Posted on Sunday, April 29, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
Don’t forget it’s a podcast weekend – you’ll find this week’s show just a post down, with reviews of Reset, Popeye and Captain America & Hawkeye. Meanwhile, I’ve got some catching up to do, since we skipped last week, and the Avengers vs X-Men crossover is in full sway. Seven issues in those two weeks, people! Mind you, most of them are the same story from different perspectives, so…
I’m not ploughing through 14 X-books and crossover titles in one post. Instead, I’ll do the first half here and follow up with the rest during the week. (Fingers crossed.)
Astonishing X-Men #49 - After the relative domesticity of her first issue, Marjorie Liu spends this one largely in action mode. It’s basically a fight scene between the X-Men and the Marauders (who turn out to be mind-controlled by the mystery main villain), with a pause mainly designed to expand on Kyle and Northstar’s relationship.
Last issue, my initial reaction was that Kyle was a likely redshirt, and the opening flash forward of this issue seems to support that idea. But on reflection, it does seem rather more likely that this is actually heading towards the wedding story that Marvel have been promoting for upcoming issues. Liu’s certainly trying hard to make their relationship central to this story, and to establish Kyle as something more than just a generic partner who exists purely to verify Northstar’s homosexuality. Instead, he’s being played as the civilian boyfriend who feels overshadowed by his partner – not a wholly original idea, but at least it means the emphasis is on something other than the fact that they’re a same-sex couple.
As an action issue with some C-list villains, it’s pretty well executed. Mike Perkins’ art is generally strong; he seems to have dialled back slightly on the Mike Deodato influence from the previous issue, though he’s still not a million miles off that style. The storytelling is strong, the night-time backgrounds are very well done. The main issue with this series is that I’m still not really sure what the book’s identity is going to be – it looked as though Liu was going for a more domestic, or at least grounded, version of the X-Men, but instead this issue takes us back into typical superhero territory. It’s not easy to give an X-Men book its own identity when there are so many of them, but that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary.
Avengers #25 - Brian Bendis and Walt Simonson are a weird combination. You’ve got Bendis doing his usual schtick, but alongside it, you’ve got Simonson’s art playing everything bold, loose and over the top. It’s kind of jarring; Bendis’ dialogue feels very odd coming out of these operatically exaggerated characters.
Anyway! This issue mostly consists of Captain America agonising about his job performance and then leading the Avengers to take down an AIM cell. So why is it being marketed as an Avengers vs X-Men tie-in? Well, there’s an opening flash-forward to Avengers vs X-Men #2, and there’s a bit right at the very end where Noh-Varr is given his own mission to deal with Phoenix on behalf of the Kree Empire. As for the rest of the issue, some of it gives Noh-Varr a chance to shine, so I guess you could justify it as an attempt to introduce him for the benefit of crossover readers – but basically, this is an unrelated story being passed off as a crossover book on the strength of a top-and-tail framing exercise.
Avengers vs X-Men #2 - Jason Aaron takes over as this issue’s scripter, not that the story gives him a huge amount to work with. The Avengers attack Utopia. The X-Men fight back. That goes on for about 18 pages. Then Spider-Man and Wolverine go after Hope but she uses her Phoenix power, gets rid of him, and runs off. Oh, and then there’s a final page trailing Secret Avengers. Basically, though, this is the fight issue.
This issue, incidentally, finally clarifies that she’s getting more powerful as the Phoenix approaches, something that seemed fairly obvious to me, but apparently baffled the hell out of a number of relatively sane reviewers who couldn’t figure out why she already had Phoenix powers before Phoenix got here. Perhaps I’ve just read too many Phoenix stories before that made no sense.
There’s nothing Jason Aaron can do to turn “they fight” into a plot, and I rather suspect that part of his remit for this issue was to work through a checklist of pairings to be covered in more detail in AvX Versus (though see below for how well that worked out). He does his best to liven it up, but you know, it’s a straight fight book. And the thing that interests me least about Avengers vs X-Men is the bit where the Avengers fight the X-Men. I mean, really, who cares?
Fortunately, they’ve got that big obligatory fight out of the way in issue #2, so hopefully the mini is now going to move on to something a bit more interesting.
AvX: Versus #1 - This is the spin-off mini in which individual Avengers fight individual X-Men. Two fights per issue. Expanded from Avengers vs X-Men.
