Avengers Volume 2: The Last White Event
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Dustin Weaver, Mike Deodato
Marvel, $24.99, color, 136 pages
Writer Jonathan Hickman's greatest strength is his ability to write long-form stories with elements introduced over a long period of time that eventually coalesce into a strong, satisfying finale.
It's also his greatest weakness.
Case in point is this Avengers collection. I'm not sure what exactly happened here except this: Not much. Sure, I fully expect it all to come together in a strong, satisfying finale, sometime, somewhere down the road. But this collection, standing alone, only provides hints of what the broader story IS, much less how it's going to end. So it's really disappointing and frustrating as a $25 book by itself.
Let's review: In the previous volume, Hickman introduced some world creator/destroyers who easily manhandle the Avengers, but are convinced to stay on Mars and grow a garden. Or something. Anyway, that was left open-ended.
And yes, they're back again in this volume. Not for closure on their story, though, but just as elements of a theme that are being repeated, like in music. "Hey look," Hickman says, "they're still out there! And eventually they're going to do something!"
Well, not yet. In issue #6-7, Hickman introduces ANOTHER huge, over-arching cosmic organization (in addition to our Martian friends), who monitor the multiverse, but for whom things go very wrong on a very big scale, and the result for li'l ole us is the last White Event of the title, which gives us a couple of the old New Universe characters, because according to Hickman, White Events do that in every dimension where there's an Earth, or something. But because of the huge SNAFU that we don't know much about yet, our Earth only gets a Starbrand and a Nightmask.
Naturally, there's a misunderstanding. The Avengers and Starbrand fight. Nothing is resolved.
In issues #8-9, Starbrand and Nightmask visit our Martian friends (they're ba-a-a-ck!) and there's some conversation that doesn't make much sense (yet). Meanwhile, one of the seeds the Martians planted on Earth in the first volume goes active in Regina, Saskatchewan, and Omega Flight is sent in. (I vaguely remember an Omega Flight back in the day. Wasn't Puck a member? I forget.) This Omega Flight consists of Boxx (one of Madison Jeffries' creations), Wendigo (who is here mysteriously instead of Sasquatch, and who I thought was a mindless cannibal monster, but evidently not any more), Kingdom (no one I know) and Validator (someone else I don't know).
Veteran comic-book fans can be forgiven for looking at this motley group of mostly unknown and entirely non-trademarked characters and thinking: "Redshirts." And, sure enough, all but Validator get killed. (Although, again, veteran comic-book fans know that Boxx was empty, and Wendigo always regenerates, so it's only the two unknowns who can really die.) The Avengers investigate, and Validator -- who does NOT appear in her right mind -- tells them to go away. And because the plot calls for it, they do. Once again, situation unresolved.
Thank Odin for the last story, in issue #10, which is a spy romp in which Black Widow, Cannonball, Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, Shang-Chi, Spider-Woman and Sunspot go undercover at an A.I.M. underworld auction at Macau's high-end casinos. My first thought was, "there's no way A.I.M. isn't going to know who every one of these characters are, even if they are out of uniform (and in very nice tuxedos and evening gowns)." And to my relief, A.I.M. does I.D. them immediately, which apparently the Avengers expected them to do, and they still investigate, using other methods than punching and hitting. (Sunspot and Cannonball bribe their opponents, Captain Marvel plays poker, Black Widow suggests seduction/torture, etc.). Quite entertaining, and Shang-Chi has a star turn.
However, what the Avengers discover is that A.I.M. isn't selling, it's buying. It needs an army of expendable minions for some terrible thing yet to come. So -- noticing a pattern here? -- we don't learn about the Terrible Thing That's Coming, and nothing is resolved.
And that's it. Of the five issues collected here, only one had enough going on to qualify as a story. The other were just set-up -- and so vague I haven't any idea what they are set-up for.
I'm sure that when Hickman pulls all these elements together for an enormous finale it will be enormously satisfying. But it would be nice if he could bother with an actual story to entertain us in the meantime, while he sets up his pieces.
I liked Hickman's work on Fantastic Four, but this sounds awful. Still in the set-up phase in the second collection? That's ridiculous.
And Bendis already did the "Big Bad kills the Canadian super-team" thing.
The worst part is that all these nebulous endings -- to preserve the pieces Hickman has laboriously set up -- has the cumulative effect of making the Avengers look incredibly incompetent. It's the Law of Unintended Consequences, but when Tony Stark doesn't wonder why about any of this, when the strongest Avengers team ever (with Hulk, Thor, Hyperion and Captain frickin' Universe) can't win a fight, when Captain America never tries to negotiate with, and/or learn about, his opponents, they look like bunglers.
Readers used to complain, usually with justification, that one comic was only 1/6 of a story, and/or stories were stretched out because they were "written for the trade". This is even worse.
Back when I was reading the title, I felt that what worked for <i>Fantastic Four</i> didn't work for the Avengers. With the FF, there's plenty of room to explore high concepts, to have stories were very little seemed to happen, etc. However, the Avengers are really about big fights--some would say big dumb fights--and the lack of meaningful action was extremely frustrating.