Posted on Sunday, October 7, 2012
by Paul in x-axis
So we’re finally here – the end of a storyline that’s been running for months, which in turn ends a storyline that’s been running for years. No wonder they’ve given it a pretty clear run – we have four X-books out this week, but three of them are effectively different perspectives on the same story. Strangely, that works better than you might expect.
Avengers vs X-Men #12 – I may do a separate post looking back on this crossover as a whole. But let’s talk about the finale and where it leaves us going forward.
Here’s what basically happens in this issue. Cyclops is Dark Phoenix, and he wreaks havoc around the world. Finally he gets taken down to earth by Nova, of all people – presumably to try and give this otherwise minor character a springboard into his new series with a high profile cameo – and then gets taken down by Hope and Wanda working together. Hope becomes Phoenix, she undoes all the damage Cyclops did, and then she and Wanda disperse the Phoenix around the world, undoing Wanda’s spell from House of M and causing new mutants to appear again.
Credit where it’s due, this series really does resolve a whole load of long-running storylines. Wanda’s back in circulation as a hero. Hope’s messiah role is resolved. The Phoenix is out of circulation (though granted, it wasn’t doing much anyway). Cyclops’ radicalisation flows through to its logical conclusion. And the “no more mutants” storyline, which has been running for seven years, is finally and mercifully ended.
I’ve written at length in the past about why the idea of reducing the number of mutants to 198 was hopelessly misconceived. Suffice to say that not only did it wreck the central metaphor of the series (because the mutants no longer functioned as a workable analogue for any minority), but the initial follow-up was inept, as no character showed any apparent interest in trying to undo Wanda’s spell for an inordinate amount of time.
Eventually, however, the X-books did find a workable angle on the premise, as they relocated to Utopia and began repositioning Cyclops as the new radical Magneto working to find a solution and seizing on anything that came to hand. The initial error with “no more mutants” wasn’t that it’s a fundamentally bad story idea; it was that Marvel didn’t treat it as a story idea at all, but simply as the new status quo against which all future stories would work. As a status quo for the X-Men, it’s hopeless; but as a medium-term challenge for them to overcome, it’s fine. That’s why the premise only started to work once Marvel started taking steps to undo it.
It helps that it was hooked to a very effective character arc for Cyclops, which got off to a shaky start when he seemed to undergo an arbitrary personality shift, but eventually settled down to the idea that, with his back against the wall, he was turning into a bit of a zealot. That’s a novel reading of the character, but it’s a totally plausible one, given that he’s never really had a life beyond the X-Men, and if their dream fails, he’s pretty much wasted everything.
This issue delivers the pay-off to all these threads, but also manages to throw in a few unexpected elements. Instead of just re-powering all the old mutants, Hope and Wanda seem to have randomly empowered loads of completely new ones – a nice opportunity to refresh the cast and a neat twist on how these new mutants might feel about being suddenly added to the mutant “community”. And instead of ending with Cyclops dying in a replica of the original Dark Phoenix Saga – which would have been fine in itself – we have the rather more interesting idea that Cyclops survives and remains more or less unrepentant for everything he did. After all, he was right. The Phoenix was there to save mutantkind, and he made sure it happened. That’s exactly how he ought to feel, but I’m pleasantly surprised that Marvel are actually running with it.
Not everything in this story works quite so well. Wanda is suddenly shoved front and centre for the final arc, more because plot convenience and symmetry with House of M demand her presence, rather than because the writers seem to have any particularly dramatic role for her to play. In fact, the Avengers as a whole are left to serve mainly as foils to the X-Men’s story. Notionally, there’s a character arc for Iron Man where he learns to embrace spirituality, but it feels decidedly tacked on, especially since the upshot is merely for him to realise the blindingly obvious fact that Hope and Wanda might have something to do with solving the Phoenix problem.
There’s also the fact that the Phoenix’s own actions seem wholly arbitrary and overly convenient. Apparently it really was coming to Earth to help save mutantkind, in which case the X-Men were right all along and the Avengers caused most of the trouble themselves. The idea is meant to be that Hope could only control the Phoenix because the training she received in K’un Lun while she was hiding out with the Avengers, but that isn’t brought out as clearly as it might have been. (The idea set up in Uncanny X-Men, that Generation Hope were supposed to be vital to helping her control the firebird, is simply ignored in the main series.) But if the Phoenix was only trying to help, then (a) why, and (b) why was it destroying all those planets on the way to earth, other than to generate false peril? The opening pages of this issue pretty much admit that no better explanation can be offered than “just because”, and that’s a bit weak for such a major part of the story.
