The Avengers embark on a galaxy-spanning mission to defeat the ruthless Builders, leaving Earth open to attack by Thanos...

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(Panini Books)

Across the gulf of space, dark forces are stirring… While on Earth itself, the mad Titan Thanos has ambitions of his own. The seeds are sown for an epic battle to preserve not only all that we hold dear on our own world, but the existence of countless other races and empires spanning the cosmos. When the odds are this high, only the Avengers can be counted on to achieve victory.

Since taking control of the interlinked books Avengers and New Avengers, writer Jonathan Hickman has been building towards this, the grand space opera section of his magnum opus for the two teams. It might seem like this is the conclusion he’s been aiming for, but in reality it’s only the end of the first act.

The challenges come thick and fast on assorted different fronts. The ancient race of evolutionary manipulators known as the Builders are wiping out planets which don’t fit their perfect vision of reality, with Earth in their sights thanks to the actions of new Avengers recruit Ex Nihilo. Meanwhile, an alliance of galactic empires has been forged to combat this menace, joined by representatives of the Avengers from Earth who they initially dismiss as backwater savages.

With many of the Avengers off-world, Thanos seizes the opportunity to attack our planet and demand a tribute of youths from the Inhumans, the super-powered race of outcasts who occupy the floating city of Attilan under the leadership of Black Bolt.

But the tribute is merely a cover for Thanos’ search for his long-lost son, sired with an Inhuman woman, who he intends to slaughter as part of his own insane quest to win the love of the embodiment of Death itself.

While all this is going on, the members of the secret group known as the Illuminati (aka the New Avengers), whose ranks include the likes of Tony Stark, Doctor Strange, Reed Richards, T’Challa and Namor, are trying to prevent extradimensional incursions by Earths from other realities, which will have devastating consequences for our own planet. And the Black Panther and Sub-Mariner stand on the verge of war following Namor’s attack on Wakanda while under the influence of the Phoenix Force (see Avengers Vs X-Men).

If you think it sounds like a complicated game board then you’d be right. There are pieces scattered across multiple battlefronts, and a prior knowledge of recent events in the Marvel Universe and the histories of the different alien races featured is useful to get the most out of Hickman’s story, but not essential to enjoying this collection.

At its heart, what we have here is a tale about people facing up to extreme situations, and that should be at the heart of all good storytelling. It’s certainly a different sort of crossover from the usual summer slugfests we’ve seen in the past, but then Hickman is by no means your average comics writer, preferring to weave a complex narrative which never patronises his readership.

Outstanding.

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