The Great Infinity Face-Off, Part One: "Avengers #21"

Troy Wheatley

As Infinity reaches its climactic finale, PopMatters is proud to present a good, old-fashioned title fit between cornerstone books Avengers and New Avengers. Today, Avengers #21.

Avengers #21

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2013-12

It’s October, and we’re now two-thirds of the way down the Infinity checklist, with the release of Avengers #21 (denoted by the square box on the checklist’s left-hand side), and New Avengers #11 (denoted by the diamond box on the right-hand side). The PopMatters team have determined that this presents the opportunity for a good old "versus" battle, a "face-off". So today, we will look at the the latest Avengers issue, and then in Part Two the Infinity tie-in over in New Avengers. Insert your favourite pre-fight catchphrase here!

How though do we determine the relative success of these issues? What is Infinity trying to achieve? The premise of Infinity is that countless worlds, including Earth, are facing potential destruction at the hands of the insanely powerful Builders. But no reader really believes that, at the end of all of this, Marvel 616 Earth will have made way for an intergalactic highway, or something of the sort. To me then, there seems to be three ways in which Infinity is looking to capture an audience.

First, while the Marvel 616 Earth will be safe, all other worlds, and indeed all other Earths, look to be up for grabs (or more accurately and grimly, up for demolition). One point of interest for the reader then is how many of these will be lost along the way before the Builders’ plans are halted.

The second point, related to the first, is how the threat of intergalactic destruction influences the choices that the characters make, and how those choices will change and define them? Think of this as The Walking Dead game criterion. And again relating back to the first point, what sort of consequences will those choices have for all the non-616 Earth worlds?

Third, given the cosmic scale of these books, there is what I will call the ‘wow factor’. How many moments in these books make your eyes pop out of your head at the sheer awesomeness of what is going on? Or on a smaller scale, what moments relating to a particular character or characters have a lasting emotional impact?

Alright, got it? Let’s go!

Level of Cataclysm: After last issue’s apparent victory, with Thor punching a hole through a Builder (more on that in point #2), the Kree Supremor ramps up the level of dread by labelling it a ‘damned’ anomaly, and claiming that the victory was nothing. A few pages later the destruction continues, with the Skrull warlords paying a heavy cost, while the Shi’ar pay a heavier one. The likelihood of cataclysm becomes high enough that the united intergalactic forces have to resort to a desperate gambit – release the deadly Annihilation Wave. Ex Nihilo claims ‘we need a miracle’ – and the Avengers get one – which leads the Builders to ramp up the stakes even further. So the danger is high, but somehow the tension doesn’t quite seem to match it. Maybe it is because the Avengers have been at roughly this level of danger for a while now in the overall Infinity storyline; also most of the danger in this issue (the Skrull and Shi’ar battles) is related to the reader in an indirect way. By contrast, making the inevitable comparison to Crisis On Infinite Earths, having the character of Pariah witness the destruction of worlds made the cataclysm seem much more intense. Still, I think it’s enough to keep readers interested in the next instalment.

Difficult Choices: The main character moment in this issue is actually a reprise of the climactic moment from the last issue, where Captain America and Thor deceive, and thereby destroy, one on the Builders. This point deserves some attention – can anyone imagine Cap or Thor doing this any time before the past five years? And yet I don’t imagine this is going to haunt them in the same way as, say, the Avengers hunting down the Supreme Intelligence in ‘Operation: Galactic Storm’ affected Cap then. Further, Captain America does not show much hesitation in ordering the release of the Annihilation Wave. If Captain America’s choices in Infinity have re-defined him, they appear to have re-defined him as a commander willing to ‘open the gates of hell’ to get the job done. At this rate, the Illuminati over in New Avengers might yet welcome him back into the fold.

"Wow Factor:" There are really three moments that stand out for me here: the Kree technicians fixing up the Supremor – always a visually striking character – the release of the Annihilation Wave, and the recovery of Captain Universe. Leinil Francis Yu’s art, while of good quality, tends to be patchy and cluttered here, and therefore perhaps does not give these moments the space they deserve. The moment of Captain Universe’s return though is a winner. Hickman and Yu manage to pace it out as the potential turning of the tide, with Yu’s low-angle shots emphasising her role as possible saviour. Alas, the character with the greatest capacity to elicit ‘wows’ in this story, Thanos, is nowhere to be seen.

In summary, Avengers #21 is, in my view, likely to be somewhat successful in having an effect upon its readers. The middle parts of events are often the hardest to keep the readers turning the pages over, and without being spectacular, this issue is probably going to propel those who have been following so far to pick up the final instalments. Can New Avengers over in the diamond-boxed corner top it? Stay tuned.

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