Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Comic Review - Avengers vs X-Men

To shake up the status quo of the Marvel Universe ahead of the Marvel NOW! relaunch strategy the company naturally went for a big mad event and decided to pit its' two premiere teams against each other. Both have evolved considerably since I last properly read the titles. The Avengers have gone from being just another superteam that spent long periods struggling to live up to the Earth's Mightiest title to an all-star Justice League type roster of the company's premiere heroes while the X-Men have become more of a political collective, given their own island Utopia. Off-panel as well there have been some changes to the stats quo as well - to whit that the box office success of the heavily Avengers-centric Marvel Universe has turned what was a single book that for vast chunks of the preceding decades was kept ticking over out of seeming obligation has become the hub around which Marvel's comics arm rotates. Conversely, the X-Men film franchise was (until a recent takeover) owned by dastardly evil empire Fox, who refused to hand over the rights they'd paid for. While mutant sales are strong Marvel have subtly done what they can to try and position their books as of secondary concern and by the time AvX was published the pressure was becoming more overt.


I like big event storylines for the most part, especially when reading as a solid trade or two rather than spread out over a year, with side titles optional. They can be silly and shameless but also good four-square fun, as long as they don't go all cosmic with all that Jim Starlin shit. AvX also has that hook of choosing sides, much like the largely enjoyable Civil War blockbuster, and while it featured numerous satellite storylines in side titles the main 12-issue maxi-series is designed to be read by itself. One of the most fascinating steps however was to move the wide variety of one-on-one battle scenes to a secondary series named VS, which is actually something I'm fond of. The occasional smackdown rumble is great fun but a long break from Marvel to read things like the Authority has left me with an appreciation for fast-moving stories covering only the broad strokes. So while it's a bit of a cash-grab to put out six extra comics (which I haven't read) it's nice to have the option to move forwards while giving those into titanic match-ups an option to read them.

The story starts off well, with Hope Summers - future refugee and Cable's girl, the first new mutant since M-Day and theoretically one of the most powerful in the world, seen as the messiah for the species - as a catalyst. The X-Men believe that she should be their ward on Utopia, the Avengers believe that she should be under their care. Obviously no-one bends and when an Avengers team tries to snatch her it all kicks off. 

The first few issues are enjoyable and ask some good questions while firmly establishing that Hope isn't actually particularly interested in any of it and just wants to get back in touch with Cable. Where it takes a bit of a wobble is when the Phoenix Force - absent since the death of Jean Grey waaaay back in New X-Men (well done everyone at Marvel for letting that stick for so long). The clear and obvious next step would be for it to possess Hope so there's a little kink in expectations when instead of latching onto her it ends up split between five of the most hardline mutants - Cyclops, the White Queen Emma Frost, Namor (yeah, they're trying the "he's a mutant, honest!" thing again), Colossus and Magik (who came back to life at some point I'm assuming; good for her).

This serves as something of a leveller considering there are something like 392 Avengers out there but it also makes the same mistake as Civil War, by pushing one side firmly into being villains. Scott had already been somewhat fanatical in the early issues while there's the former leader of the Hellfire Club, a guy who joined up with the Acolytes when his girlfriend dumped him, a demon fighter and the Submariner on one side against Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man and other guys who turn up on t-shirts. The Phoenix Five naturally rapidly turn out to be shits - the Prince of Atlantis devastates Wakanda to make absolutely sure we know which side we're on.

It then gets even more bottled in when Cyclops gradually turns on the rest of his team and sucks up all the Phoenix Force for himself, becoming an even greater fanatic. I'm conflicted on this; I've always liked Scott even if writers have sometimes taken him down a dark alley and done him an extreme disservice but I'm not against a new direction for the character (I also don't know how well this has been built up but the signs are it's been at least prepared for a little). But it all seems a little extreme and having him kill Professor Xavier feels like an attempt to salt the Earth - again, there's little doubt where writer Brian Michael Bendis' loyalty lies.

This all sounds very negative but really it clips along nicely, with great little bits for many of the characters involved to shine and influence the narrative in some way or another. At 12 issues it doesn't really drag on, shakes up the universe nicely and provides a host of interesting threads to follow up on.

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