Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Second Impressions of Avengers vs. X-Men

Now that the first optic blast has been fired and the first American-flag-shield-related concussion has been dealt, we can explore and critique and tweak the orientation of Marvel Comic's most recent "company-wide" crossover, Avengers vs. X-Men.

Something tells me this will end up being two pages of characters for each team.

It starts, as with any good hero vs. hero brawl, with a differing of opinions and a misunderstanding. The so-called mutant messiah Hope has manifested the Phoenix force at the same time as it seems the firebird itself is flying directly to Earth, laying waste to planet after planet along the way.  Captain America and the Avengers wish to take Hope into protective custody, and show up on the shores of mutantkind's Utopia to take her.  Cyclops does not react well to this. Cyclops sends a previously written and sternly worded email to the world via Val Cooper when everything starts to go down.

Did you know that Magneto has the ability to count millions of metal thingies in a split second? Me neither. 

The initial fight is broken up between the main event book and several other titles.  We see Magneto fighting Iron Man (not the foregone conclusion you may think, since Tony Stark's superpower is cash mixed with genius) the everlovin' Benjamin J. Grimm, the Thing, squares off against Namor (hasn't happened in years, actually).  After a magnetic fastball special with Colossus, a Red Hulk oriented fight ensues. When Wolverine and Spiderman infiltrate Utopia to nab/kill Hope, she goes all Phoenix voice on them, flash-fries Wolverine like he's a chump, and leaves, running across the water of San Francisco Bay.  Precisely 3:45 PM Eastern Standard Time.

They'll place bets on the Planet Sin until it heads their way.

Overall the series so far ranges comfortably from writer to writer. At a certain point little factoids will spring up. Some annoying, others less so, and some actually amusing. The way it plays out calls to mind a certain cross-company crossover event from my younger days reading comics.  DC vs. Marvel Comics, headed by Ron Marz and Peter David, artwork from Dan Jurgens and Claudio Castellini.

Old school like Aztecs but new in other aspects.

I'd estimate that the younger generation of writers and artists were similarly impacted by that series, which was interactive insofar as you could vote for the characters to win, similar in some respects to DC's hotline to determine whether or not the Joker kills Jason Todd, the second Robin.  As in that series, the various legends of Marvel Comics Universe, the Avengers, the X-Men, going against one another, that can be a problem, logistically.  As writers and editors on such a title, you have to play it relatively safe with the characters, they're money makers more and more, but you also don't want to treat them with kid gloves and openly pander to audiences or whatever expectations have been thrown around.  The big blockbuster movie event this summer, at this point, is going to be The Avengers. So in this concurrent series where that movie's characters are implicated in the title, who do you really think is going to win? Or is there actually going to be a winner, officially?  The answers to these questions lie in the way that the different group "money pots" are interacted with on a regular basis.  Avengers and X-related titles both hold the lion's share of titles in Marvel, especially considering how many once-solo characters are now one one or in some cases many teams.

Funny how planetary histories are often only told to narrate their fiery destruction.

The Avengers have been dominating center stage since the Civil War, the power-death knell of most mutants coming in House of M, and their overall relevance, outside of Wolverine, being downgraded.  In the movie world, the rights to the X-Men films is still being held outside of Disney, the absorbing entity, the Tron Mickey, hence the stream of movies culminating in Joss Whedon's The Avengers.  So even the movie universe, contracts and negotiations, are reflected in the focus of the comic universe.  The Avengers will win the battle.  Iron Man left Magneto in space.  Thing beat Namor down.  Colossus demanded Red Hulk smash him when he nearly lost control of his "Juggernaut persona".  The most powerful member of the Avengers, Thor, is fighting a giant bird made of fire in space. Actually, the Secret Avengers contend with not just the Phoenix but are forced to set down onto Hala, home of the Kree, and deal with a Phoenix-resurrected Captain Marvel.

Asgardian God vs. Primal Fiery Force or: "Thor, c'mon. Seriously? No way."

Unless the revelation of the Phoenix that results in the giant golden Celestial standing in San Francisco's parks district finally, after long last, doing something, we can expect that Cyclops may, shock, discover he is right and wrong, that maybe the whole world is not to be destroyed, or mutantkind saved, but perhaps the constant resurrections of characters will finally end! Remember, the Phoenix is the force of Life and Death fused.  This means someone has to die, and guess what? It's not going to be an Avenger this time. Imagine a scorched Cyclops being cradled in Wolverine's arms, replayed in flashbacks for decades to come.  Picture Hope sacrificing herself to restart the mutant gene via the Phoenix Force.  Perhaps the Celestial, guarding the Celestial egg that Earth houses, fights the Phoenix. Or maybe that's only a thing in the Earth X universe, designate 9997.

Now, all the mutants not housed in Wolverine's school (Cyclops will visit there next issue of Wolverine and the X-Men) will be facing not just the Avengers, but also SHIELD and the US Military.  Sentinels? No.  Sentinels are terrorist weapons (and the most hackneyed X-plot in existence), and the terrorists of the Marvel Universe are so often children lately it's somewhat disturbing. The all-tween Hellfire Club is but one example.

Even though the Avengers will win, the X-Men, the ultimate underdogs, must win the moral fight.  The spirit fostered in Marvel at the start was that characters should possess a certain pathos that the reader could recognize.  Now we delve deeper, but only in certain books geared towards certain readers.  Otherwise the status quo must be maintained, to a degree, and the likability of a character is informed by one's nostalgia surrounding it or one's ability to relate to it.  Pulling a strip from Spider Man's double cross back in Civil War, we can expect Wolverine to flip sides, as Storm already has. What will push him to that point?  Will Jean Grey be resurrected? Will the Phoenix Egg featured in Here Comes Tomorrow be laid on the Blue Side of the Moon?

The new weeks will pass on, and fights between these titans will reach levels of hyperbole hardly espoused since the conflicts of characters from different companies.  But this is Marvel, pitting its best teams at odds with one another. What are the long term effects, if any?  Will it end in confused cringes like Secret Invasion? Or the range of rage comic expressions that sprang up after the finish of Fear Itself?

The series seems to want to pack the most into itself as possible, which works for a reader seeking more than twenty four splash pages and some badly characterized dialogue mixed with contrivances.  The idea behind this is a bit rushed, but the actual follow-through feels like it was a fun project to work on. Each cheesy line's also an opportunity, and this series should provide some doozies.  At this point, expect one turncoat in #3, a minor twist or two in #4, and a major twist in #5.  See you next Wednesday morning. 

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