Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Final Assessment of Avengers vs. X-Men

Spoilers ahead.
"I love him. And I love you. I love all of you." : The words that killed Charles Xavier.

Over the past twelve months, we cut our teeth on the critical quagmire with Avengers vs. X-Men, the latest in a tried and true Marvel tradition of hyped mega-crossovers. AvX culminated just a short time ago in a number of transforming departures for the Marvel stable of stories, transitioning now into the much-ballyhooed Marvel NOW launch.  The players, for their parts, all played them with a certain aplomb.  Five Marvel Architects getting together to try to get at something big. The other fifteen to twenty-someodd people working on the project did their best.  

At the end of the day, though, all they've really and surely done is kill the only man in the Marvel Universe that truly believed in peaceful solutions as a means of resolving conflict. A character shunned for years, rendered impotent by unimaginative writing, and never given the proper hero treatment he deserved, under any editorial establishment.

They killed him and a skull-faced Nazi ripped out his brain and now the entire Marvel Bullpen will take turns defecating into the exposed cavity in is skull.  For YEARS.

This is the Final Assessment of Avengers vs. X-Men.

When you need to insert Yin Yang into your exposition, go big or go home, right?...

So maybe you already know, and possibly you didn't, that years and years ago the Scarlet Witch, insane reality warping redheaded mutant daughter of Magneto, whispered three words that wiped out the bulk of the mutant population on the planet.  Far from the measured response one might expect, the resulting mess of years where various teams and heroes vied for relevancy in a universe of unstable molecule costumes of all shades and sizes.  

The saga of Xavier had been expressed and tinkered with for years, but with the events of House of M and well beyond, the Marvel credo has been to remove him from the picture. His influence over Cyclops waning, time showed the establishment of Magneto's Asteroid M in the San Francisco Bay as the creation of mutant sanctuary Utopia.  This and other dramatic actions leaning towards militancy has often led fans of the series in its 90's heyday (Blue and Gold teams! The first ongoing cartoon!) or well before that to cry foul.  It stands to reason that Scott Summers receiving of the Phoenix Force was the culmination of his editorially-driven transformation from Lawful Good Lackey to Lawful Neutral Bastard to Chaotic Evil Douchebag (read: Dark Phoenixclops).   

This transformation has been intended to add weight to a myopic twit that many a fan has resented over the decades, and no doubt many a writer has wrestled with making interesting.  This transformation was gradual, then in sharp turns sudden.  This is the only means by which the militancy bred into a character like Cyclops, having a damaging beam of red blasting unbidden from his eyes did not make him a character of easy benevolence like Charles Xavier.  Scott Summers was tortured, mentally, wound so tight he could snap any minute, even without the tacked-on Mister Sinister plot.    

This may seem a digression, but it is set here to assess what could have possibly driven the character to his actions in the final stages of Avengers vs. X-Men, distorting and ultimately destroying a character decades in the making, even less capable of redemption that Speedball in Civil War. 

Anyone else getting a Cassandra Nova vibe off of Chuck in this scene? Also, note the setting sun. Symbolism, son.

When one of your lead heroes is a soldier with an American Flag incorporated into his costume design, it stands to reason that you'd be a tad militant in your procedures as a comic book company, at least in terms of story if not political allegiance.  Superhero slugfests are standard practice, a tried and true trope that makes itself relevant or irrlevant in terms of plot structure, but in the mainstream gains precedent more often than not.

The ultimate paradox of Charles Xavier has always been his Danger Room scenarios, his training of his pupils in the martial arts, which as it turns out was dastardly in more than one way (the Danger Room achieved sentience at one point, a secret Charles kept from everyone until Joss Whedon coaxed it out of him).  It set his students always at the edge, prepared for violence in a violent world.  

The militancy of the Marvel Universe as a whole is in fact best represented in the "Ultimate Universe", where a caricatured representation of George W. Bush welcomes a recently thawed Steve Rogers to the American Military of 2003. With his help the United States "wins hearts and minds" in Middle Eastern conflicts and occupations, eventually resulting in some blowback: the inevitable superhuman arms race.  

