Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Stefano Caselli and Kev Walker
Color Artist: Frank Martin
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Review by Joey Braccino
DO YOU KNOW WHAT I’VE LEARNED THROUGH ALL THIS?
THERE WAS NEVER ANY CHANGE OF SAVING YOU.
WE WERE NEVER GOING TO SAVE THE WORLD—
WE NEVER STOOD A CHANCE.
Jonathan Hickman’s epic volume of Avengers comes to a brutal, grim end as Secret Wars looms. Each and every conflict Hickman’s ever-expanding roster of Earth’s Mightiest has faced over the last 40+ issues—the Builders, Thanos, the Shi’Ar, themselves—comes to a head as the final incursion comes closer and closer to fruition. While the fact that Hickman has been able to wrangle all of his disparate characters and factions and timejumps and universes together into a coherent, engaging narrative for the last 4 years ought to be impressive enough, Avengers #44 is even more impressive in its brilliant job of boiling down the entire Avengers mythos into a singular conflict: Captain America vs. Iron Man.
In many ways, the relationship between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark has driven this volume (and most volumes, really…) of Avengers since the beginning. After all, it was the conversation between Steve and Tony back in issue #1 that resulted in the duo’s resolve to get “bigger” with the whole Avengers concept. As each issue of Hickman’s run dropped, it became more and more apparent that the original motivations for expanding the Avengers roster were much more complex that these two originally let on, particularly on Tony’s part. As the Incursion and Illuminati narratives interwove with the Avengers story, the confrontation between Tony and Steve became more and more inevitable. Finally, tack on the AXIS inversion and Tony’s pragmatic actions to stop the Incursions at whatever cost, and you’ve got the makings of a battle on-a-par with Civil War.
Most of issue #44 is dedicated to the exploration of Tony’s downfall and Steve’s insistence on putting down his “old friend.” The emotional baggage of these scenes lends a sense of finality to the issue (as if the constant references to the death of everything weren’t definitive enough), as Steve, in spite of his aged state, dons a suit and goes to battle with Tony. The action appears on the cover, so I’m not really spoiling anything here, but the dialogue that Hickman overlays the battle with is astounding in its nuance and heft.
Hickman dedicates a lot of his oversized issue to Steve and Tony, but he does manage to include some intriguing and excellent sequences with the Ultimate Universe and the Cabal as well as Black Panther. The Ultimate scenes feature some fantastic character work for the eccentric “boy genius” version of Reed Richards, as well as some intriguing moments with Thanos and Namor. The Black Panther scene in particular is powerful, as T’Challa goes to the White House to warn… or rather tell the President that everything will be dead soon. It’s a powerful scene that again really lends credence to the upcoming Secret Wars. There is a single line in Black Panther’s scene that perfectly captures the reality of our hero’s situation. In many ways, Avengers #44 is as much a lead-in to Secret Wars as it is a conclusion to Hickman’s run, and it’s scenes like the one with Black Panther and the Steve/Tony battle that perfectly balance the two.
I’m a huge fan of Stefano Caselli and Kev Walker’s artwork, so I was prepared to deal with the inevitable “transition” problems that often accompany multi-artist books. Fortunately, the two artists work together seamlessly, as each work in a similar dynamic realism. The styles mesh and the visual experience here is consistent throughout. Part of this is due to Frank Martin’s vibrant, solid coloring, which covers the entire issue rather than just one of the artists.
Also, kudos to Cory Petit for working both the standard Marvel lettering as well as the Ultimate Marvel mixed case. I half-expected to see two letterers working, but Petit carries it all and carries it all well!
BUY. Not only does this issue serve as a fitting conclusion to Hickman’s Avengers epic, but it also perfectly sets up the context and tenor of the upcoming Secret Wars. Check it!