Star Wars

Ken’s Comic Ramblings #7: Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers is the Dark Souls of Avengers Comics

Anyone who follows me on Twitter probably knows about my growing fascination/obsession with From Software’s Dark Souls. It has been an experience in video games that I haven’t had in so long. As I delved deeper and deeper into the world of Lordran I began to notice a deal of similarities with something else that I have come to love: Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers Saga. Here, I’m going to discuss them as well as common reactions I see from video game and superhero comic fans in general.

 

I should note that, while I do use some of my own interpretations of the lore of Lordran, I do use TerraMantis’s 9-part video series on Lordran’s Lore as a reference guide for facts. You can find that series here. It should also be of note that I am looking at Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers series as one full story and in a vacuum. It is true that Secret Wars could change the context of some of these events since that event is still ongoing. As such, there will be spoilers from both franchises.

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So, with that, Prepare for Everything Dying:

 

Creation and Destruction

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The first similarity between both stories comes right off the bat in that they both begin the same way: with the creation of the world that we will explore. Hickman’s first page of Avengers #1 is quite literal on this, in that it depicts the Big Bang:

 

“There was nothing. Followed by everything. Swirling, burning specks of creation that gave birth to life-giving suns. And then… we raced to the light.”

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Dark Souls beginning is a bit more metaphorical on its world creation. It begins with the depiction of the world in the Age of Ancients, the Age of the Everlasting Dragons. The age of stasis and status quo where nothing changed. But like at the beginning of Avengers, soon came fire and with that came disparity and change. It brought life and death, light and dark. And with that fire came the Four Lords; the Gravelord Nito, the Witch of Izalith, the forgotten Pygmy and Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight. With the power gained, Nito, the Witch and Gwyn changed the world and defeated the Dragons. This heralded in the Age of Fire, the Age of Gwyn. Remember Gwyn, because we’ll be coming back to him.

 

How do these stories connect thematically? Well, we have to look at the two words that have defined Hickman’s run, the very first words in New Avengers #1: Everything Dies. Nothing lasts forever and nothing should last forever. And like the dying multiverse, so too will the Age of Fire die, as the First Flame begins to flicker and fade to herald the Age of Dark, the Age of Man.

 

Creation has always been a big theme throughout most of Hickman’s work. The very first arc of Avengers dealt with creation on a planetary-scale, dealing with Ex Nihilo’s origin bombs. But to create, one must destroy something else. The young and new will always supersede the old (well, it should, but this is Big 2 comics after all). It’s a natural order. Everything dies, because it must.

 

The Illusive Story

 

A common criticism I’ve heard throughout Hickman’s time on Avengers/New Avengers has been that his story is too vague, too big, too unfocused. And honestly, I like that it wasn’t a straightforward book. It wasn’t a book that was going to hold your hand. It was a book that was going to challenge you to figure out answers, make theories, make assumptions and have those assumptions ruled out.

 

Again, like Dark Souls.

 

If you just rush through the game without true exploration, then you’re going to think the game has no story. It’s through not only exploration of the world, the desire to go off the beaten path, but the examination of the story text that comes with every item you acquire that paints the world of Lordran. It helps you understand the tragedy that befell New Londo, the reasons behind the Chaos Witch Quelaag trying to kill you. In fact, the context behind many of the enemies you face makes them very sympathetic.

 

That keeping of the motivational context hidden brings up another criticism I hear about Hickman’s work: That it’s too cold. Too devoid of character. I’d argue that, like Dark Souls, it’s much more subtle about its characterization. It’s not going to devolve three or four pages of characters telling the reader how they feel (which is a fine, but different, way of storytelling). Rather, the changes we see over time with characters, especially Namor and T’Challa, show the character development.

 

The Illuminated Ones

 

Let’s go back to Gwyn for a bit.

 

Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight. The King of Anor Londo. The God who defeated the Everlasting Dragons and heralded in the Age of Fire, the Age of his power. But as I’ve said: all things end. After millennia, the First Flame that gave he and his fellow Lords their power began to fade. With the knowledge of the coming Dark, Gwyn would do everything in his power to feed the Flame to prevent this catastrophic change in status quo. He would end up sacrificing his people (the Flooding of New Londo), his Knights, his family. Until finally, Gwyn sacrificed himself, linking himself to the First Flame to keep it lit. To keep the last, paltry embers of the Age of Fire alight against the coming Age of Dark, the Age of Man, the creatures he feared. Thus, did the Lord of Sunlight become the Lord of Cinders.

