A quote often attributed to NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky is that you should always "skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is" (whether Gretzky ACTUALLY said it is something I dealt with in a Hockey Legends Revealed). Simply put, the quote suggests that a great hockey center like Gretzky has to always be thinking one step ahead of his opponents. He has to be able to see the entire ice rink and all the variables and then plan an attack that takes every moving part on the rink into consideration. While doing one thing he has to see where the puck will later be and plan for what will happen when he gets there. It takes a very skilled person to manage a situation like this. Jonathan Hickman is just that type of skilled person and it was fascinating watching him take this type of approach with the first issue of Infinity, Hickman's first shot at writing a company-wide crossover (but with the high quality of this first issue, it will surely not be his last).
Hickman has spent the last eight or so months of Avengers and New Avengers putting all of the pieces into play for Infinity, from the establishment of the powerful Builders (a threat so dire that the Avengers have to leave Earth to fight them) to the slow introduction of Thanos' generals to the mystery of the new Captain Universe, all of it comes to bear in this first issue of Infinity.
However, what I perhaps appreciate more about this first issue than the preparation that Hickman put into it is the fact that you really did not even need to KNOW that Hickman put a ton of preparation into this story, as it works as a story on its own. Heck, the appearance (and destruction) of Galador and the Spaceknights, designed to show the might of the Builders, completely works without readers even knowing that Galador and the Spaceknights are an established part of the Marvel Universe.
The Galador sequence was pretty rough, although beautifully illustrated by Jimmy Cheung, Mark Morales and Justin Ponsor...
By the way, I was really taken aback by how well Infinity #0 flowed into the book. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm sure Hickman actually wrote the issue specifically so that #0 was part of the story before it was lopped off to be used on Free Comic Book Day, but the way that it worked on its own that day and then as a seemingly non-separate chapter today? That was very cool.
Hickman splits the book into chapters and the approach works well. It reminds me a bit of Grant Morrison's approach on Final Crisis, where each chapter sort of works as a snapshot of a crisis while putting them all together gives you a better idea of what the actual scenario is. The series of quick chapters with powerful cliffhangers keeps the story moving and the reader constantly on edge, even while most of the issue is spent setting up the rest of the series.
The basic gist of the story is that these powerful beings, the Builders, are ravaging worlds while on a collision course for Earth. The Avengers, naturally, decide to go stop them. Meanwhile, Thanos and his crew of bad guys have a plot to stop them, which includes one of his minions sneaking into Attilan and mining Black Bolt for some information...
and then Thanos attacking Earth while it is relatively unattended. This leads to a phenomenal final page that really drives the series.
Cheung is an amazing artist, although the intentionally cramped nature of the plot (much of the issue takes place in small quarters as the heroes discover how screwed they are and the villains plot) but when he is given the chance to break loose, like the aforementioned Galador sequence (or earlier in the book when we see Thanos receive a "tribute") he does a great job at depicting an awesome battle sequence.
My favorite page in the issue is a little touch by Hickman that only underscored the severity of the upcoming battles, Smasher (who is a member of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard) mentions the notion that the Imperial Guard has been called together, along with back-ups for each member, as the Shi'ar are clearly expecting heavy losses and therefore will need ready replacements....
It is a clever idea by Hickman that the Shi'ar would do that but more so it is a clever way of showing this situation from a sort of staid, military-esque perspective. The matter-of-factness of the discussion makes it seem all the more imposing.
A number of recent Marvel events have opened strongly only to peter out a bit over the next few issues, but I have faith that Hickman has planned this so well that we won't see that happen here and we'll instead get one of the best Marvel events in recent memory.