We’ve been checking out what became of the Illuminati in the face of Incursions becoming public knowledge and S.H.I.E.L.D. vastly expanding their powers in the United States, with many heroes falling on their side but a few (mostly Illuminati members) going underground. But what became of the few who, before all this began, jumped through an interdimensional portal with an army of Ex Nihili? Jonathan Hickman never leaves a plot thread dangling, and we pick up eight months after their jump as they come upon the fortress of the malevolent Black Priests. Remember them? Dismantled an entire world’s heroes during an Incursion with nothing but a few words? Yeah, they can still do that, it turns out. Hickman solves my biggest problem with this title’s past issues of only doling out little bits of information on how the world came to be this way, but that narrative gap is side-stepped handily here: they’ve been dimension hopping for eight months. And now here we are! The battle with the Priests is an intense, mind-bending one as they use language itself to reshape and remake reality. We also get a glimpse of where Doctor Strange wound up and exactly how far Thor is willing to go to maintain his power. There’s also an interlude with Doctor Doom and an increasingly unstable Molecule Man to give us some characterization and dialog, alongside Strange completely redefining how the battle over Incursions should be viewed. There is an absolute TON of content in this normal-sized issue, but Hickman manages to make it feel natural and well-paced rather than rushed.
Szymon Kudranksi provides the linework, and it is a sight to behold. The visuals are muddy, but somehow maintain an incredible level of detail both in terms of the characters and the background. I’ve scarcely seen Doom look so run down and even grimy, yet still having an incredibly regal and bizarrely noble bearing. The Black Priests are nightmare factories in and of themselves, and the visual language of their bizarre fortress is surreal and frightening. The colors by Dono Sanchez Almara are as much a part of that language as the linework and they’re murky at the edges, but sharp as you look closer. Reflections of light and energy are brought to vivid life but there’s also a quiet desperation pervading every panel.
The recap takes up two pages, but you need it badly if you haven’t been peeking over at what the Avengers have been up to. It’s not enough to get entirely lost in, and their story relies less on knowing exactly who the characters are and what they can do, as much as knowing about the Incursions and that’s within the narrative of this book.
While Kudranksi and Almara’s art is a sight to behold throughout, the last few pages of the issue lose some of the detail and visual luster, rendering the characters flatly and without the same level of detail they had before.
Things are fast coming to a head in the tale of the Incursions, and this issue contains one of the first major developments on that front in some time. How all the pieces will fit together is still anyone’s guess, but it’s good to see this issue continue down the right track with further plot and character developments. There’s even a bit of wit and humor to lighten the enervating load that the heroes, and readers, must be feeling at this stage making this a great addition to one of the most epic stories in Marvel’s history.