The Marvel Annual crossover feels like a neglected format these days. Utilized heavily in the ’80s and early ’90s with stories like Atlantis Attacks and Evolutionary War, the format really felt like unique, huge events. Sometimes those stories would slowly gather up characters as they moved from title to title, and in others, the conflict would just get passed along to each successive hero.
In Infinite Destinies, Marvel returns to the format with a mix between the two — each annual features its titular hero (or heroes) in conflict with one of the people to whom the Infinity Gems have bonded. The stories aren’t sequential, per se, because some of these stories happen off in the recesses of space or in other realms.
Each story varies in quality due to a pretty big list of creators, tonal differences, and the feeling that some of the Infinity People are much more frightfully powered than others.
Not every issue features our Infinity Pals, either — there are six stones and eight issues, which means there are chunks of the book that don’t exactly fit the theme. Given that each issue does include some very powerful new character and/or villain and the inevitable superhero action climax, the lack of the Infinity Pals never seems noticeable. The best-case scenario, of course, is that the reader is too invested to nit-pick the narrative.
The reason these non-Infinity stories are included (one could imagine) is because of the through-running backup story, Infinite Fury, which is also collected in this volume. That story follows Nick Fury, Jr. on the trail of some foe that is hiding so well that it’s obvious someone is hiding.
That person is bent on colleting our Infinity Pals. . . to bring about the return to the recent Heroes Reborn reality. Or, rather, an even better version of that reality. Because Nighthawk. It’s Nighthawk.
The Fury story is interesting primarily because it introduces that ongoing Reborn narrative, but Fury himself continues to read as a half-hearted carbon copy of his dad, as if the creators still aren’t quite sure how to treat him. It feels like every time I see him it reminds me that he’s our Fury now.
The book varies so wildly that the even the standout issues don’t share a lot in common — no one thing elevates them above their peers.
Gerry Duggan and Marco Casetiello’s Captain America story feels like pure modern Captain America, a Black Widow teamup light on the espionage but high on the action. The two of them are on the hunt for Hector Bautista, whose bond with the Time Stone makes him a particularly wily collar. It’s all motorcycle chases and shield acrobatics, and I love it.
In Aaron Kuder’s Thor, things get fully fantastic, with trimmings of Yggdrasil and cosmic gardeners, a Sandman-esque fairy dinner, and a new, powerful being from another plane of existence with cataclysmically evil intentions. The blend of fantasy, cosmic sci-fi, and nostalgia flashback sequences of Golden Age Thor and Loki shouldn’t be so perfectly balanced, but it manages to feel seamless.
The final highlight I’d like to mention (but by no means the last great part of the book) is Al Ewing and Flaviano’s Guardians of the Galaxy story, which centers around both Princes of Power, giving us a hilarious — and sort of horrifying — origin of the new guy. The whole issue is just a funny send up of Masters of the Universe, and the art is fantastic, turning to Filmation-tinged cartoon-appropriate panels for flashbacks of the Prince of Powers Eternia-esque home planet.
While all in all an uneven reading experience, the Infinite Destinies collection never loses its action, and there are no disposable stories within — each issue has something truly charming or exciting in it, even if it doesn’t make the top three list. The larger implications of the Infinity Pals and the stories to come are a fresh take on a classic (and sometimes tired) gimmick of the Marvel Universe. I could take or leave some of the new characters, but I’m excited for them to play a larger role and prove me wrong.
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