Jonathan Hickman would generally be classified, if he were a novelist, as a hard sci-fi writer. This isn’t to say that all of his ideas and notions are fully grounded in real science, that would invalidate the fiction, but like Kubrick’s 2001, his science fiction has SOME grounding and his ideas all have an internal logic. His Avengers title has been a bizarre, surreal and highly charged tale about cosmic beings forcing evolution and inscrutable entities with plans for Earth that don’t include nor take into account the lives of the six and a half billion sentient beings on it. Last issue had the new denizens of Mars launching Origin Bombs at Earth to remake large swaths of it into a perfected image, and this issue focuses on the one that fell in Regina, Canada and on the Alpha Flight team, and then Avengers, sent to investigate the disturbance. Hickman is a man of grandiose ideas, and these ideas take the front seat in this issue as his Avengers are quickly overwhelmed and outmatched by whatever is happening at the sites of these creation bombs.
Mike Deodato provides the pencils and inks while Frank Martin provides colors, and it’s a great shift in Deodato’s art. I’ve had a turbulent relationship with his particular style, I first became aware of it when his photo-reffing was at an almost Greg Land level and Peter Parker’s comic persona looked like Freddie Prinze Jr. was auditioning for the part of the web-slinger using Deodato’s pencils as a proof-of-concept. His visuals have also been muddied and somewhat indistinct, which he’s definitely made work for him in the past, but here it seems another style has taken over. It’s a much clearer, sharper style. I’ve honestly never seen Deodato’s pencils and inking look THIS crisp and his characters look so unique and original as opposed to referenced. Whether it’s the prestige of working on a book like Avengers or a stylistic change to his entire formula, it’s to be commended. If his name wasn’t on the cover of the book, I’d have scarcely guessed it was him, and again I’ve enjoyed his work before. In the midst of Hickman’s mad plotting, Deodato’s visuals let you know EXACTLY what’s going on in every panel.
This book is, at times, incomprehensible to the point of being near nonsense. I’ve been absolutely on-board with Hickman’s run on both Avengers and New Avengers, both of which have twisted into a bizarre, high-concept sci-fi narrative, but I honestly have a hard time following exactly what’s going on in this issue narratively. He’s also very, very focused on the plot and arc, so the characters get short shrift and don’t have a great deal added to them. He’s working with very well-established characters, so it’s not a huge flaw, but it should have a clearer storyline in that case.
Also: Alpha Flight just can’t seem to catch a break, can they? Without giving away too much, I’ll say that this is an entirely new Alpha Flight, supposedly Canada’s most elite superteam, and they are not shown to be a credible force in the least. Additionally, the leader’s name is always very, very silly. From Vindicator to Validator, it sounds like she should be making you feel right about the life choices you've made. I can’t tell if that’s meant to be the joke or not, and that’s not a good thing.
It truly is a shining statement about this book that I enjoy it as much as I do despite not understanding a huge swaths of it. I have a feeling this, and much of Hickman’s work, will read much, much better in trade as even the brief week’s delay between issues makes the plot difficult to piece together. But as it is, this is an issue for those already invested in the Avengers in general, as well as this storyline. The characters don’t develop, they are who they are and your enjoyment of this book runs almost directly parallel to how much you enjoy the cast in the first place. It just so happens that I enjoy them very much.