I...dislike Jonathan Hickman. I've previously said that I feel like his writing style is intentionally obtuse, like he writes a script and then randomly deletes 25 percent of the words to make it appear more "deep" and "mysterious." I stopped reading "Avengers" and "New Avengers" because it felt more like I was reading outlines for plots than I was reading stories with characters. I'm sad to say that this issue is no different.
I'll admit that it starts out OK. I read enough of "Avengers" and "New Avengers" to know about the incursions, and Hickman makes it sufficiently clear in the first few pages that we've gotten to the point that the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe are the only ones left. The Ultimate Reed Richards gets the Ultimate Nick Fury to send the Ultimate Iron Man against the heroes of the Marvel Universe, though he doesn't let them know that they're really a distraction so that he can have more time to...do something. (It's never really clear what that something is, but we'll get to that.) Meanwhile, the Marvel Fantastic Four are preparing an escape shuttle* so that the human race can survive if the heroes lose. (This part, I don't get. If the Marvel heroes lose, as I understand it, the Ultimate Universe will be the one to continue to exist; as such, humanity will continuity to exist. It's just the Marvel Universe's humans that won't exist. I get that Reed might want to save them, but I don't get where exactly they're going to go. Is he planning on taking them into the Ultimate Universe? If not, won't they just die with all the other people in the Marvel Universe?)
Unfortunately, the wheels fall off the bus quickly. As someone that stopped reading "New Avengers" at issue #8, I get that I might be a little confused about the Avengers' status quo. But, I read a lot of other Marvel comics, so I really shouldn't be that confused about the other heroes'. Unfortunately, I am. First, the Guardians of the Galaxy are inexplicably on Earth. That part is easily explained, since it's not that much of a stretch that they'd come to Earth to help and it wouldn't take them that long to get here. But, Cyclops is head of something called Nation X, he's controlling Sentinels, and he's in possession of a Phoenix Egg. When exactly did that happen? Honestly, I felt like I had somehow missed six months of comics. I almost stopped reading the issue to check.
But, it's not just the lack of coordination with other series that starts to derail the story. It's also that Hickman characteristically stops making sense. With Ultimate Iron Man defeated, Ultimate Richards reveals that he was just a stalling tactic and launches a fleet of ships to attack the Marvel heroes. I feel like we're supposed to be more in awe of them than I am, since Richards alludes to the fact that he's been manufacturing them in secret all this time. To me, they're just futuristic fighter jets piloted by humans. What's the big deal? But, they suddenly start defeating the heroes, even though no one really explains why they would be powerful enough to do so. It makes Marvel Reed Richards panic, so he uses Manifold to teleport heroes onto his escape shuttle and they depart as Earth apparently begins to fracture. The ship then loses part of itself (and Sue Richards, her children, and the Thing in process), and we're left with a devastated Marvel Richards telling us that he believes in nothing. Cue the page that says that the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe are both dead.
At this stage, it's unclear where we go from here. My hope is that the Hickman phase of this story is done, given that we have no more incursions left to witness. If he stays, we'll at least move to Battleworld and he'll be forced to give us a fresher concept. But, my real problem right now is that it all still feels forced. It's like Marvel's editorial staff decided to go with Secret Wars to bring the Ultimate Universe to a close, but they couldn't figure out a way to launch it that didn't involve exactly the same premise as the first "Secret Wars," with the Beyonder just kidnapping everyone. It's like someone just interjected, "Hickman is destroying universes. Why not just let him destroy both of them?" It feels like it could've just as easily been the Black Vortex bringing everyone to Battleworld as it was the incursions.
[Sigh.] I'm going to try to be optimistic that the tie-in series are at least good...
** (two of five stars)
* "Secret Wars" #0 (a.k.a. "Free Comic Book Day (Secret Wars) (2015)" #1) details how the Future Foundation kids constructed the escape shuttle while Reed and the Illuminati focused on trying to prevent the incursion. It's not exactly an essential read, but, if you're interested, at least it's free.