Jonathan Hickman has wasted no time in building huge-stakes Avengers stories. Three issues into New Avengers, the fates of two universes hang in the balance, and the moral compasses of Earth's Mightiest Heroes are being put under extreme duress.
To be fair, this is an Illuminati story, and those are never shining beacons of right over wrong, but most of that group is made up of Avengers, and Black Bolt could easily step up to the plate should he ever wish to. It's also a Black Panther story – the one man who condemned the entire idea of the Illuminati in the first place, but also a man who has resorted to joining its ranks in the face of this parallel universe's incursion into ours, which will result in the destruction of both if nothing is done. The Illuminati was formed to make the tough decisions, and this is one of the toughest – how do men who call themselves heroes allow the sacrifice of one entire world in order to save their own?
Black Panther isn't the only new face in the Illuminati, though. A more recent addition was Captain America, and now, in the absence of Charles Xavier, his hand-picked replacement, Dr. Hank McCoy, has been granted knowledge of the group's existence and custody of the Infinity Gem Xavier had hidden, and as such, reluctant admission into the Illuminati itself. The dangerous plan of this braintrust is to reassemble the Infinity Gauntlet as a means to stave off the incursion, and to harness the iron will of Steve Rogers to use its immense powers to push the offending universe away.
As is typical of Hickman, this cosmic threat is not one so easily solved. In fact, so great is this danger that it pushes back against the power of the Gauntlet, and actually shatters five of the six gems. The fact that the Time Gem merely vanishes will most certainly not be a throwaway development, but the notion that this threat is so huge that its feedback destroyed The Infinity Gauntlet, perhaps the most powerful weapon in the Marvel Universe… nobody writes on a scale this big. Nobody but Jonathan Hickman.
Of course, Namor, being the dick that he is, blames Captain America for killing them all with his incompetence. True, that's basically a panicky lash out in the face of the death of everything, because of all the things you might be able to accuse Cap of, incompetence is not one of them. But as we've said, Namor is a dick, and I can't wait for Black Panther to lay the motherfuckin' hammer down on his ass for flooding Wakanda back during AvX. T'Challa has already promised to kill Namor once this is over, so you know Hickman's got some big plan for that.
Anyway, the real kicker comes in the aftermath. Cap essentially bulled his way into the Illuminati once he learned of its existence, ostensibly to make sure it had a moral compass. However, as we've seen in the past, the really impossible decisions are the ones that don't allow for the heroes to apply their standard moral barometers, and this is one of them. Without the Infinity Gauntlet, the dilemma before them is to kill one world to preserve theirs. The rest of the 'big picture' thinkers are on board with sacrificing their nobility to that end, but Captain America is not. He never is. And this is why he was never a part of the Illuminati to begin with. Because the Illuminati exist, at least in their own minds, outside the boundaries of traditional morality. And what they all agree to do to Steve Rogers proves that.
And that's why New Avengers #3 is such a compelling story, and why Steve Epting's dark, moody artwork is perfect for it. It's extremely uncomfortable to see our heroes acting like this, but we can understand it. It remains to be seen whether or not Steve's words will resonate with any of them despite their resolve.
This book sits in your gut and makes you feel its drama. This are certainly not the old Avengers.