Captain America (Steve Rogers): Leader. WWII Super-Soldier. Brief member of the Illuminati forcibly removed through magical memory wipe. Also a member of Avengers Unity Squad (Uncanny Avengers) and solo adventurer.
Iron Man (Tony Stark): The backer. Also active member of Illuminati. The Incursion threats the secret group faces informs Tony’s “suggestion” that Steve should build “The Avengers Machine”. Takes a stint to have deep space working vacation guest-starring with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Phones it in with robot surrogates via interstellar VOIP or whatever…
Thor Odinson: God of Thunder. And Rock and Roll. Hammer. Lightning. Cape. Also member of Unity Squad. Loves mead.
Hulk (Bruce Banner): Gamma rage monster and nuclear physics genius. This is an era wherein Banner gets it together enough to demand the respect his peers have always taken for granted. Joins S.H.I.E.L.D. and gets his own research team in exchange for them putting the Hulk to good use.
Black Widow (Natalia Romanova): Deadly red-headed Russian super-spy. Part time nanotech-manipulated asset of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Secret Avengers “team”.
Hawkeye (Clint Barton): World’s greatest marksman. During his off hours, he likes to be the “Hawkguy” and buys his building in Brooklyn to keep his neighbors from being evicted. Trouble ensues. Also recurring asset of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Secret Avengers program.
Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers): Field deputy. Super-strength. Flight. Energy manipulation. Events of Avengers vs. X-Men make Carol re-examine and drive her to go farther and faster.
Spider-Man (Peter Parker/Otto Octavius “Peter Parker”): Amazing. Spectacular. Friendly Neighborhood. A mainstay of the franchise since 2004, Peter is bodyjacked by his arch-nemesis early on in the run. Being all about the secret identity, none of his teammates are all that tipped off as Spidey’s always been a bit weird. Now it just seems like he’s just going through a “Superior” d-bag phase.
Wolverine (James “Logan” Howlett)”: The best there is. So good he continues to straddle two monster team franchises and various monthly solo outings. Also a member of the Unity Squad to tie the whole thing together.
Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew): Child of Hydra. Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and the Joss Whedon-created space agency S.W.O.R.D.) She’s even been impersonated by the queen of shapeshifting Skrull zealots. No relation to Spider-Man. Jess comes into this era still a bit of a “hot mess” and her relationship with Barton comes off the rails due to his Hawkguy shenanigans. Carol Danvers remains her BFF. Drew features heavily in the sidebar series Avengers Assemble.
Falcon (Sam Wilson): An on-again/off-again staple since the 70s, all Steve has to do is ask.
Cannonball (Sam Guthrie): Former X-Man and teenage New Mutant graduates to the big leagues. Nigh invulnerable when he’s blastin’ (or so Chris Claremont would have us believe)…
Sunspot (Roberto da Costa): Cannonball’s New Mutant BFF and super-strength solar battery. Bobby is also super-rich and super-vocal.
Shang-Chi: Deadly-handed master of kung fu. Former British Intelligence agent and occasional associate of Steve Rogers’ Secret Avengers squad. Joins main team and gets dope track suit. Tony Stark makes him some high-tech nunchucks. But his hand still slices space metal. Becomes something of team’s default counselor.
Manifold (Eden Fesi): Interspatial teleporter. Former member of Nick Fury’s Secret Warrior “caterpillars” and somewhat reluctant to superhero. Eden’s powers (or at least his station as “Manifold”) appear fairly significant to JH’s endgame into 2015’s Secret Wars.
Hyperion (Marcus Milton): All-new version of the stock Marvel riff on Superman. Like his predecessors, “Marcus” is the alien hero of an alternate Earth. However, he has absolutely nothing to do with the Squadron Supreme of classic Avengers stories but is instead a survivor of an early multiversal Incursion. Brought to main Marvel (Earth-616) by AIM scientists and imprisoned, he’s liberated by the Avengers just prior to the Illuminati’s awareness of the Incursion phenomenon.
Smasher (Isabel Kane): Another all-new take on another Marvel-vamps-DC property. “Smasher” is a hero class of the intergalactic Shi’ar Empire’s Imperial Guard, a loosely-veiled homage to the Legion of Super-Heroes. For almost forty years, they’re been background for many an X-Men story. Through fate or fortune, Izzy becomes the first human to ever become a sub-guardian Smasher and during the course of events becomes a front-line Super-Guardian. Pulling split-duty between the two groups, she also has a bit of a love triangle going with Sunspot and Cannonball.
