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May 20

The X-Axis – 20 May 2012

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.


Bring on the comments

  1. DanLichtenberg says:

    @Michael Aronson

    Fair enough. I don’t know much about Green Lantern, but you’ve got me curious. I’ve read that his story has continued uninterrupted into the New 52, not quite sure if I understand that. But I don’t want to get us too off topic here.

    I think you put the status quo thing pretty well. It’s sudden, dealt with by the books for a year, then changed again. I’ll never forget how spot on some of the predictions were about Dark Reign from fans; I’d be on message boards when the solicits for the BOLD NEW DIRECTION called Dark Reign came out. Nothing else was known about it other than it was spinning directly out of Secret Invasion. Sure enough, multiple fans were like, “I bet Norman Osborn saves the day and becomes the public’s hero.” And of course, they guessed he’d be a prick for a year and then get his butt handed to him by the heroes. Still cracks me up.

  2. Si says:

    Michael Aronson: Quite right. The status quo doesn’t flow, it ratchets. The most obvious example for me was the first New Mutants trade, where the team clibed in a jet in New York State to spend an afternoon in a small town, but by the end of that same afternoon, they had to fly all the way to San Fransisco to get home. There wasn’t even any mention of the change.

    Sorry to keep harping on about New Mutants, but it’s the only Marvel comic I actually read. I can talk all about Atomic Robo and Saga if you like.

  3. Valhallahan says:

    The New Mutants trade sounds like a perfect example of the problem.

    AVX sounds like what I thought House of M was going to/should have been about (but with Hope instead of Wanda). They could have spared themselves 5 years!

    I have actually dropped all Marvel books apart from Winter Soldier and Daredevil, because I am so sick of hero vs hero stories.

  4. @Dan

    I highly recommend reading Green Lantern all in one go, if you can. It’s the kind of long-form superhero storytelling we don’t see anymore, that Bendis only wishes he could do. Whereas Bendis gets to Siege and is like “. . . oh yeah, this is the culmination of my run! Yeah, this was the whole point of Avengers Disassembled!” that no one believed for a second, Johns is even now unfolding a storyline that was seeded back in 2008 or so.

    It’s not that it all flows seamlessly, and there are rough spots and slow points here and there, but it’s consistently entertaining with all the world-building and how well storylines are seeded and built up.

  5. Another good example that doesn’t get talked about enough anymore was Johns’ run on JSA, the first series, through 52, and the first storyarc or so of the second series (not the dreadful Thy Kingdom Come story). Every single storyline was a status-quo changer in one way or another, some big, some small, and some plot points got resolved after a few issues while some took 50 (seriously, like the whereabouts of Lyta Hall). The only real low points were when the status quo was exactly the same at the end of the story as at the beginning, because it had set a rhythm of constant shakeups.

  6. Morrison’s long-form Batman saga gets less praise, though not so much for the fault of Morrison. As the architect of the entire Batman line, regardless of how well he built his title to the next status quo shift, the satellite titles had to follow suit, whether they were ready or not. Usually not. Morrison focused on his own title and just expected all the other books to meet him at the regular checkpoints.

  7. ARBCo says:

    @ZZZ: Yes, it’s true Hope’s powers could be that capable, but we don’t know that. It’s the kind of thing that could be solved with a panel of dialogue, really.

    Wolverine: How the hell did you find me?
    Hope: Been riding off Emma’s telepathy since I left. Good for staying hidden. Good for finding things, too.
    Wolverine: I’ve got something for you to look up, then…

    But it isn’t there, and they don’t pass out No-Prizes anymore. I mean, I have no professional qualifications, but pretty sure I could do a decent editing job on this stuff. Hey, Marvel! Call me.

  8. DanLichtenberg says:

    @Michael Aronson

    “Whereas Bendis gets to Siege and is like “. . . oh yeah, this is the culmination of my run! Yeah, this was the whole point of Avengers Disassembled!” that no one believed for a second, Johns is even now unfolding a storyline that was seeded back in 2008 or so.”

