New Avengers Volume 1: Everything Dies

Collecting New Avengers #1-6

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Steve Epting

Marvel Comics, $24.99, color, 144 pages

Well, that was depressing. Depressing, but fascinating.

Aside from marketing, there's no reason to call this book New Avengers. It has no connection to previous books with that name, nor is the cast entirely Avengers, and of those Avengers none of them are remotely new. What it ought to be called is New Illuminati.

And if that sends a shiver down your spine, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Jonathan Hickman, famed for complicated stories, comes up with a doozy here: The multiverse is collapsing. Not all at once, but one universe at a time, which due to a celestial-mechanics snafu, is sending one universe crashing into its "neighbor" in a slow-motion chain reaction.

What's worse, the book opens when it's our universe's turn to die. There is nothing the Avengers can do to stop the process, of course; that would be like stopping the universe from expanding. It's just too big a problem: A celestial one. All they can hope to do is save our Earth ...

... and the only way they can do that, it turns out, is to sacrifice other Earths. Oh, boy.

We learn all this in the first issue when The Black Panther, whose conscience would not allow him to join the last Illuminati, is the first to see this problem in action. He sees a woman who calls herself Black Swan sacrifice an Earth to save an Earth. He captures her, and calls in the Big Guns: Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Prince Namor, Captain America, The Beast and Black  Bolt. The Black Swan -- she is one of many, and some may recognize the name as a term meaning huge events that cannot be foreseen with massive reper... -- explains their problem. And the only way they can delay their deaths, not prevent them. The dominoes are already falling, and all they can do is put somebody else's world in front of their own over and over, until they can't do it any more.

Naturally, conscience plays a role here, and I won't tell you how that plays out. These are problems where the good guys can't win -- or even remain good guys. And watching these good men realize their options and make shocking decisions ... well, it's depressing.

And it's very, very good. Amazingly, this is an adult superhero story, where victory cannot be won by a punch. This is a story of good men facing awful decisions, the kind men must make in wartime. It's one where one must sacrifice one's conscience to save lives. And it's hard to watch.

But it's fascinating.

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