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Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection Vol. 5
Marvel Comics

Comic Books

‘Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection’ Vol. 5 closes the massive, architectural reworking of the Marvel Universe

Ultimately illustrates the fruits of Hickman’s largest, most architecturally complex work at Marvel.

In the franchise’s soon-to-be 60year history, Avengers has mostly been a book that functions primarily as an ensemble showcase, a place for characters with nowhere else to go to find utility. Oftentimes, it has expanded mythology without upsetting the better-selling tentpole books like Amazing Spider-Man. Rarely has the book been used as a vehicle with which to steer the whole Marvel Universe.

That function of the book came into vogue in the modern era with Brian Michael Bendis’s long-running New Avengers and its associated books, which essentially became the through-line from major event to major event; even if you weren’t reading everything the company published, following Avengers kept you mostly apprised of what you needed to know for your Houses of M and your Ages of Ultron.

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'Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection' Vol. 5 closes the massive, architectural reworking of the Marvel Universe
Marvel Comics

The most radical use of Avengers as Universal Steering Wheel was Jonathan Hickman’s run with the franchise—which also happens to be the last time Avengers has been used in such a way.

Using two titles—both Avengers and New Avengers—Hickman began some heavy work toward restructuring the entire publishing slate at Marvel Comics, setting up a cosmic end-of-everything scenario on two fronts. While every other superhero in the Universe was oblivious of the fact, the Illuminati—and, eventually, the central Avengers—came to understand that the multiverse was collapsing. Unaware of the origin of the destruction, the Illuminati scrambled against constant threats to their world, damning themselves in the process. The Avengers, having been restructured by Steve and Tony as a massive, utility-centered ‘machine’ of heroes, began facing major universal threats neither group knew to be instrumental to the multiversal collapse.

Ten years on, Hickman’s run still feels monumental, despite the fact that its only lasting legacy (post-Secret Wars) is Miles Morales being folded into Earth-616. Its central narrative—and large-scale concepts of the multiverse, its frailty, and its function—also remain poignant with both the publisher and the MCU exploring those themes.

In the fifth and final volume of the Complete Collection, out this week, we see the Marvel Universe jump forward eight months, its relationships and team structures vastly different from the previous volume. The Illuminati has expanded from its tight inner circle, taking on super geniuses like Amadeus Cho, as well as Multiversally aware characters—specifically Brain Braddock, Captain Britain, whose adventures in the ’80s gave us the multiversal numbering system.

Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection Vol. 5
Hulk bomb.
Marvel Comics

The Avengers, on the other hand, have split into two—Steve Rogers’ S.H.I.E.L.D. and Roberto DaCosta’s aspirational faction. As it comes to a head, we find ourselves in yet another large-scale hero vs hero fight—this time operating on three fronts (four, if you count the Cabal), and while that might feel a little exhausting and overdone by 2015, remember that this is a full year before the even more exhausting Civil War II. Of those three big hero fights, this is both the most effective and the least politically problematic (even if some of the characters here—particularly Steve’s short-sighted super-cops–are behaving badly).

Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection Vol. 5
Just Cabal stuff, NBD.
Marvel Comics

What makes this (lowercase) civil war more palpable and ultimately more fruitful is that it functions out of utility. Rather than ascribing a certain political view to any given character, Hickman places characters on various sides of the conflict for their narrative necessity, scaffolding building towards the end of the world and the Secret Wars beyond it. This is a story meant to impart Big Ideas, not to imply some timed-obsolescence allegorical morality. He uses all the toys to tell the most structurally sound story.

Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection Vol. 5
Everyone’s invited.
Marvel Comics

Hickman has a tendency to bombard the reader with dense, oblique concepts without slowing down to explain them – whole characters have massive and abstract origins or experiences that are collapsed down to four panels. Language becomes tough and chewy, with words casually tossed around that sometimes don’t feel like they don’t mean anything to the reader. That’s because the readers aren’t living with the lingo, aren’t dealing with the things these characters are doing day in and day out. Readers in 2015 might breeze through an issue and then hop over to Wilson on Ms. Marvel or Slott on Silver Surfer, and that language wouldn’t be necessary, meanings wiped away.

This is Hickman’s Giant Idea Machine’s constant major failing; it could be seen in Fantastic Four/FF, and it’s very present in HoX/PoX. It feels as if things exist in his head as very legible and fully explained, but that sometimes doesn’t make it to the page, leaving the other writers to get around to the nuts and bolts of things like Doom’s machinations toward Battle World or how, exactly, the Five function on Krakoa.

Hickman functioned, in these franchise restructurings, primarily as an architect. He knocked the buildings down, excavated the ruins, and built a playground for other creators to play in atop the graves. Because he was working with abstract concepts, his work with characters often feel like blueprints than emotional growth; he put those characters in that place because they were load-bearing, not because their final placement completed a growth arc.

Being CEO of A.I.M. isn’t an emotionally fulfilling resolution to Roberto DaCosta’s character journey begun in Marvel Graphic Novel #4. Rather, that conclusion is a functional, structurally necessary place for someone to be at the end of the world: Hickman needed someone obscenely rich while also being narratively underutilized, and Warren Worthington III was busy.

Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection Vol. 5
Big ol’ Buff Bro Brigade
Marvel Comics

This isn’t to say that there aren’t emotionally powerful moments–this book is rife with tragedy, best exemplified with the deaths of Hyperion and Thor at the ends of the multiverse. Other books leading up to the end of the world handled it much more tear-jerkingly, however.

Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection Vol. 5 ultimately illustrates the fruits of Hickman’s largest, most architecturally complex work at Marvel. Though I certainly don’t think it’s ‘Complete’ without the inclusion of Secret Wars, it does perfectly round out the five-volume collection and, as with all the Complete Collections, it’s a beautiful collection (particularly at this price point).

Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection Vol. 5
‘Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection’ Vol. 5 closes the massive, architectural reworking of the Marvel Universe
Avengers By Jonathan Hickman: The Complete Collection Vol. 5
Though not without its emotional faults, Vol. 5 illustrates how perfectly constructed the narrative had to be to arrive here.
Reader Rating1 Vote
8.1
Artwork from a who's who of 2015's best artists.
An immaculate cross-section of characters.
Balances the literal weight of the world on its shoulders.
Sometimes emotionally dry.
Contains none of the truly conclusive narrative resolutions of the full story.
9
Great
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