Posted on Sunday, May 20, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
Plenty of crossover material this week, so let’s get straight to it…
Avengers #26 - It’s an inherent problem with these sort of crossovers that, in order to make each series intelligible in its own right, you end up getting the same scenes repeated from various perspectives. So this is essentially the team from Secret Avengers being sent off to fight the Phoenix, only told from Noh-Varr’s standpoint, since that’s the focus of this particular book. In fairness, it does at least steer clear of just repeating the entire fight scene (unfashionably offering a footnote to suggest that you might care to read Secret Avengers if you’re interested in that bit – and I’ll come back to that shortly).
Walt Simonson’s art on this arc is about as cartoonish as he’s ever been, but in a strange sort of way that complements Bendis’s style rather well. It gives the book the sort of cosmic feel that this sort of story desperately needs, and it also stalls any risk of the book taking itself too seriously. There’s even a half-decent idea in here, with Noh-Varr having to betray the team over his greater loyalty to the Kree Empire. Ultimately, though, it runs up against the problem that’s plagued Bendis’ use of Noh-Varr from the word go; he just isn’t a very strongly defined character, and he remains a rather bland figure cast in a major role.
Avengers vs X-Men #4 - Okay, this is starting to test my patience.
Jonathan Hickman takes over the scripting for this issue, and it’s not very good. A large part of that isn’t his fault; it’s a more fundamental problem with the plot, which requires the series to grind to a halt this issue so that the book can promote assorted tie-in issues. The whole thing about chasing five false signals, for example, is brushed aside pretty quickly. Quite transparently, it was only introduced in the first place to provide filler material for the crossovers, and I’m not sure anyone could have made it seem anything more than a desultory exercise in artificially extending the plot. It’s irritating nonetheless. Weirder yet, even though these scenes serve absolutely no purpose other than to sell the tie-ins, we’re not actually told which books to read if we want to see them in full. Not a footnote in sight. Even the Secret Avengers’ encounter with Phoenix in space – a key plot point which is only shown in aftermath – is not cross referenced to the relevant issues. (Worse yet, the three dialogue-free pages that we do get are basically unintelligible. Thor does something with his hammer and looks surprised. If only I had a clue what was happening, maybe I would be surprised too.)
Leave that stuff aside and the main thrust of this issue is Hope tracking down Wolverine and apparently talking him into an alliance to reach the Blue Area of the Moon so that she can try and take the Phoenix there. This actually makes a certain degree of sense – Hope is addressing the problem by getting off the planet. As it turns out, though, Wolverine is just stringing her along until he can call the Avengers, and so we end up with the Avengers and the X-Men squaring off on the moon as the Phoenix arrives.
That’s a fair enough idea as far as it goes, but it has problems. Leave aside the fact that at the start of the issue Wolverine has somehow found a stray polar bear in the Antarctic, something that apparently slipped past all six credited writers and all five credited editors. It means that the whole thing with Captain America dumping Wolverine in the Antarctic ends up being false conflict that is summarily dismissed once it’s served its purpose of getting Wolverine on his own. It’s clumsy. You don’t expect wonders from this sort of series, but this is an incredibly awkward-feeling issue that does little to inspire confidence that we’re reading anything more than a slender story being padded out with fight scenes and tie-in material.
AvX: Versus #2 - You know, it takes balls to publish a comic which clearly states on the recap page that the premise is to have “Avengers and X-Men pound the snot out of each other one-on-one until there’s a clear victor”, and then run a story in which Colossus is declared the winner over Spider-Man because Spider-Man just realises that he doesn’t need to be there and leaves.
Captain America fights Gambit in an extended version of a few panels from Avengers vs X-Men #4 which still manages to contradict what was shown in the main story and isn’t very interesting anyway. The Colossus/Spider-Man thing is better, since it plays amusingly off the Spider-Man/Juggernaut stories of the past, but it really needed a proper ending.
Avengers Academy #30 - One of the more peripheral Avengers vs X-Men tie-in books but none the worse for that, since at least it gets to do a story of its own instead of having to work in the margins of the main series. The kids from Utopia have been brought to Avengers Academy to keep them safe (i.e., out of the way), and this prompts much discussion from both the regular cast and the guest stars about just how far they should be putting up with this sort of treatment. (General consensus: it’s a Bad Thing.)
