Welcome back to the Comics Alliance guide to Marvel Comics' Infinity, where we disentangle the Möbius strip of writer Jonathan Hickman's database-powered brain. When last we left the action in Infinity #1, the Avengers were heading into space to fight the Builder fleet, which left the planet undefended against Thanos. For a certain value of undefended. Only most of the superheroes were still on Earth. Like those 50 State Initiative guys. They can't all be on Arcade's Murder Islands, can they? Is there a 50 State Murderpeligo that Dennis Hopeless hasn't told us about?

Issue #2, with art by Jerome Opeña, Dustin Weaver and Justin Ponsor, opens with the arrival of Thanos's horror circus, the greyest show on Earth. The Avengers, meanwhile, have joined up with a host of alien races, had a big space battle, and lost it. That seems like a bit of a jump in the narrative, but Hickman has created an unorthodox storytelling challenge for himself, and the results are a little variable.


Crossovers are tricky business. If they weren't stories about superheroes, controlled by corporate masters and motivated by sales, they'd be hailed as avant-garde experimental works. Multiple interconnected narratives explored in separate streams and presented in different visual styles, overlapping, diverging, shifting as the angles change, with parts of the whole revealed in glimpses, in incidents, creating a work that should be comprehensible whether consumed in its entirety or only in part? That's some advanced level Italo Calvino trickery right there. And it's got Thor in it!

I don't think "avant-garde" is Marvel's approach, but I do think the writers and editors have a vested interest in getting this right. Crossovers that weaken the narrative integrity of each title involved are an aggravating experience for readers. They're the reason Marvel's '90s crossovers eventually chased readers away.

In the '00s, Marvel moved to a different model. Each book was meant to be readable on its own, but readers could get more out of the experience if they read more titles. The approach necessitated the creation of core series that allowed readers to pick up just one more limited-run title to get the general shape of the event.

A good idea in principle, but not always in practice. Decentralizing the narrative so that important character moments happened in the appropriate books left those central miniseries with little to deliver, except the bits at the start where everyone panics and the bits at the end where someone dies. Avengers vs X-Men was the best effort yet at creating an epic event with enough incidental business to keep all the characters occupied, but it suffered from having so many writers that the central narrative didn't flow.

Infinity is Marvel's next big attempt at crafting an event (discounting Age of Ultron, which was reluctantly belched into existence). The major refinements here are: (1) go back to a single writer, (2) pick a writer with a gift for ambitious plots, and (3) have him write three books simultaneously. Et voila!



Infinity is only six issues, but the Infinity checklist shows that it ties in to six issues of Avengers and four issues of New Avengers, and when I say "ties in," I'm talking seriously intricate bondage. Jonathan Hickman's study has probably pinned bedsheets to the walls and covered them with Sharpie marks and pins to plot this baby out. The Staples in his home town is all out of Post-It Notes. Somewhere in there he's inadvertently uncovered the identity of the Zodiac killer.

I'm impressed that Hickman appears to be writing all three books so they can be read on their own, making ample effort to keep readers appraised of everything they need to know for a satisfying experience. Unfortunately there are so many glimpses into the action in other books that at times it's like reading an Advent calendar.

The opening of Infinity #2 wisely resolves a dangling thread from issue #1, as Abigail Brand of SWORD deals with her organization's traitors by blowing them up with what looks like an old electronic Simon game.



She's sadly a little too late to anticipate the arrival of...



... well, I'm not sure who these guys are. They look like fairly generic grey plug adaptor spaceships. On the one hand we know there are spaceships coming to Earth because they're fleeing the Builders. On the other hand there are spaceships coming to Earth because Thanos is attacking. I'm 70% sure this is one of those two things.

The next scene provides a context clue, recapping the invasion seen in the pages of New Avengers -- that fun comic about superhero patriarchy! These are Thanos' guys, also called the Gauntlet, the Great Hunt, the Black Order, the Cull Obsidian, the Shirelles, the Twi-hards, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. One or all of those names. Why they don't have skulls emblazoned on their space ships, I do not know.



So, the Death Eaters attack the X-Men, suppress the Atlanteans, fight the Wakandans and caress Dr Strange. Understandable. Wouldn't you want to know how he keeps his goatee so trim and his skin so silky smooth? What is that close shaves you, Stephen?



In the midst of all this, Iron Man and Reed Richards play video games in their Tron boudoir. I have to say that I'm not a fan of Iron Man's current armor. He looks like a Russian samovar with an aardvark curled up on top. He also resembles DC's August General in Iron, but I don't suppose DC is using that character design any more. Too ethnic, no boobs.

