Avengers Vs. X-Men brought about a mass renumbering and creator roulette known as Marvel NOW, heralding a new era in which the original five X-Men from the ’60s were pulled to the present, the Avengers expanded to deal with the just-simmering end of the universe, Dr. Octopus went gallivanting around in Peter Parker’s body, and Daredevil and Hawkeye became two of the Best Books Ever.
The first big event of the NOW era was Age of Ultron, a 10-part series by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, Butch Guice, Alex Maleev, David Marquez and Joe Quesada.
Ultron opens in media res, with the killer robot already having won and platoons of Ultron Sentinels prowling the streets looking for the remaining heroes. Time-travel hijinks ensue. A common theme of the Marvel NOW era is how Earth’s heroes keep screwing up the timestream with their shenanigans, vis a vis their actions in Ultron (Wolverine and the Invisible Woman travel back in time to kill Hank Pym before he creates Ultron, creating an alternate reality in which Earth is a casualty of the Kree-Skrull War, necessitating even more time travel), Beast pulling the ’60s X-Men to Earth, Kang being himself, etc.
Among its effects, Age of Ultron brought Angela – a character Neil Gaiman created for Image – into the Marvel Universe (and made her Odin’s secret daughter from a heretofore unseen 10th realm), Galactus was shipped to the Ultimate Universe and the company launched Avengers A.I., a book about Hank Pym and a bunch of android characters, which lasted 12 issues.
Marvel has been scheduling two events a year for most of the NOW era, so later in 2013 we got Infinity, written by Jonathan Hickman (also the architect of the upcoming Secret Wars) and drawn by Jim Cheung, Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver.
“Infinity” at Marvel has always implied a universe-spanning cosmic adventure, and so we get the mad titan Thanos attacking Earth while the Avengers are away in space trying to fight the Builders, a race of aliens introduced in Hickman’s first Avengers arc. Part of the storyline involves Hickman’s ongoing series of incursions – the collisions of Earths across the multiverse, which is how the upcoming Secret Wars will start.
Thanos and the Inhuman king Black Bolt wail on each other pretty hard, as BB tries to prevent Thanos from finding his Inhuman-descended son, Thane. In the process, Thanos sets off a Terrigen Bomb, creating more Inhumans, including the new Ms. Marvel. Among the event’s other effects, a new volume of Mighty Avengers launched, starring Luke Cage and a group of other street-level heroes (Monica Rambeau, Blade, Spider-Man, etc.), who were left behind on Earth during Infinity.
The next event is a murder-mystery. Original Sin, by Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato, centers on the death of Uatu the Watcher and the theft of his eyes, which have dirt on everyone. Teams of investigators scour here, there and everywhere to determine who may have killed him. One of the eyes is in the possession of the Orb, an old Ghost Rider villain with a giant eyeball for a head. So that’s appropriate.
Along the way, the heroes also find the real Nick Fury, an old man with a seemingly limitless supply of Life Model Decoys of himself. Original-recipe Fury reveals that, in addition to running SHIELD for decades, he had a secret job protecting Earth from extradimensional threats, which jibes with his underground work during Secret Invasion. He’s also revealed to be the man who murdered Uatu, but ends up becoming his replacement. Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, in turn, replaces Fury as Earth’s guardian against extra-dimensional forces, so who’s gonna have an army of LMDs now?
Sin revealed secrets about a number of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Spider-Man learned someone else had been bitten by the same radioactive spider that bit him, the character Silk, who now has her own series. Tony Stark apparently had tinkered with the gamma bomb that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk. Angela is revealed as Thor’s half-sister from the Tenth Realm. Dum Dum Dugan, the Howling Commando, learns he died in the 1960s and is, in fact, an LMD.
Oh, and at some point, Fury whispers something in Thor’s ear that makes him unworthy of wielding Mjolnir and being Thor. Hence, new lady Thor.
Finally, we come to Axis, an Avengers/X-Men crossover that wraps up a storyline – the Red Skull stealing Charles Xavier’s brain – that Rick Remender launched in his Uncanny Avengers title. Remender wrote Axis with art by Adam Kubert, Leinil Francis Yu, Terry Dodson and Jim Cheung.
The Red Skull has taken over Genosha – Magneto’s former mutant haven – and turned it into a concentration camp and base for broadcasting a global message of hate. Magneto is predictably pissed and confronts the Skull, who turns into a being called Red Onslaught.
Doctor Doom and the Scarlet Witch cast an “inversion spell,” intended to bring out the Xavier aspect of the Red Onslaught’s mind. The spell casts a wider net, however, and suddenly guys like Carnage, the Hobgoblin and Sabretooth are acting like heroes, Tony Stark is being a huge jerk (and is drinking again), Deadpool is a pacifist and the X-Men have pledged their loyalty to Apocalypse. Eventually, a reinversion spell is cast, returning most of the heroes and villains to their normal selves, with Stark among the few exceptions.
Oh, and at some point, it’s revealed that Magneto is not the biological father of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Because movie rights stuff, I assume.
Among the new series spun out of Axis were Superior Iron Man, about the new, jerkier Stark; a new volume of Uncanny Avengers starring Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, and Wolverines, which features an inverted Sabretooth among other characters directly affected by the death of Wolverine.
That brings us to the present, mere days from the start of Secret Wars. But wait, there’s more! Check back later this week for a bonus installment, featuring a few of the crossovers we overlooked.
Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.