AVENGERS: TIME RUNS OUT | ‘New to Comics’ Review

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.

We’ve looked at seven chapters of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run in the lead up to the Home Entertainment release of Avengers: Endgame, and today we reach the penultimate chapter, and the end of both Avengers and New Avengers in Time Runs Out!

Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Esad Ribić & Salvador Larroca
Year: 2015
Pages: 536

SPOTLIGHT CHARACTER:

NAMOR THE SUB-MARINER

Real Name: Namor McKenzie
Affiliation: The Defenders
First Appearance: Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939)

One of the first modern-day superheroes, Namor was the son of lost American explorer Leonard McKenzie and the Atlantean Princess Fen, born in 1915. After his father was cast out of Atlantis, Namor was raised in the lost underwater city as the future prince, and grew wary of the surface-dwellers. Some decades later, Namor’s wariness drew him to the surface when Nazis threatened the safety of Atlantis, forcing him to join forces with other heroes such as Captain America, Bucky and the original Human Torch to form the Invaders, and help win World War II. However, Namor’s time on the surface was tumultuous, and after the war, he became a derelict amnesiac, squatting in New York until he was discovered by the new Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, and returned to the water, restoring him to his true self. Blessed with a mixture of Atlantean physiology and mutant powers that allowed him to live underwater, fly and demonstrate superhuman strength, Namor has since been both an ally to the surface world, as well as an enemy; stepping in whenever the Earth is in danger, but otherwise spending his time protecting his homeland against any and all who may threaten it. 

IS IT ACCESSIBLE?

I’m swapping things around here because this comic takes a bit more explaining, and thus it’ll flow better if we look at accessibility first.

This is, essentially, the end of Jonathan Hickman’s time on the Avengers. Yes, there is still Secret Wars to come, that wraps up his overarching story, but both Avengers and New Avengers end here. So obviously, if you haven’t been keeping up, you’ll be completely lost. Furthermore, the feeling of missing out is partly written into the story. While, up until now, both Avengers and New Avengers had run alongside their fellow Marvel comics, here, the story jumps (in-universe) eight months into the future. So there’s a fair amount of things you will have missed…

WHAT’s THE STORY?

In the time it takes for the rest of the Marvel Universe to catch up with Time Runs Out, a lot of things changed, as a result of Marvel’s push to diversify their lineup of comic books.

The Avengers and the X-Men became embroiled in the Axis event (it’s bad, don’t bother reading it), in which the Captain America villain Red Skull uses his newfound psychic powers (from taking a piece of Charles Xavier’s brain) to take over the Earth. In an effort to combat him, the Avengers try to use magic to bring Charles to the forefront of the Red Skull’s mind (I know this doesn’t make any sense. But comic books), which goes awry and causes everyone in the epicentre of the spell to have their moral alignment inverted. The supervillains become heroes and the superheroes become villains. Of course, things are mostly returned to normal, with the exception of a few characters like Sabretooth, Havok and Iron Man – who believes his evil self is more productive. So yeah, Iron Man’s turned evil. His title is then replaced with Superior Iron Man, wherein he crafts a gleaming white suit of armour and basically becomes a dickhead to everyone. 

Thor meanwhile, has a bit of a tough time. After Original Sin (which we touched on a couple of days ago), he becomes unworthy to wield Mjolnir and instead starts carrying around Jarnbjorn, an axe he used to use when he was a young adventurer, and before he picked up Mjolnir for the first time. To make matters worse, one of his arms is chopped off. While he’s off sulking (he doesn’t show up in the Thor titles for a little while after that, which, considering all he’s been through is justified), his hammer is recovered by his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster, and she takes his place as the new Thor. It’s later revealed that Jane has cancer, and whenever she transforms into Thor, it undoes her chemotherapy (unlike Axis, this story is worth reading). 

Captain America is also in a state of disarray. While fighting a new supervillain called the Iron Nail, Cap has the super-soldier serum drained from his body, and quickly ages into an old man. Figuring the world needs Captain America, and seeing as he can no longer provide, he hands the shield over to Sam Wilson, the Falcon, who steps up to become the new Captain America (sound familiar?). Meanwhile, Steve inexplicably continues to lead the Uncanny Avengers (a team made up of Avengers and X-Men members, with the goal of human-mutant unity), despite the fact he’s lost all of his powers. He does a pretty good job for a guy who is around 100. Exercise is important, I suppose. 

