Times have changed.
Nowadays it seems everyone who at one point WAS an Avenger IS an Avenger. During Bendis' time this was tolerable, as he made two teams and stuck with them. You had your offshoots like "Avengers Academy," but those were on their own wavelengths. As Jonathan Hickman takes over the pen, the situation is out of control. As the late 90s X-Men proved, having a team that's too big just doesn't work.
"Infinity" is my first taste of Hickman's Avengers. This is an expanded collection that works in the supplementary (and somewhat necessary) event-related material from "Avengers" and "New Avengers." The result has its issues. While it's great to have a perfectly chronological retelling of the story, the segments - especially early on - are shunted. With so many new characters and concepts - introduced without discussion - it makes "Infinity" very difficult to get into. For a big event like this, that's inexcusable.
The first third of this is a mess. You're bouncing back-and-forth between no less than 75 characters with little context as to what they've been up to. Worse, most of the focus is on brand new characters I had never heard of before. With a title that's clearly attempting to exploit the mid-credits scene of the Avengers film, that's mind-boggling. These event comics are meant to grasp at a more casual audience. Confusing them is not going to work.
However, I am not going to condemn "Infinity." Why? Because the latter two thirds are pretty damn good.
The basic premise is most of the Avengers have gone off-planet to take down a Universe-threatening evil force du jour. While the evil force isn't very interesting, some of the tactics they deploy against Earth's heroes and the Avengers' alien allies - an All-Star line-up of Gladiator, Ronin the Accuser, the Kree Supreme Intelligence and... some other guys - are intriguing to watch unfold. As this space battle rages, Thanos and a new group of cronies decide to invade Earth, and those that have stayed behind get their asses kicked.
The fun comes in how the Avengers turn the tide. Black Bolt makes a stunning decision, Cap outmaneuvers his adversaries, and everyone goes toe-to-toe with Thanos. With just an insane amount of stuff going on, I'm amazed that Hickman ends up finding a way to tie it all together. The editorial work is admirable.
But I still walk away from this feeling that it's a shame that this could have been better. At the front of my mind, which I mentioned off the top, is this is hurt by just too many characters and it compromises what should be some forward development. For instance: new recruits Cannonball and Sunspot - former New Mutants - nearly steal the show with their situational reactions. I think they would have been excellent additions to an Avengers unit that only had about eight people on it. But despite how well I feel they're placed here and how well I feel they're written, they're buried underneath the crushing weight of everything else that's going on. How can Sam and Roberto compete with Black Bolt altering the Earth? Or Thor laying the smackdown on an invader as a negotiation tactic? With so many people doing so much, there's very little for them to do and it renders their inclusion near-pointless.
The Avengers need to downsize. Now. Before the bottom falls out.