Sunday, June 7, 2015

At The End of Everything, A Reflection On The Avengers’ Incursion Storyline

Comics writer Jonathan Hickman likes to think big. On his arrival on the ‘Avengers’ title he announced that he had a three-year plan for the book. In his first issue he expanded the membership of the main team to a whopping 18 characters. And his ‘big story’ for the title can’t really have been any bigger, dealing with nothing less than the destruction of thousands of parallel Earths and essentially the entire Marvel multiverse.

This ‘big story’ could be called the ‘Incursion Storyline’, or perhaps ‘Incursion Saga’ given saga is the more popular term for comic book epics. What is an incursion? I’m still not entirely sure, but rest assured it is A Bad Thing – doesn’t it sound like A Bad Thing?  Helpfully this site explained to me that specifically it is two universes dying as a result of their two Earths colliding together. This threat has mostly reared its head in Hickman’s ‘New Avengers’ book, but it has touched his other ‘Avengers’ book as well, along with two Marvel company-wide crossovers.

How successful has it been? To my mind Hickman’s ‘Avengers’ title started off very well, re-instating the Avengers as a global force to be reckoned with after previous writer Brian Michael Bendis had reduced them to a bunch of people in costumes hanging out in a room. (This is Bendis’ strength by the way, but it did make it seem like less of an ‘Avengers’ book.) From there, as I’ve said before, Hickman’s run faltered a bit after that, getting lost a bit in studies of his new team members, which would be fine if they were more interesting characters. (Captain Universe is impressive, Smasher is OK, Hyperion is a bore.) The title has picked up a bit since it started to fold into what was going on in the ‘New Avengers’ title – the story with Captain America jumping forward to future eras was particularly good – meaning that Hickman’s run should, in the end, leave a somewhat satisfying impression on readers.

‘New Avengers’, for all its multiverse-threatening drama, has seemed a smaller-scale title, focusing on the half dozen or so characters that make up Marvel’s Illuminati. Its hook has been that it has dealt with brilliant, somewhat detached minds making life-and-death decisions about which universes to save, and which they have had to let go, or even actively destroy to save others. Indeed, of the thirty-odd issues of the title that is pretty much all I can remember about it, that it is destruction after destruction of Earth, and moral quandary after moral quandary. But it has treated characters like Namor and the Black Panther as the regal figures they are rather than just another couple of Avengers gathered in the background. It has also included the Black Swan, one of the better characters to be introduced in the Avengers titles in recent years. 

The Marvel event ‘Infinity’ also spun out of Jonathan Hickman’s grand Avengers plan. ‘Infinity’ to me was well-written, but it was also a bit ‘soulless’, a charge levelled by one reviewer at Hickman’s writing in general. ‘New Avengers’ is a little soulless, though given the dispassionate natures of the characters involved, that is part of the point. But Hickman has shown in other series like his ‘The Manhattan Projects’ and ‘East of West’ that he can add in some emotive moments (think of the parting of Yuri and Laika in the former series) even among the abhorrent figures he portrays. There wasn’t exactly a ‘death of Supergirl’ moment though.

Which brings us to ‘Secret Wars’ – the end of the ‘Incursion Storyline’, if not the Marvel Universe as we know it. After a somewhat dull first issue, the subsequent issues, set on Doctor Doom’s new ‘Battleworld’ have been rather enjoyable, even if they represent just another Marvel alternative reality ‘characters-in-different-roles’ storyline. At least after three years of what has seemed like slow progress at times the Incursion threat will reach its final resolution. On the whole the 'Incursion Storyline' has been a thoughtful, well-written, well-plotted story; I just wish I could remember more of it.

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