This week’s recap of Jonathan Hickman’s dual Avengers runs leading up to the new Secret Wars will cover the Infinity crossover, which brought Thanos into the story in a way that his creator Jim Starlin has probably already retconned as out-of-character behavior, possible the work of a clone. Because that’s what he does any time anyone other than he uses Thanos in a story.
This entry will probably be one of the longest and densest since it covers the Infinity storyline. You’ve been warned. As always, SPOILERS behind the cut.
The Builders Return
Alerted by both Captain Universe and Smasher’s connections to the Shi’ar Imperium, the Avengers know the Builders are coming, and they’re not gentle. They’re pretty much wiping out everything in their path, and they won’t tell anyone why.
What the Avengers do know comes from new member Ex Nihilio. The Builders, he explains, are the oldest sentient race in the universe, far advanced from any other race out there. Why they’re returning he doesn’t know, but besides their own superweapons, they have armies of both Aleph robots and Ex Nihili demigods. They don’t have an Abyss among them like the Avengers do. That will come into play later.
In space, a galactic alliance has formed, made up of the Shi’ar, the Skrulls, the Kree, the Brood, the Annihilation Wave, the Spartox (Star-Lord’s people on his father’s side), and a host of others. Gladiator is the new Emperor of the Shi’ar, the Super-Skrull is mostly representing the scattered Skrull tribes, Ronan is present for the Kree, Annihilus for the Annihilation Wave, and Star-Lord’s dad J’Son for the Spartox. J’son alone will think poorly of the Avengers’ presence when they come to represent Earth.
Seeing the crisis at hand, the Avengers head off into space to lend a hand. Iron Man volunteers to stay behind and set up a defense of Earth. He’ll do that with the rest of the Illuminati, though he doesn’t mention that part since the Illuminati are still meeting in secret. Wolverine and Spider-Man are basically no longer Avengers at this point.
And then there’s Thanos…
Out in a different part of space, Thanos has gathered a fleet of followers, including five generals called the Cull Obsidian that I’ll get to in a bit. Thanos is going to different civilizations and asking for a tribute. If the civilization refuses, he’ll raze the place, often as he did in the past. If he gets the tribute, it comes in the form of a pile of decapitated heads. He has one place left: Earth.
A scout returns from a trip to Attilan, the currently-floating Inhuman city. Black Bolt is specifically who Thanos wants a tribute from. Thanos also has learned the the Avengers have just left the planet. It’s a good time for an invasion.
The Builders are winning.
The Avengers in space soon find that even when you have a Hulk and a Thunder God on your side, the Builders are just too advanced to stand up to anything. What looks like a possible victory for the galactic alliance turns ugly when the rest of the Builder fleet appears and starts dispensing heavy casualties, including the capture of one of the two Avenger quinjets, the one that carried (among others) new members Nightmask, Star Brand, Abyss, and Captain Universe. That will prove problematic for the Builders later.
Suffering a humiliating defeat, the alliance retreats. On board the Builder vessel, however, they’re left to wonder how Abyss and Star Brand even exist, since no one has seen either in years, and why the embodiment of the universe itself, the very thing the Builders worship as “mother,” was working with the other side. The Ex Nihilo are starting to question things.
As for the Builders themselves, they seem to feel since they personally “built” all the other races, they have the right to wipe them out. At least, that’s what they tell the captured Captain Marvel.
After this defeat, Captain America refocuses efforts to be more of the central planner among the various races, something all but J’son of the Spartox seems willing to grant given how often Earth has beaten off various invasions. J’son attempts a backchannel deal with the Builders in return for getting a pass. It doesn’t work, as the Buidlers follow his signal back to the Behemoth ship being used as the alliance’s HQ, hospital, and planning vessel. The Behemoth survives, but it really rallies the aliens around Cap.
Tribute asked for
Thanos, meanwhile, arrives near Earth. He sends one of his generals, Corvus Glaive, to demand tribute from Black Bolt in the form of the heads of all Inhumans of a certain age. Black Bolt gives them a dirty look and to show how little his threats mean, Corvus’ escort all kill themselves because they care that little for their own survival.
