“Everything dies.” The phrase has been echoed throughout Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers saga, which concluded today with the release of New Avengers #33 and Avengers #44.
Yes, Secret Wars looms ahead, but this was the end of an epic that ran for 77 issues. Today it ended. But is it good?
Avengers #44 (Marvel Comics)
NOTE: While New Avengers #33 should be read before this issue, I’ll avoid the specifics of that issue in this review.
Serving as both a finale to the series, as well as to the lead-in to Secret Wars, Avengers #44 functions as a curtain close on the second act of a play: the heroes have fallen, and all that’s left in the end is the swell of music that signals the end. Much of the issue is centered around the two men that started it off: Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. The pair were placed in thematic opposition at the close of the first arc in Avengers #3, and a bit of that exchange has been recreated here as the finale harkens back to it.
The issue opens with Stark and Rogers meeting in secret, an engagement that had been referred to in previous issues. Jonathan Hickman has captured the essence of both characters, and has brutally dissected them by twisting them through the events of Avengers. What remains are two men who fundamentally disagree with each other and are too prideful to reconcile their differences. These are men that need to be right and are willing to lose everything in order to win.
C’mon Cap. Everyone knows genius billionaire playboy philanthropists don’t fail.
If there is one narrative stumble this issue, it is the emphasis on the Ultimate Universe side of the incursion. These characters entered the narrative fairly late in the game, and while this is all valuable setup for Secret Wars, it does make one long for a larger focus on some of the other Avengers, namely the members of Sunspot’s team, who are all non-entities in this issue. Thematically this could be intentional: the battle between Tony and Steve at the end of the issue is centered around the Avengers Machine being a lie, and so it makes sense that the characters that made up the Avengers World fall to the background as the lie comes tumbling down.
The artwork this issue is shared by Stefano Caselli and Kev Walker. Both artists turn in fantastic work, with Walker handling the scenes between Iron Man and Captain America, and Caselli taking the rest of the issue. Caselli’s smooth lines work nicely for the Dyson sphere scenes, and his character work is strong as ever. His Thanos is a menacing presence, and his Black Panther is full of a quiet fury.
Kev Walker’s art is just as evocative, but the two looks are quite different. There’s a ragged quality to Walker’s lines that adds to the feeling of desperation and loss the two men share. Steve and Tony are weary shells of what they once were, and Walker captures that perfectly. And the explosive finale is as brutal as one would expect from two men so entrenched in their own sense of righteousness.
While both artists turn in fantastic work, the looks do not really meld together well. The transition between the artists is jarring. Part of this is avoided by the credits page separating the prologue by Walker from the content by Caselli that immediately follows, but it’s hard to not notice the difference between both artists. And while both artists are turning in beautiful work, the dissonance between their styles can take the reader out of the book.
Is It Good?
Avengers #44 has an odd job for a comic in that it is serving two narrative functions. On one hand, it is the culmination of a three-year epic. On the other hand, it is the prelude to Secret Wars. Ultimately, the book is successful in both of these endeavors. However, pieces like the emphasis on the Ultimate Universe draw away attention from many of the other characters readers have come to enjoy during this series and its sister-title New Avengers. As a conclusion, it is hard to recommend this issue to those who have not been reading these titles, especially since the debut issue of Secret Wars will likely recap these events. However, if you’ve been following the title, it’d be a mistake not to pick this up.
A comic like Avengers #44 that ends a 77-issue run is bound to be divisive. Check out JR’s Is It Good? review of the issue.