First and foremost, “New Avengers” #31 is where writer Jonathan Hickman finally reveals the identity of Rabum Alal. Yes, it is a bit of a surprise and, yes, artist Kev Walker, colorist Frank Martin and letterer Joe Caramagna do provide a nicely crafted reveal. Unfortunately, the majority of “New Avengers” #31 feels a bit prolonged prior to that.
As the umpteenth chapter in the Incursions saga, “New Avengers” #31 creeps into another circle on the “Avengers” Venn diagram, overlapping more with “Avengers” and “Avengers World,” like Earths in the very Incursions Hickman has been describing to readers for years now.
The Illuminati are no less desperate to halt the Incursions, and this issue sends Stephen Strange — leader of the Black Priests and the Sorcerer Supreme — to make one last attempt before time runs out. As readers are well aware by now, time is set to run out and, when it does, “Secret Wars” will be upon us. Thus, Hickman’s grand plan comes into sharper focus, even as this issue narrows the spotlight to one single member of the Illuminati for the span of twenty pages. Hickman gives Strange a solid fight, but the story is less than riveting despite the fact that anything could happen in the remaining few issues before “Secret Wars.” Somehow, nothing in this issue packs that much anxiety. Yes, it’s nice to see Strange in action again, but the action just doesn’t hit the life-threatening note.
Part of the lack of suspense might fall to the art or it might just fall to a presumed conclusion. Kev Walker’s art is solid and his storytelling is strong, but his strengths — especially in this issue — come from expressions and wild gesticulations. That’s great for Strange casting spells, but the spells themselves are crafted from the brightest colors on Frank Martin’s palette and don’t quite push the envelope as much as one might expect from a story set in a “new” realm featuring “new” magicks and never-before-seen threats. The firefight between Swans and Priests is sharp and on task, but the mysterious newness of Rabum Alal’s realm is lacking. Walker, Martin and Caramagna combine for a technically sound comic, but the visuals lack a little extra pizzazz that readers might expect to find as they trip into the unknown.
“New Avengers” #31 resists simply being a placeholder chapter in a story that is nearing its conclusion. Hickman has planned everything out enough to ensure that new revelations come to light in these remaining chapters, but those revelations feel overshadowed by the event beyond. The reveal of Rabum Alal carries “New Avengers” #31 to its conclusion, but the final page points back over to “Avengers.” With just a few more issues remaining in this saga, it truly is time for Hickman and company to pull out all the stops and drive this story home.