Meanwhile, Sebastian Shaw escapes from custody and goes off on his own, in a re-enactment of sorts of Wolverine’s solo role from Shaw’s own debut story. That’s a nice little inversion for the long-time fans. What’s a little more curious is that, after Generation Hope went to some lengths to set him up for possible rehabilitation, Avengers Academy is pretty clearly setting out to wrap up the loose threads and restore Shaw to his status quo. I suppose that makes sense; without the cast of Generation Hope to interact with, there’s not much that can truly be done to pursue the planned storyline, so it’s better to wrap it up and get the character back into circulation. That gives Christos Gage something to do in his tie-in issues, and it also means that the book has a third-party villain it can use to liven up what would otherwise be the Avengers and X-Men kids debating internment. But it’s also a glaring wrench away from the previous storyline.
The book would benefit from a more focussed cast – there’s a truly vast number of characters floating around here – but unlike most writers faced with this sort of scenario, Gage is actually able to give them all some personality. He even finds time to write some nice material for X-23 and Finesse, the two emotionally stunted characters who’ve finally found someone who understands them. I suspect the book would be better off if it were just pursuing its own storylines, but there’s good stuff in this issue.
New Mutants #42 - Over in the five-issue “Exiled” crossover between New Mutants and Journey into Mystery, the New Mutants have hooked up with Loki and have to cast a spell to restore reality to normal. Somehow, they’ve already managed to remind Loki that he’s not just the kid from round the block. Which looks at first glance like it’s terribly convenient, but gets rather cleverly inverted in the closing twist.
I’ve wondered before about what the New Mutants are really contributing to this story, which is first and foremost an Asgard arc. But I’m starting to see the point here. For one thing, with the Asgardians themselves out of action, somebody needs to drive the plot. But more to the point, the New Mutants’ set-up is supposed to be about them living in the real world and trying to have as normal a life as possible, so there’s something to be said for the idea of having them deal with weird magical stuff going on under the surface of their local neighbourhood. If they’re not truly essential to the plot, at least “Exiled” is helping to establish them as part of the city, which is something this book needed to do.
The idea of Asgardians being turned into ordinary humans isn’t new, but I like the way this story is doing it, with cheerfully contrived set-ups designed to give the likes of the Disir a parallel for their normal status quo, relocated to something as banal as a food allergies support group. None of them are exactly convincing in their role as ordinary humans, and that’s kind of the point. A fun issue.
Uncanny X-Men #12 - This is one of the stories where a bunch of characters chase after a false signal and have a fight. Gillen does his best to enliven it by taking the opportunity to revisit Tabula Rasa and check in on the Apex, but basically, it’s a fight scene drawn by Greg Land.
It is what it is, and what it is is a crossover spreading its plot thinly, by filling an issue with a great big fight scene, while the friendly member of the Apex offers ironic commentary on how it’s basically a great big fight scene. It’s got some funny dialogue but beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be much point to it, I’m afraid.
X-Factor #236 - I’m not entirely sure what Peter David was going for here either. The guy responsible for killing the wannabe superheroes of Seattle turns out to be a character called Scattershot, who is obviously meant to be connected to Shatterstar in some way. He’s also very obviously meant to be a 90s throwback, which is presumably the point of this issue’s retro cover design (though to my mind, it’s more 80s than 90s). Much of the actual story turns out to be Shatterstar fighting Scattershot, who naturally takes the opportunity to explain his point. Essentially he’s arguing that the real world is basically no better than the Mojoverse that Shatterstar escaped from, since it’s basically an empty and media-driven society too.
This feels like two distinct ideas that aren’t marching in harmony. On the one hand we’ve got a revival of the Mojoverse’s usual theme of media satire. With both Shatterstar and Longshot in the cast, the book has an obvious connection with the Mojoverse, so it’s fair enough that this theme should rear its head again. But alongside that, there’s some sort of vaguely developed theme about parodying the comics of the 1990s, and that doesn’t seem to fit. Scattershot’s argument is about the way pop culture is now, not the way it was 15 years ago. If anything, drawing attention to the excesses of the 1990s just flags up how we’ve dialled back from them, and works against the point.
Obviously this is an introduction of a new villain who’s going to be used further, and maybe the point will become clearer in due course. For the moment, though, I’m kind of confused.