While Dustin Weaver's cover to "New Avengers" #18 depicts the Illuminati locked in battle with the Justice League Analog, the Great Society, the contents of this issue are found wanting for action. Writer Jonathan Hickman has started to pull back the curtain on the Incursions, but in this issue drawn by Valerio Schiti, there is more hurry-up-and-wait than a fight.
Hickman checks in with each of the secretive cluster of Marvel's best and brightest, frequently bouncing them against one another to magnify the thoughts and fears of both. The eight pages where T'Challa calls upon the ghosts of Black Panthers now deceased is the one exception -- Hickman has frequently displayed a chilling and masterful affinity for the one-time king of Wakanda and these pages once more underscore his knack for writing the character as noble, heroic, conflicted and determined. Hickman breaks the melancholy with a two-page interchange between Doctor Strange and Namor that illustrates how far and how completely each of the Illuminati has fallen as they embrace the future awaiting them.
Guest artist Valerio Schiti checks in and makes an immediate mark on every character in this issue, from Maximus and Lockjaw (who resembles a gigantic pug) to Black Panther and Black Swan. Schiti presents a very solid case to return, hopefully soon, or to join Hickman in launching a Black Panther title. The artist delivers iconic interpretations of every character in this issue, and even makes those out of costume instantly recognizable and memorable. His storytelling choices are sharp and clean and his settings are open, yet lushly detailed. Everything Schiti brought to his run on "Journey Into Mystery," he brings here and then some. "New Avengers" #18 is a gorgeous looking book, thanks to Schiti's cooperative art, Frank Martin's bold and textured coloring and Joe Caramagna's dynamic lettering choices. The latter ranges from the voices of the ghost Panthers to the empty echo of Black Swan's taunts. Martin's colors, meanwhile complement the emotions worn raw throughout this comic book, from the regal, solemn purple hues in the Necropolis to the blazing oranges and reds on the field of battle as the issue closes out and the Incursion looms near. The visual creative team's efforts on "New Avengers" #18 are stunning and inviting, giving readers plenty to soak in.
Following the introduction of Bruce Banner into the Illuminati in "Avengers" #28, Hickman has elevated the stakes of Incursions and their ramifications for the rest of the Marvel Universe. Readers are left no avenue for misinterpretation. The heroes and leaders of the Marvel Universe are at their collective wits' end. "New Avengers" #18 is the final calm before the storm as the Great Society is on their way to stem the Incursion of their own world. Hickman has been working a long-range story throughout his tenure on the Avengers and, after over fifty issues, things are becoming clearer. I was on the edge of letting "New Avengers" fall off my pull list three issues ago. Now, I'm riveted, counting the days until the conflict between Illuminati and Great Society as the members of the Illuminati count the minutes until the next Incursion.