In the standard Marvel Universe of today all conspiracies steer clear of actually implicating any corporate or military structure  of being inherently questionable, merely villain-ridden. Roxxon? Just a bad CEO. The next one will be okay. A.I.M.? Hire them on as consultants but make them take off those helmets, and boom, they're no longer terrorists. S.H.I.E.L.D. as an entity curtailing human rights? Nah, just superhuman. We do have the occasional revelation, such as the one to Wolverine that Nitro was paid off by the CEO of Damage Control to explode next to a school full of children.  War is a constant in the Marvel 616 Universe.  Villain against hero, hero against hero, everyone has had a turn with everyone else.  Grant Morrison once planted an interesting seed of an idea to account for it. The mass sentient bacterial infection of superheroes and supervillains by the ancient archigenator Sublime, which forces the heroes and villains to such extremes of hyperbolic action(slugfests)...  When you see your fifteenth hero vs. hero a la Civil War scenario play out in the 616 Universe, you have to wonder if he wasn't on to something there.

Roughly 85% of the final scenes in Avengers vs. X-Men are people standing around .

So, once the idea of a peaceful mutant-driven Utopia was dashed with the impetuous attack by Namor on the kingdom of Wakanda (Black Panther's fictional and apparently coastal African country), and as the numbers of Phoenix Force recipients are dwindling down to two (since Spider-Man taunted brother Colossus and sister Magik into cancelling each other out), Emma Frost and Scott Summers are basking in fire and doubting one another's intentions.  

There can be only one, and all that mess.  

With these rumblings, all the loyal lackeys to the Phoenix Five (most New Mutants and associated mutant Utopian inhabitants outside of the students attending the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning) turn to Professor X, who has stood by the side of the Avengers since his impartial ending of a battle with a gesture.   

And of course, he guides them to Scott, to confront the Phoenix that has corrupted him utterly.

And Scott, like the petulant child that he is, kills Professor Xavier, the purveyor of peace and benefactor of all mutantdom, stone dead.  The Death of Charles Xavier is told in a whole page, silent as the grave.

Place your bets now. How long before it turns out he isn't actually dead? Generally ranges from 4 months to 10 years.

Then he goes Dark Phoenix, and we have the standard cliffhanger for issue #11.

To this any well-established reader will say "Whatever." 

You can rest assured, when a person in a Marvel Comic says "NOW AND FOREVER, I AM [Insert Cosmic Marvel Universe Force Here]!" that they will be summarily stripped of that power and all actions they take will be retroactively revoked in the following issue (sometimes two, tops).  This was displayed aggressively in Matt Fraction's exercise with generating Thor buzz (Fear Itself) and to some extent with Mark Millar's "Civil War" (which, to be fair, did actually alter the landscape of many titles for some time, towards and unquestioning loyalty to or churlish rebellion against an administration regulating super-heroics  but simultaneously set the tone for these expectations-raised hopes-dashed "hero vs. hero" storylines so frequent with yearly Marvel mega-crossovers).  To that end, the endless parades and fashions of resurrection are so entrenched in the system of Marvel that we can and should suspect that despite everything we have not seen the end of Charles Xavier, let alone the Phoenix.

The battle rages among exploding volcanoes and fiery Phoenixstuff.  Somehow the heroes reach remote corners of the globe for one-panel shots of their attempts to stop the destruction.  And bladda-blidda-boo. Superhero slugfest. You know it's a big deal if Hulk's there.

Yes yes, very good wrath.

You might ask yourself why Charles Xavier had to die.  Outside of the spontaneous appeal of murdering a fairly well recognized character, it gives us something to do with what appears to be a frustratingly noble character who has had all manners of treatment from various writers to make him "interesting"... he was crippled by the Shadow King early on, then a mimic of him died when the mansion exploded the first time (and it was intended to keep him dead, even that early in the game, when the Marvel Universe experienced one of its first ret-cons)...and later, he faked his death, leaving Magneto as headmaster, getting the use of his legs back via his Space Empress girlfriend.  He returned to Earth after years in space, only to be crippled by the Shadow King once again.  He got a fancy bright yellow floating wheelchair for a while, then Stryfe, a clone of Cable, shot him with a techno-organic virus.  After Apocalypse healed him up, he rollerbladed with Jubilee for a night, then fell back into the wheelchair at the edge of battle stance.  Also notable is Professor X's encounter with Magneto on Asteroid M years later, when he mindwiped old Erik after he ripped the adamantium out Wolverine's skeleton, a fraction of Magneto's "evil essence" infected Charles, spawning the psionic identity Onslaught.  Onslaught takes control of Sentinels and attacks New York, and for a while Charles is in jail and his mutant students floundered.  Grant Morrison introduced the novelty of a mummudrai "sister" for Xavier, Cassandra Nova.  Later still, it was revealed he'd ignored the pleas of his sentient Danger Room for decades. He left the X-Men completely to their own devices shortly thereafter, but not before getting shot by time-displaced mutant Bishop, a red herring "death" that nonetheless drove him from main storylines outside of a brief appearance in Wolverine & the X-Men, and brings us to the Avengers vs. X-Men storyline, which outright murdered him. 

