The Ashen Combine launched attacks on individual cities across the globe, where they were each met by an opposing member of the Avengers. Meanwhile, Black Panther and Captain America secretly infiltrated the Impossible City, the Ashen Combine’s orbiting fortress. But before they could destroy it, the sentient Impossible City spoke to the Avengers--and proclaimed that they were all doomed!
It has been exhilarating seeing the Avengers take on a threat that feels genuinely unpredictable and alien, breaking away from the stagnant rogues gallery that this franchise had been cycling through. Jed MacKay writes the Ashen Combine, as this league of super-villains is dubbed, with a mythological grandeur and Lovecraftian mystique reminiscent of the villains writer Jonathan Hickman loves to conjure up. Like the Ex Nihilo and the Swordbearers of Arakko, the Combine are practically gods, and everything about them suggests a vast, unknown history.
While their spectacle is much appreciated, there is the sense that these characters, with their complex designs and haughty, inhuman motivations, do not have the staying power necessary to become “classic” foes of the Avengers. After all, a name like Meridian Diadem does not roll off the tongue as easily as Doctor Doom or Thanos. Despite their lack of marketability, the Combine are a believable enough threat to make this team of seasoned heroes feel like rookies out of their league.
Divide and conquer is the Ashen Combine’s tactic of choice in Avengers #5, having split the heroes into one-on-one matches across the globe and beyond. Having struggled in their respective duels, Thor, Iron Man, and Scarlet Witch remain down-for-count throughout most of this issue, leaving the remaining team-members in the spotlight. MacKay pairs each Avenger with a villain who serves as a natural foil to them and their beliefs, but not in the blatant way comic readers are used to.
Lord Ennui is no palette-swapped Captain Marvel with near-identical powers, but his invulnerability makes him a worthy nemesis to Carol Danvers. Used to dominating her foes with sheer force and now unable to leave a scratch on her opponent, Carol is left in a state she scarcely finds herself in: helplessness.
Vision faces off against the aforementioned Diadem, a devious android housing an entire army within herself. Her evil philosophy reflects what Vision could have been had Ultron’s original plan for him succeeded. Even her silver complexion and headdress bears a resemblance to the Avengers old ally Jocasta, another one of Ultron’s creations.
All the while, Captain America and Black Panther have a tense conversation with the Impossible City, the sentient and surprisingly sympathetic mothership of the Combine. Art team Ivan Fiorelli and Federico Blee, having already provided a boatload of impressive creature designs by this point in the issue, pull out all the stops. There could be no better way to visualize a conversation between two men and a city, as the panels snap between wide-angled aerial views and grounded worm’s eye views that give the environmental entity a grand sense of scale. The shifting placement of word boxes suggests that the city’s voice echoes throughout its structures and from all directions.
The conversation between these three characters caps off Avengers #5’s major theme of perseverance in the face of hopelessness. While the heroes are left in rather dire positions, the overall tone is triumphant as they refuse to back down, surely preparing to turn the tide next issue.
Avengers #5 is a visual feast for the eyes with its well-designed new villains and gargantuan sci-fi set pieces. The issue successfully balances a drearier tone while maintaining a heroic and hopeful spirit.
Avengers #5: Avengers Never Say Die
- Writing - 8/108/10
- Storyline - 7/107/10
- Art - 8/108/10
- Color - 8/108/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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