There are certain words you can’t help but fall in love with, and use more frequently than you probably should. And I’m not just talking about words like “coccyx,” “vacillate” or “Lake Titicaca.” One such word that rubs a little lyrical Funk onto an otherwise tame vocabulary, for me it least, is “Penultimate.” More than any of its synonyms - of which, admittedly, there are few - it inspires a presence that is at once incendiary, terminal and looming. Encapsulating every inch of this definition by celebrating the stretching shadow of the axe before its fall, Infinity’s penultimate issue in its fifth part achieves the lexiconical symmetry that gets my diction good and hard.
I recently listed Infinity in the third slot of my Top Five list here at Comic Bastards, and while it’s not perfect, this book comes damn near close: an impressive feat for what many would simply (and incorrectly) accuse of being another event cash-grab from one of the Big Two.
In part five, one prong of the series’ multi-fanged conflagration seemingly comes to a close, with The Avengers splitting up throughout the universe to both inspire and lead the rabble of Builder-conquered worlds to freedom - in what is essentially a concise and hasty montage - before turning their attention to Thanos, whose attack on Earth rages. As much as I have enjoyed this former conflict thus far, there has been something niggling in the back of my head while reading this book, and I think this issue finally helped me figure out what that is.
As each planet is finally freed from the total (yet brief and almost inconsequential) oppression of its would-be tyrants, they each raise the banner of The Avengers, signaling that they are, like Earth, “An Avengers World.” Now, I don’t mean to get all heavy here, but to me, that image is peppered with a heavy-handed dose of colonialism: the civilized and brave Western/White Man (i.e., The Avengers, or more specifically, Thor, who the Red Skull recently pointed out as being the Aryan ideal), deliver inspiration, hope and backbone to the unfit and cowardly savages of the universe. To me, this felt a bit too much like the galactic version of the American wet dream, which I grant you makes a sort of sense, as the operation is led by the good Captain.
Now, I understand that this treatment is also a bit ironic, given how aliens in most comic book universes see Earth (most often referring to it as a “ball of mud” in some or another respect), but this lead-up to the big finish still feels a bit too loaded, nationalistically-speaking, not to mention easy. I thought that the Builder war would interact and coalesce more fully with the impending threat of Thanos, but it never really did, or at least not in the intriguing way in which I thought Hickman would be capable.
Saying that, we still do have one more issue of the Infinity series, so it’s possible that the Mad Titan’s invasion and pending infanticide - which are now firmly on-point as the main narrative - will brush shoulders with the dying gasp and flail of the Builder War, but that is going to be one frantic fold in an otherwise well-measured story. There are also the side stories in the peripheral titles like Avengers, which, according to Hickman’s classic postscript rubric, will play host to two more filler issues before the final culmination in Infinity #6, and I still have the utmost confidence in his ability to round out the story in his usual fulfilling way.
Speaking of which, with each passing issue, and particularly here, Hickman proves once again to be a deft hand at grandstanding, and I mean that completely as a compliment. I’m not sure there is another mainstream writer out there who can so completely fill his or her pages with this level of gravitas, be it in his omniscient narrator or in the dialogue shared between his characters.
Like the speeches for which Captain America has become so (in)famous, his story here is filled with an inspiring weight, levied well by the transitory victory celebration shared by our heroes. I’m still mildly dubious as to how this series will wrap up in its finale, but as a stand-alone issue, it still has the trepidatious anxiety that makes Infinity such a touchstone in event storytelling.
The artistic twosome of Opeña and Weaver continues to impress with uncommon rarity of quality, with only a few slight inconsistencies relegated within the portions of the book starring the Illuminati. Most everything else here feels chiseled and chipped-away, war-worn, scorched and callused. And yet, the visual team still dips into a phenomenally kinetic vigor. In its early pages, for example, there is an image of a particularly badass Hulk smash, the ferocity of which I personally haven’t seen equalled (at least in terms of interior art) for some time.
This action is similarly measured beside moments which may be quieter, but are no less scathed. Whether it’s a close-up of a scabbed and scratched, pruney purple face or the holographic sneer of one of this series’ breakout characters, The Ebony Maw, this book feels grand from afar, terrifyingly suffocating and bruised up-close, and desperately, almost tragically human.
Like I said, Infinity #5 isn’t perfect, with slightly worrying narcissistic undertones and a pace that is so furious it’s almost a blur. And yet, as an exemplar of the penultimate, this casts its shadow well with exciting flurries of action, a depth and tenor of voice that is both tremulous and booming, and a fully-realized artistic direction that has as much in common with an intricate painting as it does a well-carved chopping block. Hickman and co. have a lot to wrap up in a relatively short amount of time after this, but despite how fraught and frenzied this felt, I continue to enjoy the hell out of Infinity’s mad scramble.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artists: Dustin Weaver and Jerome Opeña Publisher: Marvel Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 10/30/13