It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Jonathan Hickman’s comics – even if there is a strange obsession with the Illuminati in them… Last week, the two main Marvel comics he had been writing, Avengers and New Avengers, had their last trade paperback come out. Having devoured that, and done some digesting, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the action and reveals therein.
I opened with a review today on Sourcerer, where I gave some broad strokes about Hickman’s two comics, and about the last four trades and storyline – Time Runs Out – in particular. Well, I haven’t spun much theorycraft about these comics for a bit (not much since Infinity!) but that works, because many of the answers have only come recently.
So if you’re wanting a low-spoilers comics review of Time Runs Out, check out my Sourcerer post. If you’re wanting spoiler land and to talk about these comics, then this is the post for you! Read on, and some images to follow as well!
The Cabal: Way Creepier Than Before
In Infinity, we got a number of new characters orbiting around Thanos, generals and all. They were kind of interesting, and new is nice, but new is also hard. Why do we care?
Well, it turns out that once these characters are a bit more established – and yet doing the same thing in a new context – they are ever so much creepier!
You don’t see much of the Cabal, and it’s about enough to know that they’re busy destroying Earths. Not as busy as Ultimate Reed Richards, but busy.
And the fact that those two groups end up together? Frightening. Things likely do not go well for anyone in Secret Wars #1!
The Black Priests
I love that someone decided they needed to go out there and try to solve the problem at its source – both Avengers and Illuminati and villains. While so many others are worried with either protect-the-Earth, or with dealing with Illuminati and Cabal. Small stuff. Or, as Iron Man often talks about – the reason that the machine was built. To deal with these sorts of problems so the big stuff can be handled by others.
So the first big reveal of the mysterious villain groups is I suppose the Mapmakers, who get a reveal during the slow period with all the stuff with AIM and the Evil Avengers. The Mapmakers are the AIM experiment where they stole Avenger DNA, made super androids, and sent them out into no-space.
The first big reveal in Time Runs Out is the Black Priests. Finding out that Dr. Strange has gone and taken control of them – learning their words of power and becoming crazy powerful (off the page, we never really get to see him taking worlds apart) is pretty awesome.
It does make me wonder who they are, though. Are the Black Priests the Stephen Stranges of other universes? Or other wizards? They have so much of a Dr. Strange look… just missing an Eye of Agamotto. Is Dr. Strange of Marvel 616 THE sorcerer supreme of all of the multiverse???
And in the later parts of the comic, it seems that the Black Priests – mostly destroyed in their final raid – were something of a Red Herring. Not on the side of either of the big bads, they were just a symptom of everything falling apart – but maybe not trying to completely cause it?
The Ivory Kings
So with old, unworthy Thor, the new Hyperion, and all of Hickman’s new invented heroes running off in one direction, and the Black Priests and the Eye heading off another, our next big reveal is the Ivory Kings. And it’s not through the strike forces that we find out – but from a seeker.
Waaaay back right before Infinity (and touched on in my post-Infinity post), Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic were talking about having set someone up to do something to help them, to try to solve the root problem. My thought was basically that someone was sent off, and of the list of Marvel geniuses, there were very few to choose from. My list was headed up with Hank Pym, and lo and behold…
Sure, there were some good guesses that I did not touch on, who did end up joining the Illuminati – like Captain Britain. But still, I’ll take my guess victory.
So what did poor, months-gone Hank Pym see? Well, he tagged along with a raid on the Ivory Kings, only to find that that was maybe the worst idea ever.
The comic where Pym goes through his travels and the Ivory Kings reveal is maybe my favorite of the whole Time Runs Out series – much like the reveal on why things were happening in Infinity with the Builders was probably my favorite comic there. It was a neat solution to the problems being presented over time.
So who were they? The Beyonders. Good thing I had read Secret Wars recently, that helped things make much more sense. Basically, the Beyonders are all-powerful. And they spend most of Hank Pym’s story proving that, in about the most dramatic way possible.
