Issue #2 acts as something of an interlude in the first three issues of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers. As Captain America prepares a new team to go to Mars, Ex Nihilo’s speaks with the imprisoned Avengers, providing his origins, background, and motivations.
As the issue begins, Abyss tells Ex Nihilo, referring to Thor, “Thor—is different. Mythic…. I believe I found me a god, Ex Nihilo.” Ex Nihilo addresses Thor: “Well, if you are a god, then—like myself—you know something about creation stories.” Again, Hickman’s emphasis on creation stories is on full display here, and he uses Ex Nihilo’s interrogation of Thor to establish some important background mythology and information for his run. Ex Nihilo speaks about the Builders, “the first race, the oldest living things in the cosmos.” These beings will be important for Hickman’s Infinity event. The Builders once worshipped “the Mother-Maker herself, The Universe” (this is an allusion to Captain Universe, who is key to resolving this arc). Eventually, the Builders abandoned worship of the Universe, and “as expansion and evolution occurred, the Builders creative aggressive systems to direct, shape and control the very structure of space and time.” One of these systems was the Alephs, a race of machines, one of whom accompanies Ex Nihilo and Abyss. These Alephs disposed of species they found “unfit for progress.” However, when the Alephs found a species “considered worthy of preservation,” they released the seeds they carried within them. In the case of Ex Nihilo and Abyss’s Aleph, THEY were within the seeds he carried. Their function was to “hear the call of a living, wild world” and to either “break it, or attempt to transform the base species [they found] there into magnificent, more transcendent, creatures.” This is Ex Nihilo’s goal for Earth: “It could be a great story of creation…we’ll see.” If it doesn’t work, the Aleph represents the lingering threat of destruction.
It’s worth noting as an aside that in Ex Nihilo’s discussion of the Alephs, he states that they were sent out “to purge species unfit, unsuitable, for their New Universe.” In the original text, all the letters of the comic book are capitalized, but the phrase “New Universe” is put in bold. This is perhaps an allusion to how Hickman will draw upon Marvel’s New Universe concepts, created by Jim Shooter and others and later retooled by Warren Ellis, in his run. This would make a lot of sense in context of the discussion about universal “systems” constructed by the Builders. Elements from Marvel’s New Universe imprint appear to be another one of these systems. The New Universe will be discussed in more detail in future installments.
In a flashback sequence, Steve and Tony discuss their plans for their Avengers machine. The two men discuss the different ways they each think about “expansion” (a theme that will be touched on in the next entry). Steve sees expansion as “a state of mind. An attitude adopted and spread to others through words invoking deeds.” For Tony, it’s an engineering problem: “We’re tearing down what we had and building a new machine to achieve our expanded goals.” This new machine, however, needs a foundation or core. As Steve puts it, “When we send out the call to expand, we’ll want a support structure within this larger group—people who understand our tradition and our purpose.” Steve and Tony decide quickly upon themselves, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye, and then Tony suggests Bruce Banner. Steve is hesitant, “Banner? Really? You know how that always ends.” Hickman makes a few veiled references to past stories here, including Planet Hulk. As they discuss the expanded roster, we see the images of three future members: Captain Universe, Hyperion, and Smasher. At the bottom of the page, we see a list of names filled with easter eggs, including Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Moon Knight, among others. Luke Cage gets a mention (turns out, he’s not interested in joining) and Cap mentions Doctor Strange. Tony turns to Steve and simply says, “Busy.” Hickman, along with artist Jerome Opeña, does a good job of making the image seem a bit ominous, particularly with the benefit of hindsight after reading the first New Avengers arc. With that, their plan for expanding the roster is put in motion, with Cap noting that when the need arises, “They’ll come.”
We move back to the present day, as Cap is standing in Avengers Tower with Wolverine as the expanded roster retrofits a quinjet, as Hickman narrates, “And assemble they did.” The Avengers Machine comes together as the next few pages flashback to each member’s different reasons for joining. For Wolverine, beer. For Spider-Man, money. For Shang-Chi, a chance for a “new challenge.” Cannonball and Sunspot, former X-Men, join give up the stigma of being X-Men in a world that fears and hates them for being Avengers, who are “loved and adored.” Hickman brings the teleporting Manifold into the roster, a character he explored in his Secret Warriors runs. Finally, Captain Marvel and Spider-Woman join because deep down, they are Avengers at heart.
Back in the present, Ex Nihilo launches more evolution seeds at Earth to transform the planet, landing in places as diverse as Japan, the Savage Land, and Norway. These seeds release a number of strange looking creatures who attack, consume, and transform the populace. As Tony debates with Ex Nihilo on Mars, calling his activity genocide, with Ex Nihilo insisting that he is merely saving life and helping it transform, Steve realizes he is waiting too long to confront the threat on Mars.
Calling on Manifold, and over Wolverine’s protests, he has the team teleport to the surface of Mars, which Hickman and Opeña depict in epic cinematic fashion, anticipating the resolution to this arc in the next issue.