The Climax Is Never In Act One: Infinity #1 Review

infinity_1_cover_2013300439282For years, whenever Marvel kicked off a big event comic, they made a point of swearing before God and everybody that the story could be read on its own, without needing to track down a bunch of other comics to understand what’s going on. It was all bullshit, of course; be it Civil War or Secret Invasion or Avengers Vs. X-Men, the second the event kicked off, it crossed into every title Marvel published. Sure, you didn’t need to read those other comics to understand the whole story, provided you were okay with taking certain things you saw on faith. Things like just assuming that, somewhere in the gutters of the main title, D-Man obtained the Infinity Gauntlet while Batroc The Leaper’s big toes were turned to Mrs. Dash Onion Seasoning.

That, however, was the past. Welcome to Infinity, a book not only with a final page consisting of a diagram telling you what other comic books you should be following to get the whole story, but one which, if you haven’t been reading both Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers since launch day, will be difficult to follow from the first page. Which is fine for people like me who have been getting those books all along, but which isn’t exactly welcoming to any poor schmuck who wanders into a comic store after, say, seeing The Wolverine, and saying to himself, “Ooh! That comic has the dude from the credits of The Avengers movie!”

And that wouldn’t be a bad thing if Infinity #1 was character-driven, and gave you compelling people to follow through this unfamiliar scenario. Unfortunately, this book is all about plot and putting pieces into place to eventually blow some shit up. And the characters are simply pushed through this clockwork, normally almost indistinguishable from each other except for the colors of their costumes.

Hell, one of the main heroes of the story is featured in a four-page sequence where he is asleep, for Christ’s sake.

We open with the New Avengers… actually, it’s the Illuminati. However, they are featured in a book titled New Avengers. Probably either because putting the word “Avengers” on a cover increases sales by 50 percent, or because the owner of my local comic store, where they know me by name and ask me to stop waving my books in the faces of the paying clientele while shrieking, “You wanna see my other fistful of vengeance?”, has enough weird shit to deal with without sweaty Alex Jones fans seeing a book called “Illuminati” and spending an hour muttering about the Trilateral Commission. But I digress.

Anyway, we see the Illuminati blowing up one of the alternate universes that has been encroaching on the 616 over in New Avengers, before cutting to scenes of destruction across the galaxy: we’ve got agents of Thanos attacking worlds and demanding warm bodies for “tribute,” Builders (think Ex Nihilo in the main Avengers title. Haven’t been reading it? Well, tough luck, Bubba; guess you’re fucked) wiping out the homeworld of Rom: Spaceknight and destroying Kree outposts, and Outriders from Thanos sniffing around Black Bolt to find some secret that Thanos thinks will mean victory. Meanwhile, The Avengers hear about all this stuff going on, draw a line on a space map, and deduce that all this crap is headed straight for Earth. So most of The Avengers jump on a spaceship, minus Iron Man, who stays on Earth (despite being out in space in Guardians of The Galaxy), to meet the threat head-on… not realizing that an Earth without The Avengers is just what Thanos wants.

Okay, there is one hell of a lot of plot development going on in this issue. Hickman needs to establish the galactic scope of the threat facing Earth, which he does… but the problem is that that means that we spend a hell of a lot of time with characters we don’t know shortly before they are wiped off the map, never to be seen again. And while Hickman does make nods toward making these people slightly more than set pieces to show us that Thanos means business – like showing that the sack of Ahl-Agullo came at the price of the king’s son, and having a Spaceknight comfort a child who thinks the world of the corps – the fact of the matter is that we spend probably a third of the book with people we meet just before being taken off the board. And it’s a little difficult to become emotionally invested in the fate of just-introduced cannon fodder.

And frankly, the efforts to imbue some emotion into the deaths of these pawns who only exist to be killed to show us shit’s about to get serious, yo, are pretty obvious. We’ve already discussed the king being told that his son was killed, but we also get Captain Universe telling a child that he’s about to be killed, a stoic Kree warrior so desperate he openly calls for help from The Avengers, and Thanos being presented with what looks like a bunch of kids in a box. And yes, at least Hickman is trying to give us reasons to feel an emotional connection to these poor, doomed spastics, but the fact of the matter is that they’re just here to die to make things look bad. And not only is it not as effective as seeing someone – anyone – that we know and care about in immediate danger, but it’s unnecessary; we already know that Thanos moving on Earth is a potential extinction level event. Hell, even people who’ve only seen the movie know on sight that Thanos is bad fucking news. And while I recognize that Hickman is going for a big, summer action movie feel with this series (hell, pretty much every Avengers title he’s worked on), we didn’t need almost half the book to be scenes of poor schmucks sucking the pipe.

