One of the most confusing mega-battles I've ever seen in comics; not because it's badly written in a technical sense, but because it's an inherently confusing setup.
I love the concept and 99% of the batshit secret history details of S.H.I.E.L.D., but perhaps I have to accept that the plot itself is both muddled and rather pointless — huge but unclear stakes, confused motivations, and no game rules.
Maybe the next issue will resolve some of this, but so far I'm disappointed. It's not worse than the average Event Finale, but the world-building, specially at the beginning, and the visuals, suggested it could be so much more. (That said, Hickman does tend to be absolutely superb at world-building and war setup, and rather wooly in his resolutions.)
Just when you think it can still delight you but won't surprise you... Dammit. I have suspicions under my suspicions, but in either case... well played.
And what the hell are Netflix and HBO doing that they haven't bought Hickman's tales already? The zeitgeist is just right for a The Black Monday Murders series, a Pax Romana mini, and, of course, East of West, the socio-ethnically diverse, worldbuilding-ly creative, visually stunning post-Game of Thrones epic.
In the current state of the States, can you imagine a more immediately resonant Rorschach of a story?
A lot of Hickman's writing (varying by title, but overall quite a bit) consists of visually, conceptually, and linguistically dense world-building infodumps. The term is generally used disparagingly, but for him — I should say, for him, with me — it works, because
Hickman's world-building is fantastic; his settings are more interesting than most people's plots.
Properly used, comics are a great medium for infodumps. You're forced to use relatively short amounts of text, which makes you concise, while the visuals are great both for emotional tone and for the kind of open-ended suggestive-but-not-explained detail that makes you feel certain that the world is real outside the panels and before and after the story itself.
Although thinking about it, the best candidate for a John Hickman TV series would probably be Pax Romana. It can be adapted to be a bit like Game of Thrones (including the politics, battles, sex, etc), but with a dash of sci-fi, historically recognizable settings, and a religious pseudo-philosophical background issue. Plus it *is* essentially a huge conspiracy theory, and would let you plug in pretty much any shadowy group as you might as the thing progresses.
It's a very Hickman book: intricate world building, magic-as-machinery-as-magic, historical retconning, and his rather unique aesthetic. The overall premise of this one is that high finance is, literally although secretly, black magic. Cue occult systems, vague Tim Powers-ish pragmatics, and plenty of Ayn-Rand-meets-Aleister-Crowley characters.
A rec if you already know you like Hickman's books, an anti-rec if you know you dislike them, and a maybe, why not? if you don't know. A small asterisk in the above is that he's usually a much tighter world builder than his sprawling Marvel work would suggest. The style and philosophy are the same, but there he had to deal with a metric ton of history, all of which he attempted to make use of as a prelude of throwing his own stuff into it. Hence Secret Wars. The universes he creates from scratch are very rich, but much more consistent.
Didn't we get two canonical confirmations that Beast bringing the teenage versions of the original X-team into the present broke the multiverse? (quoth Beast: Ta-da) First, the Watcher himself told him so by getting into his bedroom (nope, not creepy at all) and giving him visions of all the universes, both good and bad, that he had killed. And later, in one of those bi-monthly situations when one or more people get cosmically omnipotent or thereabouts, he made the calculations himself and confirmed it.
So I'm calling shenanigans on the the Beyonders weaponized the Molecule Man crap. Beast did it (in his defense, he was dying at the moment, and it was an hilarious thing to do).
Things get interesting after that. Beast being an X-Men, he won't give up just because he screwed up at a cosmic level. I mean, that's what they do: they screw things up at a cosmic level and then they sort of fix it, mostly. Therefore, he's Rabum Alal (oh, and in the Black Swans' language, that's more accurately translated as the Predator, the one who culls the weak). Because he didn't find another way to save universes, he keeps destroying Earths to buy time, going to other universes to find increasingly powerful weapons. He's no Doom or Reed Richards, but there's an awful lot you can do if you're a genius that has seen them work and has given up on small measures. Needless to say, the accumulated guilt has driven him quite crazy, but there you go.
Bottom line: Beast is a doctor. He knows that sometimes you have to cut something out to extend the life of the rest. And there's so much blood on his hands that the marginal guilt of each new genocide is negligible.
I've mostly given up on liking Hickman's Everything Dies arc for the Avengers — the overall architecture and mythology has gotten too baroque, with comings and goings and Mapmakers and Builders and Alephs and oh my — but when he gets the chance to delineate an universe (partially in his S.H.I.E.L.D. covert takeover of MCU history, and more fully in his separate work, like Pax Romana, Secret, and East of West) he's probably my favorite (among the well-known) conceptual writer in comics these days. Warren Ellis is better, I think, at SF-ish aspects (e.g., weird-seeming but actually true details, together with self-consistent but tight extrapolations of the fantastic premises), but Hickman's flair for creating interesting universes, and the way he comes up with phrases that feel like blueprints for self-aware weapons (in the positive sense of the metaphor), is quite remarkable (when it doesn't get away from him and he ends up building a Rube Goldberg universe).
I'm following Hickman's New Avengers arc, Everything Dies. On one hand, the actual premise is quite interesting: what if everything is, indeed, dying, and the only way to get a few more hours or days for your world involves each time doing something soul-crushing, something that denies you the opportunity of seeing yourself as a hero? What does that to people who have come to need to see themselves in that light? [*] The Wheel grinds, as the Black Swan says. And I like some of the elements Hickman has added to the Marvel cosmology. Not so much Builders and so on, but the Mapmakers are cool, and also make sense.
Problem is, nothing's going to change, and we know it. There will be a way out. (Unless there isn't, and this is the end of 616, but no way Marvel will do that --- they haven't even destroyed the Ultimate universe so far, although hope is eternal --- and I think Reed would love the Mapmakers, but I digress).
Everything Dies is precisely the kind of story that would work best in an universe where things can happen. Hickman did something interesting with Red Mass for Mars (and I loved Pax Romana and sort-of liked the other time travel one), and a self-contained arc about the moral choices involved would have been interesting, if handled with more curiosity than grim-and-grit.
Heck, you can play it with Earth's death being the beginning of the larger human civilization, not its end. You *should* play it that way.
[*] I'm ignoring the eight way to avoid doom, Shadowing the Apocalypse; it's too easy a way out for them, and the fact that they aren't using it is, on itself, disappointing.