In this issue we get to see Namor and Black Panther share the same room, without the rest of the Illuminati, and not try to kill one another. They’re exchanging notes on what, if anything, can be done to prevent further incursions or, as Namor puts it, new ways to destroy worlds. Panther, however, has found something far more novel. The rest of the issue concerns itself with Earth 4,290,001, inhabited by a very familiar (though not legally actionable) “Great Society,” who rose to prominence after routing this Earth’s version of the Kree/Skrull War, which left the rest of Earth’s heroes decimated. Jonathan Hickman takes a break from the Earth we know and really focuses on this one, quickly establishing it and immediately showing that they, most definitely, do things differently from ours and one of the most interesting, even moving, of these things is a total reversal of Reed Richards and Black Swan’s grim refrain “Everything dies” to the far more optimistic, but somehow still morose in its own way “Everything lives.” The fact that such a wonderful sentiment can mean so many, often contradictory, things is a testament to Hickman’s brilliant, quick characterization and world-building.
Rags Morales swoops in, lending his ultra-expressive linework to an issue that badly needs exactly that. The eyes Morales draws, in particular, might not BE larger-than-average, but somehow they FEEL that way with how they communicate incredibly nuanced emotion with every slightest change. The level of detail and design work on characters we may never see again is also nothing to scoff at and Frank Martin’s colors bring those new characters to beautiful, vibrant life. This issue has some incredible contrasts from near-blinding brightness to morbid, dramatic darkness seamlessly and fluidly without breaking the pace nor negating the setting.
Like Hickman's Avengers before it, this is a TERRIBLE jumping-on point. We’re far too deep into concepts like Incursions, Mapmakers, Black Priests and Ivory Kings as well as Bridges/Mirrors and multidimensional travel for ANYone to do anything but go back much, much further than this if they’re going to jump on. I’ve been along for the ride many, many times on one of Hickman’s high-concept sci-fi notions, but I COMPLETELY lost the thread of just what was going on by issue’s end. When T’Challa is describing the events of this distant Earth to Namor, the visuals we get are of well-known Marvel U events that play out differently, but he doesn’t deign to identify who is who, using their new names, but using them somewhat arbitrarily, making following exactly who he’s talking about tricky, but that pales in comparison to the ending which I THINK I understood, and which will no doubt be expanded upon in later issues, but for now remains bordering on baffling.
Again, there have been times when Hickman has thrown us some pretty severe curveballs, this one just happen to swoop inward and strike me square in the forehead. Now that I’ve exhausted the extent of my baseball metaphor, I’ll just say that I still have faith in this all making sense in the end, but at this point there are too many loose threads (many of which are created by this issue alone) to assume everything will work out. The writing and art are still fascinating, and I imagine I’ll look back on this issue in the coming months and go “OOOOOOOOOH, THAT’S what that was!” and so I still highly recommend this title.