Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers #3:

The Garden

Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run consists of multiple mini-arcs that all build and culminate with Secret Wars. Avengers #3 is the action-filled climax and the culmination of his first arc.

On Mars, readers are treated to the birth of Ex Nihilo’s New Adam, a new and improved human who Ex Nihilo intends to restart human life on Earth after he finishes terraforming it.  Abyss promises Thor that his world will be destroyed and reborn, although while Ex Nihilo is pure creation and Aleph is pure purification, she is more chaotic and feels no need to be “marooned between such shallow choices.” She entreats Thor to run away with her and husband a new pantheon. In reply, Thor offers to spare her when the inevitable reckoning comes upon the trio on Mars.

As “Adam” is born, he begins to speak a mysterious language, which Abyss calls “Builder machine code.” Abyss worries that something is wrong, while Ex Nihilo glories in the fact that something unexpected happened. This comment about the “unexpected” happening provides a well-constructed scene transition, as Ex Nihilo is hit with an energy blast. In the first panel on the next page, Captain America says, “How’s that for unexpected?”

In a callback to the first issue, Cap attacks the Aleph, stands on top of him, and says, “Yield” (although he is blasted off by the Aleph). Abyss sics the Hulk on Hyperion while Smasher attacks Ex Nihilo who then creates some creatures to attack her. Tony, still tied up, asks Cap, “I thought the plan was to call everyone?” Cap responds, “It was. I did.” Eden then appears transporting the rest of the Avengers.

The Avengers attack. As they do, a panel focuses on Captain Universe. She seems confused, and for a moment, the face of her host is seen, who recounts the memory of a car crash, indicating the trauma she has gone through. The reason Captain Universe has chosen this woman as a host seems to be that both of them share in brokenness, for as readers will find out in the course of Hickman’s run, the Marvel multiverse itself is dying.

As the captured Avengers are freed, there is some fun banter between Spider-Man and Wolverine. One thing that attentive readers who know something about comics during this time will notice as Hickman’s run proceeds is the transition between the Amazing Spider-Man / Peter Parker and the Superior Spider-Man / Doc Octopus, who during this era stole Peter’s body and replaced him for a time. This will become obvious in Spider-Man’s interaction with the other Avengers in later arcs.

Many of the Avengers have a time to shine. Sam Wilson realizes that the creatures Ex Nihilo has created to fight them are part bird, and so he convinces the creatures to leave (since he can communicate with birds, a power that fans of the MCU version may not be aware). In another nod to Hickman’s love of creation myth imagery, Ex Nihilo sees his creatures leaving and asks, “Who leaves their creator’s garden willingly?” Meanwhile, Thor gets free and strikes the Mars trio with lightning. Thor’s actions here are beautifully illustrated. There’s a cinematic quality to them. Hyperion, a Marvel analogue for Superman, beats the Hulk who reverts to Bruce Banner, while Shang-Chi cuts through the leg of the Aleph.

The focus returns to Captain Universe who looks at Ex Nihilo’s New Adam and exclaims, “Oh! Systems!” Hickman lays the groundwork early on in his run that there are multiple systems operating throughout the universe, whose purpose is to protect and balance the universe. Ex Nihilo, Abyss, and the Alephs represent one such system. Later on, Hickman will incorporate ideas from Marvel’s New Universe initiative into his story, noting that those concepts are also systems meant to self-regulate the universe.

Captain Universe then releases a burst of power that causes Ex Nihilo, Abyss, and the Aleph to pause. Ex Nihilo and Abyss recognize and acknowledge Captain Universe as “Mother,” “Goddess,” and “the Universe herself.” Captain Universe declares that the systems meant to balance the universe are broken, foreshadowing the arrival of the Builders in Hickman’s Infinity event, and ultimately the destruction of the Marvel multiverse leading into Secret Wars. She commands the trio on Mars to cease destroying or transforming anymore worlds, while also making an odd reference to pie (a reflection of the desire of the traumatized host within). While Ex Nihilo and Abyss are compliant, the Aleph remains combative, refusing to obey, and is destroyed by Captain Universe, although not before the Captain tells the Aleph, “The end is not what you think it’s going to be,” something she could very well be telling the reader. With the Aleph destroyed and Captain Universe floating in the air, Tony tells Steve to remind Jarvis to make sure that he keeps plenty of pies stocked up.

As the Avengers prepare to leave Mars, taking Adam with them and instructing Ex Nihilo and Abyss to transform Mars at their pleasure (as long as they leave Earth alone), Ex Nihilo asks Captain America a question. Given that he has transformed so many worlds without the universe intervening, “What is it that makes your earth so special?” Captain America answers with his best guess, using the very title of this first collection of issues from Hickman’s story: “It’s an Avengers World.”

Hickman ends this first arc on a hopeful yet ominous note. Earth is indeed the first Avengers World, and the Avengers legend, he says, “grew in the telling.” He goes on: “The great idea was expansion. And it started with two men. One was life (Steve).”

“And one was death (Tony).”

This indicates not only the close to Hickman’s final Avengers issue three years later, but the intertwining of the themes of life and death. While the first arc of Hickman’s story begins with hope and expansion, there are indications that all not is well.

If Hickman’s Avengers title highlights “life,” New Avengers will reflect the death lurking underneath the surface.

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Matthew William Brake is the creator and founder of Pop Culture and Theology and the series editor for the book series Theology and Pop Culture from Lexington Books. He holds degrees in Interdisciplinary Studies and Philosophy from George Mason University and a Master of Divinity from Regent University. He has published numerous articles in the series Kierkegaard Research: Sources, Reception, Resources. He has chapters in a number of books on philosophy and pop culture, including Deadpool and Philosophy, Wonder Woman and Philosophy, and Mr. Robot and Philosophy.

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