Thursday, April 12, 2012

Initial Impressions of Avengers vs. X-Men

The Phoenix got all the way to Sirius before it remembered it left its bag at our house.

This week we saw the arrival of the latest rehashing of old concepts at the House of Ideas, the much ballyhooed Avengers vs. X-Men.  The build-up for this hero vs. hero slug-fest goes back as far as House of M, which we should all remember ended with the near-eradication of the mutant species.  In the final pages of that series, Hank Pym (who was a Skrull at the time?) was discussing the most fundamental law of any universe, namely that every action has an equal or opposite reaction.  Corresponding to his closing dialogue, the final page of the series was a flashing light on the edge of Earth akin to a manifestation of the Phoenix.  Or was it just a reflection of the sun?

In The Fearless, we discover that some enchanted armors just want to watch death-ice churn. 

Fast-forward to present day, past Civil War and Secret Invasion and Dark Reign.  The first mutant to be born after M Day, a child named Hope, was given the Cable treatment, that is, raised by Cable in the distant post-apocalyptic future to become a soldier, and possibly destined to be the messiah of all mutantkind.  After the events of last summer's traumatic blockbuster Fear Itself, the Marvel Universe is reformatting quickly.  Colossus is now the Juggernaut.  Mutants in Utopia are straight kickin' it with Namor and X-Club.  Immediately after the end of Fear Itself, Red Skull's daughter Sin kicked into gear her own planet-destroying scheme in the pages of the year-long digression The Fearless, and Matt Fraction's Mighty Thor secured the thunder god's inevitable revival, with surprisingly little fanfare.  Meanwhile, the wacky remaining mutants in Utopia have had their own falling out with Schism, creating an interesting "Wolverine as Professor X/Cyclops as Magneto" dynamic.  Furthermore, the Scarlet Witch, the mentally unstable reality warper that nearly wiped out the mutant race, has returned via a Young Avengers special, with vague allusions hinting at her mental state being somehow corrupted by Dr. Doom back at the start of that mess.  Speaking of Dr. Doom, Fantastic Four saw the death of Johnny Storm, the co-opting of Spiderman into the newly designed Freedom Foundation, and eventually a collision of plotlines involving multiple Reed Richards, angry Celestial Gods, and a Franklin Richards time travel plot device that only Johnathan Hickman could pull off.  Uncanny X-Force dealt major blows to Montana with the Dark Angel Saga, and of course, rehashing a plot that tasted better the second time, Norman Osborne reinvented a team of Dark Avengers and did a little PR muck-raking against the Avengers, while at the same time making himself a Super Adaptoid.  Dumbass.

Namor is a straight up pimp. But he don't mess with no ginger strange.

Moving right along, we've seen great attempts at consolidation of continuity in Marvel within the past year, perhaps partially in response to DC's big universal shake-up.  Venom teamed up with Red Hulk, X-23 and the admittedly regrettable female Ghost Rider to undo a ravaging hellscape sprouting out of Las Vegas.  Wolverine, while on at least 3 different teams, has settled down in his morning shift as Headmaster of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, his mid-day shift as floating Avenger, and his night shift as de facto leader of X-Force. Recent issues of Uncanny X-Men (above and below) have had Cyclops' team of militant bent mutants playing clean up with Tabla Rasa and S.W.O.R.D. prison disintegration.
Unit (insert Beavis heh heh) doses Namor and Emma with pheromones. Atlantean Kings prefer blondes. And taken women.

You can almost hear the soundtrack here. Cap's all got the DUN DUN DUNNN going after that.

Magneto, take note: don't threaten to disassemble Vision when he's within arm's reach.

Moving even closer towards the approaching storm of Avengers vs. X-Men, we see an interestingly violent exchange occur between Magneto and the Vision, and a stern line from Captain America to Cyclops on where his priorities lay.  Abigail Brand makes the lovely move of having Unit (heh) stored with the X-Men, whereupon Unit's keeper, Danger, is ordered to bring Hope to him for a brief Power Point presentation on the Phoenix Force.

