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Mar 31

A+X #13-18 – “Outstanding”

Posted on Monday, March 31, 2014 by Paul in x-axis

Before we go further, I repeat the gratuitous plug.  You can now buy tickets for our live show on 31 May – details in this post.

A+X, then.  The anthology has finally succumbed to the inevitable.  These six issues will make up the anthology’s final collection (which is where the title comes from, in case you were wondering).

It’s a series that has always been more interesting for what it says about Marvel’s publishing philosophy than for the actual stories it contains.  You could be forgiven for thinking that A+X is a series that was only launched to try and capitalise on the surprising success of AvX: Versus, in an attempt to squeeze yet more money out of the company’s two top franchises.  At first glance, that’s very much what it looks like.

Yet a purely mercenary approach would not have resulted in A+X.  It’s an anthology of short stories, a format that readers have never shown much interest in, and certainly not in recent years.  It compounds that by not only failing to have any particular significance in wider continuity, but by actively promoting that one of its key features.  In these two respects, A+X was a doggedly uncommercial title.

Books like this would seem to be the result of the tension between Marvel’s desire to milk the core brands to breaking point, but recognition that they can’t just produce umpteen identical X-Men comics.  That results in an ever expanding search for something else to stick an X on, and there comes a point where that search meets an editorial desire to produce an anthology title, coming towards its from the other direction.

This is not to say that A+X was ever particularly successful.  In fact, it was largely forgettable.  Given the wide range of characters available, the formula of one Avenger and one X-Man should have made for a wide range of potential stories; the reality was an awful lot of stock team-up stories or even just random vignettes, with a bit of  banter between the two stars.  It gets tremendously repetitive after a while.

Mind you, this final batch does have a few that stick in the mind, for better or worse.  Filed firmly under “worse” is Howard Chaykin’s Black Widow/Emma Frost piece, which is simply abysmal; a desperately unfunny sex-themed thing that feels decidedly like the work of somebody who has weird hang-ups about women, and in which everyone acts out of character because his women only have one personality, and it’s only got one trait.  Admittedly, Chaykin shows a better grasp than many of this book’s contributors of how to get a complete story into the space available, but I wish he hadn’t bothered.

Rather better – at least in terms of the character dynamics – is Max Bemis and David Lafuente’s Spider-Man/Magneto story, which makes something worthwhile out of their respective takes on being reformed villains.  And Sean Ryan and Goran Parlov’s Spider-Man/Psylocke story, in which the real Spider-Man finds himself with a badly injured Psylocke whom he barely knows, and worries that he might be the only person there when she dies, has a great emotional hook.  What it doesn’t have, though, is much of a plot; regrettably, A+X does little to undermine the old cliche that Americans don’t know how to write short stories, lacking the rigorous training in the ways of Tharg that is so often credited with hammering economy into the minds of British writers.

One might expect, then, that the serialised Captain America/Cyclops team-up which ran through these six issues would have a bit more content to it, being the equivalent of three issues of regular comics.  And it is; there’s certainly plenty going on in those six issues.  Whether they add up to a great deal at the end of the day is another matter; Gerry Duggan and David Yardin’s story has quite a few good moments, but feels terribly random with hindsight.

It opens with Captain America and Cyclops both being abducted by a helpful Skrull who wants to alert them to the fact that Cadre K – yes, the Skrull X-Men from the Alan Davis run – are on Earth and, ooh, probably planning something nasty.  This first issue seems to be setting up a reasonably smart idea to justify the team-up: the heroes’ squabbling destroys the only available device that can verify somebody as Not A Skrull, so they have to trust one another because everyone else could be an impostor.  But the story loses sight of it almost immediately, bringing in the likes of Ant-Man, Emma Frost and the Stepford Cuckoos.  Not only does that dilute the team-up, but wheeling out a bunch of telepaths completely removes any possible tension about spotting the shape changers, which is the Skrulls’ whole schtick.

Cadre K turn out to have no particular plan at all, other than look after those cows from the 1960s Fantastic Four that are apparently still clogging up the food chain.  The Skrull who set the heroes after them doesn’t have a plan either; it seems to be just a misunderstanding.  Dr Doom shows up to be the actual villain, but his main objective is to capture some Skrulls for investigation even though he already had one at the start and seems to have finished with him.

There’s not a huge amount at stake here, and Cadre K are wrenched into an awkward role when the story asks us to believe that they’ve come to America because Xavier spent so long telling them how wonderful, diverse and welcoming it is.  Duggan needs Cadre K to say these things so that Captain America can greet them as wonderful new Americans in spirit, but does it really make sense that anyone got that sort of impression about America from listening to Professor X, a man who devoted his entire life to shielding mutants from an America that isn’t up to dealing with them?  (“And then, my students, the government sent more killer robots after us!  But oh, they were diverse robots.  In America, no matter who you are and where you come from, you can grow up to be in a secret government program devoted to the slaughter of my people.  That’s what makes America so beautiful.”)

