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Oct 7

The X-Axis – 7 October 2012

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.

Bring on the comments

  1. Matt C. says:

    Aro posted:
    I wonder if this story was originally planned to have the Avengers in it, or it started an X-Men story that grew into something bigger?

    I’ve been wondering the same thing – if it started as an X-Men story, and the higher-ups said “let’s slap the Avengers in so we can make $$$”. There’s a plotline in there about guys like Iceman, Rachel etc originally joining Scott then going back to the Avengers and it all turns out to be pointless because by that time only Hope and Wanda can do anything, and the rest is just the Phoenix beating the Avengers up. (The alternative is just that Marvel is really bad at plotting, which has also been proven and isn’t any better. I think believing it was originally a different story is probably giving them credit they don’t deserve).

    The Original Matt posted:
    Since comics are written on the fly, so to speak, the stories always look better in retrospect. As a kid, I remember reading all about the stories that happened before my time, and thinking they sounded wonderful. Reading the response to this issue, if you take the entire bendis avengers run, and x-men from the start of the post Morrison era, and cram it down into a few paragraphs for tomorrow’s readers to find out what they missed, you could forgive them for thinking they missed some kind of golden age.

    Having not started reading until 2000, I know exactly what you mean – you read the summaries and the stories sound amazing since you’re filling in the details yourself, only to find they’re not so great after all. (I had the unfortunate experience to discover this with X-Men Forever – even Paul liked it, but ye gods was it terrible.)

    On the other hand, I don’t think there’s any summarization that could make “the Draco” sound cool.

  2. robniles says:

    Stacy X’s powers induced sex more than they resulted from it, I’d say. Not sure if that counts.

    There has to be somebody who fits the description, though—if not from Morrison’s canon, then surely from Austen’s. (The only one I could think of was Scarlet Harlot, who was a Morrison creation but neither a mutant nor even a Marvel character.)

  3. Paul D says:

    Actually, the more I think about it, the more I believe that having Rachel in the story would have made the Avenger’s points more understandable. Instead of trying to prevent Phoenix from taking a host, they could have been the ones FOR Rachel to be the host (having been a successful host before).

    It would have really contrasted with the faith that Cyclops/XMen had for Hope, a la Lost’s Man-of-Science (Avengers), Man-of-Faith (Xmen) themes. And since Hope’s importance is via Cable via the future, it also has the free-will vs fate/predestination aspect.

  4. Paul D says:

    Plus, that could have been the reason Phoenix split into 5 – the Avengers won, but it does not work [insert pseudo-science reason why Rachel could not be host]. Now, the Avengers going against the 5 from the very start is because they are trying to fix their mistake; 5 hosts is an unstable, unnatural state of the Phoenix force they caused.

    And that makes the Avengers’ taking up the “Hope-as-host” plan just a continuation of their original plan, rather than a complete-reversal. Rachel did not work; so Hope is now a viable (“we do not have any better Plan B”) alternative.

  5. Rich Larson says:

    I’ll be interested to see an overall review from Paul. The ending worked pretty well but it’s not making up for the 5 months of poor plotting that cam before. There have been dozens of suggestions here about how to tell the story more cleanly and it’s very disappointing no one at Marvel bothered. The story does create new long term possibilities for Cyclops and the X-Franchise, but I’m not at all confident anybody has really thought that through based on how quickly they dismissed Schism and Gillen’s re-launch of Uncanny (the strongest part of this crossover by a wide margin.) It’s hard not to think they are not just making this up as they go and not in a fun, creative way.

    However, the Squirrel Girl/Pixie explanation was hysterical and almost makes the whole thing work!

  6. John M says:

    I love the potential for Cyclops here. If he is shaping up to be a new Magneto, at least they are seemingly treading new ground with a new take on an old character. OK: you could substitute in Magneto instead but at least it is a little different.

    That said, if Cyclops moves to Asteroid C behind the moon then I might have issues…

  7. The original Matt says:

    Asteroid C!

  8. Jacob says:

    Kind of sad the way things have gone; even considering Cyclops as the new Magneto is wrong.

    He’s a guy backed into a horrible corner by the Scarlet Witch/Marvel editorial and he came out fighting.

    Everyone (comic character wise) is going on about Xavier’s Dream. It’s a dream which could never be achieved without proactive movement. All Charles did was hide the mutants away and train them to use their powers for combat.

    Cyclops was proactive and got punished because all proactive superheroics in the post-Authority world must be punished with failure.

    Years ago, pre-Morrison I hated Cyclops; he was bland, complacent, married to a boring character.

    Now I look at him as one of the few sane characters in a mad universe.

