Magnificent as the concepts it contains may be, the book is, of course, not without its flaws. There’s a lot of set-up here, and it feels like the back-half of an issue, with the previous issue serving as the action-oriented cold-opening. Despite that, this instalment stands perfectly well on its own with a nicely visual recap page and good use of flashback panels, including us finally being given context for the Reed Richards’s “Everything Dies” speech from the opening of the previous issue.
I’d be interested to see one of Jonathan Hickman’s scripts, as I’m curious to what extent he prescribes the layouts of the pages. He has a background in graphic design and is responsible for the various charts and graphics that have popped up in his other books (notably the Avengers teams diagram that appears in the current Avengers series). I bring this up because Steve Epting’s panel composition here is great, with the art contained within shadowy and atmospheric. Regardless of who has a larger say in the overall composition, it really helps the storytelling in what is a mostly very static issue, with the Illuminati meeting to discuss the impending disasters ahead. That may sound a little dull to you, but believe me when I tell you that this is a book in which super-smart guys sit around and talk about stuff, and it’s fantastic.
I talked in my review of #1 about not being wowed by Epting’s visuals, despite the obvious quality, but he wins me over here.This book’s characters live in the shadows, and that’s a very strong visual motif here. The inks by Rick Magyar and Epting himself add a dark cowl to the proceedings, but Epting’s expressions have so much life that they are pop against the blackness rather than being swallowed by it, particularly in the early scene of Reed interrogating the Black Swan.
It’s that life that helps the drama shine through, despite the stationary nature of the events contained herein. When combined with Hickman’s strong characterisation, this really makes the issue compelling. It’s no surprise that Hickman writes a great Reed Richards, but everyone feels right here, and the tensions within the group read as clearly as if they were written in narration boxes. The stakes could not be higher, the threat could not be larger, and I feel like there’s something truly exciting coming our way. And for those wondering, Black Panther has not forgotten Namor’s actions during AvX. The set-up is done folks, now we can enjoy the ride that Hickman has in store for us. I can’t wait. Shall we?