Captain Universe (Tamara Devoux): The latest host of the Enigma Force or Uni-Power or whatever it wants to call itself. Once upon a time, it came from the Micronauts comic as means of any Joe Schmoe becoming a temporary super-hero in a time of dire need. Since then it’s found its way around, mixing it up with everyone from the Silver Surfer to Spider-Man. It’s a manifestation of the actual universe, so its presence is pretty important. However, her current host is a former coma patient involved in a car accident. Enshrouded in mystery, she also cryptically denounces that everything is “broken”.
Nightmask (“Adam”): An artificial being created in Ex Nihilo’s Garden on Mars. Self-described as an “arbiter of the White Event”, he possesses still wholly-undefined cosmically sensitive powers. He also has the ability to converse with machines and is usually surrounded by weird energy halos.
Starbrand (Kevin Connor): An unremarkable college student given extraordinary powers by the White Event. Described as a “planetary defense system”, Kevin’s early inexperience with such incalculable power led to his being quarantined. Gaining better control, he and Nightmask join the Avengers when Cap enlists their aid against the intergalactic threat of the Builders.
Ex Nihilo: Godlike cosmic being known as a Gardener. Possesses powers/technology to terraform and evolve worlds. Control over plants and energy blasts. Originally adversarial, joins Avengers at request of Captain Universe in battle against the Builders.
Abyss: Originally a species of counterpart beings to judge the works of the Gardeners, Ex Nihilo’s sister is the last of her kind. She appears to be made of a living gas and has telepathically manipulative abilities. She has a thing for Thor.
Iron Man (Tony Stark): Still the same guy as above. Still the only current Avenger who knows the secret group is again active (once Cap’s memory gets wiped, of course).
Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards): No longer writing him in Fantastic Four, Hickman has Reed occasionally sneak away from the Fam for the increasingly clockwork crises. Like Stark’s whole GotG workaround, JH makes sly winks that Reed’s presence at times may be something of smoke and mirrors- accounting for Matt Fraction’s concurrent extended space-time road trip in their home mag.
Doctor Strange (Stephen Strange): Sorcerer Supreme and Master of the Mystic Arts. During Bendis’s run, Strange lost his title, his station and had his powers depleted- the goal having him “walk the Earth like Caine in Kung Fu“. Having gone through these protracted trials and proving himself again worthy, Hickman is a firm believer in the “Helter Skelter” philosophy- with the getting to the bottom and getting back to the top of the slide to do it again…
Namor: Forget the last name. Forget “The Sub-Mariner”. Five letters, Imperius Rex! Marvel’s original Golden Age anti-hero makes no bones about this perennial gathering being about nothing less than strategic privilege and self-preservation. His tune doesn’t even change in the time the only human he’s ever respected is involved (Cap).
Black Bolt (Blackagar Boltagon): How awkward that must’ve been when wifey Medusa answers the “Illuminati Signal” (that time Cap found out)?? Sucks being dead, huh? Anyway, four additional wives later, Blackagar is back! (AC/DC hornthrow!)
Beast (Dr. Henry McCoy): Completely separate from the “Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” storyline, Chuck wills his Infinity Gem and place in think tank to Furry Frasier. The new kid on the block, Hank soon makes himself a home on the slippery ethics slope. Shortly after his brisk indoctrination, his mutation fatally flares up and requires drastic measures. The result is his selfish abuse of the already-fragile timestream as he pulls his past self and original X-Men classmates into the present, precipitating the events in Bendis’s All-New X-Men.
Black Panther (T’Challa): Originally asked to join the group at its Silver/Bronze Age “inception”, T’Challa rebukes the offer and advises his colleagues to instead disband. Years later, circumstances being what they are, he calls upon the Illuminati to reform (including Namor). He annuls his marriage to Storm as a result of AVX.
The Illuminati also have a number of “close associates”. Some are by design, some are by convenience. Some are just family…
Dora Milaje: Black Panther’s personal bodyguards. Evidently holding on to these lethal ladies was part of the deal when T’Challa got the new job. Although sworn to secrecy, they are none too happy that Wakanda’s Public Enemy #1 (Namor) freely roams around Necropolis.
Maximus Boltagon: Black Bolt’s dented brother. It’s a whole lotta Thor/Loki dynamic but co-mingled with a copious amount of “what if Reed/Tony/Hank Pym went wrong”. The deeper BB gets in with the dirty deeds, the more transparent he becomes in seeking the counsel/absolution of Maximus The Mad.
