** SPOILERS AHEAD **
I really, really like Jonathan Hickman’s writing. I think he has some of the highest-concept ideas out there, and that he rivals Grant Morrison in ability to create long form, cohesive stories. Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four and his creation of FF showed the industry just what he could do with big name characters, and we read in awe. In the ‘Marvel NOW!’ era, Hickman has been promoted to the Avengers franchise, currently writing Avengers and New Avengers, two series that can be read separately, but ultimately connect in ways we are just beginning to see in the pages of Marvel’s newest crossover event for the fall, Infinity.
Now that I’ve gotten my praise for Hickman out of the way, let me say how much I disliked Infinity #1.
Crossover events used to be special in that they happened once a year (sometimes longer!) and had actual, tangible implications on the Marvel universe going forward. Though Avengers vs. X-Men did indeed usher in the entire ‘Marvel NOW!’ initiative, it took 12 issues and dozens of tie-in issues to explain what could have been said in a four-issue mini-series. Similarly, last Spring’s Age of Ultron was solicited as a major, major event for the Marvel universe that ended up falling very short of popular expectations and whose aftermath — which was oddly marketed as the highlight of the event from the get-go — has only really affected a handful of titles instead of having major recourse for an entire universe of characters. It’s like Marvel is getting worse with each subsequent event because Infinity already feels like a whole lot of overkill for very little payoff.
Infinity #1 is, simply put, a mess of an issue. Unless you’ve been reading Avengers AND New Avengers, I promise you will have no idea what’s going on because I struggled to keep up with the plot and I’ve read both series since issue one (of their ‘Marvel NOW!’ incarnations. I have not read every Avengers issue ever). This is a shame because Jim Cheung’s artwork is simply spectacular. Cheung is one of my favorite artists, and he excels on these pages with beautifully drawn characters, backgrounds, monsters, and fight sequences. What would have made his artwork even better is a cohesive story that wasn’t trying so hard to be highbrow.
While Hickman is a good writer, he’s overstepping his bounds with Infinity, trying to be super-intellectual instead of fun and interested. The various ‘interlude’ pages are annoying because they’re puzzling; the last thing I want to do when I’m in the middle of reading a comic book is pause for a few minutes every five pages to decipher some cryptic message about a portion of the story. I don’t know who told Hickman this technique would be a good idea for a comic series attract a wide variety of readers — it’s alienating and nearly insulting in it’s pretentiousness.
The real problem with Infinity #1, though, is how vaguely it’s written. What we do know is a lot of ‘whats’. We know there are some alien assassins running around. We know Thanos is involved somehow. We know the Avengers encounter some Skrulls on Earth for some reason. We know that the Kree were attacked by some mysterious fleet of universal builders whose trajectory is heading straight for Earth. What we don’t know, are the ‘whys’ of any of these events. Hickman is a master of long-form storytelling, and that works when he’s writing an ongoing series. For an event comic series called Infinity, though, this first issue is sorely lacking.
I doubt if I’ll event continue to read Infinity as a true crossover event. Marvel can market this mini series however it wants, but as it stands right now, Infinity is just a major point in Jonathan Hickman’s grand Avengers design. That’s not a bad thing, but when looking at the logistics of this being the second major crossover event of 2013 — and starting only two months after the previous one ended — it’s hard to justify jumping in when the learning curve is so freaking steep. If you read Hickman’s Avengers series, you’ll want to read Infinity because if you don’t, you’ll be lost after it’s over. Otherwise, this event may not be for you.