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‘Infinity’ #1 Smashes Event Comic Conventions [Spoiler-Free Review]

First issues of event comics have to accomplish a lot. They have to introduce a conflict, introduce a villain, give heroes memorable moments that bring the reader back to see more, set up side stories that can be fleshed out in other titles, have a big battle scene, and the list goes on.

Infinity #1 by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Jim Cheung with a team of inkers, colorist Justin Ponsor and letterer Chris Eliopoulos, does some of those things, but in a sort of sidestep rather than a straight-ahead dash. And some of the items on the checklist, it willfully denies the reader. In the end, I wound up liking the approach, but getting there took a lot of trust not every reader may have.

Let’s just say this straight out: There is what you might call a frustrating lack of superhero action in this comic. The Avengers appear on what I’d generously estimate is half the pages of the comic, and most of the time they’re confused about what’s actually happening around them. The only Avengers fight scene is one in which they’re actually beating up what turn out to be innocent Skrull refugees, for example.

The Inhumans, particularly Black Bolt, are a little better served with one pretty fantastic action sequence — Cheung turns in his usual top-notch work here, but he really knocks out those pages — and there’s a pretty breathtaking scene featuring the Spaceknights (that also serves as a little winking meta-commentary on the history of those characters), but I can imagine there will be quite a few detractors who will say this comic is one that never gets to the fireworks factory. That’s partially because the Avengers are only one piece of a pretty broad tapestry here. There’s also a pretty serious barrier to entry, or at least it seems that way at first, with several events and characters from Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers runs playing major roles without a lot of explanation. (Ultimately, it ends up being pretty easy to grasp, though.) It’s also because it isn’t entirely clear what’s happening until the issue’s last page.

What gets revealed about Thanos’ plan on that page is pretty doggone exciting. It’s a sign that Hickman’s version of the character has taken that old saw about insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results to heart. He’s going to approach this whole thing in a way he hasn’t before, one that would seemingly be clever enough to work if we didn’t know it almost certainly won’t.

And that’s ultimately why I came down on the side of liking this comic. Hickman seems to be going out of his way to defy the conventions of the big event. Instead of ticking off all the boxes, he’s delivering a story that takes an entirely unique approach, even down to the sort of chaptered structure that isn’t altogether different from the one he uses in his Image book The Manhattan Projects. And unlike other Marvel events of the past several years, which tended to front-load with lots of bombastic action in the first issue before slowing down considerably in the issues to come, Infinity seems to be very clearly pacing itself toward its climax well into its run.

I get the feeling Marvel’s creators and editors are tiring of the tried-and-true mechanics of the event comic. Age of Ultron, for all its flaws, took a ton of chances with genre and setting that make it a sort of ambitious failure I have to admire. Infinity features Iron Man explicitly stating he’s getting tired of end-of-the-world scenarios, and works really hard to make this one anything but standard-issue.

Infinity is incredibly ambitious. I hope, on a story level, it succeeds to a greater degree. So far Hickman seems to be steering the ship pretty well, even with the knowledge that he’s going to drive some passengers away by giving them something other than what they expect.

Infinity #1 goes on sale this week in your local comics shop and digitally from Marvel.

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