Lockjaw: The giant Inhuman dog with the tuning fork antenna. As a teleporter, Lockjaw remains as always the Boltagon Brothers personal silent getaway car.
Black Swan (Yabbat Ummon Turru): Cunning yet adversarial survivor of past Multiversal Incursions, there is a great layering to “Black Swan”. Named after the otherdimensional sisterhood that rescued her, Yabbat is actually from a royal family of an alternate Earth culled by the Black Priests (more in a bit). There’s heavy allusions that she’s not all as “down for the cause” as she may seem, holding back a secret personal agenda. Upon her capture, the boys take turns doing individual Silence of the Lambs-esque “quid pro quo” scenes until they let her out as a short-leash field advisor.
The Action: The underlying issue: Multiversal collapse. The Avengers/Illuminati arrive at this realization in varying degrees (the former by a much longer route). Chronologically, the earliest Incursion (collapse incident) is observed by AIM. Exercising their new freedoms as a corporate science-nation, Dr. Forson’s beekeepers go poking around the Multiverse with a device referred to as “The Auger”. To their surprise, they procure the sole survivor of two alternate Earths crashing into one another: an all-new Hyperion, a familiar paradigm based on every classic Squadron Supreme/Sinister configuration since 1969. Incarcerated by AIM, the Avengers liberate him shortly thereafter.
Not long after that, T’Challa leads a fateful expedition into a first-hand Incursion. Starting as a rite of passage for Wakandan youth, Black Panther and company encounter Black Swan and her goon entourage hopping from a dead Earth to our world. A fight ensues with many casualties but results in the Panther taking the Swan as captive. Left with little choice, he’s not calling Ghostbusters…
After assessing the situation and suffering a debilitating setback when the next Incursion hits (the accidental destruction of the Infinity Gems), the Illuminati “deal Captain America out”. After dumping Steve back in his bed at Avengers Tower with a copy of yesterday’s newspaper (not really, that last part), Iron Man dresses this up as the Avengers next-levelling their game (ie, putting Hyperion to good use) but really this is him building a better planetary defense network without having to say so. Better yet, call it Steve frikkin’ Rogers’s idea. Yeah- can’t backfire then. No way…
The fifth volume of Avengers kicks off with a narrative that frames all of the events as a flashback. Whoever the voice is remains yet to be seen but most significant is the Cap/Iron Man redux- framing one as “life” and the other “death”.
The Avengers get properly immersed when Ex Nihilo and Abyss arrive on Mars, terraforming a portion into a vegetative Garden with breathable atmosphere. Aside from hydroponically growing their own human (“Adam” aka Nightmask), they take to launching several “Origin Bombs” at Earth, genetic payloads capable of flash-evolving vast quantities of terrestrial flora and fauna.
Reacting in kind after six or seven shots are fired, the movie-squad Avengers forcibly intervene. Following a brief skirmish, all are captured but Cap- sent back as a warning. Little did Ex Nihilo bargain Steve just spent the last fortnight networking for just such an occasion. This gives Cap opportunity to “wake the world”.
Returning to Mars, the second wave liberates the other Avengers but what really turns the tide is the presence of Captain Universe. Revering “The Mother”, Ex Nihilo backs off as the skirmish resolves more as a misunderstanding. All of the hostility stems from Ex Nihilo and Abyss’s robotic Aleph caretaker, reverting to a belligerent default and intent on eradicating all.
Overcoming the Aleph, the Avengers return home with “Adam”, beginning to investigate the Origin Bomb sites. Tony slips away, coming to the grim realization with the Illuminati that they’ll have to destroy other Earths to survive.
Speaking of survival, the matter of Smasher’s shared membership soon comes to light as the Avengers lend an impromptu hand to an invasion on a distant Shi’ar outpost. The grim discovery is that it’s not so much an invasion as it is an overly-aggressive “run for your lives” space pirate free-for-all. Something’s got them spooked. But what?
Back on Earth, “Adam” becomes more and more cogent, babbling to Captain Universe about something called “The White Event”. Remember Jim Shooter’s “New Universe” and that random issue of Quasar from the early 90s? Yeah, somehow these better-left-forgotten stories of yesteryear are now strangely hyper-relevant.
