We recently touched upon writer Brian Michael Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS, and how the series completely redefined the way we look at the Avengers. With the release of AVENGERS: ENDGAME only days away (at the posting of this article), I can’t possibly get the Avengers off my mind at this point. Shortly after Marvel’s Heroic Age ended, and they kickstarted the Marvel NOW! initiative, Bendis left the Avengers on a high note, and in a position for change. That’s where writer Jonathan Hickman’s AVENGERS comes into play.

Hickman’s AVENGERS is, arguably, the greatest run on the title of all time. It’s my favorite, at least. If Bendis redefined the Avengers, then Hickman reimagined them. Hickman took everything Bendis crafted and built hundreds of thousands of more layers on top of that. He took more than a few drastic measures to make sure his AVENGERS stood out from the rest.

Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS may have set a higher standard for what the team and the book could be, but Hickman’s AVENGERS quickly became the standard. By no measure is this your ordinary Avengers run. This is best it has ever been, and may ever be.

So, without further ado, let’s dive deep into Jonathan Hickman’s AVENGERS!

Hickman's AVENGERS
Cover to AVENGERS #1. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

The Story of Hickman’s AVENGERS

I’m going to do my best to briefly cover all of Hickman’s AVENGERS. That includes AVENGERS (2012) #1-44, NEW AVENGERS (2013) #1-33, and INFINITY #1-6, which adds up to a little over 80 issues. Let’s do this!

Hickman’s AVENGERS began with two men, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, and an idea. From Tony’s lips to God’s ears, the Avengers needed to get bigger. And so they did. Captain America and Iron Man formed a new team of Avengers and built the Avengers Machine. The team’s first mission: head to Mars to stop some new alien bad guys from launching “life” bombs at the Earth. And that’s only the pinpoint tip of the iceberg.

Hickman's AVENGERS
From AVENGERS #1. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

From there, this new team of Avengers tackled threats and dangers the likes of which they’d never seen before. Beings of immense, universal power. A resurgent AIM. An intergalactic war with the Builders. Thanos. Evil Avengers from an alternate reality. To say Hickman’s AVENGERS took Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to new heights would be a gross understatement.

Acting as a foil to his AVENGERS, there’s Hickman’s NEW AVENGERS, where the Illuminati were reformed to combat the threat of a dying multiverse. The team consisted of Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Black Panther, Namor, Beast, Doctor Strange, and Black Bolt. Against all better judgment and morality, the Illuminati had to come to grips with destroying other worlds to save their own. Of course, their mission was essentially a failure, since 2015’s SECRET WARS still came to pass.

Masterful Storytelling on an Immense Scope

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on in Hickman’s AVENGERS. Yet, the writer still manages to tell an incredible, cohesive story on an unbelievable scale. I’m sort of a sucker for anything Jonathan Hickman writes, but even forgoing my extreme bias towards his work, his AVENGERS includes some of the greatest comic book storytelling I’ve ever read.

Hickman writes with a very cryptic yet poetic style. He injects a palpable level of nuance into every line of narration. He contrasts all of that angelic narration with definitive character depictions. Tony Stark feels appropriately snarky and intelligent. Steve Rogers stands valiant and stoic. Mr. Fantastic fuels himself with hope at every turn, despite all the evidence telling him his quest will fail. Thanos remains every bit the Mad Titan we know and love him to be!

Hickman's AVENGERS
From INFINITY #6. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Not only does Hickman easily jump between beautiful narration and pitch-perfect character writing, but he also masterfully tells two very different stories at the same time. Hickman’s AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS fall on very different ends of the same spectrum. AVENGERS tells an uplifting story of triumphant heroes, while NEW AVENGERS features a darker tone and a story depicting the fall of our heroes as they progress towards failure.

Everything Dies in Hickman’s AVENGERS

Hickman filled his AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS books with plenty of powerful set-piece moments. The first time the new team appears assembled atop Avengers Tower is one of the best pages in the whole AVENGERS series. But if one thing sticks more than anything else in Hickman’s AVENGERS, that honor goes to the tagline: “Everything dies.”