What if they said something else besides "No more Phoenix"? Like  "No more humans?" or "No more Fat Chicks?"

Of course once Hope, the long-predestined vessel for the Phoenix, finally receives its power, it's only after she has seen it corrupt five well-loved heroes.  She immediately undoes everything that Cyclophoenix started, what with the planet-wide devastation and all, then joins hands with Scarlet Witch, and in true Post M Day form, says three words that bring out the latent mutant genes of humans across the world, and kills or quells the Phoenix as she does so.

Which leaves us, of course, with the inevitable aftermath.  Cyclops, once he's heard that mutants are reborn as a race, falls right back into his stubborn douchebag shell.  To gain some idea of what will be happening to him in upcoming titles, just review the history of fun-loving Speedball of the New Warriors, who for the deaths of hundreds of suburbanites, mostly children, took to wearing a scourge-suit during his later runs through various penance-quests. 

Of course, instead the Marvel Universe Big Brains like Mister Fantastic might find a way to travel back in time, retrieve Marvel Girl and Cyclops from an earlier point in their timestream, shove their faces into their bleak future like a bad owner shoving his dog's face into a bowl of dog food, and further contort an already twisted and unruly knot of plots, sub-plots, irrelevant occurrences, and even more irrelevant deaths

Worst. Eulogy. Ever.

So now that we have finished with Avengers vs. X-Men the "Marvel Architects" are bringing us into the new era of power and glory, something they call Marvel Now! Truly, this cycle will never end, only sprout new heads like the mythical hydra, and then consume its own tail, or in this case, tale, like a fabled ouroborus. Scott McCloud's market model for the entire industry comes to mind.

Uncanny Avengers, written by Rick Remender and drawn by fan-favorite John Cassady, is provided for us as the most pertinent follow-up to the events of Avengers vs. X-Men.  The first issue features Chuck Xavier's funeral, with Wolverine providing a eulogy, a meeting between semi-estranged brothers Havok (a plaything of Peter David's since a few years back, toothless and subservient) and Cyclops (douchebag), the strident insistence of Captain America that he is not a jackbooted fascist, Iron Man and Ms. Marvel's search for Magneto, and a confrontation of the Scarlet Witch by Rogue at Xavier's crypt.  When shoddy animal-beasts with Remender Disposable Characters written all over them show up and make short order of the two, then dispatch with Xavier's corpse, you may think nothing of it.  

Then we have what may be the single most telling event of recent Marvel history.

What if it was in a big honkin' ice cream scoop?

As previously discussed in this blog, Rick Remender has a special talent in his approach to the Marvel Universe, and it is often a blood-thirsty corpse-strewn event.  When one sees the brain of Charles Xavier in the palm of the Red Skull at the end of Uncanny Avengers #1, the fanfare around the death of Captain America after Civil War and the death of Ultimate Spider-Man are not at all drowned out by the death of Professor X.  There was no proper announcement for this "end of an era", but rather fizzle of fanfare, a thudding drumbeat to apathy, a cricket chirping, fading into silence... that is what surrounds the death of Xavier, peace advocate who could see into all of our minds and understood that we could be better.

If Avengers vs. X-Men has provided any subtext at all with its bold attempt at retrofitting comic book mainstream dynamics (superhero slugfests), it is this: Evil wins. Good men fail.  Good virtuous men will have their brains scooped out by Nazis.

Fighting is the best answer to anything.  War is purifying. Death is an illusion.  Dreams are never realized. Utopia is impossible.

The past is irrelevant. The future is uncertain. The only thing which exists is an eternal now, and continuity be damned, there will be no voices of peace in that eternal now.

Ignorance is strength.  If you attempt to reach new heights, you will be corrupted by your own hubris.

Give up. There's no cosmic force ready to stop what's coming next. What is here Now.

The Marvel Universe Militarization is Now.

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