The Marvel version of the Justice League continues to fight the Avengers. Is it good?
New Avengers #21 (Marvel Comics)
This series is all about alternate universes and Earths, and how they’re smashing into us unless the Avengers stop it. The only way to prevent our destruction is by destroying the other Earth. Easy peasy, save for the guilt of ending billions of lives, but things got a lot more complicated a few issues ago when a Justice League-looking superhero team stood in their way. Last issue, Dr. Strange went full tilt and started sweeping the them off the playing field with ease, but seems to have lost control in the process. This issue opens with Black Panther talking to his ghost relatives, similar to another bookending sequence in previous issues.
Who’s the villain of this series?
It’s clear writer Jonathan Hickman really really wants the reader to question the heroic good guy nature of the Avengers. He’s been playing with morality and doing the right thing throughout this series and in many ways, visually and story wise, he’s framed our heroes as villains. Which is why it’s so important when Black Panther talks with his ancestors about mercy. The story so far has been one that’s felt decompressed and frustratingly lacking on action in one moment and purpose in another, but finally things come together perfectly in this issue. There are some very interesting concepts bandied here about what makes up a hero. An interesting distinction is made about how the Avengers aren’t heroes but kings, which is a very different thing. By issue’s end you’ll more than likely have a new outlook on our heroes for better or worse, which isn’t normally something you can say when it comes to superhero comics.
Bottom right panel looks like Superman withering from Dark Knight Returns.
It’s also a lot of fun to watch Dr. Strange take out the ‘Justice League’ with ease. If you think about it, of all the heroes Dr. Strange is the most unpredictable. His powers range from pushing someone back with a burst to changing all of reality so it’s not much of a stretch to see him take out such powerful heroes with ease. It’s also fascinating to see a hero be a villain, even for the briefest of moments. He’s clearly changed by the end of this issue and so is Black Panther for that matter. The implications for both are huge.
There’s something to be said about Hickman’s view on the Avengers vs. the godlike, and ever so moral, Great Society team in this story line. They really do get the short end of the stick and it’s sad to see them get taken out one by one. The crisis of conscience at the end is also a fascinating bit of melodrama. The heroes reject the villainous thing they must do, even though they’ve spent issue after issue convincing themselves they can and must do it. One can only think the character who does reach to pull the trigger might be getting a revamp in comics to come.
The art by Valerio Schiti is clear and always exciting. The panels per page does seem a bit low which slows things down a bit, but Hickman spruces many of them up with plenty of tasty narration. That’s a rarity of course, but Schiti does Dr. Strange justice by making him incredibly scary and ruthless.
Is It Good?
What is a hero, really? And are the Avengers heroes, or self-entitled kings? We find out in this issue and it’s an exciting read to say the least.