Avengers #44 Review: Fiddling While Reality Burns


Whether you enjoy Jonathan Hickman’s broad, expansive storytelling or not — and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to at least try it, since he’s the writer for Secret Wars too — you have to admire what he’s done with the current volume of Avengers. It began as a story about Tony Stark and Steve Rogers and grew to include the largest roster in team history and the most titanic threat of all time, yet it ends in Avengers #44 by going full circle and focusing on Tony and Steve once again.

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To be sure, Hickman used the extra pages he’s given to cram in a lot more. The alien invasion is addressed, and there’s an intriguing examination of how the regular and Ultimate universes plan on dealing with the final Incursion, to say nothing of telling their respective populaces that they are only hours away from the end of everything. Black Panther, who’s been given as many different facets under Hickman as I’ve ever seen, gets one final excellent character moment.

Still, the meat here is in the final showdown between two old friends, men who haven’t been seeing eye to eye for some time. Thanks to a modified War Machine suit, Old Man Rogers is able to tack on a physical struggle to the inevitable psychological one, and the script does a decent job not making either guy’s viewpoint “right.” Yes, Tony ends up as the lying jerk, but that’s not inconsistent with how he’s been characterized in the 21st century, and he can always blame the Inversion if he wants.

Is it selfish of Captain America and Iron Man to be duking it out over their personal grievances when reality is coming to an end? Maybe a bit, but we’ve known for some time how this was all going to end. In truth, that’s the one weak point in this final chapter, that we’ve known it leads to Secret Wars and thus were robbed of some of the drama that comes when the conclusion to a story is a mystery. Even the best writing can’t work around that. Readers who dislike Hickman’s style on the basis of its bleakness aren’t going to be pleased with the last few pages, I suspect.

The art is kind of a mixed bag thanks to both Stefano Caselli and Kev Walker contributing some of the pages. Both men have done nice work during this run, and if you’ve been reading the whole time, you’re probably accustomed to each man’s depictions of the large cast of characters. The last battle between Steve and Tony is a bit muddy, as is the cover by Dustin Weaver, but it’s not a bad package overall.

One thing I can’t help but think about is that while there were some very strong arcs during this volume of Avengers — the opening one and the Captain America-focused Time Gem tales, in particular — it’s going to take Secret Wars to tell whether this entire journey was worth it. I really hope that turns out to be the case.


We begin with a flashback of a meeting Steve (reluctantly) had with Tony a few months ago. As Tony tries to convince the old man he’s not so bad despite their differences, Steve is surprised to discover Tamara, a.k.a. Captain Universe, working as a waitress at the diner they’re in. Tony reunited her with her family, which actually isn’t a dick move. Sadly, even this backfires, because when Tony tells Steve they can find a way out of the trouble their world is facing, Tamara transforms into Captain Universe and demands he stop lying.

In the present, there’s that small matter of an alien fleet waiting to wipe out the Earth. Tony muses to himself about how good he’s always been at building weapons as he activates Sol’s Hammer, and it wipes out the armada, destroying it in pretty much one blast.

If only that was the only threat the regular Marvel Earth was facing. We jump back in time again and over to the Ultimate Universe, where Reed Richards wants to introduce his Nick Fury and Hawkeye to our Thanos and Maximus. Reed wants to explain the Incursions to Fury but figures he’ll have to show him instead.

On Marvel Earth, Black Panther goes to the White House to tell Obama, or a president that looks a lot like him, that he should tell the people of the world that they have only about six hours left. Cheerful, that.

Richards shows Fury and Hawkeye an Incursion of a lifeless Earth and explains that the only way to stop it is to destroy the other world. On top of that, Thanos makes it clear that there is only one other universe remaining, and it’s populated by “the greatest heroes you have ever seen. The valiant. The courageous.” For the Ulimate Earth to live, all of them need to die. Thanos, Maximus and Namor later discuss whether Fury and company will play along.

It looks like they will, as Fury organizes an invasion force at the Triskelion. He’s also decided not to tell the people of their world about what’s going on, figuring they should be allowed to live their last hours in peace.

At the Earth-616 Baxter Building, a discussion takes place about a vessel theoretically able to survive universal collapse. The plan is to populate it with scientists and engineers to restart humanity, and Steve doesn’t want any of the Illuminati included. Sue Richards argues that while Bruce Banner, Brian Braddock and Hank Pym are indeed out, the rest have value. Reed thinks that should include Tony, but Rhodey, of all people, thinks it’s a bad idea as he’s not the man he once was. Sue and Steve agree, and that’s that, it seems.

With only four minutes left to the final incursion, Iron Man gets a warning about an inbound intruder. It’s Steve in his Captain America/War Machine hybrid, and the ensuing fight/argument is interspersed with flashbacks to the beginning of this volume. Steve accuses Tony of cooking up the “Avengers machine” as a ruse to hide the fact that everything was ending.

Tony initially tries to say it was just to buy time, and he accuses the rest of the Illuminati of being distracted or too hopeful, in Reed’s case.

Under duress (like a shield to the face), Tony eventually admits he lied, but also is defiant in stating that he wouldn’t do everything differently. As the Ultimate invasion begins, these are the final words:

"It started with two men. One was life … and one was death. And one … always wins. Everything dies."

Eh, I guess that is pretty bleak.

Favorite Moment: I doubt Thanos has ever been introduced as nonchalantly as Ultimate Reed presents him to Fury and Hawkeye, as if he’s just some guy at their conference room table. But the gem is later, when the Cabal are discussing the meeting. Maximus thinks Fury knows they were lying, and when Thanos asks how he knows, the reply is priceless: “Look in the mirror, Thanos. You’re an extremely sketchy-looking person.” Ha!

Final Thought: There is only Secret Wars. What? It’s about to be true!

Next: Previously: our review of Avengers #43

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