New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
Just a few more days til Endgame is out here in Britain, as we reach one of my favourite stories in Hickman’s Avengers epic, as the New Avengers face off against the
Justice League Squadron Supreme Great Society in A Perfect World.
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Valerio Schiti, Salvador Larroca & Kev Walker
Real Name: Stephen Vincent Strange
Affiliation: The Defenders
First Appearance: Strange Tales #110 (July 1963)
Once one of the most preeminent surgeons on the planet, Doctor Stephen Strange lived a life of luxury; one afforded to him by cherry-picking only the richest clients to bestow his healing talents upon. However, his life was forever changed when the egotistical doctor was caught in a devastating car crash that completely ruined his hands. Now unable to perform surgery, Strange began desperately searching for a way to restore himself to his former glory, and his search leads him to a great mystic called the Ancient One. This Sorcerer Supreme refuses to heal Strange’s hands but does offer to teach him the mystic arts instead. Strange reluctantly accepts after learning the Ancient One’s other pupil, Baron Mordo, plans to kill his master and curses Strange not to reveal his treachery. Driven by this surprisingly altruistic desire to stop Mordo, Strange grows to become one of the wisest and most powerful sorcerers on the planet. Returning to the United States, Strange took up residence in his Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village, where, along with his loyal friend and personal assistant Wong, he protects reality from the insanity of monsters and demons such as Dormammu, Nightmare and Shuma-Gorath.
WHAT’s THE STORY?
This is, in a way, the final New Avengers arc. If you look for what comes after in a bookshop or online, you won’t find a collected edition due to the fact that after this story, both this and the story of the main Avengers title becomes more closely intertwined than ever before, as the story Time Runs Out begins. As such, the stakes for this story need to be high, as it is essentially wrapping up the quest of the Illuminati before they are shuffled into a larger story less focused on them (in a way).
So what better way to do that than to have them fight the Justice League, with the fate of two universes in the balance?
Of course, they don’t actually fight the Justice League, so much as a pastiche of them called The Great Society. While there have been two occasions where the heroes of the Avengers and the Justice League have fought – DC vs Marvel and JLAvengers – for the most part, being two separate companies, there isn’t much room for crossover. So instead, Marvel will occasionally create Justice League knock-offs, of a sort. Usually, they come in the form of the Squadron Supreme/Sinister, an initially evil version of the Justice League made up of the members Hyperion (Superman), Doctor Spectrum (Green Lantern), Nighthawk (Batman) and the Whizzer (Flash).
The concept would later be brought back as part of an alternate reality story, this time making them heroes and growing their membership to include other characters like Power Princess (Wonder Woman) and Amphibian (Aquaman). Another alternate version of one of these heroes, Hyperion, is one of the stars of Hickman’s main Avengers title. While another variant was introduced in the Supreme Power series, giving a more gritty, real take on these heroes and what their effect on the world would be.
For months, the Illuminati have been struggling with the threat of the Incursions. A mysterious universal disaster where two parallel Earths start to occupy the same space, which ends with the destruction of both Earth’s native universes unless one Earth is destroyed prematurely. So far, the Illuminati have been lucky in regards to what universe they’ve faced – baron planets, evil planets, outside forces willing to do their job for them. But now, they face a world occupied by the noble heroes of the great society – and no outside force is coming to save them. They must destroy an Earth full of good people, or let their universe die…
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
This arc blends in very closely to the last one, in that the first two issues of this story are actually the last two issues of Other Worlds, which introduces the Great Society and sets up the conflict between them and the Illuminati. Furthermore, this story sees Doctor Strange make a rather big and shocking power play, which again is set up in the previous arc, so as always, the rest of Hickman’s New Avengers run is required reading to fully get into this, although as long as you know the basic premise – colliding Earths and all that – you’re probably going to be okay.
That said, there are a few lines of dialogue and the inclusion of a character that references the goings-on in the recent Avengers issues, but if you’re reading one of these series, chances are you’re also reading the other.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
As I was getting to A Perfect World, I was quite excited, because I remember it being one of my favourite arcs of Hickman’s run, in part because I’m a big fan of Doctor Strange. He’s one of my favourite Marvel characters, in fact. However, this story is less Doctor Strange friendly than I remember, but still quite a good read; one of the best of the run, in fact. First off, the situation that our heroes find themselves in is a fascinating one – and the fact that they’re pitted against actual heroes rather than just villains and byproducts of the incursions makes their plight all the more interesting a read. Seeing what they’ll do when faced with the prospect of killing other superheroes and destroying a world really tests them, and once again highlights why New Avengers is a much stronger series than Avengers. While the scale may be epic, multiversal, the focus really is on the characters and what makes a hero.
And seeing these heroes finally fall from grace, as one of them must take it upon themselves to blow up a planet full of living people, can be devastating. It’s made all the more devastating by the fact that Hickman clearly gets these characters – their voices are their own, and not just mouthpieces to spurt sci-fi mumbo-jumbo like most of the characters in Avengers.
Plus, there’s actually some action! Sure, there’s been action in these series in the past, but it’s usually quite brief and going on in the background or of little consequence. Here, however, we get visceral, explosive actions as the Illuminati are forced to use brawn instead of brains to defeat their foe. It’s just a nice change of pace.
Furthermore, the art on this arc is great. Once again, it’s not all uniform, as we see Valerio Schiti, Salvador Larroca and Kev Walker all take up artistic duties at different points, but all of them do a great job. Out of the three, I’d say Larroca’s section is perhaps the one that fits the least, but as he’s done so much work on this series, it’s acceptable.
Schiti’s art is just so colourful and vibrant, perfect for demonstrating the hopeful nature of the Great Society and all they represent. Similarly, Kev Walker’s art is able to bring out the poppy dynamism that superhero comics are known for, and yet at the same time, like Schiti and Larroca, is great at conveying the emotions of these characters, especially as his part of the story focuses on the aftermath of the Illuminati’s horrid act.
Overall, this is a great finisher to Hickman’s New Avengers run (again, ignoring the ensuing Time Runs Out, as the collected editions print that as an Avengers story).
NEXT CHAPTER: Time Runs Out