Other stuff is going on, like Sam forming the ‘Mighty’ Avengers with characters like Spider-Man, She-Hulk, Luke Cage, Monica Rambeau, Blue Marvel and White Tiger (a pretty awesome and diverse team), but that was the main gist of it. 

Oh, and the Hulk is smart now. Goes by ‘Doc Green’. 

WHAT’s THE PLOT?

Everything has changed since Captain America revealed the threat of the incursions to the world. Tony Stark and the Illuminati have disappeared into hiding, while Namor has recruited Thanos and his cabal to destroy parallel worlds. The United Nations have given the Cabal Wakanda as a base from which they can save the universe, further strengthening the animosity between Namor and Black Panther. 

Likewise, Steve Rogers has not let his hatred go, and with S.H.I.E.L.D. at his side, has reassembled the remaining Avengers as a strikeforce to hunt Tony to the ends of the Earth. But other Avengers, like Sunspot and Thor, have their eye on the bigger picture, as they hope to discover the origins between the Incursions, thus fracturing the Avengers. 

But Sunspot and co. aren’t alone in their efforts. In secret, Doctor Doom is working towards the same goal. While in the far reaches of space, the threat of the Incursion has reached the ears of the Kree, Skrulls, Shi’arr, Brood and the Annihilation horde, all of whom agree that the Earth must be sacrificed to preserve the Universe. 

Everyone has an agenda, but soon enough it won’t matter, because the final incursion is nearing, and for the Avengers – Time Runs Out. 

WHAT’s THE VERDICT?

As I’m writing this, I’ve read through Secret Wars as well, and I honestly believe that Time Runs Out is the pinnacle of Hickman’s run. It’s excellent. As both Avengers and New Avengers merge into one, you get everything that’s great about both titles smashed into one story. From New Avengers, Hickman brings the intrigue and the character development, while from Avengers, he brings the epic scale and vast array of characters. He even throws a fair few extra in for good measure (as you can see from the tags). 

In this tome of a book (actually four books, volumes 1-4, but I’m looking at them all as one for expediency’s sake), you get so much to dive into, whether you’re more interested in Steve Rogers and the Avengers, Sunspot and his ‘New Avengers’, Thor and Hyperion’s suicide mission into the unknown and subsequent confrontation with the Beyonders (which ties the upcoming Secret Wars to the classic 1985 Secret Wars), the Illuminati’s plan to ‘solve everything’, Thanos and the Cabal slaughtering worlds or the ongoing machinations of Doctor Doom, this book has something for every superhero fan. There are thoughtful character interactions, bombastic action sequences and a story that, while it takes time to muse on the nature of the universe, also ties up everything that’s happened in Hickman’s Avengers run so far while bringing the story full circle to a powerful endpoint. 

The scope of the story expands to include characters from across the Marvel Universe, while at the same time remaining focused on core Avengers such as Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. 

While some things may not continue to post-Secret Wars, there are some great bits of fan service, such as a resolution to Thor’s plight of unworthiness, and heartbreaking moments such as Steve Rogers and Tony Stark having it all out while the universe crumbles around them. Furthermore, there are numerous unexpected twists and turns that prove truly shocking. I recall reading the story at the time, and believing anything could happen (obviously in mid-2015 we didn’t know exactly how things would turn out moving forward). Characters die, surprising alliances are formed – the possibilities seem endless. 

And yes, at times things could be confusing if you’ve not read the outside material, but as I previously stated, that’s the point. It’s like in Avengers: Endgame, where the film skips ahead five years. We didn’t get to see everything that happened in those five years, but it’s the contrast between how the heroes were when we last saw them and how they are now that makes the storytelling so powerful. The same is true of this comic. 

Furthermore, while the art is hugely inconsistent in this story, what with several artists being brought in to bring Hickman’s script to life, all of them give their very best, and are for the most part are given chapters of the story that play to their strengths. The only exceptions to this would be when the artist changes mid-issue, but with such an ambitious project as this, that can be forgiven. 

Everything slots into place and makes you feel justified in having read every page of the proceeding stories. And for everything that goes on here, the biggest surprise of all is that this story is a satisfying end. Not a happy one, per se, but one that you look at and you think ‘Of course. How could it have ended any other way than this?’ 

RATING:

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