Posted on Sunday, September 16, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
Hey, you know what the world needs this week? A truly ridiculous quantity of X-Men comics! Set the dial to excessive!
(Poor Astonishing X-Men must be wondering why it didn’t get to ship an issue this week. Everyone else did.)
Avengers vs X-Men #11 – And so here it is. The moment that must come in every crossover. The obligatory death of a character who hasn’t had a significant role in the story, but whose demise might justify a press release.
Yes, it’s time again for Professor X to lay down his life in the name of dramatic tension. And in principle, this really isn’t a bad idea. The character has arguably outlived his usefulness. He’s already been more or less written out of the X-Men’s stories. In fact, even as far back as the 1980s, Chris Claremont was regularly booting the guy into space to get rid of him and free up space for another character at the top of the tree. Plus, if Cyclops is going to be out of the picture at the end of this series – and frankly, it rather looks as though he is – there are more possibilities with Xavier gone than there are with him around. It means that another character will have to fill that role, and let’s be honest, that’s more interesting than hitting the reset button and making him the headmaster of Wolverine’s school.
And of course it ought to make a good moment to show that Scott has finally gone off the rails, just like the rest of the Phoenix Five.
So I don’t have a problem with the concept. The execution, on the other hand, leaves quite a lot to be desired.
For a start, there’s the fact that Xavier hasn’t had a major role in the story. He’s had a couple of minor subplot scenes in order to stop his appearance here coming as a complete bolt from the blue, but essentially, this story has not been about Scott and Xavier’s relationship. Quite simply, as a Big Emotional Moment, this is relying on the work done by stories before it, since Avengers vs X-Men itself did very little to set this up as a story beat.
Perhaps more fundamental is that, just like the supposed death of Winter Soldier in Fear Itself, the story utterly fails to convey that he’s actually dead. This is a remarkable breakdown of storytelling, and you would like to think that Marvel would have learned from their mistake last time round. But bluntly, there is nothing in this story to convey that he’s dead, without reading the press release. Nothing happens to him that looks any more drastic than what Scott does to Emma on the previous page – where the dialogue helpfully spells out that she’s not dead.
I read this issue already knowing that somebody died in it. And when I read Xavier’s death scene, I didn’t realise that was it.
That’s how badly the storytelling here has been botched. Again.
Look, I realise that you don’t necessarily want to have characters standing around spelling out the plot, and that’s fine. But only if the storytelling is otherwise clear. And this just isn’t. Can you tell me how I am supposed to figure out that Xavier is dead and Emma isn’t, based solely on the content of the printed page? Because I don’t see it.
This isn’t the only clarity problem, to be honest, but it’s the most fundamental one. Given that this is basically an issue-long fight scene, you have to wonder who decided to assign this particular issue to Brian Bendis. It’s never been one of his strong suits. He’s a character writer first and foremost, and his action scenes tend to be neither especially inventive nor desperately clear. To be fair, artist Olivier Coipel isn’t always helping either. For example, the idea that Xavier distracts Cyclops by trapping him in an illusionary conversation while the battle has started without him – that’s quite clever. That’s a nice idea.
But the big reveal doesn’t really work, because it’s entirely unclear what’s happening in the real world. Notionally, the plot seems to be that the Avengers and X-Men are already fighitng Emma, but what the art actually shows is a bunch of people standing around Cyclops looking stern, with Emma in the background, and a bunch of other characters looking at her in a vaguely concerned manner, a couple of them in a “ready for action” stance. (And Polaris facing the wrong way entirely.) It’s quite an attractive composition, but what does it actually show? And unfortunately, that sets the tone for much of what follows, which is essentially characters gesturing at one another and unintelligible displays of energy blasting, with no particular sense of where anyone is actually located relative to one another.
This is a shame, because to be fair, Bendis does a better job when it comes to his traditional strength – characterisation. He hammers Xavier as the loving father a bit hard, but at least he establishes the point clearly enough, and better late than never. And I do like the way he writes Scott, who doesn’t simply go crazy, but remains an essentially decent character now seeing the world through the Phoenix’s prism, unable to grasp why everyone else can’t see things his way. The central ideas of this story aren’t bad at all – it’s just a shame they haven’t been executed better.
