Fresh off of his spectacular run on Fantastic Four and FF, Johnathan Hickman starts off Marvel NOW’s Avengers title with as grand of a scope as anything he has tackled previously. Right off the bat, we get a “Previously On…” that quickly recaps the creation of the universe (in three panoramic panels), which is followed by a brief, cryptic forecast into the future of the series. Hickman has gone on record saying that the story implied by these pages will be told over the next one-and-a-half to two years.

Clearly Hickman is looking to tell a big story here. Big stories are what he does. Fantastic Four, The Ultimates, Manhattan Projects. Anything he writes will span the world and at least a handful of alternate dimensions. He does know, however, how to ease the reader into tales this epic. Fantastic Four started out with a story focusing almost exclusively on Reed Richards, for example, and he seems to be taking a similar approach with this issue. We get an opening glimpse of the massive story the future of the series will no doubt hold, and then the focus quickly narrows to a scene between only two members of the team. Captain America and Tony Stark have a conversation about the ever-growing scale of the threats they face and do their best to figure out how to combat them going forward. “We have to get bigger,” Tony summarizes at the end of the sequence. He may be trying to ease you into this book, but Hickman isn’t going to lie to you. He comes right out and tells the reader how it’s going to go down.

Keeping within the familiar, for the opening of this book the team is exclusively comprised of the members most well-known to mass audiences: the cast of Joss Whedon’s movie. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye travel to Mars to stop a new villain named Ex Nihilo (‘From Nothing’ in Latin) and his companions from “recreating” the Earth. Or rather, in the words of Ex Nihilo’s robotic partner Aleph, world-razing.

The action moves along at a good clip. We get a couple of pages to get a read on this new team of villains, which immediately leads into the Avengers’ assault, an excellent showcase of Hickman’s somber, yet exciting, approach to action.

This first big action sequence is a great showing of Jerome Opeña’s art, as the first big reveal of the team in action has probably one of the best drawings of the Hulk I’ve ever seen. Front and center on the page, the Hulk is a massive but believable figure with a monstrous face that combines the gruesome, inhuman classic monster look with a slick, modern touch. Throughout the book, Opeña’s understated but dynamic figure and facial work lends a humanity to every character presented. Whether it be in the big (although they’re certain to get bigger) fight scenes, or just a conversation. There’s something truly unique going on in the imagery here, an enchanting blend of classical texturing, almost resembling stained glass, with some impressive expressions in the close-ups. The layouts don’t disappoint, either. Cinematic, ‘wide-screen’ panels are used liberally and help to inform the book’s big feel. Full page pieces are completely absent until the final page, telling you right out the gate how much bigger everything is going to get.

A discussion on the art, however, would not be complete without mentioning Dean White’s colors. They really are breathtaking in this. The color compositions of each panel catch your eye in an exciting way that immerses the characters into their environments. Much like the pencils, the colors on display here find a terrific blend of a classic, aged look and a modern pop that catches the eye at least once a page. The light blue used for most of the ‘future tech’ and the dirtied red of the skies of Mars stand out in particular. Also, that is the coolest green I have ever seen used for the Hulk.

Back to the action, the team tries its best to take down this new threat and is ultimately overpowered. There is a truly memorable (and somewhat gruesome) page-long fight between Captain America and the chilling Aleph. Cap then deals with the aftermath of the mission, and it’s at this point that we see our first glimpse of what is to come in regards to the cast of this run. The issue ends with a full page shot of the Captain and twelve of the new team members. Twelve of. As in there are still more to be introduced, as the nifty graphic in the back of the book makes clear.

The makeup of this new incarnation of the team certainly looks promising. With heroes ranging from the incredibly well known (Spider-Man, Wolverine) to the not so well known (Um… Eden Fesi?), there will probably be something for everyone in here. I’m not at all worried about Hickman’s ability to help us get to know these more obscure characters. In Fantastic Four he introduced a whole class full of children that all became equally interesting and likable.

All told, it would seem that Hickman is well on his way to another mind-blowingly epic tale that will certainly benefit from a close following. It’s true that his stories may take a little while to really gel into something that you can wrap your head around, but with Hickman the payoff is usually worth it. Sit with him on the inevitable tangents into what may seem to be unrelated side stories, get to know each character, and then marvel at how it all comes together. I’m sure it won’t do anyone any good to jump into this at the midway point, so get your copy now and enjoy the ride.

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This article was first posted on December 13, 2012