How far would you be willing to go to save the world? What would you be willing to sacrifice? Money? Time? Sanity? Friendships? Your morals? Most importantly, though, what happens when Earth’s mightiest heroes confront these questions? Such is the content of “New Avengers Vol. 1: Everything Dies” (2013) from Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting.
“New Avengers” begins in Wakanda with T’Challa witnessing the first “incursion” — an event where a parallel universe hurdles on a collision course with our world, threatening to cause the end of the world as we know it. T’Challa jumps into action, recruiting some of the top minds in the Marvel Universe, including Captain America, Iron Man and Doctor Strange. The mission is grim to say the least, with Mr. Fantastic’s opening monologue beginning with “Everything dies.” If it wasn’t clear before, this should be your heads-up that this comic doesn’t end well.
“New Avengers” is one of the two Avengers series that led up to the 2015 event “Secret Wars” (which I reviewed a while ago), so much of which reads as a world-building exercise. Take for instance the extended sequence explaining what an incursion is. It’s slow, but necessary. That’s actually a pretty good way to describe the book: slow, but the buildup in this first volume helps the reader understand the scale of what they’re going to see.
What we see is, in a word, boggling. The team’s first attempt to repel an invading world, for instance, involves Captain America pushing the second earth away with an Infinity Gauntlet. Epic scenes like this serve to whet the reader’s appetite, acting as a treat after the meat and potatoes that is the exposition of the slower scenes.
I’d be remiss if I talked about “New Avengers” but didn’t touch on the unofficial main character: T’Challa, or Black Panther. While not explicitly the book’s focus, he is the first character we encounter, and a decent amount of the book focuses on his actions and internal monologue. The first scene of the book shows the end of a Wakandan contest that determines the best and brightest — and then subsequently shows those contestants get slaughtered by marauders from a parallel earth. Let me spell that out. The book opens with the hope for the future dying in front of the eyes of the nation’s king. Yikes. In one moment, one silent scream, the reader understands why T’Challa is willing to do whatever it takes.
“New Avengers” is quite different from your typical superhero comic. The slow, sometimes plodding pace may alienate some, as will the dark tone and the bleak stakes. Yet, I find myself coming back to it periodically, because it’s cool to watch our heroes fight something so much bigger than anything else — to literally watch the Avengers stare down Armageddon. If you’re not afraid of some exposition, then I can’t think of a better pre-“Endgame” (2019) read than “New Avengers.”