New Avengers #30 – Let’s wring a few more crossovers out of this poor beleaguered miniseries before it’s too late! This issue is actually about Luke Cage deciding whether he should quit the Avengers in order to spend more time with his family. But it counts as an Avengers vs X-Men tie-in because – honestly, this is the tie-in – he worries about it while taking Emma Frost to jail after Avengers vs X-Men #11. She just sits in the back of a truck for most of the issue and tries to make a break for it when the bad guys attack – but she’s there, and that’s your crossover.
So, yeah, it’s the New Avengers fighting the Purifiers over a truck for the better part of an issue. There is a rather nice double page spread which is supposed to represent the turning point in Luke’s mind, with lots of images of his family life obscuring the page – but other than that, it’s a forgettable fight scene of no particular importance to the crossover.
Uncanny X-Force #31 – Rick Remender is nearing the end of his run on this title, and it would seem that this particular incarnation of the team is also heading for the shelf. (The next version of X-Force is going back to Cable and Miscellaneous Others.) I’ve enjoyed Remender’s run for the most part, but I’m also glad that it’s ending, because it looks as though Remender is indeed going to tie everything together into a complete over-arching story. And it’s one which won’t just resolve the storyline of Evan the little Apocalypse Clone Kid; it also looks set to address head-on the question of whether the title characters are hard-nosed soldiers doing what needs to be done, or just a bunch of killers.
In that context, Evan’s story serves as an interesting contrast for the team’s ethical dilemmas. As a black ops team, they’re used to appearing in stories where they fight unequivocally evil bad guys and kill them without remorse. But Evan’s arc is about whether Apocalypse really is innately evil, or whether a fresh version raised from scratch might turn out differently. We’re supposed to root for him to reject his heritage and live up to his comically naive idea of heroism – and we do – but it’s a view of the character that sits very uneasily with the way X-Force themselves generally act.
That central argument also goes some way towards explaining what characters like Daken and Sabretooth are doing in the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. While I’m still not a huge fan of just piling up random villains to form the opposition, both those characters (and to a lesser extent Mystique) do share a general rejection of the whole hero/villain set-up that justifies X-Force’s existence. To Daken, X-Force is a textbook example of Wolverine’s hypocrisy, and he has a point.
That said, quite what the Brotherhood would stand to gain by turning Evan into Apocalypse again, isn’t altogether apparent. None of them are characters who seem like they would want to put in all this effort just to pyrrhically prove a point. And I still don’t have a great deal of time for the Skinless Man, who remains decidedly one dimensional. But there are some really interesting ideas here, and ones that look set to tie up Remender’s whole run in a satisfying way.
Uncanny X-Men #18 – This is essentially Avengers vs X-Men #11 from a different perspective, though one that appears to imply that Scott is experiencing two different illusionary realities at the same time. I guess that’s possible, though it does seem a little odd
At any rate, this is the sort of story that actually does need to be covered again in Uncanny, in order for the series itself to hang together. You can scarcely have the climax of Cyclops’ arc take place entirely elsewhere. And there are quite a few good bits here – Kate Kildare’s reflection on how to spin the Phoenix Five; Scott continuing to cling to the idea that he’s a hero even as he drifts further and further out of touch with the real world. His rejection of Magneto’s concerns is lovely dialogue, which starts off pretty standard and suddenly goes in a rather unexpected direction. (“I’m nothing like you,” Scott retorts. “I’m winning.”) The contrast between him and Emma is also nicely done; both of them are losing their grip on reality, but they’re doing it in ways that still feel specific to them.
The issue also checks in on Colossus and Magik as they come down from the Phoenix. This is a great scene – not only does it firmly re-establish the Juggernaut storyline that rather got shouldered aside by the crossover, but it actively uses the crossover to relaunch the arc, and then hits you with a genuinely shocking explanation of what Magik has been up to. One that makes perfect sense, though.
That scene aside, it’s ultimately another version of Avengers vs X-Men #11- but it’s a very good version, and the dialogue is great.
