New Avengers #22
“We Are Not Brothers”
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Kev Walker
Colors: Frank Martin
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Dale Keown
Editors: Tom Brevoort & Wil Moss
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
This issue of Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers (which really ought to be titled Marvel’s Illuminati, because this group’s actions aren’t really those of heroic Avengers) struck me as a particularly noteworthy one. In terms of story, it’s one of the strongest episodes in the run, getting to the heart of the real conflict this gathering of Larger Than Life Men has contended with from the start of the series. And visually, it stands out as one of the weakest of the run, in that the style in which the characters are presented this time is a wholly conventional one for the genre. Hickman sums up the central theme of this series perfectly here, but artist Kev Walker’s approach to this sullen and dramatic script seems like a poor fit for the subject matter.
The secret alliance of the world’s most brilliant and powerful men has once again staved off disaster, preventing a parallel world from merging with its own world and destroying both in the process. This time, though, one of their number had to do the unthinkable and employ the doomsday device they’d developed as a last resort. And as the enormity of the destruction of the alter-world and all of its inhabitants washes over these mighty men, regret, outrage and defiance erupt, threatening their future endeavors in the name of preserving all life on Earth.
One might assume from the opening paragraph that I thought Kev Walker did a poor job of the art for this issue, but that’s not the case. Given that the plot is almost entirely driven by dialogue with little action, he does a solid job of keeping a dynamic look in play. It’s just that his more conventional approach to super-hero art here doesn’t capture the dire and morose tone of the necessary evil the protagonists are discussing. Walker’s work here reminds me as a cross between such styles as Mark Bagley’s and Paul Pelletier’s — both talented artists. But a darker, edgier and even melancholy tone is what’s called for here. Sadly, we’ve seen such a style from Walker in the past. I recall his work on Thunderbolts not long ago as something fitting, for example. It could be that Frank Martin’s colors are a bit too bright here, but even the linework is crisper than usual for Walker, I found.
Mass murder as a means to save the world — Hickman’s take on the Avengers, as has been the case a couple of other times in the last couple of years, offers a much different interpretation of Marvel’s super-heroes. These heroes are thrust into a circumstance in which they must consider and do things that are decidedly not heroic. We saw it with the secrecy of their alliance. We saw it with their manipulation of Captain America. And now we see it taken to its greatest extreme with one member’s decision to eradicate a planet to save their own. I find the judgments tossed around by the characters in this issue to be intriguing but ultimately misplaced. All of them are culpable, as the weapon used was one the entire group devised and conjured. They created a weapon they weren’t prepared to use, but they created it all the same. And as the final panel demonstrates, they still face the same impossible choices over and over and over again. As is the case with Hickman’s other Avengers comics, it’s a plot that doesn’t quite work in the larger context of the shared Marvel Universe. It’s really best to view Hickman’s Marvel comics as existing in their own separate continuities.
It’s a fascinating ethical conflict to explore, but it’s not one that limits itself to the super-hero genre. Honestly, I was surprised only one of the heroes could bring himself to push the button. One can’t help but consider what one would do in the Avengers’ place, what one would do to save everything one holds dear. Last issue, we saw all of these men struggle with the notion of genocide as a defence of the entire world. Personally, I wouldn’t struggle with it. I’d do anything to protect those closest to me, let alone an entire race, an entire reality. It’s not even a difficult choice to make, honestly, but it would be a difficult choice to live with. I found myself agreeing with Namor and the various ghosts of Black Panther’s bloodline rather than the supposedly more morally centred heroes throughout this issue. Maybe that says something bleak about me, but I’m comfortable with it. 7/10
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