In stories that take place in the future, the reader is always playing catch-up to some degree or another. It’s a way to mimic the sensation of picking up an issue of a series in the middle of its run, albeit designed to be new reader friendly at the same time. How much you’re told depends on how much the writer wants to reveal at any given moment; and, unlike picking up an issue of a series in the middle of its run, you can’t go out and buy some back issues to fill in the blanks. It’s like being someone who lives in the middle of nowhere with no internet access. It’s something that Jonathan Hickman likes to do quite a bit and does in ways that are quite surprising.
A few weeks ago, I reread Hickman’s Secret Warriors run on a Saturday, and one of the things that stood out is how often he would skip forward in time, jumping over seemingly ‘major’ events to focus on the character bits that surround them. He rarely seemed interested in those big action moments that other writers would use to define their issues. Giant conflicts are passed over to get to the aftermath, the in between moments. Look at SHIELD where the entire build-up to the battle for the future of the group is skipped over in double-page spreads representing a single year. Hickman thinks big and that often entails skipping over a lot of stuff; surprisingly, it rarely feels like simple plot movement since he spends a lot of his time advancing the story by focusing on those in between moments I mentioned. Avengers #36 is an issue like that. What really happens this issue? Some people prepare to travel halfway across the multiverse and they depart. It’s something that could have been covered in four or five pages if Hickman wanted. Instead, it’s given a whole issue, complete with numerous flashbacks and small character moments.
In some ways, I can see readers being frustrated with an issue like this as it’s only the third since the two Avengers titles jumped eight months into the future (seven now) and it hardly reveals anything new about the intervening months. These are all characters that appeared in Avengers #35 heavily and the plot is, as I said, thin. It’s a character issue… pretty much the opposite of what you would expect when a title jumps ahead like this. That’s part of the beauty of Hickman’s approach, though: he writes these issues like he would if he hadn’t jumped ahead in time. He skipped over a lot of plot movements (some, like, what’s happened with Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man, will be handled in their own books/elsewhere) and simply picked up like the intervening issues were written and, then, deleted from our memories. It’s an unusual way to approach stories like these; one that reveals something very obvious about the way that superhero comics operate.
One of the biggest complaints about events is that they are nothing but plot points that act to reposition characters in such a way that will get readers to buy the comics that come out of the event. The final issues of events seem less like a conclusion than an ad for the new status quo. So what does Hickman do? He skips the event and gives us the new status quo. He literally jumped over the big moments that are happening in the Marvel Universe right now and right into what happens after them. In a weird way, he made much of what’s happening now, including the just-began-yesterday Axis event irrelevant. You want to know what happens next? Avengers #35, New Avengers #24, Avengers #36, and so on. You can pick up specific details, sure, but the thing that Marvel and DC are always selling us on (what happens next month!) is already here.
Futures End functions in a very similar way, which makes this week’s launch of the third DC weekly, Earth 2: World’s End, such a strange choice. We’ve already seen how the war shakes out and what comes next. Not the specific details, but… do those really matter? Futures End could give us another issue like issue 21 where we get the high points and that would do the job. That’s if all you care about is the plot, though. In essence, what both Marvel and DC are reinforcing is the idea that what matters is the lives of these characters. Knowing what happens isn’t the same as seeing the characters experience those events. Despite events often reading like plot exercises where the characters function as pieces to be moved here and there are the whims of the writer/editorial, what we’re supposed to focus on/take away from them is the effect on the characters, not just in the aftermath, but during the event/story. Earth 2’s citizens may be refugees, but what did that mean to Power Girl at the time it was happening? Thor is heading halfway across the multiverse, but what does being unworthy mean to him before that?
Plot only matters as a function of the characters, which is what Jonathan Hickman shows in this week’s Avengers #36 and, for all its flaws, is something that Futures End has focused on to a shockingly large degree for its entire run. I mean, if all you want is plot, there’s always Wikipedia…
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