Jonathan Hickman has, at his most consistent, written a multi-title storyline that has never lacked for scale. Planets crashing into planets, universes in peril, the closest thing to the Avengers VS the Justice League that we’re likely to see anytime in the near future, Hickman has made one of the “biggest” story arcs that Marvel’s ever seen, and in a company like this, that is truly saying something. This issue gives even MORE to that sense of grandiosity as Hickman picks up with the Shi’Ar Imperial fleet surrounding Earth in an effort to obliterate it and stop the incursions into the 616 universe once and for all. Hickman also shows what Tony Stark and the rest of the Illuminati have been up to, as well as some counter-measures courtesy of the newly Sunspot-owned A.I.M., all contributing to the gigantic feel that permeates the entire issue. As always, Hickman’s dialog is sharp, lean and utterly devoid of anything not needed, and while this can be alienating to new readers, it provides those who’ve been following along with a story that moves at an incredible clip. This issue is a great example of how playing catch-up doesn’t have to necessarily be boring nor does it have to mean a lot of recapping and exposition as to what’s going to happen next.
Mike Mayhew arrives on linework and, for the most part, his illustrations look good. There’s a photo-realism to it that grounds the characters, but it isn’t photo-referential, so Mayhew also dodges the uncanny valley that dogs so many artists who work in realism. Where he really shines, though, is in the outer space battle that takes place near the issue’s middle-and-end, where the scale mentioned earlier comes into stark, eye-catching relief. The battle feels frenetic and almost wild, like neither side fully has a handle on the situation, making Earth’s desperation feel more raw and making the assembled galactic empires’ surprise all the more genuine. Frank Martin’s colors do an amazing job of fleshing out the characters, while still giving them enough of an unreal appearance to give the issue its own flavor and style. And again, the battle over Earth is where the art really stands out, with Martin’s colors illuminating the vastness of space with light and fire.
For everything that Hickman does right in making this into the biggest of big-fight issues, there’s still a sense of futility and wheel-spinning in the battle itself. The fleet is obviously not as great of a threat as the incursions and, even without knowing that Secret Wars is imminent, this issue can’t escape feeling like filler, entertaining though it is.
Mayhew’s art falters in a few places where his human characters look overly posed, like they’re transitioning from one position to another without actually creating the illusion of motion and this also makes the visuals sometimes appear flat.
This issue has some minor quibbles to be made about it, but does so much more right that it still shouldn’t be missed. If for no other reason than the absolutely mammoth inventions that Earth’s defenders come up with, while still feeling like the book is taking place in some kind of reality rather than a far-future sci-fi universe. It’s a keen balancing act to pull off, but Hickman and Mayhew manage it, making this issue’s build extremely worth reading.