That phrase isn’t even creatively dark for the sake of good storytelling. The phrase “everything dies” is a universal truth. When Reed Richards utters those words right at the start of NEW AVENGERS #1, you know exactly how Hickman’s AVENGERS will turn out. You hope it isn’t true, but it is, nonetheless.

Hickman's AVENGERS
From NEW AVENGERS #1. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Hickman built his AVENGERS around this idea. He didn’t shy away from telling a darker, more mature story, entrenched with gripping sci-fi elements, nor should he have. Everything was leading to SECRET WARS from the get-go. Writing in this way, Hickman opened himself up to a whole world of storytelling possibilities. He expanded the Marvel Universe in brilliant ways, creating new characters, like the Builders and the Black Swans, reshaping the multiverse, and playing with familiar characters in completely new ways.

The scale and demeanor of Hickman’s AVENGERS aren’t just for show. They’re very much necessary to tell this kind of story. How else are you going to write about a dying multiverse? Without a doubt, though, Hickman nails the storytelling, top to bottom. This gripping story will leave you wanting more and more after each issue. When the end finally comes, you just may find yourself speechless.

New Teams for New Threats in a New Generation

Despite the overarching grim, defeatist tone of Hickman’s AVENGERS, there’s still plenty here that will make you believe in the Avengers. Case in point, the team itself. This is likely the greatest team of Avengers ever assembled.

Hickman's AVENGERS
The Avengers Machine. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

The initial roster of Hickman’s AVENGERS consisted of the team assembled for 2012’s AVENGERS film. That quickly changed, though, to encompass a much larger roster. The Avengers Machine, as pictured above, acted as groundwork for Cap and Tony. Later on, the Avengers included characters like Ex Nihilo, Abyss, Starbrand, and Nightmask. This was an ever-evolving Avengers team for the ages.

Hickman’s team feels like an unstoppable force for good. There are so many incredible power players, it’s almost hard to track the team’s exact power level. You’ve got players like Thor, Hyperion, Hulk, and Captain Marvel, plus a handful of other dynamically skilled and powerful heroes. Though Hickman didn’t capture the familial aspects of the Avengers like Bendis masterfully did, he still did a great job making this team feel united.

Hickman’s Illuminati is a completely different beast. Whereas the Avengers are a cohesive, powerful unit, the Illuminati are a team of fractured individuals, holding themselves together by the skin of their teeth. They have power, sure, but constantly seem deathly afraid to use it. The dangerously fragile relationship between Black Panther and Namor is arguably NEW AVENGERS’ greatest power dynamic.

Hickman's AVENGERS
From NEW AVENGERS #2. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

The stark contrast between the Avengers and the Illuminati further highlights the artful dichotomy in Hickman’s storytelling. These were two vastly different teams, meant to face vastly different problems.

Impeccable Focus on Unique Characters

A team is only as good as its members. Believe me, every member of this Avengers team deserves to be an Avenger. Hickman’s AVENGERS not only featured a powerful team but one you could believe in. The writer went to great lengths to flesh out every member. The early issues of AVENGERS highlight each hero in great depth, especially the newcomers like Hyperion, Smasher, and the mysteriously cryptic Captain Universe.

This version of Hyperion survived one of the incursions ravaging the multiverse. After AIM ripped him into the 616 reality, he ultimately wound up with the Avengers, doing a great deal of soul-searching during his time on the team. Captain Universe stood as a constant head-scratcher. She usually appeared to deliver appropriately cryptic warnings about events to come. Yet, even though she barely ever showed up, she remained the most mesmerizing character on the team.

Smasher, Cannonball, and Sunspot took me by surprise. I instantly fell in love with the new Smasher, Isabel Kane. AVENGERS #5 quickly grounded her character in a meaningful way. Cannonball (Sam Guthrie) and Sunspot (Roberto da Costa) seemed like nobodies to me, but much like Smasher, I learned to love them. If you want some great Cannonball and Sunspot material, check out AVENGERS #11.

