Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer (Writers), Stefano Caselli, Marco Rudy, Marco Checchetto (Artists), Frank Martin (Colorist)

*Spoilers alert*

The Story: The Avengers realize that they have to get even bigger and soon as they make concessions for the greater good.

The Review: Payoffs are nice. Readers crave them, cherishing the situations that escalates to a climax as a resolution or conclusion to a particular problem arrive and lead the story or a character to new areas ripe for development or surprises. Payoffs are what nourish the whole industry and pretty much every stories since the beginning of carefully-written fiction.

Well, it seems like both Hickman and Spencer have a rather tenuous grasp on the concept, as this story does not do much in term of satisfying conclusion to an arc or as a prelude to the upcoming event.* In many ways, the story does use a lot of what has been introduced in the multiple stories by Hickman, yet it does not feel particularly satisfying after what has been basically 17 issues of teasing and hinting at bigger things.

The recruitment of Ex Nihilo and Abyss, two characters that are genuinely interesting and full of potential for further storylines and moral conundrums for the team, it feels a bit hollow in terms of payoff. It makes sense if it’s seen as a series of slow development, yet as far as building up to Infinity and as the conclusion to a good chunk of teasing concerning the fact that the team will have to get bigger and that the universe is still broken. The addition of Starbrand and Nightmask also seems logical and build up naturally to their new role, yet there’s no surprise or twist that makes it fun or merely entertaining. It just happens.

What is perhaps infuriating, or at least annoying down the line, is the fact that despite the fact that several plot points have been handled in this issue, close to none are close to an actual resolution. Worse, Hickman and Spencer continues seeding new subplots and giving us hints that things are coming, something that comes as just annoying now considering that it’s what the title solely did since the beginning of the new volume.

What basically happens here is that the Avengers lays beaten, Manifold goes to rescue them, leading to the discussion of what the team will have to do in order to confront what might be happening. This scene in particular is actually good, as the characters cease to spout exposition in order to provide some characterization and some jokes along the way, providing with something different from the colder aspects the previous issue had. The way the team speak about the problem and how they interact with each other make for some entertaining pages which are frankly welcome from the teasing that is the norm for the series.

Another aspect that comes as a bit disappointing, though not completely, would be the art. Not that Stefano Caselli, Marco Rudy and Marco Checchetto aren’t talented here, but it’s rather the fact that their style don’t necessarily mesh very well together. Caselli is still very expressive and great with the sci-fi and super-hero elements of the script, yet Marco Rudy does not complement with his style at all. Rudy’s scene involving Ex Nihilo and Abyss is not bad in itself, as he draws some very good-looking background and details in order to capture the exotic and alien vibe from Mars, yet his characters aren’t exactly expressive or well-drawn either. Though not many artists did draw that character, I have to say his version of Ex Nihilo is perhaps the worst-looking I have ever seen, looking creepy rather than grand and mysterious. Marco Checchetto fares much better for the small amount of pages he is given, as his characters are better in terms of expressions and his style complements Caselli’s own much better than Rudy’s. The groups shot he does in the end does look pretty cool and his characters are more convincingly drawn here.

If there’s an aspect upon which no blame or disappointment could be spoken about, it would be the colorization. Frank Martin here really accentuate the tone of each scene with ease thanks to his lighting and contrasting colors, as cosmic join tense and action meets desperation. The scenes with the Manifold and the A.I.M. agents alone is pretty well done in its focus on warm colors that are cut through the minor use of black.

The Conclusion: While there are some good ideas and some surprises thrown around, the lack of coherence in the art, the constant teasing and the lack of impact involving the 17 issues buildup make for a rather unsatisfying conclusion to the prelude toward the big event. Big setups and small payoffs don’t adds up to a pleasant read.

Grade: C

-Hugo Robberts Larivière

*I’d also count the fact that the cover to this issue is a downright lie as it does not feature that particular character at all, but I never really count the cover in the reviews anyway.