It was the spark that started the fire – a legend that grew in the telling.
At the beginning, it was an origin story. The rebuilding of the Avengers. The reconvening of the Illuminati. And with overtones reaching back to the beginning of the Marvel Universe.
At the end, it’s the mirror of that story. The collapse of the Avengers. The Illuminati replaced by the Cabal. The end of the Marvel Universe.
Jonathan Hickman’s run writing Avengers and New Avengers has been a blast. I’ve blogged about it a good deal because it’s one of the main comics I have been following on a regular basis – although I have stepped down to reading it in the trade paperbacks/collected digital volumes. That said, I am here now because these two comics just released their last trade last week – the end of the four-trade, two-title saga called Time Runs Out, which led directly to the current Marvel Secret Wars and which ended the Marvel Comics Universe in a very real way.
Yes, it’s comics, it’ll probably come back. Still, for now, es ist kaput.
So how did we get there? Even if the why of the universe ending was corporate and marketing and business, the mechanism that got us there took about 100 comics. So what happened? Why did time run out?
A Quick Rundown of Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers
To make this a quick rundown, I am going to be sourcing things out to previous posts I have written. In these posts, I have a number of screencaps from the comics with some further explanation of things so it’s not just me I’m referring to, it’s the comics themselves.
At their heart, these were two parallel and competing stories. In Avengers, as in the image above, it’s a bit of a reboot/reforming of the Avengers team. A fresh start, a new beginning. With an expectation of greater threats: with a need for a bigger team. So an origin story of sorts there. Meanwhile, new “villains” (many of whom end up new Avengers), new problems, and new versions of “old” heroes – like a female Smasher and a new Hyperion. Meanwhile, with the larger backdrop of the villains and the big fight to come (Infinity, which I blogged in three parts), there is a larger narrative and origin story of the whole universe. Callbacks to a narrative of, essentially, the big bang.
In New Avengers, that story becomes one of universal death. Of the opposite of the big bang: a big collapse, with the whole universe collapsing at once. Which they get to see happening, multiple times: the entire multiverse (multiple universes) is collapsing, universe by universe dying. I included Mister Fantastic’s excellent explanation in my original review.
Thus, the dual character of life, and death, between the two stories, which I have found really cool, and which I talked about as one of the great themes in Hickman’s comics in general.
Okay, so as to progression…
- The first several issues – about 8 of New Avengers and 16 of Avengers (which was printing twice a month at the time), were setting up the characters and the story they were working in. Setting up the problem. Getting us to the first big event.
- Then Infinity. This had a core comic by the name, then important tie-in Avengers and New Avengers comics. I loved Infinity a lot, and was re-reading the previous issues waiting for each new one… it got a little out of hand.
- Here’s where I started reading trades, and this is a really really good point to do so, as the story slows down in both comics. In both, some seeds are laid, some questions about morality and choices and where the chips are going to eventually fall. Things were going really slowly…
- So it was time to jump ahead. This is where Time Runs Out hit, 8 months before the end of both series. What it did was jump ahead 8 months in comics continuity time, to what was happening at that time – basically days before Secret Wars starts. Then, between current stories and lots of flashbacks, you get the picture of what happened in-between. And really, these comics read far better than things had been going – if things had gone on in “real time,” it would have stayed pretty boring for a while. The jump ahead worked quite well from a storytelling standpoint.
In Time Runs Out
In the pages of Time Runs Out, we get some final answers. Answers about who started this all, why it’s happening. The big reveals that had been building. And then the stories of how the different characters deal with it.
And the answer to how they deal with it is: not well. A lot of it has to do with inevitability. Yes, in some ways this is a 4th-wall item: the real-world powers-that-be have made it so. But in the comic, it has far more to do with the fact that everything has been happening because of two warring factions, the Ivory Kings on the one hand, and the great destroyer, Rabum Alal, on the other. And both are working towards the total destruction of everything, rather than against it. Throughout Time Runs Out, we get to find out who both of these groups are, and I think both reveals are at the very least acceptable. To a certain extent, all the time of mystery and buildup meant it would be hard for any explanation to live up to what it could be.
They pass a threshold, meanwhile, where the theoretically smartest person in the Marvel Universe (Mister Fantastic’s daughter, Valeria) says that it’s not a battle to be won: it’s a battle to be not lost. Here, I’ll let her say it better.
And Reed Richards, ever able to adapt his thinking to reality, copes with that. But then you have folks who don’t accept thinking like that. Like Captain America, who blames the Illuminati from New Avengers for not doing more, not telling the truth about things from the beginning, and just generally for not being better heroes. Or like Iron Man, who, with all the new toys (read: weapons) he’s built at his disposal, still thinks he might be able to save everything. Well, okay, save universe 616 at least – the main Marvel Universe.
And so, as the end begins, the two of them are duking it out.
Some of What I’ve Enjoyed With These Comics
So a few things that I can do to recommend these comics. Some of this I’ve talked about before with my post about Jonathan Hickman. Just generally, I really like all the callbacks in word choice, the buildup of the legend and stories, the mythological origin story he creates around the Avengers, as they build first an Avengers World, and then an Avengers Universe. And then the parallels as he does something of the opposite behind the scenes in New Avengers.
It’s also a very intelligent comic, rather than much of a punchy fighting one. Indeed, some of the more “fighty” comics are ones I listed above as less important or interesting. A whole lot of the fights in these comics come as single panels, showing the idea of a fight or the start, rather than the whole thing. This is particularly true in New Avengers, when you get scenes like this ending a comic:
Next thing you know, they’ve won and their enemy is in a cell. Or a fantastic fight like this, which really boils down to one image:
But it’s far more about the tension in some of the dialog, scenes of Thanos and his generals demanding things of others; or the Illuminati coming up with plans or debating the finer points of destroying planets; or AIM being defeated by buying their company; or when the battle against the Evil Avengers is going on Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are trading words and hoping the Hulk doesn’t show up to finish things…
In comparison, I tried reading some of the broader Infinity tie-in comics for other titles, and while Hickman in the main story glossed through whole space battles with words and a few scenes, the tie-in comics showed us the play-by-play action and how things got to where they did. And in the end… I preferred being forced to think and keep up, taking in large parts of the story in a single pass, in a single monolithic image sometimes.
And by Time Runs Out, you really need to be keeping up. There was a frequent feeling that I had missed something in the intervening comics… Until I remembered that 8 months of time had been skipped and there were no intervening comics. That these moments were the moments when this piece of information or turn of events was being revealed. That I had to connect the dots myself.
I can’t speak yet to what’s happening in Secret Wars, nor to the validity or good-idea-ness of taking apart the whole Marvel Comics Universe. It seems DC does this every few years – they just ended the New-52 already, apparently, before I had even gotten into it yet. In Marvel’s defense, I guess, this is their first time actually doing this. However, a better point in their defense is just how good a job Jonathan Hickman did in dismantling everything.
Because everything ends.
For more on Time Runs Out, for spoilers and reveals and my thoughts on all that, check out today’s post on Comparative Geeks!