Review: The Avengers Take to the Stars in Hickman’s Infinity Saga

Helmed by writer Jonathan Hickman, Infinity is the expansive event from Marvel Comics that saw the return of Thanos, the Mad Titan, to Earth. This six-issue series, penciled by rotating artists Jerome Opena, Dustin Weaver and Jim Cheung, is the culmination of three plotlines spanning several titles. The first plotline is the arrival of the Builders, which is the focus of Hickman’s Avengers, a highly-evolved species destroying every life-sustaining planet in their march toward Earth. The second is the wave of mysterious illnesses plaguing the galaxy, as teased in New Avengers and Nova. The third is the political ramifications of these events on the intergalactic community, which Guardians of the Galaxy deals with directly. Alternate perspectives of the event could also be seen in the pages of Avengers Assemble, Thunderbolts, and numerous other tie-ins.

All of these seemingly separate threads come together in Infinity, in an event that promised to forever change the status quo of the Marvel Universe. While the Avengers are off-planet fighting alongside interstellar coalition forces, Thanos comes to Earth to murder his last known living son, Thane, rumored to be living among the Inhumans. The ensuing attack devastates the planet as the superhero community, already scattered across the galaxy, struggles to defend against the Mad Titan’s pirate army of rogues and psychopaths. In the midst of the chaos, Black Bolt, the Inhuman king, destroys the floating citadel Attilan in an attempt to stop Thanos. Unknown to the royal family, he unleashes his Terrigenesis bomb on Earth, causing a violent chain reaction that immediately activates dormant Inhuman genes in the human population. Overnight thousands of people become Inhuman, manifesting strange powers and changing their lives forever, in an act that will lead directly into Marvel’s Inhumanity event.

The strengths of this event lie with Hickman’s detailed plotting. He laid the groundwork for this event in both Avengers and New Avengers, giving him ample time to develop the Builders as a legitimate threat, and to set the stage for the twists and turns that followed. We see the Avengers off-planet fighting alongside the galactic coalition, as Iron Man, Black Panther and the rest of the Illuminati hold the line against Thanos. In the midst of this is the Inhuman drama of Black Bolt and Maximus destroying Attilan and unleashing their secret bomb, trying to keep Thane’s location a secret and perpetuate their species in the face of genocide at Thanos’ hand. Hickman delivers a great deal of tension through solid scripting and pacing, both in the tight interweaving of his plotlines and in exploring the full scope of the story through rotating character perspectives. From the shocking destruction of Attilan to Thor’s brutal reclamation of Builder-occupied Hala, there are many notable moments that make for an exciting and satisfying read.

INFINITY

The real burden of this event, however, is shouldered by its artists, Cheung, Opena and Weaver. To their individual credits, all of them rise to the occasion. Cheung, whose pencils bookend the series with issues #1 and #6, carries his portion of the series across planets and solar systems with great success. His panel compositions are highly engaging throughout, his page layouts making the most of the action and narrative tension. Opena and Weaver, who rotate out on the rest of the issues, work together well. Their styles mesh impeccably from segment to segment, solidifying the overall sense of clarity and continuity through eye-catching settings and thoughtful page design. The art maintains a careful balance of action and intrigue, drama and adventure through dynamic panel-to-panel tension and a unifying undercurrent of anticipation. Unified by the color palettes of Justin Ponsor, the artwork maintains a visual cohesion that never feels jarring or inconsistent from artist to artist.

This is an event that makes a lot of promises, living up to most. Even with the strength of Hickman’s detailed plotting and a dynamic creative team to bring his scripts to the page, however, Infinity is defined by its highs as well as its lows. Just like Avengers, which has been criticized for sacrificing character development for the sake of moving the plot, Infinity suffers from similar problems of scope. It does address the stories of key players like Captain America, Iron Man and Black Bolt, and features Captain Marvel and Thor in strong supporting roles, but frequently leaves the rest of the sprawling supporting cast in the dark. Tie-ins and supplementary issues do offer alternative points of view on the event, some more effectively than others, but the men and women on the ground are relegated to the status of prop much of the time. When you have such heavy-hitters as Smasher and Hyperion, and strategically essential characters like Manifold and Captain Universe, drawn out of the main storyline, it feels like a bit of a waste.

As for the execution of the overall plot itself, there are some holes and soft spots. A somewhat convoluted narrative, the respective Builder and Thanos plotlines don’t quite entwine in any fluid or meaningful way. Instead they read as simple coincidences, random events that happened to overlap as Thanos arrived to find the planet defender’s away from home. Moreover, the need for a complete and final conclusion of these plots is ultimately left unfulfilled. By the fact that this event serves to set up the next, an extended preamble for Inhumanity, the story lack any real sense of final resolution. Its conclusion fails to answer many of the title’s own core questions as the heroes simply turn their attentions to the next problem. Yes, it does change the status quo, but it doesn’t give the reader a moment to even enjoy the finale, and leaves one to wonder what, if anything, was really gained.

As a series, Infinity has an exciting storyline and many unforgettable moments, carried by Hickman’s strong scripts and the stellar work of its artists. However, as an event, it does leave an uncomfortable amount of questions unanswered. The lack of satisfying resolution is frustrating, as is the lack of overall character development. If taken in the context of one chapter leading to another, in a larger and more expansive story, this series is much easier to digest and enjoy. It isn’t perfect, but it does what it set out to do. While not completely satisfying for many readers, who want to see more closure in this storyline, it leaves us eager for more, making us come back to see what happens next in Inhumanity. At the end of the day, that’s what Marvel wanted all along.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

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