Time is running out, as the banners atop of the "Avengers" covers say, so writer Jonathan Hickman grabs half a dozen of his long-running plot threads and starts to wrap them up in "Avengers" #42, with artist Stefano Caselli beautifully keeping track of it all. While the issue is all but incomprehensible to anyone not following Hickman's far-reaching epic, it's plenty approachable to faithful readers, even more so than some past issues. The high-concept backdrop has already been laid out, and now Hickman just needs to utilize it to bring his story to a close -- or at least to its next stage of life -- as it leads into the upcoming "Secret Wars."
The issue starts off as members of the Illuminati head to the moon to seek out a solution to save the day and concludes with a Shi'ar armada heading for Earth. In between, Hickman's story spans not only the world, but the multiverse (at least what's left of it) as many of the players involved up to this point ponder and plan for the end of the existence. Despite the immense cosmic scope of the story, though, Hickman spends his time with selected characters; Captain Britain shows his practical side, Reed Richards has nearly completed his transition from a scientific savior to a weary realist and Namor looks out for number one, as always.
With characters like that in Hickman's cast, longtime fans might see this as an "Avengers" comic only in an academic sense and more as the container for the latest chapter in an epic event rather than a tale about Earth's mightiest heroes. This issue typifies, though, what Hickman has brought to the franchise; if every hero in the Marvel Universe seems like they've become an Avenger, it's probably because they very well might have. Hickman has transformed the team into a bigger force that contends with exponentially bigger threats, and this chapter -- taking a pause amidst the entire cosmic calamity -- is a kind of self-examination of many of these deputized and extended family characters. Despite that, Hickman manages to sneak in some appearances from definite non-Avenger guest stars.
Caselli and colorist Frank Martin juxtapose character close-ups in cramped quarters with grandiose long views of space fleets and futuristic cities, excelling at both. Caselli has terrific command of facial expressions amongst the twenty or so featured characters, human and alien, young and old. No less impressive is his grasp of a diverse array of spacecraft, aliens and various landscapes. Hickman's stories leave a large footprint across reality, and Caselli is among the artists capable of capturing everything within it; he nails it all with a clean and detailed precision that's not just easy on the eyes but deserving of scrutiny. Martin makes use of pretty much every color imaginable and doesn't show any restraint; his colors are as bold as Caselli's layouts and play a large role in the grandiose feel of Hickman's story.
"Avengers" #42 is impressive because it doesn't try to be impressive; Hickman is simply using what he's already presented to bring his massive story to a close, and Caselli merely brings it to life. Most remarkable, perhaps, is that Hickman's story still has legs after all this time and, as executed, it remains just as engaging as -- if not more than -- many of the issues leading up to it.