In the original Secret Wars, the single Beyonder picks on Galactus. In Time Runs Out, a whole host of them take out not only Galactus but the Celestials, and the rest of the Marvel cosmology, working their way up to the Living Tribunal.
Which was also one of those lingering questions from right before Infinity: what happened to the Living Tribunal? And the timeline still confuses me. Iron Man had already seen a dead Living Tribunal lying on the moon before sending Hank Pym out in the multiverse. But then Hank Pym witnesses it happening…
Maybe the Living Tribunal has always been there – has always been dead? Something timey-wimey.
Good thing no one else was headed to fight the Ivory Kings, right? Because the Beyonders are not to be trifled with. Oh wait…
Yeah, that doesn’t end well.
Okay, the Ivory Kings make sense. White light, overly powerful, and have done stuff like this before. But who could possibly oppose them, who could be the great destroyer? Who could even pose a threat? Who could have started all of this, given that the Ivory Kings seem to want it to happen? Who?
Oh. Yeah, that might do it. In the first Secret Wars, it’s Doom that beats the Beyonder, that takes its power. Even if only for a short while. And it’s the Molecule Man that he finds most interesting then – and the Molecule Man who he has with him as he hunts the multiverse for what caused the Incursions.
However, in this pursuit, and with the Molecule Man, he inadvertently finds – and they cause – Reed Richards’ “initial event” which began the collapse of the multiverse. It turns out the Molecule Man is a product of the Beyonders, and was always intended to be super powerful – because he is in effect a bomb primed to destroy the universe. And when he dies, he proceeds to do so.
So why has all this been happening? Because Doom goes back in time 25 years and starts killing Molecule Men early. And in so doing finds out that the Ivory Kings’ one weakness is that they cannot time travel. Which in an as-yet-largely-unexplained attack he tries to exploit…
Yeah, that doesn’t end well.
So I feel like a large number of the loose ends were cleaned up, many many of them in ways that clearly seemed planned from the beginning. Which from a storytelling standpoint is where you want to be. There are a number of threads at the very end of things that I am sure carry on into Secret Wars – like the liferaft that the Illuminati were building, or the Phoenix Egg that Cyclops was sitting on and talking (somewhat obsessively and creepily) about using. These things will come up again.
However, you can kind of tell that everything was going to end, when you stop and look back at just how much of the Marvel Universe Jonathan Hickman took apart throughout his series, without even counting whole universes. Let’s go with a bulleted list here:
- The obvious: all those planets the Builders destroyed.
- The Captain Britain Corps.
- The Infinity Gauntlet.
- The new invented characters like the Builders, the Ex Nihili, Abyss, Nightmask, and Star Brand. Also, I am seeing that Star Brand apparently wasn’t new, just this version was.
- Male Thor.
- The Shiar, Annihilus, and anyone else who came with them to attack Earth in the last couple issues.
- And oh yeah, the whole Marvel cosmology, like the Celestials, Eternity, and the Living Tribunal.
That’s a whole lot of future story potential suddenly off the table – unless things reboot. Which is inevitably where this is all heading.
However, I kind of like that there are multiple plans in place in advance to actually cause and create said reboot. You have the Illuminati and their ark, or Doom and his plans (to save something if you can’t save everything).
So yes, it’s comics and just about everything will come back, at some point and in some way. But for now, if you’re going to destroy the universe, this is a pretty good template for how.
Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the Secret Wars trades to read up on that – and then, I plan on taking a break from Marvel for a while. The last big break I took from Marvel was after Onslaught – who was defeated through the sacrifice of almost all of the heroes (who I think all came back eventually). It was big, felt final, and by stepping away from the comics continuity for over a decade, it kind of kept that ending for me. In the same way, I think I’m alright with this ending. Let the new beginning be for new readers – there are other comics for me to pursue and read in the mean time!