It does have its moments, though.  Captain America starts off convinced that Cyclops murdered Professor X, to the point where he refuses even to call Cyclops by his codename, and treats the time travelling younger version as the legitimate version of the character.  By the end, he’s become convinced that Cyclops really was out of his mind at the time, but still wants to bring Scott in – not because he thinks Cyclops deserves punishment, but because he still thinks there needs to be a trial.  The Stepford Cuckoos, while hardly in character, have some cute lines baiting Cap about his age.  And the rather haywire nature of the plot only really becomes apparent in hindsight.  Still, it’s hardly a classic that you should be going out of your way to hunt down.

Unfortunately, these final six issues are a fairly good representation of what A+X had to offer.  There are some sparks of inspiration here, there’s relatively little that’s truly bad, but there’s an awful lot that’s simply ordinary, not to mention rather unfocussed.  There surely have to be better formats for an anthology title than this.

Bring on the comments

  1. “[Skrull cows]…that are apparently still clogging up the food chain.”

    Hang on. Weren’t they Gonna be Chopps ages ago? What about the Skrull Kill Krew?

    Did…did those Skrulls *breed*??


  2. Michael P says:

    “Captain America starts off convinced that Cyclops murdered Professor X, to the point where he refuses even to call Cyclops by his codename, and treats the time travelling younger version as the legitimate version of the character.”

    Rather meta, that.

  3. The original Matt says:

    I would’ve supported this book back in the day, but when there is as much team intermingling in the modern day, what with the megacrossovers and all, the idea of seeing random A/X team ups isn’t quite so novel.

    I always enjoyed MCP back in the day, because I could see stories with characters who’s comics I wouldn’t normally buy.

    I would’ve supported A+X modern day if it was cheap, but when it’s the same price as Uncanny Avengers, uh, what’s the point?

  4. errant razor says:

    You’ve got it all wrong. This is part of Marvel’s more modern approach to find different things to slap an “A” on.

  5. ZZZ says:

    The Skrull cows have to be one of Marvel’s most thoroughly resolved “dangling” plot threads, since it’s the one bit of goofy Silver Age nonsense everyone knows about but thinks they’re the first person to remember.

    One thing that struck me as odd about the Spider-Man/Psylocke story – aside from the total lack of a plot – was the realization that she’s his college roommate’s sister (yes, Peter Parker and Brian Braddock were college roommates). Now, it’s likely neither of them know that – if they’d ever even met back then, neither would recognize the other with Peter masked and Betsy in a different body – it’s just a weird little footnote to the story.

  6. Someone’s probably already got a pre-blinding Betsy/pre-DeFalco Mary Jane story in a drawer somewhere. Something about red hair and purple hair clashing, some kind of Spidey Super Stories thing about an evil Viv Westwood or being trapped in Photoshop. Scramble Jeffries or something like that.


  7. Paul says:

    Yes, the story is asserting that the hypnotised Skrull cows successfully interbred with regular cattle. I think that’s been established somewhere before and, I suppose, is no less probable than any of the other interstellar couplings that have improbably generated offspring in the Marvel Universe. The story does actually reference the Skrull Kill Krew in passing – it’s surprisingly heavy on the continuity references for any modern Marvel story, let alone something in A+X.

    (In one of the story’s nicer touches, Captain America is appalled that the Fantastic Four would do something like permanently turn prisoners of war into cows, but his response is to ask whether Sue knew about it. The implication is that he finds it all too easy to imagine Reed doing it.)

  8. Sue’s the one who emotionally blackmailed Ben into flying the rocket, doctor-dooming them all. Sue is ruthless.

    I didn’t know about the Skrulls being allowed to breed. That seems kinda distasteful when I think about it. Lordy, maybe that’s Reed’s ORIGINAL SIN™.


  9. Lawrence says:

    Well, dooming Ben at least. Everyone else got neat super-powers and perfect bodies.

  10. Oh, I don’t know. Is brainwashing your enemies into thinking they’re below human level intelligence bovines, then allowing them both to breed and enter the food chain *really* any worse than, say, participating in a project to clone your dead friend and send out to fight against other former friends, or creating a prison in another universe far away from those pesky civil rights folks to keep said former friends?

    Sometimes, the F in fantastic is for “Fairly sketchy.”

  11. Speaking of morally questionable FF decisions–has Ben ever been held accountable for his actions during Fear Itself? On the one hand, he was clearly being influenced by a godlike being (not unlike the Phoenix situation) but he also made the choice to pick up the hammer (unlike the Phoenix situation, where the five got their power through Iron Man’s whoopsie daisie) and it was established during that crossover that some degree of the original host’s autonomy was driving the decisions.

  12. Jamie says:

    Since we’re all talking about the dubious morality of certain characters, a weird tangent:

    So readers generally seem to be of the same mind that the Trial of Jean Grey, currently unfolding under the pen of Bendis, is absurd at its premise, in that the younger Jean Grey is being accused of crimes that were not only committed by her older self under the influence of a cosmic being, but have since been retconned as not being committed by her at all.