As for the Cull Obsidian’s membership:
- Corvus Glaive is supposedly immortal and unstoppable in combat as long as he hold his staff weapon.
- Proxima Midnight, Corvus’ wife, carries a spear that can shoot off as pure energy, and that will always hit–and kill–its intended target.
- Supergiant is a master telepath.
- Black Dwarf is a nearly indestructible giant.
- Ebony Maw is a shifty fellow that Thanos doesn’t quite trust. He supposedly has no superpowers but can talk people into anything.
Thanos also knows something happened to the Infinity gems, and one is left. He sends his generals, also known as the Black Order, to deal with the other Illuminati and retrieve the last Infinity gem.
On Earth, Corvus Glaive and Supergiant attack the Jean Grey school. Supergiant takes over several of the X-Men’s minds while Corvus Glaive easily defeats Wolverine. Ebony Maw manages to possess Dr. Strange. Black Dwarf actually loses outside Wakanda to the Black Panther. Proxmia Midnight actually gets Namor to kneel without a fight…because Namor is still angry about the Wakandan sneak attack, so he simply tells her the missing Infinity gem they are looking for is there. Yeah, he straight up lied about that.
With the “knowledge” of where the missing Infinity gem is, the Black Order, save Ebony Maw, return to Thanos. Black Dwarf is punished for his defeat. The rest gear up so Thanos can deal with Black Bolt personally.
What does Thanos want? Black Bolt and Maximus have built a special zone where sound is flattened out and Black Bolt can talk without destroying anything. He calls the other Illuminati together and explains that Thanos isn’t interested in all of the Inhuman heads he asked for. He only wants one. It seems there are multiple lost Inhuman cities, and one went to space for a period, where they met Thanos and the Mad Titan fathered a child by an Inhuman princess. Being the embodiment of death, his bringing life into the existence was abhorrent to Thanos, so what he’s really been doing is removing any children he might have had from the universe.
Black Bolt asks the other Illuminati to find this specific Inhuman. He gives them some information and sends them on their way. Maximus was listening in and was at first amazed Black Bolt gave out as much information as he did…until he realizes Black Bolt had another plan in mind that he didn’t share.
Back in space…
Captain America knows the secret to winning the alliance back is one clear victory. He chooses a spot near a small agricultural colony, and the alliance does manage to defeat the Builders and rescue the captured Avengers.
It all goes wrong when the Builders dispatch one of the Ex Nihilo to the planet’s surface to commit suicide. The act causes the entire planet to die. The alliance manages to rescue as many of the colonists there as possible, but most die. This simply enrages the Ex Nihilio among the Avengers, since that was the exact opposite of what his people are supposed to do.
But between this and Abyss being captured, the other Ex Nihilio want a meeting. The two go off to meet the rest of the family. Seeing the first Abyss in ages and knowing of the ordered suicide of one of their own causes the Ex Nihilo to defect to the alliance’s side.
The Builders, on their own, force the Kree Supreme Intelligence to surrender. Ronan is forced to return to Hala and kneel to the Builders.
Captain America, meanwhile, decides to negotiate with the Builders. And he knows just who his envoy will be.
Thanos in Attilan
Thanos arrives in Attilan to find the city largely deserted. Black Bolt is sitting in the throne room while Maximus and Lockjaw hide below, having sent the last of the Inhumans (Medusa) somewhere else. Thanos asks for his tribute.
Black Bolt didn’t hope to win. He simply hoped to delay Thanos long enough to set off a bomb set by Maximus. Attilan is destroyed, and the Terrigen Mists envelop the Earth, causing instant transformation for anyone with any Inhuman genetics.