Still, for all that, this issue does deliver a successful resolution to some major storylines that have been running for years. And on the points that really matter, it works.
AvX: Versus #6 – Most of this issue is an expanded version of the fight between Hope and Wanda which is shown in flashback in Avengers vs X-Men #12 (with a coda to provide a technical winner). Wanda’s powers always better defined in theory than in practice, but there really does seem to be a tendency at the moment to treat them as “ehh, she can do stuff”. Kieron Gillen does try to frame it in terms of probability-manipulation, which is supposed to be her power, but I can’t help feeling that she’s been allowed to drift way too far from the central premise and needs to be reined in. At the moment, she’s powerful in a way which is actively unhelpful to stories. She has no clearly (or even unclearly) defined limits, which is dramatically problematic; and because her powers are no longer limited in any rational way to their supposed gimmick, writers are prevented from having her use the gimmick in a creative way.
Anyhow, it’s a fight scene in which two people hurl energy around, it’s quite nicely drawn, and the final page is cute. But it’s AvX: Versus, and it’s inherently superfluous.
The rest of the issue is a mixed bag of one- or two-page “fights”, most of which are comedy strips, one of which is pretty much just a pin-up, and one of which is an Iron Fist/Iceman story by creators who don’t seem to have received the memo about the feature being a joke. The less said about the Jeph Loeb/Art Adams thing, the better, but some of them at least raise a smile.
Uncanny X-Force #32 – “Final Execution” chapter 8, and it’s still not finished. Boy, this is going to be a big collection. Anyway, it’s mainly people running around fighting in the Brotherhood’s base, and as usual with this book, it’s quite attractively drawn. It’s got a nicely done sequence of Deadpool trying to be heroic for a change, and while it’s hardly novel for him to be attempting legitimate heroism, Remender both paces it well and neatly brings him to the foreground of a series where he’s not always been that prominent. Nightcrawler also gets some interesting material as he has the opportunity to go back to the mission he actually came to our Earth to pursue – hunt down his world’s version of the Blob, for purposes of personal revenge.
I can’t help wondering whether this storyline is a bit overextended at nine issues, but what X-Force does continue to deliver is the sort of team book that the regular X-Men titles have more or less abandoned, with a careful balance giving each character not only some page time, but some actual story content of their own. Balancing all these elements while keeping the story flowing isn’t easy at all, and Remender is showing real skill at it.
Uncanny X-Men #19 – This is basically Avengers vs X-Men #12 told from Cyclops’ perspective, which at first glance is merely a necessary evil. After all, the events in question are so important to this book that they really do need to be repeated here (particularly for the benefit of anyone buying the collections) – but how do you do that without making the story mere repetition?
Well, this issue does make it work. No doubt assuming that most of the audience will have read the core mini too, the issue hits all the core plot points, but puts its real focus on Cyclops’ perspective and what’s happening to his mind. He’s been steadily losing his grip over the course of the storyline, and by this point he’s totally lost touch with reality. So the version of events seen here is intentionally disjointed, cutting back and forth between highlights of Cyclops’ life, snapshots of chaos, and brief moments of relative lucidity, all accompanied by a detached, blank first person narration in which Scott seems to be watching from afar, describing what’s going on with the sort of neutrality that shows he no longer really understands its implications. When the narration unconvincingly asserts “I am still Scott Summers”, it does so only as one of nine panels of mostly trivial facts, Scott’s sense of identity apparently ranking no higher in significance than Magneto’s heart rate or Emma’s grey hair count.
It’s a little odd that an issue like this should end up with fill-in art by Dale Eaglesham, but for the most part he does a good job of selling the weirdly disconnected tone that the story is going for. The coda, where Scott talks to Hank after the fight, does look a touch rushed, but still delivers the important point that Scott is, if not unrepentant, certainly minimally repentant. He saved mutantkind; he won. And if he ruined his life in the process, he sees that as martyrdom. As a complement to Avengers vs X-Men that puts the focus more firmly on Cyclops’ personal character arc, it’s a very good issue.