  9. errant says:

    so let’s see… Cyclops is the new Magneto. Angel was the new Apocalypse. Beast was the new… umm… Sublime? Jean was Dark Phoenix.

    when the O5 return in All New X-Men, Iceman can tell his younger counterpart — Yes, we’re boring and always will be, but we were never evil and killed a universe.

  10. Rich Larson says:

    I agree that Cyclops is getting kind of a raw deal here. Why is he the new Magneto? Even with a sympathetic view of Magneto he seemed to believe that mutants were better than humans and they were going to get the humans before they got them. His story is one of having lived through the Holocaust and becoming dangerously similar to what he opposed then. Cyclops on the other hand seems to move from a Martin Luther King, Jr. stance to a malcolm X stance. He doesn’t give up on Xavier’s drema as much as say we don’t just invite you to accept us, we will demand you accept us. The only thing I’ve seen that seems to have gone over the line is X-Force. Almost everything else were difficult strategic decisions that almost everybody in the mutant community supported and turned out to be right. I guess it depends on how responsible he is for the destruction the Phoenix caused whether yoiu think he has gone too far. If he gets the same “i was posessed” pass evryone else gets, he seems to have been largely correct in what he put together. He’s definitely more morally complex than he used to be (and part of me misses the heroism of X-Men don’t kill, period.) but he has acted more sensibly than Wolverine, Captain America and everyone else.

  11. Taibak says:

    Sounds like Cyclops is more of a tragic hero whose actions forced others to see him in the traditional role of a super villain.

    Sounds like an interesting angle to me.

  12. Matt C. says:

    @Jacob: I was gonna hold on til next week, since it was the AvX Consequences/Uncanny Avengers issues that made me think it, but this kinda how I feel too. The whole situation is just incredibly sad, in a way. Xavier has this great dream of humans and mutants living in co-existence – and it pretty much went out the window with “no more mutants”. Can’t have them living together if there’s no mutants to live. Cyclops took the reins, stood up for his people, and protected them. Did he end up doing terrible things to protect them? Yes, but he knows this. In the end, he did manage to bring his race back from extinction.

    As a sidenote, I agree with you. As a kid I never liked Cyclops (his whiny portrayal in most of the cartoons doesn’t help), but ever since Morrison he’s been my favorite X-Man.

    @Rich Larson: Depends on how you view Magneto, and I think there’s fertile ground for an essay or two here. I think the similarity comes in that both Magneto and Cyclops are willing to sacrifice the “other” for protecting the mutant race. Magneto usually saw it as “mutants and humans will never co-exist peacefully, so I must make war to protect my people.” However, there were points where he seemed content to rule his own version of Utopia on Genosha (albeit sometimes just to build up his own army). Cyclops didn’t necessarily want to make war, but in the end he seems okay with the fact he killed a bunch of humans in order to bring the mutant race back.

    (Of course, this is one of the main reasons “No More Mutants” never worked in the first place – with no more mutant births, what made them any different from say, the Hulk or the F4 – people who got dosed with radiation and mutated that way? Xavier should’ve just convinced everyone to act like other superheroes, but, well, then you wouldn’t have a story).

  13. moose n squirrel says:

    “The only thing I’ve seen that seems to have gone over the line is X-Force.”

    And how over the line was that, given that Wolverine, who we’re asked to assume is one of the “good guys,” turned around and kept X-Force running anyway?

    On the MLK vs. Malcolm X note, MLK’s views began to evolve more towards Malcolm’s towards the end of his life – he certainly began to distinguish between the violence of the oppressor used to oppress the oppressed, and the violence used by the oppressed to defend themselves against the oppressor, at least.

  14. Rich Larson says:


    I do think there’s some interesting complexity to both characters and how similar they are or are not. i do think a key difference is that Magneto generally doesn’t care too much about sacrificing the other and often talks about them as lesser beings. Cyclops didn’t set out to sacrifice humans (or the Professor) but can live with the unintended consequences. I guess the question would be if he wasn’t Phoenix addled would he have pulled the trigger on killing ots of non-combatants. As generally portrayed I think he wouldn’t, but it’s an interesting question.

    moose n’ squirrel: You could also argue that Malcolm X’s views moved more towards MLK’s near the end of his life. it would have been very intereting to see how they both would have evolved (or not) had they lived. I’d love to see someone explore all this in the books and hope they have thought this out a bit. I know Kieron Gillen reads here. Has this been discussed among the writers?

    And yes, Wolverine as the good guy shocked by the death of Xavier and anyone else is stretching it a bit for me (this seems Storm’s logical role), but we’ll see how it plays out.

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