Thanos sends his top man, Nosferatu Voldemort (real name sillier than that) to challenge Black Bolt, aka King Blackagar of the Attilan Boltagons, and demand the usual bounty in heads. You should see Thanos's Funko Pop collection. It is way grim.



Queen Medusa receives these guests wearing underwear and a diaphanous gown, which is peculiar, but she's a space queen; I can buy it. I assume a future issue will show Ronan the Accuser in just a banana hammock and a jaunty scarf. Medusa stands up to the Night's Watch, the Mouse Guard, the Kings of the Stone Age, and Nosferatu responds by ordering his soldiers to kill themselves.

Guys. Guys! I think I know how you can beat Thanos's army. Do you know any shapeshifters? Turns out these guys are super dumb.

Meanwhile, in the Old Avengers part of the story, our heroes have allied themselves with the Galactic Council. As we saw in the Avengers tie-in, this council includes the Skrulls (ooh, they're shapeshifters!), unified under the leadership of the Super Skrull. His real name is Kl'rt. I think it's pronounced "Claret". He's also one of the Real Houseskrulls of Tarnax IV.


Avengers #18


(I'm kidding. Tarnax IV was devoured by Galactus. Everyone knows that.)

Even Claret isn't quite as silly a name as the King of Spartax, J-Son. He used to be called Jason, and someone decided that was too silly, and that J-Son was somehow less silly. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this guy bites it by the end of the event. Maybe he can be replaced by King P-Ter, or Queen I-Reen. Maybe Supreme Imperator R-Thur?


Avengers #18


Also on the council; the Kree, the Shi'ar, the Brood and the Negative Zone, which I always thought of as more like a loose confederation of ducal realms, like pre-unification Italy, only with more cannibalism and less gnocchi.

My favorites, of course, are the Shi'Ar, because those guys dress like disco never died, and I like any alien world that has its own superheroes. (Hey, whatever happened to Galador? Oh, right.) The only thing I don't like is Gladiator's shorter mohawk in Infinity (a little longer in Avengers), because that guy rocks the second best mohawk in comics when he really commits to it. Kings should have high hair, you know?


Avengers #18


Gladiator is currently in charge of the Shi'Ar, and I say "currently" because those guys burn through rulers like they're Action Comics creative teams. D'Ken, Lilandra, Deathbird, Vulcan, Black Bolt. That's in, what, ten years? Queen Elizabeth II doesn't change her hat that many times in ten years.

Anyway; there was a space battle in Avengers. If you're only reading Infinity, you missed it. No big deal. It was called the Battle of the Corridor, so how interesting could it be? When your villains are called the Builders, maybe it's not great to name the battles after parts of a house?

Another reason not to worry; this book has another battle. The War of the Sun Nook. The Incursion at the Supporting Wall. The Attic Conversion Offensive. This one is a victory for the good guys (good because they're only 99% monstrosities and they're not presently wiping out innocent worlds!), and it happens so quickly that I thought the real battle might again be in another book. The danger of this type of crossover is that you're always left wondering if you're reading the actual story or just the recap of the story.



The Builders respond to the hero's victory by deploying two of their guys -- a golden horn dude and one of the guys with a Big Trak for a head -- to unleash an ink spill on a planet you don't care about. Have these guys ever invaded Earth? No. So we don't care.

This seems like a good time to mention that, aside from the funky golden horn dudes, the Builders are a remarkably uninteresting existential threat. They don't have names, they don't have fun designs, they don't have identifiable personalities. This must all be deliberate -- perhaps to contrast them with the Grand Guignol theatricality of America's Best Death Crew over in the other storyline -- but it's very underwhelming.

The issue ends with a meeting of the Loyal Illuminati of Water Buffalo in a secret pocket dimension where Black Bolt can speak. Because this is a comic we can't tell if he's got a deep, rich George Clooney voice or a high, squeaky David Beckham voice. Maybe if the Illuminati admitted some women to its membership, one of them could clue us in? The Illuminati is really just the worst private members club in the world. You know they only admitted their first black member back in January?



Black Bolt gives the Illuminati his USB key and tells them, "If anything happens to me, wipe my porn collection before one of my six wives finds it." He also reveals that Thanos has a secret love child stashed somewhere among the Inhumans. I can't wait to meet young Thanthony.

Next time, in Comics Alliance x Infinity: Death! Betrayal! Destruction! Worlds colliding! Any of this could happen, and you still might miss it completely in the pages of this comic! You'll get some really juicy recap pages, though!

Plus: The Cull Obsidian versus the Polyphonic Spree.

Custom graphics by Dylan Todd.