Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Steve Epting, Rick Magyar (Artists), Frank D’Armata (Colorist)

The Story: The Illuminati returns from the colliding Earth as they recruits Black Swan, who proceeds to explain a lot of things about just what may be happening with the multiversal problem.

The Review: Here we are, back at the incredibly dense and tense read that is New Avengers, a book that focus on the much darker side on the type of conflicts superheroes must deal with. Universes dying, being destroyed one against another as the group cannot seem to trust one another, yet must in order to make sure their universe survives, that is the kind of thing superheroes exists for, yet nothing is so simple.

This should probably be the very motto for this book in general, as Jonathan Hickman goes very far in the conceptual end of the comic stories spectrum, where most of the things explained here could be further developed with years of stories. In many ways, this issue does something that should not work at all, bombarding us with tons of information, giving us lengthy scenes of heavy exposition while the characters merely talk to each other, giving us mostly a ‘’talking head’’ issue. It should not work, yet the ideas thrown here are so interesting and shown in such a dynamic way that it kinds of transcend the potential problem it may cause and gives us something to ponder about instead. Here, we are given a big great hint toward the true cause behind the multiversal imbalance; just who and what are the Black Swans, what the team might be able to do to save their universe and so on. It’s griping stuff and it makes the exposition truly enjoyable.

However, there is another reason why the comic is so enjoyable and that would be the characters themselves. Hickman seems to get just how they act and most of their history together, creating some kind of tensions between each others. There are sub-groups within the Illuminati, like Black Panther and Reed Richards, or Namor and Doctor Strange, which shows that the history between each of these characters shall be referenced and even become important to the plot. How characters react to the tale told by Black Swan, a fascinating character in her own right, is spot-on, like Namor telling her not to beat around the bush with tales, or how T’Challa and his distrust of many things she says. It’s pretty interesting to see how even in the face of such radical things being explained to each other, these men still have their own quirks coming out from time to time to peppers the plot a bit.

Not to say that the plot is inexistent, of course, as there are still some few things happening here, some big things even, yet they are far and few between. To those wondering just what happens with the other colliding Earth, the fight against Terrax, herald of Galaktus and so forth, it is shown here in an action scene that is pretty griping and well-done, yet that still seems full of mystery. The action scene is done silently, without any dialogue which is a smart choice, making us appreciate the fact of what is happening right there without letting dialogue dumb it down for the readers. This shows that Hickman has confidence in his artist, something that should be always applauded in any writers willing to let his collaborator shine without any interference.

And why shouldn’t he, after all? This is Steve Epting we’re talking about here, a man who made his mark on such titles as Ed Brubaker’s Captain America saga, bringing his darker influence with him on the mostly espionage book or on Fantastic Four with the same writer, showing us that he can do high concepts as well. Here, he manages to bring the two extremes together, creating a book that is big, yet very tense as the characters are uneasy, the themes aren’t very cheery and the action itself seems radiating with consequences. It can be claustrophobic at times, like the scene with the Illuminati talking with Black Swan, or huge and expensive, like when they are fighting Terrax and when we are shown where Black Swan is from. Of course, this whole ambience would be impossible without Frank D’Armata and his genuinely wonderful use of extremely somber colors in the right places. The other Earth has a deep red and somewhat purplish sky, going into the extreme of cold and warm, while the Illuminati are pitched in shadows, with dark being preeminent to hyperbolize the secrecy and importance of just what they are doing. It’s brilliant stuff and it complements the art of Steve Epting like a charm.

The Conclusion: Jonathan Hickman brings even more of his high concepts, great character work and sense of tension and importance into this newer issue of this title, making this yet another must-read. With Steve Epting and Frank D’Armata doing some astounding work on the art, it manages to be even more impressive as it seems this title keeps on getting better with each issue.

Grade: A-

Hugo Robberts Larivière