An event comic is designed to do a number of things for a comic book publisher. Status quo changes, chart-topping sales and outlining the shape of a brand’s future seem to be the main objectives, from the outside looking in.
For us as readers, an event should represent the peak of our interest in the characters of Marvel, DC or anyone else weaving a morass of familiar iconography together into one complex story. Due to their very nature, events can be contentious and regarded as cynical by the readership; the experience of reading a strong one, though, is entirely rewarding and can offer a fresh angle on the type of story you might’ve read a hundred times before.
Infinity is Marvel’s best event comic to date
Marvel’s Infinity, which recently came to a close after six issues, was my favourite event comic to date. An ambitious sci-fi epic told across the main six-issue Infinity miniseries, as well as Jonathan Hickman’s accompanying tonally divergent Avengers and New Avengers titles, it’s a terrifically fun story where the iconic moments are well-earned by taking the time to focus on characterisation in the midst of such a grand narrative.
Infinity’s premise reminded me favourably of Mass Effect’s, at least early on: an unstoppable ancient race, called the Builders, return to eliminate every species in their path on their way to Earth, in a pursuit to course correct reality. In the way of the Builders stands the Galactic Council, a shaky alliance composed of the many alien races within Marvel’s cosmic sphere, and on the edge of that frail dynamic stands mankind’s representatives, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Meanwhile, intergalactic butcher extraordinaire Thanos is in search of his incognito son Thane, which brings him to blows with the Inhumans residing on the hidden city of Attilan. While the eyes of the Avengers are off Earth, Thanos and his forces subsequently take the planet.
Infinity is about life and death
Life, death and the relationship between the two are major themes of Hickman’s overall Avengers story, and Infinity brings those ideas into a larger framework. During the six-issue run, worlds fall and rise, hope is lost then regained and sacrifices are made to achieve victory. A vast array of characters move in and out of the story, including a few that’ll figure as major players in the Marvel movies with Guardians Of The Galaxy and subsequent Avengers pictures. This is a fairly good primer for all of that stuff, actually.
Infinity shifts from the Galactic Council’s early failure at the hands of the Builders fleet to their gradual and passionate fightback. The Avengers are there at every key stage of the resistance, and Hickman throws a lot of focus on the changing perception of mankind by the larger Marvel cosmos in Infinity, which progresses significantly as Captain America and company prove to be invaluable in sussing out the Builders’ weaknesses. This, for me, has been the most interesting part of Infinity, and again recalls Mass Effect in the way Hickman portrays humanity as the underdogs who thrive under life-threatening circumstances.
The crowd-pleasing moments of Infinity are certainly earned, too. While it’s very easy for an event comic to become a superhero pile-up, here Hickman uses action sparingly to lend key moments the weight they deserve. The moment everyone will likely take away from Infinity is Thor’s meeting with a Builder in issue four, a fake surrender where the God of Thunder publically trashes his foe while the entire oppressed galaxy watches, awakening their will to fight and sparking the rebellion against their invaders. My local comic shop owner called it a ‘Rocky moment’, and he’s 100 per cent correct – Thor demolishing an enemy with Mjolnir is of course a familiar visual, but the framing of the moment is truly spectacular.
Then there’s Thanos’s encounter with Black Bolt in the deserted city of Attilan, presented like a Wild West duel with the highest of stakes, or Hyperion tearing an enemy open with heat vision in this week’s issue six. The question of how you make comic book superheroes fighting villains feel fresh is always answered by context and, in this case specifically, structure as well.
Infinity makes the Avengers truly iconic
The concept of an ‘Avengers World’ is explored numerous times from the start of Hickman’s run on The Avengers. As alien races raise banners bearing the Avengers insignia as a literal symbol of defiance in Infinity, that idea becomes fully formed and even quite inspiring to read, a sense of feedback I rarely get from superhero books. That, to me, is what’s different about Infinity to other events – it actually gives the heroes a straightforward victory without any painful moral price to pay. There’s fallout to the story alright, but the main players of the piece get to enjoy a win. That’s a simple thing to enjoy, but a relatively clean victory somehow ends up being quite refreshing.
I think pacing has a lot to do with the success of Infinity. Hickman weaves in a large cast of characters organically, avoiding the tendency of events to throw in too many talking heads at once or spend an excessive amount of time focusing on fan-pleasing skirmishes that distract from the overall narrative. His eclectic Avengers cast – which includes pleasingly obscure additions like Smasher, Captain Universe and the aforementioned Hyperion – logically only make a significant appearance when the story demands it. This helps ground the scope of Infinity, ensuring the reader is never lost in a sea of angry alien species and everyone in the galaxy throwing firepower at the Builders.
Marvel threw a number of its most talented artists at Infinity, too, who each offer splendid work – Leinil Yu’s stint on The Avengers provides indulgently detailed space battles between the Galactic Council/Avengers alliance and the Builders, while Jim Cheung, Jerome Opeña and Dustin Weaver are charged with alternating between epic moments of worlds collapsing and the character moments that bridge them together in the main Infinity narrative.
Infinity offers closure where other events fail
Infinity succeeds where other events falter in granting closure to its proposed arc. While setting up Marvel’s next big event, Inhumanity, is a concern that eats up a fair chunk of the final issue’s page count, the conflict with the Builders is brought to a very satisfying resolution in the preceding issue. Hickman’s tale doesn’t run aground in setting up Inhumanity, either, and to the last battle with Thanos on Earth it remains utterly compelling.
Marvel NOW has been an invigorating refresh of the publisher’s stable of characters, allowing writers and artists to find new angles on icons that are sometimes provocative and in most cases well worth talking about. For me, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run is one of the best exponents of that initiative, and Infinity embodies that success by showing how to put together a great event book off the back of a delicately constructed narrative.
“We were Avengers.” This piece of narration from the start of Hickman’s Avengers run in late 2012 encompasses the success of his storytelling with these characters, for me. These stories of the Avengers are framed like legends by the writer, told many years down the line by some unknown narrator, and that has imbued all the events leading up to and including Infinity with a higher meaning that will hopefully pay off in the years to come. For now, though, the Marvel reader has a lot to be satisfied with in Infinity – a complete-feeling event story that may renew a reader’s faith in such tales.