Here we go again guys: another Marvel Event. Ready? Let’s go – Readers Assemble!
Not willing to let the dust settle from their last “epic” Event, Age of Ultron, which ended just a few weeks ago, Marvel have kicked off their latest end-of-the-world, cosmos-spanning, life-or-death-stakes Event, Infinity, starring everybody’s favourite after-credits cameo, Thanos. Avengers and New Avengers scribe Jonathan Hickman is leading the charge this time around, his first Event title in the driver’s seat, and, though I’m wary of Marvel Events, Infinity isn’t bad. Well, it’s more complex than that – but then this is a Jonathan Hickman comic!
First off, I’m pleased to say Hickman does a fine job of setting the Event up in this first, bumper-sized issue. We know who the heroes and villains are, we know the stakes, we know the story, it’s all nicely established by Hickman through a series of mini-chapters. Right away though, the opening two pages are going to confuse anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with Hickman’s Avengers books. Is that the Illuminati? What’s that thing Black Panther’s holding? A massive explosion – was that… a planet? What does it all mean? You won’t find any answers to those questions in this issue but without recapping a year’s worth of story into this review, I’ll just say that the Illuminati were faced with a choice between letting two worlds destroy each other or destroy one to save the other. And the Infinity Gems were involved.
Infinity Gems, Thanos… uh oh. Is this heading where I think it’s heading? Well, it is called Infinity. So if you’re completely new to Marvel comics, The Infinity Gauntlet is this amazing book from the early 90s by Jim Starlin starring Thanos as he takes control of the Infinity Gems, placing them in the Infinity Gauntlet, and wielding seemingly unlimited cosmic power as he takes on EVERYONE in the Marvel U and beats them. And all to impress his girlfriend, Mistress Death. Really. It’s amazing, go check it out if you haven’t already. A few years ago Brian Michael Bendis attempted a rehash of this great story, unsuccessfully, in his New Avengers series. So it seems it’s Hickman’s turn to have a stab at this storyline – at least it probably won’t be as bad as Bendis’ attempt (please Marvel!).
Besides Thanos, the other bad guys in this book are The Builders, who’re ironically all about destroying stuff like entire planets, at least in this comic. These dudes created everything in the Universe and have decided to feng-shui some of their stuff by razing a series of planets. Guess which planet is in their line of sight? Bingo! Isn’t it always? Skrulls are also involved but from the way Hickman’s handling them, I’d say they’re in here more for comedic effect.
That’s enough about the villains – who’re facing these dastardly foes? The Avengers, of course, but also, interestingly, the Inhumans have been thrown into the mix to play a big role. Because as (most of) the Avengers head out into space to stop The Builders from reaching Earth, the Inhumans are left on Earth as our planet’s last line of defence. It’s an interesting choice not least because they’re hardly the most famous group in the Marvel U so it’s going to be interesting seeing what this lot get up to. They’re also the best part of this issue as King of the Inhumans, Black Bolt, fends off an assassination attempt in his home city of Attilan (floating above Manhattan), in a good sequence that works not just as great action but also cleverly sets up the Infinity Gems as a plot device.
Hickman is certainly a smart man who’s done a great job of ticking the boxes of what a first issue should accomplish, and kudos to him for that, it’s just – and it feels really churlish to say this – the comic is really boring! Hickman has a way about his writing, at least with his superhero work, that reads in a way that’s totally devoid of any passion or excitement or emotion. He can intelligently set up a story, albeit in a cold, clinical way, but completely distance the reader from it and the characters so that you feel little, if anything, at all while reading it. I can appreciate the craftsmanship of the writing, I just don’t care about the story. And that’s not just this comic, it’s a lot of Hickman’s Marvel comics, especially his Avengers stuff this past year.
Don’t get me wrong, you can’t fail to excite readers with Thanos, the guy is a great character, but he’s barely in the issue and is more of a momentary blip. He says two words, grins that famous grin, and that’s it. Cap is white bread. I know people like him but Captain America has always seemed to be one of the blandest characters in the Marvel U, and this comic did little to sway my opinion otherwise and he’s in this comic a lot. There’s a lot of space set aside to characters we’ve never seen before, and never will again, like aliens from distant galaxies, and, again, while I understand why Hickman is doing this – to set up the storylines of this series – it’s just no fun to read. The Inhumans saved this comic for me, if it weren’t for their inclusion I would’ve dozed off completely.
I mentioned Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet earlier not just because that book and this comic share some features, but to juxtapose the two stories. Reading Starlin’s book is fun. It’s big and silly, ridiculous at times, and completely insane towards the end – but you read it with a grin on your face, kind of like Thanos’ grin. It’s really enjoyable and is a perfect example of the kind of colourful, inventive stories Marvel built their name upon. Reading Hickman’s Infinity? Not only are you not smiling, none of the characters in the book are either. Everyone’s so grim, so serious, so dour – miserable even! Iron Man even says “I’m getting tired of end of the world scenarios” – wow, Tony, not even a quip? A joke? None of the famous Stark charm? It’s like he’s become the armour: a personality-free robot.
Hickman’s said that his biggest influences in comics are Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison, and it definitely shows. He can tell a story in an unorthodox way similar to Morrison while he can pull off technically brilliant stories like Ellis, and both writers are known for their ambitious storylines, which Hickman emulates. But unlike Ellis and Morrison, Hickman’s simply unable to bring his characters to life, to make them feel even somewhat vital. In his hands, they’re like chess pieces, dead and wooden, and the board is his story. He moves them about. There’s intelligence here. There’s imagination. But no soul. No wit. No pulse.
Infinity is a big Marvel cosmic story that’s as cold as space.
Infinity #1 by Jonathan Hickman and Jim Cheung is out now
This article was first posted on August 15, 2013