Wolverine and the X-Men #16 – Another one from the “notionally a crossover” category. This is actually the origin story of Kade Kilgore, and the sum total of its crossover content is that the Phoenix Five show up for four pages near the start to take the kids into custody. The rest of the issue is them wreaking havoc in Rykers Island, explaining Kade’s back story and how he ended up in charge of the Hellfire Club, and then escaping.
Kade is something of a problematic character, because he’s ultimately rather ridiculous. He’s a twelve year old criminal mastermind, and you’ve got to hit a certain tone in order for that to work. Generally, Wolverine and the X-Men does hit that tone, even if the kids would look rather out of place in other books. With this issue, though, we seem to have an attempt to do the childhood of a sociopath, and I’m not really convinced that it works. It seems to be trying to give him the history of a proper character, and fundamentally, if you ask me to think about Kade in that way, I run up against major problems of suspension of disbelief.
Basically, I can buy him and his cohorts as a random bit of craziness in a crazy book – but I don’t buy them as characters. I really don’t think they work on that level; yes, this is the Marvel Universe, and that gives you a lot of leeway in what counts as plausible, but there’s still a limit. This is the X-Men, not the Powerpuff Girls.
X-Men #35 - The concluding part of “Subterraneans”, and while it does see Storm’s team retrieve the DNA sample from the weird religious cult, it clearly doesn’t end the “ancient mutant DNA” storyline. Presumably that’s running through the whole of Brian Wood’s run on this series, which is kind of a shame, since for reasons I’ve gone into before, I don’t think the concept works.
Still, there are plenty of good things here. I do like the cult leader character – it’s a nice change in these stories to have one who actually does believe in what he’s saying, and appears to be just a bit unhinged rather than secretly malicious. If anything, you almost feel a bit sorry for him – he just wants to inject himself with ancient mutant DNA and see what happens. It’s hardly a villainous scheme. As he points out, it’s firmly in a proud (if irrational) tradition of people trying to enhance themselves using powdered rhino horn and so forth.
And the art is very strong throughout, even if pages have had to be split between two artists with seemingly very different styles. Roland Boschi’s characters are angular, David Lopez’s are much smoother, but they actually fit together rather well. Partly that’s sympathetic colouring, but there’s also a fair amount of similarity in their layouts, despite the differences in how they render the characters. A good couple of issues here.
X-Men Legacy #273 – In which Rogue helps singlehandedly end a global conflict before going back home to rejoin the crossover. This is one of those stories that has some perfectly good ideas but really needed a few more issues if it was going to work. There are strong ideas in the two warring races – essentially, the rugged individualists and the communists – and that metaphor would have worked nicely at greater length.
But to resolve the story in this amount of space, Christos Gage has to rush it, and at that point it all starts to feel a bit too convenient. A massive world war is apparently brought to a shuddering halt with a single confrontation; the subsequent reconciliation comes a little too close to “Wow, we’re all friends now and by pooling our respective skills, it turns out everything will be wonderful.” It’s not quite that heavyhanded, but it really does get too close for comfort.
Some nice ideas, though, and Gage does write a good Rogue. It’s just a bit too compressed, so that a parallel that was always going to be fairly clear ends up being thumpingly plain.
X-Treme X-Men #3 – The end of the first arc is something of an improvement. The tension about whether the group has been misled about its mission is nicely built, and Pak starts to throw in details to build the characters (and back stories) of his cast members. Generally, there’s a bit more depth here than there was to the previous issue.
That said, the details of this world seem decidedly confused. The recap page describes it as a Bronze Age world, which is broadly what we seemed to see in the first two issues. But this issue has what appears to be a steampunk island and a ruined city of skyscrapers. You could view that as hinting at a rich backstory, but it comes across more as a bit confused.
The art takes a step up from last issue’s rather messy work, perhaps helped by some fill-in work by Paco Diaz on some pages. It’s still not great, but it’s at least serviceable.
Still, the fixing of all the world’s problems is ridiculously abrupt, and it doesn’t solve that problem just to have the characters ironically draw attention to the fact. And it seems way too early to write out Emmeline Frost, which seems to come entirely out of nowhere – though I suppose it’s possible that we’ll be seeing her again down the line.