Now, this is the sort of book that’s kind of insulated against reviews. Because on one level you can say, well, this is just pointless fighting. But Marvel can say, ah, but that’s exactly what we said it would be. And I guess I can kind of see their point. To some people, at least, the appeal of AvX is the Avengers fighting the X-Men. That at least is the theory. So if one issue of enormous fight is not enough for you, here’s the expanded version. And I guess from a technical standpoint there’s some interest in asking a bunch of different creators to do variations on a theme – though frankly, it’s not as if many of today’s writer give the impression that this is the side of superhero comics that interests them. Some seem to regard the actual fight scene as a sort of genre convention that’s so familiar it can be vaguely skirted over without worrying much about choreography or inventiveness. Not here.
What you actually get: Iron Man vs Magneto by Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert, and the Thing vs Namor by Kathryn & Stuart Immonen. The Avengers win both, which is a bit of a surprise, but no doubt it’ll all be balanced out over the course of the run. Aaron mainly enjoys himself by inventing weird attacks for them to deploy, while Kubert just likes a good action sequence. The Immonens have the misfortune to be saddled with a guy nobody regards as an X-Man fighting a guy nobody regards as an Avenger, both of whom come from the same book and must have fought hundreds of times. It’s a nicely drawn few pages, I guess. Both stories have the same “AvX Fun Fact!” captions repeated throughout, presumably an editorial mandate.
It’s two fight scenes. That’s it. Nicely drawn, but not spectacularly executed or notably original. As a throwaway tie-in to play up the gimmicky side of the crossover, I guess it’s harmless enough, but even on that level, stretching it out to six issues is surely absurd.
New Avengers #25 - Brian Bendis’ Avengers stories have always tended to approach crossovers rather obliquely, and this is no exception. This is a flashback story in which, hundreds of years ago, members of Iron Fist’s supporting cast investigate a prophetic dream that a red-haired girl is going to connect with some sort of Phoenix thing and will fight Iron Fist. So if Iron Fist is actually going to play a major role in this here crossover, I guess that’s fair enough. Oddly, the story also has them finding the wrong redhead girl entirely and taking her in for training, though whether that’s actually going to connect with anything in the present day, who knows.
It’s certainly a very pretty issue, and I like the way it opens by echoing the first scene from Avengers vs X-Men #1. Is it actually going to connect to anything, or is it just a complete red herring to bulk out the crossover? I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt, and actually, I quite like the idea of using the tie-in books to do foreshadowing for plot points that haven’t yet turned up in the main series. At least you feel like you’re getting some reward for picking up the tie-ins.
New Mutants #41 - After their last, rather depressing, mission, the New Mutants are hauled out on the town by a rather perky Blink, who is apparently still in this book’s cast even though she’s based in Westchester. Specifically, Blink takes them to Madripoor to enjoy the carnival. David Lopez’s art really does sell these downtime issues; his handling of a scene with Cypher trying to coach Sunspot’s chat-up technique is perfect. The idea of Sunspot, traditionally the party animal of the group, struggling in the carnival is a nice twist on the character, and there’s also good use of Nate Grey as a character who’s had a sufficiently odd (and grim) background that he doesn’t really know how to react to this stuff either.
On one level, this is filling the gap between the Paradise Island arc and the Exiled crossover. But it’s a good change of pace which plays to the book’s strengths.
Secret Avengers #26 - The Secret Avengers go into space to try and contain the Phoenix. Obviously they can’t succeed because the crossover’s barely started. So instead, Rick Remender builds most of the tension around the relations within the team, and whether any of them are going to get themselves killed in the course of this very unpromising mission. There’s actually a lot of important plot material in here, which will presumably have to be repeated in the main series – the return of Captain Marvel is a main point, for example.
Remender’s done very good work on X-Force, and here, he’s doing a similar balance between the characters and the plot, except without X-Force‘s tendency towards darkness. You could query how well he’s really grasped some of the characters. Thor drinking before battle would make sense for the mythical character, or for Hercules, but it’s a bit off beam for Marvel’s Thor. Captain Britain being persuaded to join in is even further off the mark, I’d say. But he does good work furthering the Noh-Varr subplot from Avengers, and Renato Guedes’ art has a lovely European feel to it that really lifts the book.
This branch of the storyline may well prove to be superfluous to the crossover as a whole, but at least it’s giving Secret Avengers something to work with as a story in its own right.
In the next part: X-Force, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, Wolverine and the X-Men, X-Factor, X-Men, and X-Men: Legacy.