When last we met this title, the New Avengers starred the more down-to-Earth members of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. This relaunch goes entirely in another direction, with the Marvel Universe’s self-proclaimed Illuminati – prominent members of superhero teams and secret nations – taking the spotlight.
Metaphorically at least. Looking at the cover, you might expect the tagline Earth’s Shadiest Heroes. But that’s the Illuminati all over, the heroes and monarchs who plan to run the world from behind the scenes, keeping well away from the light. Because if they’re in the light, they’ll be seen by their team-mates, loved ones and citizens.
The whole idea that Mr Fantastic, Captain America, Iron Man and the rest should basically betray their fellows in the belief that only they know what’s best for the world is profoundly distasteful, spitting on decades of characterisation. Even the more imperial-minded members, such as Namor of Atlantis – who likely has some ideas on how the surface world should be run – isn’t one to hide his light under a (pardon me) ‘bush-shell’.
So applause to writer Jonathan Hickman for using the Black Panther as his entry character for the series. As we see in a prologue, T’challa, king of the advanced African nation of Wakanda, turned down a chance to sit at the top table with his self-proclaimed peers (who also included Dr Strange, Black Bolt and the late Professor Xavier). T’challa saw the horrific hypocrisy and danger of the Illuminati’s existence and walked away, recommended that the others did the same. But they didn’t, and this issue something happens that forces T’challa to appeal for help from those he snubbed
It’s a lovely day in Wakanda. Three of its brightest young people have won themelves places on the nation’s space programme, to go out into the universe and see who’s out there. Unfortunately, the extraterrestrials come calling first, with tragic results. And the queen bee of the aliens, ‘a Black Swan’, is someone T’challa feels he can’t take on alone. Why he doesn’t simply call in the ‘daytime’ version of the Avengers, a team he’s served with several times, is something we’re not told yet.
Foreboding is added with an opening flashforward to a day later, showing Reed Richards saying that this is a fight the good guys can’t win. And he accepts that Planet Earth is doomed.
Now, I’ve had my issues my Marvel’s portrayal of Reed Richards over the last few years, what with his habit of following secret agendas – it’s happening right now in the new Marvel Now! Fantastic Four and FF series. Usually it’s because he doesn’t want to worry his (incredibly powerful and resourceful) family. It makes some kind of sense that such a Reed Richards would sit with the Illuminati. I still hate the idea.
And the notion that Reed would just give up … nah, I’m not buying that. I want to know more. The combination of Reed’s statements and T’challa’s nobility is most intriguing. Plus, the Black Swan – apparently a multiversal traveller – is accompanied by a man named Manifold with the same visual as the Manifold in Hickman’s Avengers book. It’s definitely a different guy, though.
This issue’s well-structured opening chapter has some fine dialogue from Hickman, and the entire script is complemented by the sublime stripwork from penciller Steve Epting and inker Rick Magyar (click on image to enlarge). Page after page of lovely images combine to form an appealing, well-paced read. And Frank D’Armata’s colours don’t ‘just’ look good, highlighting the characters and settings, they tell the story in a bigger way.
Does the world need another Avengers book? Obviously not. Heck, this could as easily be titled Secret Avengers as New (fear not, a relaunched Secret Avengers is on its way). But this series looks set to blaze its own trail, and I’ll stick around for at least a few issues to see where we end up.