And then there’s the elephant in the room: Hickman has clearly written this issue under the assumption that you have read all of his Avengers and New Avengers issues. Because this comic is not going to be very accessible to anyone who hasn’t. I mean, the opening sequence of the book is the Illuminati destroying an encroaching universe to save the 616 from destruction… but I only know that because I’ve read the New Avengers books. If you haven’t read those comics, it looks like the Illuminati and some grey chick in a 70s tube top are using the lamp from an old projection TV to set off fireworks, and for some reason this depresses them terribly.

And any self-respecting comic fan would expect that Thanos would be after the Infinity Gems, but unless you’ve been reading New Avengers since the beginning of Hickman’s run, you would have no idea what happened to them, or why the Illuminati would be perceived as covered in death by Thanos’s Outrider. This would be useful information… especially considering that Hickman reveals what information he does about the Infinity Gems in a long sequence of Black Bolt out of costume, sleeping like a drunkard, while the Outrider reads his mind (which reminds me: you know what would have been awesome? To have this same sequence, but with Black Bolt wearing one of those ridiculous oxygenated sleep apnea masks. And then have Medusa say, “Black Bolt snores. It’s not as interesting a story as, ‘A meteor killed all the dinosaurs,’ but there you go.” Why yes, I have been drinking, why do you ask?). So what we wind up with is a four-page sequence of tell-don’t-show exposition that doesn’t even tell readers everything that they need to know. Which is okay with me; I’ve been reading New Avengers, but I imagine new readers would welcome even an old school, “Check out New Avengers # whatever to find out what happened to the gems! -Happy Help-Hidin’ Hickman!” caption box.

When it comes to The Avengers, well, we don’t see them do a hell of a lot here. We see Captain America and Hawkeye beat on some low-level Skrulls – seriously, the Skrulls are hiding out eating pizza when The Avengers arrive to beat them into oblivion. Other than that, when it comes to superhero action, we see Captain Universe being the voice of doom for children across the galaxy, Iron Man looking at a map, Captain Marvel flying a space plane, and again: Black Bolt sleeping. And while Hickman does a good job setting up future issues of lower-level heroes fighting Thanos against overwhelming odds – a fight Hickman has set up well enough that I genuinely want to see it happen in the upcoming issues –  Infinity #1 is not the comic book to buy if you want some good tights-and-fights action.

On one hand, Jim Cheung’s art is an interesting choice for a cosmic story of this one’s scope. His humans are very realistic-looking for a big, honking superhero epic. His figures of Captain America and Hawkeye look like fit human beings, not the steroid cases that you might expect from a big event story. But Cheung also does good work drawing a good handful of various alien races, including some Spaceknights, and each have a unique, believable, and even expressive look to them (except for the Spaceknights, which, after all, are meant to look like a 1970s cast plastic children’s toy). The overall effect is to ground the familiar, which adds realism to the fantastic. So the look is one that generally works and accentuates the danger of the cosmic… and the general storytelling is clear and easy to follow. His lines of action and viewing generally help guide the reader’s eye across the page, and the panel layouts are easy to follow. Cheung’s art isn’t the kind of stylized stuff you often see in event comics (although the detail crosshatching by one or more of the four inkers on the book make a run at turning it into that kind of art), but it works well for the story.

Look, like many of Hickman’s first issues, this one exists to move the plot forward. And therein lies the most positive aspect of this issue: it looks like one hell of a plot. Setting things up so that The Avengers are off-Earth so that Thanos can make a nearly-unrestricted run at the planet, followed by an attack by a world-threatening cosmic threat, with all of Marvel’s heavy-hitters out of rotation, sounds like a hell of a couple of issues to read. I’m already picturing some sequences of the new, teenaged Nova taking Thanos on, or maybe Daredevil trying like hell to clear Hell’s Kitchen while Skrulls lay siege to Manhattan… but none of that happens here. This is all setup and putting the pieces into place for something that will, hopefully, eventually, be awesome. But this is maybe the first half of act one of a sci-fi disaster film, where the meteors or the aliens or the giant monsters wipe out skyscrapers full of person-shaped screaming meat to make the rising action in act two feel more dangerous for the heroes. What Hickman has set up here makes act two look promising… but my advice is to get this issue and stick it in a pile to read back-to-back with issue #2 when it comes out.

That way, you can read Infinity #1 and maybe see something happen to one of the main characters.