Let it be known that in the year 2013, Jonathan Hickman replaced the New Avengers’ breakfast table with an Illuminati roundtable. He replaced their irreverent jokes and fun-poking for grave discussions about how to prevent the end of all things. And it was incredibly good.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Steve Epting
– The Illuminati gather to plan for the death of Everything.
– Infinity gems, old wounds, lies, agendas and universal incursions.
– “It breaks hope — it crushes what makes us decent and steals what little honor remains.” — Black Swan
The first issue of “New Avengers” was wonderful set-up to approach the book from an underutilized emotional center in Black Panther. The loss of some of the children of Wakanda in Black Swan’s escape from a parallel Earth was an emotional event that T’Challah saw as a threat to the future of his people, and ultimately the world. Few writers since Christopher Priest have had any sort of handle on the Black Panther character. A Black Panther solo series written by Jonathan Hickman could totally work. But let’s face it, a team book with “Avengers” in the title is his best chance to shine. And shine brightly he does, as Hickman displays him as a powerful ambassador worthy to stand alongside the most important and high-minded of Marvel’s stable of characters. He fits right in as an equal, while being able to stand against them morally at times.
Most of the issue consists of a round table assessment of the multiverse threatening situation by the Illuminati and the interrogation of the now-captive Black Swan. Black Swan, a new villain, is a gem of a character who speaks in inevitabilities about the things to come and how her destructive actions were necessary. She definitely keeps a steely front, but when no one is looking she shows her vulnerabilities and gives the reader a sense that Hickman has a lot more exploring to do with her as a complex villain. As the great minds of the 616 mull over what to do, we’re shown info-graphics and demos of potential outcomes. As with “Avengers”, Hickman gets to show his flair for graphic design in an attractive way that enhances the story. This issue could have easily fallen into the realm of being overly talky, but this is avoided with characterization and interpersonal conflict that is varied and sharp, a threat delivered with compelling exposition, and some important scenes that break up the potential monotony of the issue.
Those sequences away from the table become showcases for Steve Epting to shine. There is a two page sequence that can only be described as the complete opposite of those roundtable discussions without daring to spoil them. These two pages are to be poured over by the reader. They are full of horror and mystery for our characters that is sure to pay off later. Frank D’Armata’s drenching red-orange color choice adds dramatic heft. As of right now, these pages are entirely effective in teasing the test that our heroes have in front of them. This is as widescreen, action-packed, and impressive as anything Epting has done before, but he draws the roundtable scenes with gravity as well, using shadow to cast an omen over the thinkers. D’Armata’s colors darken on the costumed men while the meeting table remains a light, off-white symbol of hope at the center. As good as Epting was on Fantastic Four, he’s even better hear, making both the Illuminati and the oncoming threat seem loom larger.
It’s obvious what Jonathan Hickman was referring to when he said he left Ultimates for “a job offer he couldn’t refuse.” Writing the “Avengers” books is an opportunity that Hickman couldn’t afford to turn down. But with his creativity firing on all cylinders, it’s really Hickman’s talent that Marvel couldn’t afford to miss out on for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Final Verdict: 9.2 – Buy this book or everything dies.