This is where S.W.O.R.D. fails and succeeds. Brand's a sneaky broad.

Oh, and Unit puts Danger in her place. Like a cold bastard.

This is where Unit (heh heh heh) totally pulls an "oh snap" on Danger. It's all "OH NO HE DI'INT!"

So it may be about that time where you're wondering if Avengers vs. X-Men, being so grandiose and all, will have a zero issue?  Sure.  And to start things off, we have Scarlet Witch's inauguration back into the ranks of the angels with a conflict against one pissed off M.O.D.O.K. Since Wanda, as we mentioned, is in part responsible for kicking this whole thing off, and is a semi-Avenger as well as Magneto's daughter, we can imagine that her role in upcoming issues of AvX will be important, or at the very least dramatic.

Scarlet Witch's comeback, starring a chatty M.O.D.O.K. 

The first issue of Avengers vs. X-Men starts with the crash-landing of Nova, former New Warrior and the current possessor of the Xandarian Worldmind, into the Chrysler Building.  After he passes out with a cryptic "It's coming..." Iron Man does a scan of the energy signature on his suit.  Sure enough, Nova's coated with Phoenix energies. Conveniently, while presenting this to the President of the United States, Hope's getting kicked in the ribs during a training session with Cyclops. She manifests a Phoenix blast. This sets off Iron Man's sensors. The rest is a matter of course.

Seems like these guys never were that close to Jean Grey, were they?

In a brief moment before Cap arrives, Cyclops mulls over the implications of the Phoenix's potential approach, of Hope's fulfillment of her forced role as mutant messiah, and of course, the power that may be used to get the world a new resurgence of mutie scum.

Big flashing neon signs over Cyclops saying "HE'S THE NEW MAGNETO" couldn't be more obvious.

That's really the $64,000 question,  isn't it? Probably milk and cookies. Lots of 'em, for everyone.

Of course, Captain America is chilling on the shoreline of Utopia with a cloaked Avengers Battlecruiser at the ready.  He wants to take Hope into protective custody pending the arrival of the Phoenix (since his heavy hitter team in space is likely not going to stop the approaching cosmic force).   He has a few tense words with Cyclops, who reacts predictably.

The first shot has been fired.  The tagline has been said. It can only get more brutal from here on out.

The initial face-off roster seems a tad lopsided. Note that Wolverine and Beast are on the thin red line.

So, what's next?  Only Joe Quesada knows.  There are certain decisions that have been made by Marvel to build this event up, potentially out of proportion with what is feasible or in good taste.  Professor Charles Xavier has been quiet and almost entirely out of the loop of mutant books, outside of a brief appearance in the first issue of Wolverine and the X-Men.  If he does not emerge in the course of AvX all fanboys should call shenanigans, unless Onslaught, throwback fusion entity from the Heroes Reborn days, has something to do with it.  The compulsive militant extremism of Cyclops has reached a peak. The priggish self-righteous do-goodery of Captain America has become creepy.  Who's right? Who's wrong?  Is there any such thing in the Marvel Universe any longer?  Will mutant and human relations become even more strained? Will S.W.O.R.D. be able to do its job for once, when the Phoenix inevitably arrives on Earth?  Will the intriguing Unit play any further role in the shaping of events? And when the Phoenix Force finally arrives, what will it do? Cease the endless flow of Resurrection within Marvel continuity? Bring back the mutant genome? Bring back a pissed off and confused Jean Grey? Kill Cyclops? Kill anyone?

Whatever the case may be, expect multiple variant covers, e-readable issues, and tons of spoilers on blogs such as this one in the months to come.  The teetering tight-rope act that Marvel sometimes plays with its legitimately interesting cast of characters has reached a crucial point.  Whether it's a needlessly convoluted let-down as with Secret Invasion, or a trope-shattering flat-tire ending as with Civil War, we can be certain of only one thing, and one thing alone.

Uncle Ben is still dead.

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