I have to admit, I haven't been terrifically fond of Hickman's Avengers, either. Usually slow pacing means deeper characterization, butâ€¦well, I find Hickman's Avengers flat characters, even by super-team book standards. The new additions all seem to speak almost entirely in vague technobabble and cryptic metaphors, Sunspot and Cannonball are sharing the same hyperactive hipster personality, and Captain America has never felt stodgier. Infinity was a real low point; dully obvious plot turns (Cap makes an inspiring speech! The heroes rally against the baddies! The surrender is a trick so we can hit bad people with hammers when they least expect it!) were treated as if they were intricate plots deserving a glacial pace. Of course, it was also pretty clearly editorially driven, what with the film-friendly Thanos and space adventure and not-mutants-at-all-Fox-has-those-film-rights Terrigen empowerments, so I don't hold it against Hickman's vision for his.
Still, Hickman seems to see the universe as a kind of great deterministic machine that's nonetheless vulnerable to chaos (hence "black swan" being an actual character, not just a metaphor for Karl Popper's notion of falsificationism), which isn't exactly the sort of vision that lends itself to stories about emotionally genuine characters or even to apt social allegory. It's not quite cosmic horror, but it does have a kind ofâ€¦cosmic apathy to it, an arid sort of feel that's novel but not ultimately all that fulfilling or insightful. He's never struck me as writer who's overly interested in people, just in systems.
The exception is New Avengers, where the Namor/Panther stuff has been excellent. I'm not sure I buy the Beast and Doctor Strange jumping off the slippery slope with the others, though, and Reed was supposed to have learned not to do this sort of stuff in Hickman's FF series. I'm also curious about how on Earth anyone writes these guys as heroes ever again given that, if I understand the story correctly, they've been killing billions of people on alternate Earths with antimatter bombs in order to preserve "their" Earth.
But I read the series as sort of the ultimate critique of proactive, conspiratorial "superheroes," a sort of anti-Warren Ellis/Mark Millar notion in which being the "hard man" just destroys your soul and doesn't really save the world anyway. In deeming themselves the only people willing or smart enough to handle the crisis, they've shut out the rest of the world (and this in the era of crowdsourcing and open collaboration!) and in order to compensate for not really being up to the job they're all making literal or metaphorical deals with the devil. It's an Illuminati series about the utter stupidity, the moral bankruptcy of the Illuminati concept.
Or at least that's how I read it; I get the sense the series' fans see it as "heroes making the hard choices and doing what needs to be done," which is really creepy when you consider that they've already gone far beyond genocide by most definitions. The way this ends will matter greatly; I sure hope the joke's not on me. (just don't ask me to try and wade through any more of Black Swan's irritating dialogue; dropping names the reader's never heard of works in small doses, but it really can't be the basis for an entire character.)
"Vague technobabble and creepy metaphors" might sum up Hickman's entire ouvere at Marvel. I'll go further and admit that I found Hickman's Avengers not only underwhelming, but actually a bit aggravating. All the character moments I read (crossing about New Avengers 1-6 and Avengers 1-10, as well as the first few issues of Infinity) were the most basal, obvious character beats needed for the story structure; stuff like "Cap gives an inspiring speech to the Avengers", "Thor makes a badass boast at the villain", "the new Starbrand is a loser nerd", "the new Smasher comes from the salt of the Earth but wants to go into space", "the etc. They give the impression of being necessary justifications for the story with which the writer would rather not bother. The places where the story feels more passionate are when the villains are talking about (or in the case of Black Swan, cryptically teasing) the complexities of their master plans, when the heroes (and the New Avengers) are showing off their impressive toys and schemes, or when the story is making big proclamations across narrative captions of the Hickman Double-Page spread ("One was life! And one was death!" That's a groan-worthy line on the level of Chris Claremont, who would at least use more interesting vocabulary). It's the polar opposite problem of the Bendis Avengers, which had flimsy plotting and glacial pacing but some impressive character bits. Speaking personally, I'm much more likely to forgive a poor larger story if it has strong character work than a complex plot that reduces its "actors" to grace notes or cryptic hints.
It's impressively laid out and structured, but its technical merits are more like those of an accounting spreadsheet than a satisfying narrative. What's most frustrating is that the Hickman Avengers get so many great artists who I would read for their illustrations alone (Opena, Kubert, Weaver, Larrocca, Epting, Morales, etc.), and I find myself wishing they got a script about actual characters, as opposed to chess pieces for a one-man game.