So, Infinity. You could build houses if you had enough copies of this book, but it’d be a really flimsy house.
Writer Jonathan Hickman’s been leading to this since he first rebooted two Avengers teams, and since those teams form a big chunk of the story with significantly different tones (and, as it turns out, different narrative charges) it’s best to take them as separate parts of a great whole. Rest assured, it is absolutely necessary to read all three constituent elements of Infinity as one whole thing, and each story does interlock as varieties of apples and oranges.
That said, the New Avengers portion is easily the weakest of the three main narrative thrusts – if one were to talk apples and oranges, New Avengers jumps straight into banana territory. However, that’s still like saying this third slice of delicious cheesecake is the weakest merely because a fleck of dirt had to be brushed off it before eating.
Infinity primarily deals with Captain America and a decent chunk of the Avengers going a little Star Wars meets Battlestar Galactica by heading off into space, allying with alien races and kicking the ass of some jerks called the Builders – but we’ll get to them later. New Avengers has Iron Man and his band of Illuminati jerkfaces stick around on Earth as a token defence force, all the while dealing with their own interpersonal problems (which mostly revolve around Namor, King of Atlantis, and Black Panther, maybe-once-a-King-and-possibly-still-is-but-maybe-not of Wakanda, getting into a pissing contest). Unfortunately, since Earth is kinda left defenceless and open like a tin of peaches without an assault rifle, intergalactic titan and one-scene Avengers wonder Thanos hits upon the world-beating idea to charge headlong at Earth and get rid of those pesky humans once and for all.
This’ll probably make more sense once you read the following two reviews of the Infinity trio (or, y’know, just get the book itself) but New Avengers is 90% incongruous to the rest of the story. While the remaining tenth does tie into the conclusion of the grand space opera arc that both vanilla Avengers and the Infinity miniseries build towards, everything before almost feels like a different book. You’ve got Illuminati shenanigans where the team once again confronts their necessary evil modus operandi. You’ve got Namor and Black Panther competing to see who’ll snap in their bitching match first (with this element seeming very heavily inspired by the Varys and Littlefinger chats from Game of Thrones). You’ve got Doctor Strange being possessed by an alien. You’ve got Thanos making a play for Earth and also having an ulterior motive that plays like a big spoiler but mostly comes as a significant left-field throw which threatens to derail the overall Infinity plot. You’ve also got familial drama with Thanos and his Cull Obsidian, a team of space-magic-alien people who want to be the Four Horsemen so hard it makes them cry. And against all this, you’ve got Earth’s remaining heroes worrying about all the cool shooty-laser-fun happening in space with the Builders.
As if Infinity didn’t already have enough plates spinning.
Despite my disappointment with New Avengers and its schizophrenic, out-of-place-until-the-very-end narrative, it was still very enjoyable. You’ve got to understand, a low-ranked Jonathan Hickman book is still leagues ahead of most superhero fare right now. There’s a lot of care taken to keep characters from becoming one-note, the dialogue is (in parts) snappy and believable, artwork is great and the story is intelligently-driven and well-paced. It might be a banana with a slight tinge of brown at the bottom, but it’s still a damn good banana from a bunch of damn good bananas. Unfortunately, like a banana, peeling the skin back for the white goodness underneath just serves to highlight the inherent issues before you devour them.
As I said, the shifting tone of the story never settles down long enough to become consistent. It switches between political machinations and intergalactic threat at the drop of a hat. In fact, after the initial chapters there’s barely any mention of the Builders’ conflict and it might as well be a separate story. I don’t mind distinctions between different stories during a crossover that serve the whole as a sum of parts, but I almost feel like Thanos’ incursion should’ve been an event in its own right. The fact that Mr Grapeface himself serves as the cover image to the whole Infinity tome seems rather misleading, as he only really appears in a few chapters before the inevitable defeat so Earth can remain liberated once again (It ain’t a spoiler, folks. You know Earth won’t remain under Thanos’s size 27 jackbooted heel forever). Seems someone at Marvel’s milking that post-credits stinger from The Avengers for all it’s worth.
I also do not give two craps about Namor and Black Panther’s little “my country is cooler than yours” game. At all. I know there’s history behind it, that there’s a grudge held by the latter due to the former nuking his town with Phoenix-enhanced superpowers during the abysmal muck that was Avengers vs. X-Men, but I just don’t care. They sound like angsty teens, brooding about their losses and giving token character conflict for this anti-hero band of misfits. Of all the threads continued from that pile of dreck, why’d Hickman have to tug at that particular stray?
Despite that, New Avengers does have some good moments here and there. Iron Man backs off from centre stage for a bit, allowing bit characters like Black Bolt (who I’ll talk more about in the core miniseries analysis) and the Panther to step up and do stuff outside the shadow of Marvel’s most marketable male machinator. The actual fight scenes with Thanos and the Cull Obsidian are appropriately huge and destructive. There’s plenty of reference to earlier issues of Hickman’s New Avengers arc, keeping that story going against the larger Infinity canvas, and I’ll even admit the way Thanos inevitably gets defeated is intriguing and opens up a whole mess of storytelling ideas for the Illuminati going forward. If someone wants to correct me and say this method was used earlier by another writer in a similar fashion, I’d like to politely tell them to shut up and let me imagine that Marvel’s actually come up with an unrecycled idea for once.
Artwork is good, but I think artist Mike Deodato has been eyeing off some manga heroes in his spare time. Namor looks like the dominant foil in a yaoi story with his pretty-boy cheekbones that could slice metal and hair done in the standard animesque slickback with fringe strands at the front just begging for a finger-stroking. His recently emphasised nasty personality in regards to Black Panther and the conflict with Atlantis only makes that image harder to scrub out, no matter how many appletinis I drink afterwards. I’ve got no problem if this sharper look’s intended to make his evil more pronounced, but I found his bitchy dialogue harder to take seriously when I imagined him chuckling in Japanese afterwards about how badass he is with those fringe strands. Seriously, each time a panel focused on his face I think I unconsciously groped for a pair of scissors.
Aside from that, Deodato does a decent job. The fleshed-out style meshes well with Steve Epting’s work in the first book, using duller tones and darker shading to great effect at establishing the grimier, grittier tone of the book, while switching to big, badass colours whenever a fight breaks out or Thanos gets involved. It’s not quite the superior illustrations that Deodato provided in Dark Avengers, but still pretty good.
Dialogue’s fine. Hickman standard, offering enough to the reader to connect dots themselves, alongside confusing meta-verse technobabble provided by resident geeks Iron Man and Mr Fantastic where appropriate. Not much to dissect there, aside from once again reiterating that I cannot take Namor and what he says seriously anymore. He’s merely a pencil-stache away from channeling Sinestro of the ’60s.
While it’s not a bad book the way Scott Lobdell or Rob Liefeld write bad books, New Avengers is a disappointing piece of the Infinity cheesecake. Taken on its own provides a kinder way to look at it, and the book’s ominous ending definitely galvanises me to keep reading, but as part of Marvel’s humungous 2013 crossover it feels a tad vestigial. Your stomach might be queasy from downing that slightly-brown banana, but you’ll certainly know your digestion’s working afterwards.
Scores and best quote given in INFINITY: CORE MINISERIES review