    Believe it or not, I think you’re the first person (besides myself) that I’ve heard call bullshit on Bendis and his “master plan” claims. Do you really think this is the case? Bendis said he had been planting Secret Invasion clues in New Avengers #1 onward. To this day, I have no idea what those clues were, and believe me, I’ve tried. I’m still not 100 percent convinced that the Jessica Drew who appeared in NA #1 was always going to be a Skrull. I think he reached a point midway where he knew, and maybe there were some happy coincidences that seemed to fit, but no way did it go back that far. If anyone disagrees, please tell me, I’d genuinely like to know if I’ve missed something.

    And isn’t it funny how each of these yearly Avengers things is touted as the big payoff to Avengers Disassembled? While it’s true that each major status quo shift more or less spins directly out of the last one (meaning Dark Reign, Siege, Civil War, etc. couldn’t have happened as they did before Disassembled), Bendis seems to mistake this for extremely long term plotting. I think if there were master plans in place here, the shifts wouldn’t be quite so jarring.

  9. kelvingreen says:

    Dan, you and Michael are not the only ones. It’s been clear to me since about the sixth issue of New Avengers that Bendis was making it up as he went along and had no plan at all.

  10. The original Matt says:

    I believe Bendis had A plan. But there are things that don’t work/aren’t followed up on. (or I missed them).

    The other Black Widow, for example, was taken off the board in the first NA arc, and approached by a shadowy figure at the end.

    The deal struck between Stark and Logan. It was mentioned again in the issue where the NA reveal themselves, but never again.

    Why does Jessica Drew have powers? The power restore surgery was the swap out point for the skrull queen.

    The frustraing thing is, I really enjoy the Bendis stuff when they aren’t doing major changes to the status quo. The events usually suck, and I’m convinced none of this writers knows how to correctly plot a large battle sequence. I’m sure the script just says “FIGHT! pages 3-19” and then the writers ads snappy dialogue to the pages they get handed.

    Large scale battles can work in movies thanks to visual spectacle. Comics don’t work the same way. You need to have characters from both sides who have a personal fued to meet in the midst of the larger battle, and everyone needs something of importance to do. Not just pages of double page spreads with the Watcher showing up halfway through.

    We need to make these guys read the Age of Apocalypse crossover over and over until they get it.

  11. wwk5d says:

    “Large scale battles can work in movies thanks to visual spectacle. Comics don’t work the same way.”

    That depends on the artists. George Perez and Alan Davis draw some amazing fight scenes, on both a large and small scale. But, they actually draw, instead of tracing.

    Bendis may or may not have had a plan, but ever since he started writing Avengers, it feels more like a 5 year old playing with action figures than a professional writer. “Hey Brian, here’s a new Invisible Woman action figure for.” “Awesome! She can join my Wasp, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Moon Knight, Sleepwalker, Polaris, and Jennifer Kale toy group as the Awesome Avengers!”

  12. @Dan Oh totally, it was all a mess. Bendis admitted early on in an interview that the identity of Ronin was a character who had appeared in a Marvel film (everyone knew it could only be Daredevil), and then quickly claimed he never said that, and boom, Echo, who was shunted off quickly and never heard from again.

    Maybe he did have some kind of plan, but when it comes to what was actually published, nothing gelled.

    And keep in mind, while the Marvel timeline for the past seven years has focused on the question, “Who rules the superheroes?” Bendis has been playing the “Who rules the supervillains?” card with a lot of his villains: the guy who killed the Kingpin in his Daredevil run, the Hood, Norman Osborne, and now even the Zodiac storyline is mimicking the same thread. I’m sure I’ve left out others.

  13. Billy says:

    @Michael Aronson

    According to Ronin’s wikipedia page, in the hardcover version of New Avengers volume 1, Bendis said that his original intention was to make Matt Murdock be Ronin, but had to change his plans due to a conflict with plans in Daredevil’s title.

    Maybe it is true. But even if it is true, it doesn’t match his denials at the time.

  14. DanLichtenberg says:

    @Billy & Michael Aronson

    Let’s not forget how completely ridiculous it is that Echo, a curvy comic book female, was apparently wearing a heavily padded man suit for no reason at all and also putting on a man’s voice when speaking to Spider-Man and the others on the trip home.

