Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New Impressions of Avengers vs. X-Men (Spoilers)

In previous installments of this series concerning the current globe-spanning mega-crossover epic of the Marvel Universe AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, currently in its fifth installment (not including the multiple main title tie-ins), we assessed the context, explored the basic structure of the plot and predicted (accurately) the progression of the storyline.  With the fourth issue, we have a twist on top of a twist.  Wolverine promised to take the "mutant messiah" Hope to the moon, and that he did (after a brief confrontation with a Shiar death squad in "Wolverine and the X-Men"), but not before contacting Captain America and the Avengers.  The issue ends with Thor being thrown into the midst of these heroes, forming a crater (running against the current continuity of New Avengers, which will no doubt catch up shortly)... and the Phoenix, after much build-up, has arrived.

Hope's mutant powers react, of course, and as has been the way with her since her introduction, we are treated to the old "I'm not ready for this!" effect.  In the course of events she actually manages to take out all the X-Men and the Avengers.  Terrified, she calls on Wolverine to kill her, again. Considering Wolvie has been slashing Captain America and Cyclops alike in the guts over the past few issues, he's more than happy to oblige.  At this point the stubbornness of Cyclops is bludgeoned over our head for the umpteenth time.    

The main issue that one might call forth as a critical issue with this series is the overabundance of talent.  With nearly a half-dozen contributors to the story and script (Jason AaronBrian Michael BendisEd BrubakerMatt Fraction, and Jonathan Hickman seem to be trading dialogue duty with each issue), each and every panel and event feels polished to the point of being over-refined.  John Romita Jr. does a solid job, as expected from such a diehard professional, managing to balance out the art duties of an epic storyline with the repetitiveness of an overextended premise.  He's moved beyond the blocky standards of his early work and the inks/color/computer assists do a fine job of complimenting him in this series.   

At the end of the day, Hope is what the story hinges on, and despite valiant attempts at texture, she's entirely too shallow a character to pull it off.  A powerhouse of potential (a point driven home again and again, in each and every appearance she has ever made), she's hardly had time to be addressed as having human frailties (a few moments in Generation Hope notwithstanding).  A heap of ideals and expectations have been passed off onto her, and there's a degree to which she is an inherently unlikable character.  There's the overblown manner in which she addresses events in this series, in the past tense, as if telling the story after the fact (making references to the dropping of the atomic bomb on page one, referring to herself as a victim, like so many others, of the Phoenix, on the last page).  She takes few actions, and events happen to her.  This is her weakness as a character, being presented for some reason as a strength.

But despite that, you might ask yourself, at what point does this much-anticipated series jump the proverbial shark?

When Tony Stark equips himself in a giant Iron Man costume and shoots the Phoenix with a heretofore unheard-of deterrent weapon, a "Phoenix Buster Suit" if you will... he damages it, fractures it, and its power, rather than being transferred into Hope, is split among the X-Men present on the moon (notably removing the trademark Juggernaut helmet present on Colossus up until this point in the series, perhaps purging the demon Cyttorak?).

Really, who saw that one coming?

At best, Avengers vs. X-Men is breaking ground on the "next major plot point" to be bandied about in editor-notes on mutant-related titles for the next two to five years, potentially dovetailing with something catastrophic and "ultra-relevant" in the next two to four months (if the incessant and ever darkening foreshadowing narration by Hope is any indication).  At its greatest aspiration, this marks a storyline contending with The Dark Phoenix Saga or Civil War in terms of impact (until ret-conned by editors in an obscure limited series if or when fanboy outcry reaches its most strident peak and someone decides they never liked Emma Frost in the first place).  

Or, at worst, this series will play itself out like nearly all "hero vs. hero" slugfests up to and potentially including this point... an exercise in pulling punches.  You have to wonder if there is any writer in the Marvel stables considering the What-If issues that each step of the series could spawn, or the parallels of these "hyper-mutants" that a select group of X-Men become in issue five.  At its lowest point, it could be viewed as just another money-maker, with no real lasting impact on the characters involved.  The final verdict on that, of course, remains to be seen, but despite all the "major events" occurring, it's a possibility.

With the most recent issue of Avengers vs. X-Men, we have a crux, a tipping point, in which the final heft of the series will shortly be determined.  With the PhoeniX-Men "preparing" Hope the petulant brat messiah for her upcoming important/irrelevant role in mutantkind's final fate, it's in the hands of Marvel's finest writers to steer the ship of the series out of troubled waters and into more familiar channels, or venture into new unexplored islands of potential. A world-wide mutant "utopia"? A replay of the Civil War trope "heroes putting heroes in jail"?  It stands to reason that whatever comes next will prove profitable for the House of Ideas, regardless of its actual effect on the Status Quo.  Rock the boat even a little and you'll draw attention.

So, in short, the talent combining for this event is staggering.  Is it too big to fail?  Are the creator's ideas bigger than the reader's stomachs?  Fan reaction has been buzzing throughout message boards, but we'll have our final answer soon enough.

Charles Xavier's stepping out of the shadows, and clearing his throat. 

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