Unknown to the Avengers, on the macro-est of scales allowable, the Multiversal collapse is witnessed by agents of the Builders’ network. Stationed in satellites throughout the Superflow (the padding between realities), many begin to go offline. Charged with releasing “The White Event” into their respective Universes, 616’s goes off with complication.
Hearkening back and enriching the mythology, Hickman picks up on former EIC Jim Shooter’s unlikely mid-80s Marvel imprint. In the original, a phenomenon occurs in the “plain old real world” imbuing select individuals with comic book-y super powers. Never truly catching due largely to Shooter’s ham-fisted and short-sightedly two-dimensional direction, things just kind of fizzle out. Mining something from the slag heap, Hickman repurposes portions to fit his story- operating from a “system error” standpoint.
Once color returns to the sky, the Avengers respond to a “ground zero”-type phenomenon at a college. Unable to control his new Starbrand powers, student Kevin Connor takes off with similarly-affected “Adam” (aka Nightmask) in pursuit. First learning a bit more about the Collapse, they next travel to Mars, receiving fine-tuning (parenting) from Ex Nihilo and Abyss before returning to Earth, thinking they know everything.
Encountering one of the Origin Bomb points in Croatia, Starbrand and Nightmask witness the evolution of Earth’s living consciousness as a collective being. Before this even sinks in, Starbrand accidentally kills it as it reaches out to grok Nightmask. Realizing that maybe they’re too much babysitting hassle than they’re worth in the immediate, Tony offers to take care of them “top men” Raiders-style. What this means is that they cool their heels in “Sol’s Hammer”, a Dyson sphere-based Illuminati doomsday project until. Think of it as the Danger Room but with the remoteness of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Renewing attention to the other Origin Bomb sites, the Avengers take advantage of their increased roster and hit several in smaller groups. Cap and Wolverine head to Canada when S.H.I.E.L.D. is reluctantly called in. Wanting to handle matters entirely in-house, Canadian super-agents remain tight-lipped except for bare minimum facts. The latest incarnation of state-sanctioned Omega Flight enters the Origin Bomb site and goes missing. The Avengers go in and encounter. Some weird “scene missing” crap happens and Origin co-opted Omega Flight operative Validator shunts the Avengers out of the zone. Their Canadian government liaison can’t handle any of it- as he just also happens to be Validator’s father, so he blows his brains out! In all, a mysterious and unsettling escapade.
The other groups fare slightly better. Thor, Hyperion, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman return to the Savage Land. Hyperion digs in deep on parenting the remarkable Origin-induced Children of the Sun (aka “Zebra Kids”, which just sounds offensive) while the High Evolutionary busts out a variation on the equally back issue-worthy Terminus.
Captain Marvel’s cell strikes a great balance between James Bond and Ocean’s Eleven, hitting a high-end black market “anything goes” casino for information on AIM’s appropriation of an Origin Bomb specimen. Turns out AIM’s there to hire muscle. Shang-Chi kung fu’s it up like Bruce Lee but the real winner is Sunspot, using his vast wealth and charm to bribe a faction of AIM techs to flip. This development will play out further…
Shortly thereafter, other Origin sites come online. The one in Australia, reshaping life into bug-like creatures begins emitting a powerful mass transmission- much like cicadas in summer. Except affecting EMPs on a global scale. The Avengers respond and are overtaken by reinforcements from another Origin site- giant multi-faced blockheaded statue warriors. Basically, picture the Easter Island heads mixed with the Awesome Android of Fantastic Four and She-Hulk fame.
While the Avengers are on the ropes, AIM’s “mystery cocoon” springs loose and responds to the crisis in Perth. Acting on behalf of its transformed brethren, the Manga-esque robot thing puts the final kibosh on the Avengers. Looking to retrieve their pet project, AIM arrives and takes advantage of the Avengers’ prone state. They just secure some cell samples from each and every one of them. No big deal…
Meanwhile, Captain Universe feels a disturbance in the Force or whatever and begins acting more erratic than usual. She takes Manifold back out to the far reaches of space and implores him to warn the others that they need to “get bigger” (there’s that phrase again). Wonder if it has anything to do with that bug signal in Perth?
As this is going down, Thanos launches into his latest scheme. Returning somewhat to his piratous roots, Thanos reveals a hitherto unseen cabinet of dastardly lieutenants, referred to as “The Black Order”. Employing stealthy spy-hounds to gain intelligence on off-limits Earth, Thanos is after something. It’s not readily apparent what but it’s not the Infinity Gems this time (his go-to schtick). Either way, he divines that the Illuminati are the key and will use their locations as strategic targets.
