Black Swan has been one of the biggest mysteries in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers run, and here we finally get some backstory on the enigmatic woman. But we get far more than that as the Illuminati try to further still deal with the Incursions by observing more of them and trying to find something, anything, that will give them a leg up or, preferably, help them stop the Events from happening altogether. This is definitely one of the more “technical” issues, as evidenced by Beast and Reed Richards getting the lion’s share of the dialog, but Hickman’s done a fantastic job of establishing his new universes and the rules that hold them together, so it never feels like he’s making it up as he goes. This is the true strength of a great sci-fi or fantasy writer: it all feels organic and natural, and that’s definitely the case here. He never trades jargon for characters, though, as we get a great moment of Tony Stark literally throwing his hands up and proclaiming that he doesn’t understand what’s going on, despite being a genius engineer. T’Challa’s constant mask actually provides some incredible imagery, as he never takes it off in the issue and it makes him seem all the more grim and sincere, particularly when you consider where the issue takes place. We even get some startling revelations about how The Bridge works, most of which lead to some pretty horrific imagery.
Simone Bianchi is fantastic on this title. He’s proven his range before and it, quite literally, does span from fantasy surreal realism (if that makes sense), and here he proves that he can do sci-fi just as well. His visuals are muddy but never indistinct, and he brings these strange characters to vibrant life with his incredible pencil work, but while he also works on the inks, credit must be given to Riccardo Pieruccini for giving the grim visuals their sense of depth and detail along with the colors of Adriano Dall’Alpi. The art never becomes difficult to follow and it communicates the necessary details of the story with a kind of gorgeous darkness. This definitely isn’t a fluid style, but since it’s about people viewing moments in time, it actually serves the issue wonderfully, giving a sense of the moment.
To start with a nitpick: beast still appears in his leonine mutation despite his apelike one having already appeared in the title. The larger complaint emerges near the end, when the Illuminati are peering into Black Swan’s final appearance. There’s a transition that makes it feels like there is at least one, if not more, missing pages, to the point that there's art on the borders of both pages around the ad appear to have fragments of panels like a misprint, which could explain the jump.
Pacing issues aside, this book is still one of the most thought-provoking on the shelf with its emphasis on morality and multidimensional theory that feels more genuine and grounded than such things generally do in comics. Much in the same way that gravity has recently been leant to the notion of time travel in the Marvel U, I feel like other dimensions and the consequences of what happens therein haven’t been the focal point of comics in this way since the early days of Exiles. The visuals are beautifully apropos and, apart from what I mention above, very clear and flowing. This is one of the most thought-provoking superhero books on the shelf.