It's gotten rather difficult for me to read anything by Marvel and DC of late. Time and again on this website I've voiced my distain for the need and willingness of these two giants to refuse change. Sure, things shift from time to time but it is rather rare that anything really changes. Welp, recently Marvel decided to slap me down for such generalized views and some things did change. Peter Parker is no longer Spiderman and the Superior Spiderman comics are quite enjoyable even if they are a bit repetitious (we get it Octavious, you were bullied, get over yourself). The ongoing shuffling of the X-men and the looming portents surrounding the Wolverine and the X-Men comics are really well done and deeply enjoyable.
That being said there is one recent story line that simply must be read and it comes to us in the tradeback title for New Avengers, Everything Dies.
As you can probably tell this is one of the more serious attempts that Marvel has made at riting a compelling story. the stakes are nothing less than the continuation of our dimensional reality. Going against its own title, Everything Dies actually has very few members of the New Avengers appear in it. Instead we get the return of a fun little team that has caused a great deal of problems in the past: The Illuminati.
Originally coming together to deal with major world changing issues the Illuminati consists of some of the most powerful individuals in the Marvel cannon. The current roster has Black Bolt (Inhumans review coming soon), Namor, Iron Man, Captain America, Stephen Strange, Mr. Fantastic and Charles Xavier. We get a bit of a shake up in this story. Firstly, when originally brought together an invitation was sent to Black Panther to join as well since he is also a scientific genius as well as the leader of the super advanced nation of Wakanda. At that time, on moral grounds, Panther refused and warned the others to walk away from what they were beginning. Now, with the problem at his doorstep, Panther is forced to join with the single most powerful collection of individuals on Earth. The second bit of re-ordering comes in the fact that Xavier isn't around anymore, Scott Summers killed him near the end of the last Phoenix story. Replacing him is Beast because we need more science up in here. Actually it's because Beast has ever been the living ideal that Xavier had for the mutant race. A man who does works for the collective good, not only for just humans or just mutants.
The story goes that in some parallel dimension, on Earth, an event occurred that destroyed their entire dimension. As a result of this other universes were pushed into a sort of dimensional collision course. This process always starts with the planet Earth and only two outcomes ever occur. Either the process completes and the universes intersect causing the destruction of both and precipitating the continuing chain reaction, or one of the Earths is destroyed sparing both realities. The problem is that even if you are on the Earth that survives, there is no way of knowing how many more of these universal incursions are still on their way.
Ignoring for the moment that the existence of Earth is apparently a multidimensional constant on par with the existence of Galactus or the Phoenix, you may have a few questions about what events have taken place to cause this, how other worlds have resolved the issue and just what the cost was. Well to help narration and discovery along we are gifted with Black Swan. A grey skinned woman who destroys an incurring Earth saving our own before being captured by Black Panther. She hops between worlds for her own mysterious ends and knows a great deal about what is coming but never spills all the beans. As such the sense of mystery in this comic is very well done as you are always left with a question.
Unlike other world ending story events this one stays very reserved. There is little action and all of the tension is born out of a mix of well crafted dialogue and superb art. What makes the story compelling isn't the weight of the stakes or jaw dropping fights that one up one another (see Galactus vs. The Celestial Host and the lead up to that) but the implacable advance of a force so powerful you can't beat it cleanly and how that grinds down even the greatest of men.
With the resources available to the members of this council you'd think they'd be able to come up with an everyone wins solution and at first they appear to be able to when they make use of the Infinity Gauntlet to push back an incursion. It's not every day that I get to say this so I'm going to savour it. Captain America pushes an entire alternate reality away from us. At least he tries to. While the Infinity Gems bestow godlike power to whomever wields them they only work within their own reality and the force of pushing against the entirety of an alien dimension is enough to shatter five of the gems while the sixth vanishes. Realizing that there simply may not be another way each of the members of the Illuminati start drawing up plans for destroying the other Earths should the need arise before they have found a non-destructive solution.
This is the gold of the comic. Watching these men struggle with the necessary suspension of their morals as they work to destroy worlds in order to save not only their own universe, but the remainder of the others. It is chilling to watch each of these men work to end worlds in their own ways. While Black Panther and Reed Richards reverse engineer a doomsday device Stark is hard at work weaponizing a Dyson Sphere to make a new version of Sol's Hammer. Stephen Strange takes an apocalyptic spell with him as he leaves his Sanctum Sanctorum as he resigns himself to do what must be done.
And then there's Namor. I like Namor. Read the comic, you'll like him too.
The prices each of these men pay are as grand and emotionally riveting as anything Marvel has produced in years. The comic consistantly pushes the envelope and displays not spangled action, but character at its most desperate.
A brilliant story, and one that I cannot wait to continue reading.