    And Echo? ECHO? Even fans didn’t know who the hell Echo was. As you said, it was a worthless reveal because Echo was shunted off into obscurity (I don’t remember a single thing about her character other than that she was Ronin). Not wanting the costume to go to waste, they gave it to Hawkeye (who Ronin maybe should have been in the first place; remember, he was still considered dead at that point and was resurrected only a few issues later anyway so he could screw a Doombot) who also abandoned it fifteen minutes later. It’s too bad, too, because Ronin was a good design. Now the “character” is nothing but damaged goods. There is no “original” Ronin. If they tried a third time, it would almost have to be an original character and his origin would be muddled by the fact that there were two sketchy Ronins before him. “Who will be the next Ronin?” Who cares. It’s kind of like Xorn. Great visual design, great potential, and completely unusable thanks to bad plot decisions.

  15. The original Matt says:

    Let’s be fair, Clint Barton was Ronin for about 3 years. Starting at the tail end of the Civil War and going through till Seige.

    But yes, I don’t know who Echo is. Or for that matter where she went. She just kind of wandered off after the Skrull attack.

    @wwk5d: When I say large scale battles don’t work well in comics, I mean something like the war scene in Attack of the Clones. It used to, because movie making technology couldn’t match imaginations. Now it can. If you want to do large battle scenes in comics you need a tight plot, not just 15 pages of punches and explosions. We’ve all seen it in movies now, it doesn’t captivate the imagination like it used to.

    The large scale battle can still happen, but you need to tell stories within it. Take the end of Return of the Jedi for example. That sequence could have easily been nothing but explosions, but there was drama playing out within it. Han’s team trying to open the door during a large scale ground battle. A squad of fighters trying to navigate the internal structure of the death star during the space battle, and in amogst that you have Luke and Vader dueling. Far more compelling to watch, than say, my eariler example of the Attack of the Clones epic battle sequence, because there was no drama. It was a visual feast, but there was no story happening, and therefore far less drama. The current large scale battles in comics are now the same thing. Punches and explosions for an issue, that barely forwards the plot.

  16. Mika says:

    In contrast, I only started reading New Avengers when the Echo/Ronin reveal was mooted.

    Admittedly, I may well be in a minority in this. But I am the Echo fan who that ‘twist’ excited.

  17. Mika says:

    (I meant to explicate that that was indeed the reason why I started buying New Avengers – and that it didn’t coincidentally coincide with it – but got distracted by thinking about my love for various obscure members of Daredevil’s supporting cast).

  18. DanLichtenberg says:

    Ronin should have been Foggy Nelson.

  19. Si says:

    Ronin should have been Wolverine.

  20. maxwell's hammer says:

    Ronin should have been Thanos: the first step in Bendis’s MASTER PLAN to write Gardians of the Galaxy after he leaves Avengers, and also a completely unrelated MASTER PLAN to a add a cool teaser to The Avengers blockbuster movie smash!

  21. Andy Walsh says:

    FWIW, Echo played a significant role in Bendis’ recent Moon Knight series.

  22. Echo should’ve been Optimus Prime. Robots in disguise, yo.

  23. Er, Ronin. Dammit.

  24. Chief says:

    “According to Ronin’s wikipedia page, in the hardcover version of New Avengers volume 1, Bendis said that his original intention was to make Matt Murdock be Ronin, but had to change his plans due to a conflict with plans in Daredevil’s title.

    Maybe it is true. But even if it is true, it doesn’t match his denials at the time.”

    Wasn’t Bendis writing Daredevil at the same time? Makes even less sense….

  25. ZZZ says:

    There was a Hawkeye & Mockingbird/Black Widow crossover that retconned Ronin to be an identity that existed prior to Echo pretending to be him. I forget most of the details – Black Widow’s husband Red Guardian was wearing the Ronin outfit in the crossover but I don’t remember whether he was supposed to be the original guy reclaiming the identity or just the latest person to use it – but I think it was used to explain why Echo wore the ridiculous “man suit” (i.e., she was impersonating an actual person, not just making up a new identity that was male for no reason).

