Avengers: Endgame closes the book on the first saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though each movie has its own inspirations and influences, the likes of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Jim Starlin, and arguably, Mark Millar (a lot of the Phase 1 Avengers world-building is owed to his Ultimates run) hover over the Infinity Saga. But there’s another name who should be in that mix that is too often overlooked: writer Jonathan Hickman.
Hickman began his stint with Marvel on such books as Fantastic Four and the Ultimate Marvel solo books for Thor and Hawkeye. His notorious SHIELD book ended on a cliffhanger for several years. Come 2012, short after The Avengers movie, Hickman delivered two essential books to the Marvel Universe: Avengers or New Avengers. Avengers had the same roster as the movie, similar costumes, and was part of the Marvel NOW! relaunch following their war with the X-Men. So, what was Hickman’s big idea for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? Fans of Infinity War and Endgame will notice some similarities.
The Illuminati of the Marvel Universe
Rather than being a shadowy cabal, Marvel’s Illuminati was made up of the world’s smartest heroes: Iron Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Mr. Fantastic, the Inhuman king Black Bolt, and Professor Charles Xavier. The society were responsible in part for the Secret Invasion and have been operating in the shadows until they were forced to disband shortly before the superhero Civil War. They’ve come back together a few times over the years, most notably when Mr. Fantastic had them acquire the Infinity Stones to try and will them away. (It didn’t work.)
The Illuminati found themselves united again in New Avengers — with new members Captain America and Beast, who replaced the now dead Xavier. Ethically unsound choices were at the heart of the book, the New Avengers were prepared to quite literally do whatever it takes to save the multiverse, including wiping Captain America’s mind because he feared the Illuminati would eventually build world killing weapons … which, of course, they did. And that’s where Avengers came into play.
The Avengers get taken to weird, infinite possibilities
While New Avengers focused on the decay of the multiverse, Avengers was filled with energetic team ups in the vein of more recent MCU films. Cap’s mind may have been wiped, but he knew bigger threats were coming. Instead of just waiting for the Avengers to come together mid-catastrophe, he and Iron Man recruited old friends and newcomers. Esteemed veterans such as Wolverine and Spider-Man joined for the simplest of reasons (beer and money, natch), newbies Shang-Chi, Sunspot, and Cannonball joined for new experiences … and because you don’t say “no” when Captain America asks you to become an Avenger.
Hickman’s Avengers was fun and weird. Depending on the cast members, the tone of the book shifted while still maintaining consistency with the overall narrative. A college kid accidentally became a planetary defense system called the Star Brand and blasted the Hulk into space while naked; Captain America, Hulk, and Falcon aging decades in a over a third of a day in a strange, body-horror-like twist; Sunspot and Cannonball charming their way into making friends with AIM stooges at a casino. Hickman did it all.
Thanks to his work on Fantastic Four and The Ultimates, the writer knew how to play the long game, and it was clear both books were building towards something. The plan didn’t truly become clear until the Avengers went to war with a world-making race called the Builders in 2013’s Infinity event. Any world between the Builders and Earth was assaulted, forcing the Avengers to join up with various alien empires to save the entire universe. The New Avengers, meanwhile, tried to prevent an Incursion from happening just as Thanos showed up looking to kill his Inhuman son, Thane.
Following the release of Infinity War and now Endgame, Hickman’s Infinity carries additional weight to it. The similarities between the event and Infinity War are obvious, from the Children of Thanos to Wakanda’s invasion, and the event’s penultimate issue takes an Endgame-like turn: the Avengers help liberate planets taken over by the Builders, turning them into “Avengers Worlds.” To drive this point home, the planets begin to have flags with the Avengers “A,” a proud display of their might across the galaxy. Just as the newly un-snapped heroes and allies from the films storm into battle is a powerful moment, so is reading a montage of the spacefaring heroes saving planet after planet alongside its inhabitants. They’re both moments that, in their respective mediums, confirm that the Avengers have become something more. Hickman built a legacy that would forever define them.
[Ed. note: this post contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame]
What Hickman’s contributions mean for the MCU
Now that the MCU has a fresh start with an eventual new roster of Avengers, there’s a greater chance that Hickman’s work will be reflected in the films and TV shows. Characters who were in his Avengers books either already exist in some capacity — Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Spider-Man, plus some characters of his who have shown up on Agents of SHIELD — or are about to receive a solo movie, such as Shang-Chi. The inclusion of the X-Men and Fantastic Four means we may see the Council of Reeds on film, or Sunspot and Cannonball come into their own as heroes.
Various elements of Hickman’s books have come into the MCU over the years. Agents of SHIELD has appropriately brought in characters and elements such as the Secret Warriors. Hickman helped propel Thanos to the spotlight ahead of his big screen debut. It’s because of him that Miles Morales shares the same world as Peter Parker on film. You can, at least partially, thank him for the existence of Thor’s weapon Stormbreaker and Sam Wilson becoming Captain America in Endgame. (You can also thank him for the Inhumans being so prominent in Agents of SHIELD and that not ending well, but nobody’s perfect.) Soon, he’ll be writing the X-Men and giving them a much needed revamp.
Hickman is responsible for a lot of things that have come to the MCU in recent years. He’ll likely be responsible for more, such as Wakandans going to space or the arrival of Star Brand. Go back and try to read some of his work now — it’ll save you the time when characters start gravely saying “everything dies” at the end of a future Avengers trailer.