This includes the lost cities. Dr. Strange manages to find Thanos’ son, a young man named Thane. But Ebony Maw had possessed him, and sends Strange on his way. Thane’s powers prove deadly. Though a gentle healer prior to his transformation, having some Thanos genetics makes him deadly. His powers left unchecked instantly kill the rest of the city. Ebony Maw uses a forcefield and a containment suit to get Thane’s power under control, and to capture him for his father. Ebony Maw calls Thanos while the other Black Order use the captured Black Bolt’s knowledge to find the Illuminati’s planet-destroying weapons in the Wakandan Necropolis.
The Builder’s goals
In space, Captain America has dispatched Thor as his ambassador to Hala, the Kree homeworld. The Builder ambassador demands Thor get rid of his weapon, so Thor tosses Mjolinir into space. You’d think this would have given the Builder a clue.
Thor asks for mercy for Earth. The Builder refuses. Destroying Earth was their goal all along, and no man will stop them.
Thor asks, “And what if I were not a man?”
Then he gets his hammer back, which had done a quick turn around Hala’s sun and ripped the Builder a nice Mjolinir-shaped hole in his torso.
Then the Avengers, using Star Brand’s raw power, manage to capture one of the Builder’s orbital warships and turn it on the others.
Seeing the Builders are mortal means the conquered planets rebel. The Accusers rejoin the Alliance (against the Supreme Intelligence’s wishes), and the Builders start to lose.
Back on Earth, the Illuminati learn of an impending Incursion. Rushing to the site, they find more Builders getting ready to destroy the other Earth. These Builders explain that their race covers multiple universes. They learned of the Incursions and were pre-emptively destroying Earths to prevent the destruction of the multiverse. The Illuminati return to their own Earth to deal with the Cull Obsidian in the Necropolis.
The Avengers return
After mopping up the last of the Builders, the Avengers are returning to Earth. Having learned that Thanos has more or less taken the place over, the rest of the Alliance offers to assist out of gratitude for the Avengers’ help. Black Dwarf, trying to get back in Thanos’ good graces, holds a S.W.O.R.D. orbital satellite. While most of the Avengers fight Thanos’ fleet, Captain America takes a special task force to face Thanos personally: Thor, Hulk, Hyperion, and Captain Marvel.
Black Dwarf meanwhile meets his own end at the hands of special task force made up of Gladiator, Annihilus, Ronan, and the Super Skrull. Ronan found him guilty.
On Earth, the Illuminati attack Supergiant in the Necropolis. She’s mind controlled Black Bolt to do all her fighting for her, and he manages to take them all down, Dr. Strange last. Feeling she’s won, she activates one of the planet killers. Then Maximus pops up and has Lockjaw teleport Supergiant and the bomb to a very distant part of the galaxy. She meets the death she’d been waiting for.
Thane and Thanos meet
Ebony Maw brings Thanos to his son. Captain America has landed nearby and sends the Hulk ahead to soften Thanos and his generals up.
It doesn’t quite work out. Hulk is beaten early. And while Captain America does manage to deflect one of Proxima Midnight’s spears into her husband Corvus Glaive, allowing Hyperion to vaporize him, Thanos himself is too much for the Avengers. He even gets some good taunting time in on Thor.
Thor falls, but Ebony Maw was sitting the fight out and he’s essentially talked Thane into acting. Thane’s one hand causes death. His other hand? Living death. Thane traps Thanos, Proxima Midnight, and Corvus Glaive’s remains in suspended animation and leaves Earth with Ebony Maw to become…something.
Captain America wakes up find Iron Man has arrived. Tony offers to do something with Thanos.
Thanos and his cube are placed in the Necropolis, alongside the captured Black Swan and the Terrax from another universe.
Battered and beaten, the Avengers believe they’ve won. The Accusers are reinstated with the Kree. Super-Skrull is named new emperor of the Skrulls. Gladiator goes to rebuild the Imperial Guard’s loses. Annihilus gets a planet in the regular universe for the Annihilation Wave to inhabit.
Next week: Black Swan reacts to the Builders, a runaway planet threatens the Earth, the original Avengers return, and the Illuminati learn of the threats of the Mapmakers and the Black Priests.