 

What does this have to do with Hickman’s Avengers? I saw this interesting infograph once that displayed the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four as parts of a triangle, each standing in for something in societal structure. It depicted the Fantastic Four as the explorers and the dreamers, the X-Men as those that challenge status quo of the societal structure and the Avengers as those that maintain the status quo. While I think the Fantastic Four and X-Men aspects are fairly accurate (assuming that the Marvel Universe would be allowed to advance), I think it was a bit unfair to the Avengers. For me, I feel that they are the prevention of societal structure integrity from failing, while groups like X-Men and Fantastic Four are able to change parts in this structure and create new parts respectfully.

 

But if the Avengers are those to prevent structure collapse, then who are the ones that seek to maintain the status quo? Who benefits from it?

 

Enter the Illuminati.

 

The Illuminati are a group of the most powerful and intelligent men (and it is interesting that it is all men, despite Hickman originally wanting Emma Frost for the group) that have chosen to protect the world in secret. They have been involved with some of the most important events in Marvel history and when they discover the universe-ending Incursions begin to threaten them, they set to their task in secret. They set themselves up as the final authority, putting themselves above their people, their families and their friends and as the story progresses, the lines they seek to not cross become thinner and thinner.

 

Sound familiar?

 

It is also interesting, and obviously coincidental, that the word “illuminati” translates to “the illuminated or enlightened ones” and Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight and whose Lord Soul brought Light into the world.

 

The World Is Always Doomed

 

** Okay, I’m going to be getting into massive spoilers to the end of the Avengers/New Avengers storyline Time Runs Out as well as the two endings to Dark Souls. This is your final warning. **

 

With light comes dark, and with life must come death. Nothing lasts forever, whether it is in Lordran or the Marvel Universe. And just how these two stories began in similar ways with their myths of creation, so to do they have a similar ending theme.

 

Let us talk about the two potential endings in Dark Souls which comes down to one choice: Do you, the Chosen Undead, link your soul to the First Flame and continue the perpetuation of the Age of Fire? Or do you let the last remnants of Gwyn’s now stagnant and destructive Age finally go out and herald the birth of the Dark Lord?

 

Let’s consider something with the first ending: Let us say that the Chosen Undead links the Fire and continues the Age of Fire. But there is something one has to remember: In his efforts to perpetuate the Age, Gwyn made many sacrifices, including sacrificing Humanity to the First Flame to keep it lit. In the end, he links his own soul to the Flame to try and keep it going and when the Chosen Undead reaches Gwyn, he’s but a deranged husk and shell of his former self. So, linking the Flame is, at best, a temporary measure as the Dark continues to encroach. It shows that, even the most powerful, the most intelligent, the most arrogant; none of it will matter in the face of the End.

 

Everything Dies.

 

Then we come to Time Runs Out, the final story in Avengers/New Avengers leading up the day of the Final Incursion. We learn that the Illuminati attempted many techniques to try to, if not figure out why the Incursions were happening, but to find refuge for humanity. They try to create an artificial Earth using a Cosmic Cube, they try to appeal to the god-like Celestials, Reed even tries to use his own son, Franklin’s, reality warping abilities to try and stop the Incursions. It all fails. In the end, it comes down to not winning, but trying to find a way to not lose. The ending to this story has the desperate Illuminati and Future Foundation crafting an ark to survive the cataclysm with dozens of scientists, engineers, e.t.c. to restart humanity; the final embers of hope as the Dark void surrounds them.

 

Not For Everyone

 

At the end of the day, there is one commonality that I believe Hickman’s Avengers and Dark Souls have: persistence even in the face of the end. Our ability as humans to endure. To not give in to despair and to make something from the ashes around us.

 

But as the subtitle of this section states: They aren’t for everyone. Dark Souls is infamous for its difficulty (I would argue that it’s more strict, yet fair, and doesn’t suffer fools lightly) and it is a turn off for people who would have wanted a lighter barrier to entry. On the other side, Hickman’s Avengers is something that absolutely requires you to pay attention to each issue, offers no “jumping-on points” and is about as far removed from the tone and themes of the mainstream Avengers movie as possible.

 

So yeah, these two stories aren’t for everyone. And that’s fine.

 

It’s fine that there are stories that are grim, ambiguous and willing to not explain everything outright to its readers. Those types of stories are just as necessary to the bright, happy and easily accessible stories that have been gaining such coverage lately. A healthy, vibrant and diverse market requires both types of stories and more. You can be a fan of exclusively either one of these stories types and that’s fine, but don’t dismiss or disregard the other side of that coin.

 

 

Any view, opinions or positions expressed within this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent those of G33K-HQ. The validity, accuracy, or completeness of any statements made within this article are those of the author.

About Kenneth

When he is not working at a library or on his Master's Degree, Ken Godberson III is usually writing comics, prose and screenplays. He tends to be an expert on absolutely nothing except on why Impulse is the greatest superhero ever. He can be found on Twitter @kengodbersoniii or on Tumblr at kengodbersoniii.tumblr.com

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