Just in time for this to happen, Iron Man returns home from personally endorsing a raccoon and a tree. On his way past The Moon, he and Uatu The Watcher discover the corpse of The Living Tribunal, the multiversal manifestation of judgment, aka the highest-order muckity muck around. Bad news to share with Reed and subplot for a rainy day….
Captain Universe’s deep-space threat is The Builders, one of the original alien races to emerge after Marvel’s Big Bang. Their exact place in the hierarchy of other such all-powerful and ancient beings (Celestials/ Elders of the Universe) is unknown as Hickman created them for this story. Suffice to say for internal purposes, they created Ex Nihilo’s species of Gardeners. The Alephs answer to them and they claim to have a hand in seeding life throughout all of the universe. At one point, they turned against “The Mother” (aka Captain Universe) and now they are destroying all of creation, cutting a deadly intergalactic swath towards Earth.
Unaware of the final goal, the Intergalactic Council just knows that they’re in the crosshairs of something big and scary. In recalling Smasher to the Imperial Guard, the Avengers saddle up to be counted among the stars. However, while the cat’s away…
What ensues from here is the Hickman-led event series of 2013, Infinity. Cap and company draft the untried “Kosmik Kooky Quartet” (Starbrand, Nightmask, Ex Nihilo and Abyss) into service while Iron Man claims he’ll handle the home front. What that’s code for is “I have secret stuff to do, Steve”. Little does he realize Thanos is on the move.
Sensing vulnerability, Thanos and the Black Order lay siege to Earth. Partially repelled in New York, the event also gives way to an impromptu gathering of heroes (Luke Cage, She-Hulk and 80s Captain Marvel Monica Rambeau, et al) assembling on a recurring basis as “The Mighty Avengers”.
The Illuminati don’t hold up as well, falling for the old “divide and conquer”. Already pushed to his philosophical and ethical edge in pursuit of solutions to the Incursion dilemma, Dr. Strange easily falls prey to the toxically-suggestive words of the Black Order’s Ebony Maw.
Both Wakanda and Atlantis are pummeled more traditionally. However, in both cases, Thanos’s invasion actually trumps their private war already in progress. Namor uses the alien forces as leverage to further weaken Wakanda, also inadvertently turning The Order’s attention to the Illuminati’s stockpile of Multiversal WMDs awaiting in Necropolis. Whoops…
However, the biggest fallout comes from Thanos’s one-on-one confrontation with Black Bolt. Turns out the thing Thanos is really after is his own son, so he can kill him. Ol’ prune-chin has reason to believe he sired a half-Inhuman and the surest way to collect is to take all of the kids within a certain age.
Being the wily Celestial Messiah that he is, Black Bolt has planned for a crisis of this magnitude. Instead of surrendering anyone, BB goads Thanos into combat aboard a deserted Attilan. Still floating high over New York, Boltagon unleashes the full might of his deadly sonic powers against The Mad Titan. In the process, he also triggers a super-potent Terrigen Bomb- dispersing the Inhumans’ transformative Terrigen Crystals far across the globe, awakening lost tribes as Attilan crashes into New York Harbor.
Racing against time and Thanos, the Illuminati scour the globe. Unfortunately, Ebony Maw’s hooks are in deep with Strange, who discover the whereabouts of the son, Thane. Playing less-than-straight with Thanos, Maw sidles on over to Thane instead, sensing his immense power and easy impressionability.
Before being able to act further, the Illuminati are called away on another Incursion crisis. During the incident, they gain greater insight into the Builders’ destructive reasoning: destroy the Earth or the greater universe will die. This is evidently happening throughout all timelines.
Getting word of what’s been going down after a decisive victory, Cap and the deep-space contingent high-tail it home for Thanos’s ultimate ass-handing. The Illuminati guess correctly that Necropolis is pillaged in their absence however they take Thanos and two of his goons as trophies, encased in amber and placed among their other prisoners, Black Swan and Terrax The Truly Enlightened.
Somehow, Cap never says “boo” about any of this. Being a 1940s guy, he’s probably okay with the blanket “top men” explanation. Right?
That’s better than what the Panther gets, the Dora Milaje out him to Shuri- tattling that he’s been colluding with State Enemy #1 (Namor). Do they not realize T’Challa’s already sworn to kill him when this is all done?? [MORE→]