    However . . .

    If anyone’s read Stark Disassembled a few years ago, Tony Stark essentially had his brain deleted so that Norman Osborne wouldn’t get ahold of the information of every single superhero, as cataloged during the Initiative nonsense. Once deleted, Stark had a backup of his brain installed, but from months before Civil War, so that he had no memory of any of the douchebag decisions he’d end up making.

    Is this “reinstalled” Tony Stark guilty or not guilty of the crimes he doesn’t remember having committed? Because even though he is literally the person he was before making those morally dubious decisions, he is still basically the same person who would eventually make them in a few month’s time.

  13. ZZZ says:

    Considering that the Shi’ar Empire had the entire Grey family exterminated on the off chance one of them might be kind of like Jean, I think it makes total sense that they’d also want to kill a younger version of Jean herself. They’re definitely a “go back and kill baby Hitler” sort of people.

    The retcon about the Phoenix that went dark not actually being Jean has been ignored so often that I’m not sure it’s even Marvel’s official policy anymore. At the very least, they seem to be going with the idea that it had Jean’s personality so anything it did, she would have done in its place, and Jean acquired its memories somewhere along the way, so she feels like she actually did do it. Or something like that.

  14. @Jamie: It was obvious that the writer WANTED us to accept that Tony was no longer morally culpable, which was why the whole situation left such a bad taste in my mouth. It was clearly a plot change designed to shortcut a redemption arc. I think he’s no longer morally culpable, but that’s a slippery slope–given the number of telepaths in MU, forgiveness for any crime would be just a mindwipe away.
    At any rate, I’d have much more respect for an Iron Man who had been allowed to acknowledge his past mistakes, and made an effort to fix things.

    Okay, one more for the questionable morality box: There’s been a recent update for the Marvel Heroes Puzzle Quest free-to-play app which takes place in an alternate universe Dark Reign, featuring minor changes, such as Ragnorak now being created by Osborn,but still has Osborn as the government-appointed task master of HAMMER. In the update, a storyline has Captain America proposing torture for Norman Osborn’s HAMMER goons and demanding that Iron Man set up wiretaps on the government officials. Iron Man’s response is “eh, they’re my tech, so really, I’m just tapping myself.”


  15. Billy says:


    Except Rachel. The Shi’ar intentionally and specifically left alive the one Grey family member who has shown the ability to actually channel the Phoenix Force.

    So while they might be “go back and kill baby Hitler” people, they also aren’t particularly bright.

  16. Lawrence says:


    Maybe there’s a way to no-prize Bendis out of this whole Rachel conundrum.

    Didn’t the X-men prevent Phoenix from becoming the Dark Phoenix in Rachel’s timeline? So the Phoenix that Rachel had possession of wasn’t responsible for the billions of broccoli people deaths.

    Or another “No-Prize” spin on things: Rachel Summers is the only Grey descendant who has shown the ability to control the Phoenix. The worst thing she has done with the power is try to kill the Beyonder and Selene.

    Or um… her mom is dead so technically she can never be born and while in Shi’ar law you can execute someone from the past for things they’ll do in the future, you can’t execute someone who was never born.

  17. errant razor says:

    Or she is actually a pure-blood child of the Phoenix Force itself (via a cloned Jean Gey) and has no biological father, and could then possibly be the only perfect host for the Phoenix.

    I’ve seen that one a lot. Mostly, actually.

  18. The thread’s kind of moved away from this, but I’ll be damned if I let a good pun go to waste.

    Idea for a podcast where the hosts do nothing but complain about the moral choices of comic book characters: House to Admonish.

  19. ZZZ says:

    @Billy – Geez, I completely forgot that part. I remembered her surviving (obviously) but my memory apparently refused to retain the whole catch-brand-and-release thing, and I sort of half remembered it as her arriving after the Death Commandos had left or something. Do we know if she still has the tattoo on her back?

  20. Jamie says:

    “I think it makes total sense that they’d also want to kill a younger version of Jean herself.”

    Which would make sense.

    Unfortunately, the actual story is about accusing her of crimes she hasn’t committed.

  21. Si says:

    To portray the Shiar as anything but incompetent, inconsistent sheep would be to ignore four decades of continuity.

  22. Will says:

    An equine themed podcast Horse to Astonish.

  23. Jamie says:

    A podcast for the ladies: Whores to Astonish.

  24. ASV says:

    “Like Hitler, but stupider” is a pretty good description of all Shi’ar leaders except Lilandra.

  25. Jason says:

    “Yes, Peter Parker and Brian Braddock were college roommates.”

    Isn’t it more like Brian just stayed in Peter’s dorm for like one weekend during a campus visit?

  26. Guys, wasn’t the point of the story that it was Doc Ock Spider-man, not Parker Spider-man?

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