    I’ve always suspected that the real reason they made Ronin Echo instead of Daredevil was that everyone IMMEDIATELY knew Ronin was Daredevil and comic book writers absolutely hate when their plot twist doesn’t fool anyone at all. I’m pretty sure that’s more-or-less on record as the reason Hawk was “revealed” to be the Monarch instead of Captain Atom in DC’s Armageddon 2001 event.

  26. Michael Aronson says:

    Has Bendis actually “created” or “reimagined” anything worthwhile during his run?

    Not Ronin. Not Sentry. Not the Hood. Not Iron Fist (or the changes he made). Not Dr. Strange. Not Marvel Boy. Jessica Jones got less interesting. Not Norman Osborne (just went with Ellis’ version).

    I guess he can have credit for reinventing Luke Cage and actually using the character. Is that it?

  27. DanLichtenberg says:

    @ Michael Aronson

    I don’t even like Bendis, but there’s no denying the role he played in making the Avengers relevant again and in shaping the MU as a whole. A few years back, the Avengers were up there with the Fantastic Four in “necessary, but kind of lame” territory. The X-Men dominated everything and absolutely spanked the Avengers month to month. Look at things now. Multiple Avengers books, wide reaching arcs, an absolutely enormous movie, etc. Love it or hate it, the Avengers are freaking unstoppable now, and I seriously doubt they would be enjoying their current popularity without Bendis’ involvement. That said, his plots and his cutesy dialogue still annoy the crap out of me.

    The Sentry was awful. Ronin was a complete misfire. Marvel Boy was nothing more than a plot device under Bendis, but it’s Marvel Boy and no one cares about him so I won’t fault Bendis for that. Luke Cage was brought back to life and is probably one of his better results (I still can’t believe he hasn’t appeared in a Marvel movie yet, I think he’s one of the more marketable characters in the Bendis era, and Iron Fist could potentially get there). And didn’t Bendis create Jessica Jones? I never thought she was interesting at all outside of Alias, and I’m not sure she was really supposed to be; that series was pretty cool and something very different, and on its own terms was a very interesting book. It probably shouldn’t have folded into the main MU, but oh well.

    I think another one of Bendis’ big problems might be only half his fault: decompression. Claremont was always dogged for plots that went nowhere, but at least then the issues still moved at a hundred miles an hour. In today’s world of six part stories about nothing, danglers are even more painful to sit through. Going back to Bendis and his early New Avengers again, when was his team finally assembled? Ten issues in? Longer? And even then, one event after another (starting with Civil War) completely killed any momentum that book had. A dozen or so slooooow issues of gathering the team only for the whole thing to be completely jettisoned into crossover land, a place that it’s never managed to return from. There’s so many books and teams now that it almost doesn’t matter.

    I’m not sure what my point was. I agree with you about his characters, but even I have to admit that without him, we’d probably have Austen writing the sole Avengers title and doing a story about Vision being abused by Ultron and hating women.

  28. Hmm, personally, I think Bendis is kind of incidental to the popularity that came out of New Avengers. Maybe his name was a draw to get people interested, but I think that’s the extent of what he contributed (besides making Luke Cage “cool” again).

    I think it had more to do with marketing (turning the relaunch into such a massive event), line-wide editorial (making Avengers family books, like Cap and Iron Man, and later Thor, matter again), editorial regarding events (making all major events since 2004 revolve around the Avengers), and . . . adding Spider-man and Wolverine to the team (as creatively bankrupt an idea as it seemed to be, I’m sure many non-Avengers fans picked up New Avengers for their inclusion alone).

    As for what sales the book was able to maintain during the course of its run, I’d say that had much more to do with its treatment as Marvel’s flagship book, being central to the lead-up and fall-out of most of its major events, rather than it being any damn good.

  29. For evidence of those observations, check out the sales on both current volumes of Avengers and New Avengers, the lowest those books have been since Bendis took over. You might say, oh the whole industry is in the gutter right now, but that’s not true compared to the New 52. The difference is that books like Justice League and Batman now “matter” as flagship titles for the company, while the Avengers books (pre-AvX) haven’t been guiding any line-wide events for the past two years.

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