Hickman's AVENGERS
From AVENGERS #11. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

As for the Illuminati, most of these characters had already been well-developed in previous titles. But leave it to Hickman to work his magic and revitalize each of these heroes. Again, the chaotic chemistry between Black Panther and Namor practically drives this book. On top of that, Reed’s determination to win the losing battle with the dying universe is the faint glimmer of hope NEW AVENGERS desperately needs. I also found Beast to be a pleasant addition to the dark fold.

Captain America and Iron Man

Above all others, however, Captain America and Iron Man shine most brightly throughout Hickman’s AVENGERS. These two heroes started it all.

Hickman's AVENGERS
From AVENGERS #1. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Hickman’s AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS represent the opposite sides of a coin. Cap and Iron Man can also represent those opposing sides. Much like the separate series, Steve and Tony are complete polar opposites. Steve represents all the good in the Avengers, portraying all the heroic things the team should stand for. Tony represents the darker side of heroism. He wants to do good, of course, but his morals aren’t as strong as Steve’s.

Though Cap and Iron Man are typically portrayed as close friends during Hickman’s AVENGERS, their brotherhood is in a constant state of tension. Following the INFINITY event, while the Avengers are having a huge party, Steve and Tony are working on the Avengers Machine. Cap looks at all their progress and finds hope, while Tony has a more cynical eye for how things have been progressing. They might both be heroes, but they clearly have different ways of thinking. They always have, and likely always will.

AVENGERS #44 acts as the breaking point for these two. Even as the world burns around them leading into SECRET WARS, Steve and Tony want nothing more than to tear each other apart. Steve and Tony’s relationship progresses similarly to Hickman’s AVENGERS overall; it begins on a mountainous high note and ends on an abyssal low.

Hickman's AVENGERS
From AVENGERS #3. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Hickman’s (Minimal) Shortcomings

As magnificent as Hickman’s AVENGERS is, it isn’t without a few faults. I consider these minuscule errors, at best, but they’re still there, so in fairness, I’ll mention them.

First and foremost; this is simultaneously a story new readers can and cannot jump into with ease. On the one hand, you pretty much don’t need to read anything else to understand what goes on in Hickman’s AVENGERS. That being said, though, this is an extremely complex story. If you don’t pay attention, you’re going to get lost. There’s a lot to keep track of, so you have to go into AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS with your wits about you.

Later on, during the “Time Runs Out” arc, the story started to lose some of its overall flair and flow. It takes a little while for this arc to pick up steam. The eight-month time jump isn’t very well explained, so you sort of have to piece things together on your own (again, an easy way for readers to get lost). This is also when the story throws some of its most complex aspects at you. The latter half of “Time Runs Out,” however, is extremely enjoyable.

Jonathan Hickman’s AVENGERS is a Modern Masterpiece

It’s not an overstatement to say Jonathan Hickman is a visionary. He changed the Avengers forever, breaking them down to their very core and reimagining what they were and what they could become. The Avengers were no longer just Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. They were the mightiest heroes of the whole freaking universe. At the same time, as Hickman created the Avengers World, he was also busy destroying the multiverse. And he did it without the slightest flinch in his composure.

Hickman’s AVENGERS tells a captivating story on an unbelievable scale. The character work is deep and emotional, extending to every single hero in the author’s two Avengers titles. He constantly battled with opposing storytelling styles, constructing his massive tale in a manner that could quite easily dumbfound some readers. But, given time, everything syncs up, and you’ll find yourself falling in love with every single page.

Hickman's AVENGERS
From AVENGERS #34. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

It certainly helps that just about every page of Hickman’s AVENGERS looks drop-dead gorgeous, thanks to the many artists who worked with the writer. But forgoing all of that, the beauty of the story deftly permeates the art on the page.

Hickman took the Avengers in a bold new direction. He took many risks, all of which paid off, big time. He gave us what may very well be the greatest Avengers story of all time. Call me biased all you like; Jonathan Hickman’s AVENGERS is a modern comic book masterpiece.

Will we ever see another AVENGERS series like Hickman’s? Well, by my account, current AVENGERS writer Jason Aaron could very well be the next master storyteller behind Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’m going to go reminisce over Hickman’s AVENGERS some more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *