onscreen shot it.