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Jonathan Hickman isn’t a writer for everyone. Surely. He loves giant, complex ideas that can easily take over a year to fully realize. Like a mad genius planning an impossibly complex heist, he hides little clues and call backs to things that have happened years ago.
He’s been writing Marvel NOW!’s Avengers and New Avengers titles since the beginning and I’m hear today to tell you why New Avengers is the best Marvel book out now.
Most of the titles out right now have huge stakes. Some are fighting for friends, some the fate of the world, or even many worlds, and still others for the very future. Superhero comics are built upon the foundation of high stakes. However, New Avengers is playing with the largest stakes of them all: the multiverse.
You see, in the book, the multiverse is collapsing. Parallel Earths are collapsing on each other. If nothing is done, then both universes are destroyed. If one Earth is able to destroy the other, then that Earth is spared. It’s a chain reaction that is only speeding up… and it’s only a matter of time before it happens to 616.
New Avengers is playing for all the marbles. Everything. An infinite amount of universes. While the Illuminati — a group of heroes who have banded together to secretly run the world for its own good — began looking only to save Earth 616, it’s growing towards the goal of ending the Incursions once and for all.
This is huge. I mean obviously they’re going to find out a way to beat it, unless Marvel plans to stop publishing comics soon. However, we see the inhabitants of these other worlds, different versions of the heroes we know and love, and we have to watch them get massacred by these incursions.
Plus, as the story goes on, our main characters are put through hell. Black Panther has lost almost everything he’s held dear. Namor has become a monster, the worst reflection of every good thing he could be. Doctor Strange sold his soul to break a planet and has come out all the worse for it. Those are just the few biggest examples, not even touching on Tony Stark, Beast, or Mr. Fantastic. While they may save the multiverse, they may fail in saving their souls.
This is most important in my mind. This book is of an epic scale, yes, but it’s also the deepest themed. It plays with what it means to be good, what “doing good” means. How far do you go to save the day? They stop people from trying to destroy the world all the time, but now they must become what they’ve always fought against and attempt to destroy another Earth.
I mean, it’s so morally ambiguous from the beginning. The mere idea of the Illuminati is gray. These geniuses and heroes meet in secret to shepard the world through trying times. That’s dark gray. Add to that the fact that Captain America was once a member, but when he refused to even think about destroying another other planet, they wiped his mind and sent him off. Think about that. Some of his closest friends wiped his mind and went behind his back.
“But it’s to save the 616 universe,” you say, “blowing up a strange new Earth is just a necessary evil.” Ah, but that’s the entire point, isn’t it? The slippery slope. I mass global genocide, extincting an entire other Earth, is justified, what else could be? After these iconic heroes have wiped out billions of innocent lives, what then? What can’t be justified?
It affects how I read other books. When it came time to blow up an incurring planet, the heroes found they couldn’t do it. Yet The Illuminati stood by as Namor scolded them then blew up the planet himself. They were complicit. So now Mr. Fantastic seems a little less noble in Fantastic Four. Iron Man is less idealistic in Avengers, and Beast is an even bigger hypocrite in all of the X-Men books.
That’s the power of the New Avengers story. It wears on the very core of these characters.
There are many superhero stories out there and for the most part many of them are pretty damned good. Few are timeless. I believe that the New Avengers story is one of the best stories we’ve had in a while. It’s not just good, it’s important.
We have a ton of stories about Good versus Evil. We’re swimming in those. It’s the genre’s bread and butter. New Avengers plays with Mankind verses The Inevitable. These are some of the most powerful men on the planet and they’re up against a seemingly unstoppable force. In the latest story, they barely succeed in destroying one Earth and it almost ruins them. Then they find another Earth is due to incur again. Some characters have their spirits crushed by it while others can only wonder what they’ve become.
This speak to every single one of us. After all, how often do we have to deal with true good and true evil? Pretty much never. But we all face the inevitable. We grow older and closer death. We all have to grow up. We all have to face undeniable truths. When it comes time to take it head on, do we choose to fight to the end or do it let it crush us?
Like a Greek tragedy we see these mere mortals struggle against the nature of the universe. Some are undone by their faults while some are just consumed by their quest to save everyone. It goes beyond just the superhero genre. It’s operatic. It’s the best Marvel comic book out today.