Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Jerome Opeña
Colors: Dean White
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Dustin Weaver (regular)/Steve McNiven, Esad Ribic, Skottie Young & Mark Brooks (variants)
Editors: Tom Brevoort & Lauren Sankovitch
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
Writer Jonathan (The Manhattan Projects) Hickman brings his sensibilities and talents — both in terms of content and design — to the mainstream Marvel Universe. Sure, he had a much-lauded stint on Fantastic Four, but now he’s working on the publisher’s flagship property. His style isn’t a perfect fit for the Avengers, but it’s interesting nonetheless. And what’s more, it’s definitely a radical deviation from how the title team has been portrayed in recent years. Hickman starts things off with an event-sized plot that seems to unfold apart from the rest of the shared continuity. It’s refreshing to see not all cosmic-level storylines being spread out over the entire line of Marvel super-hero comics. The end result is a story that’s big in scope, but since it’s not crossing over everywhere, the focus seems to be on storytelling over marketing.
Three near-omnipotent aliens settle in on the surface of Mars and terraform it into a liveable, lush biosphere. And if that weren’t enough to attract the attention of folks on Earth, they start launching “origin bombs” at the third planet from the sun, radically altering the terrain in two major cities (and claiming lives in the process). A core team of Avengers rockets to the Red Planet to put a stop to it, but they’re unprepared for the power they encounter in Ex Nihilo, Abyss and Aleph. Captain America thinks back to another plan he and Tony Stark formulated some time ago to respond to larger-than-life threats from beyond the stars, and he sets out to put that plan into action.
I’m sorry to say this is actually my first exposure to Jerome Opeña’s work. I know he’s been working regularly for Marvel for some time now, but his art graced the pages of titles in which I had little interest. Pairing him with Hickman was a sure-fire way to get my attention, and I like what I see. His style is looser than I expected, but that’s probably because I thought Opeña was responsible for the cover artwork on the regular edition of this first issue (which he wasn’t, it turns out). His style looks a bit like a cross between those of Rags (Identity Crisis) Morales and Leinil (Indestructible Hulk) Yu. He definitely brings depth and gravitas to the story, and the rougher edge he brings to the visuals conveys the dire tone of the plot and a certain maturity in the content.
There are still strong, traditional American super-hero comic art influences at play here, and it’s most apparent in his depiction of the Hulk, which boasts a certain Silver Age flair in the same vein Lee Weeks brought to the character in the cover art for the recent Hulk Smash Avengers limited series. I also thoroughly enjoyed how he makes Cap look younger than Tony Stark in the opening scene, which sees the latter refer to the former as an old man. I like the juxtaposition of Cap’s literal age with his greater vigor. Also notable are the colors by Dean White, which bring a painted look to Opeña’s linework.
I’m guessing Hickman is reading the same book or books as writer China Miéville, as Hickman introduces two new villains here that share the same names as villains Miéville introduced in recent months in DC’s Dial H title. The name “Abyss” could’ve easily arisen coincidentally, but paired with the specific Latin phrase “Ex Nihilo”? There’s definitely some shared influence or inspiration at play here. It’s not really a comment about the quality of the writing here, but I have to admit the parallel took me out of the story for a moment. Mind you, the readership for this comic book is going to be much larger than Dial H‘s, so it won’t likely be an issue for many. I should also note I rather enjoyed Ex Nihilo’s motivation. His effort to physically and literally make a better world feels like a modern twist on classic, megalomaniacal Marvel villains.
Hickman brings his trademark sense of design to the book, mapping symbols that represent the heroes and the new organization he’s crafting for the property. It’s easy to see the approach doesn’t work as well here as it has for some of his past projects, both creator-owned and otherwise. Some of the symbols representing the individual Avengers aren’t clear, and he’s clearly missed the obvious icon to represent the Black Widow.
Hickman is obviously taking some cues from the successful Avengers movie here (or he’s taking directives from higher-ups who are ensuring cues from the movie are incorporated into the comic), given his choices for the core lineup of the Avengers: Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye are the primary team. It really makes little sense that the latter two heroes are dispatched to Mars to deal with otherworldly threats. In the movie, they were plunged into a war; here, they’re handpicked for an off-planet mission, so it feels a little forced. Of course, the premise that reveals itself at the end of the book is the Avengers needs to have a broader array of members, with specialists available for specific and unusual missions. Hickman’s take on a larger Avengers team actually reminds me a bit of the broader scope that formed the basis of the highly enjoyable Justice League Unlimited cartoon a few years ago. 7/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.