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Dec 3

A.X.E.: Judgment Day

Posted on Saturday, December 3, 2022 by Paul in x-axis

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Valerio Schiti
Colourist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Editor: Tom Brevoort

There are a number of ways of doing a line wide crossover. You can try and give every book something to do that contributes meaningfully to the plot, but beyond a certain point that’s insane. You can throw in a bunch of side quests to provide busy work for the tie-ins, but that has its limits too. Generally the best approach is to have a high concept that everyone can use as a springboard for their own story in the margins, without having to worry too much about the core plot. That’s the Judgment Day approach: a day of the Progenitor judging literally everyone on Earth, which naturally includes the cast of every other title that might want to do a tie-in. This can go wrong if it turns out that there’s really only one story to be told with the concept, in which case things get painfully repetitive – that’s what happened with Secret Invasion – but since Judgment Day functions as a hook for whatever character work a book feels like doing, it avoided that problem.

So, it works as an event concept. What about the actual story?

Although it’s billed as an Avengers, X-Men and Eternals crossover, Judgment Day is principally the final act of Kieron Gillen’s Eternals run. That’s the book where all the big changes take place, and the storyline of Ajak and her relationship with her programmed religion comes to a climax. The Eternals have their status quo changed, the secret of their immortality exposed, and a new ruler put in place. It’s very much their story.

The X-Men are important, but not so centrally. The springboard of the plot is the Eternals declaring war on Krakoa because they’re supposedly excess Deviants – which is really just Druig trying to shore up his shaky position as prime Eternal – and of course there’s an aspect of mutant resurrection treading on the established concept of the Eternals. But that recedes into the background quickly enough when the Progenitor comes calling. The one X-book that really is centrally affected by Judgment Day isn’t X-Men or Immortal X-Men, but X-Men Red, thanks to the opening attack on Arakko. And conversely, that plotline is a bit of a side thread in Judgment Day itself – reading this book in isolation, it seems a bit weird when Magneto shows up for his big moment.

The Avengers aren’t really in it that much at all. Their house is. Iron Man has a fairly big role because he helps to bring it back to life; Captain America gets to do his inspirational bit. The rest of the team aren’t much of a presence at all. Reflecting that, Avengers itself barely even rouses itself to do a tie-in, and the single issue it contributes is a fill-in story about Hawkeye.

So, no, this is an Eternals comic. And yet it’s also the end of an Eternals comic, with the Eternals issues being rebranded as a prologue, an epilogue, and A.X.E.: Death to the Mutants. Even the collected edition of that arc is billed as A.X.E.: Judgment Day Companion. Marvel would really prefer to downplay the E in A.X.E., from the look of it. But it’s an Eternals comic all the same.

At its core, the story is that Druig is a weak Prime Eternal who wants to shore up his position by starting a war, so he decides to attack the mutants. That prompts a bunch of characters, including Ajak, to try and put a stop to the war by reanimating the dead Celestial which currently serves as Avengers HQ. There’s a suggestion over in the Eternals issues that Ajak might see this as a happy opportunity to do something that was quite appealing to her already. So the Eternals, Iron Man (who contributes some of the personality) and Mr Sinister (who contributes a bit of technical knowhow) bring Avengers Mountain back to life, whereupon it decides to judge mankind and, after a day, maybe wipe out the planet. Because it’s a Celestial, after all. Showing up and making arbitrary judgments is what they do.

In other words, Ajak has created her own new god, and it turns out to be a monster. But all of this ultimately leads to Ajak simply becoming a more nuanced version of that same god, still ultimately holding a similar threat over the world, even if nobody else fully appreciates that just yet. It wasn’t the judgment and potential obliteration that Ajak objected to so much as the crudeness of the criteria.

The Progenitor’s criteria for judgment are never made explicit, but it seems clear that they’re being judged at least to some extent by their own standards. Characters who show a degree of self-awareness and are true to their principles do fine; those who fail to live up to their own standards are failed, usually for the reasons that drive their own self-loathing, but sometimes just for having failed to spot the problem in their behaviour at all. But it doesn’t seem to be necessary to believe anything in particular; just being reflectively thoughtful and unsure seems to be enough, and so does being Doctor Doom.

The Progenitor is blithely judging the planet by essentially arbitrary criteria, then, but at the same time it’s reflecting humanity’s values back at them. You might have thought you had more time to make changes and live a good life, but nope, it’s too late now. It’s monstrous, of course – it’s a parody of god, represented visually by making it a parody of a Celestial. Its casual narration style, which echoes the Machine from Eternals, only magnifies that.

Schiti gives the thing a nicely twisted sense of scale. There’s an awful lot of plot to cover in this book, because there’s a lot of characters running about. Sometimes that does make it feel a bit cramped, but the book does find the space for Schiti to go big when it’s called for, and he delivers there. The colouring is beautiful as well. But at the same time, Schiti’s able to humanise a lot of the exposition. His Druig is perfect precisely because he lacks the imposing scale that the arch villain ought to have; the six civilians who keep recurring are nicely conveyed in single panels

Then there’s the Hex, bizarre and only semi-explained giant Eternals with weird monstrous forms. I love the abstractness of these designs. They do have the downside of being so unfamiliar that it’s sometimes hard to parse precisely what’s happening in the battles at Krakoa, and an occasional confusion about the action sequences is the main flaw with the art here. But that’s pretty minor in the grand scheme of things – it’s a demanding book pulled off rather well.

Those six civilians are a good idea. The usual problem with a book like this is that the general public remain squarely off panel and abstract. Even though only one of them really interacts with the main plot, having a small number of ordinary folk who we check in on from time to time, even just for a panel, gives this a bit of grounding that many stories of this type miss.

The return of Starfox is interesting, and you have to wonder if he’d have spent longer as Prime Eternal if the book had kept running. He’s set up as someone who’s going to provide a power of love ending, and we’re clearly meant to approve of what he’s trying to do. But at the same time he conspicuously fails to deliver it, with the Progenitor proceeding to wipe out the world anyway. Even though he has a ludicrously short amount of time in which to achieve it, that still feels more like cover for him. Starfox seems genuinely lost when his plan A fails, and it’s notable that Gillen has the idealists Nightcrawler and Captain America playing the pragmatists in comparison to Starfox.

More broadly, the shape of the story seems to suggest that it’s going to be a story in which Captain America inspires and rallies the world to be better. That’s the bit of the final act which I’m not sure lands. The Progenitor makes the initial decision to destroy the world; he’s clearly not quite sure about this, because he keeps testing people anyway. Nightcrawler is given a big scheme to resurrect Captain America and use him as a focal point, as the humans finally start to come together at the very last minute. And yet that doesn’t really feel like it’s the thing that pushes the Progenitor back – Sersi’s public admission about the nature of the Eternals winds up being the tipping point, which is the more important thing for Eternals, but isn’t much to do with the population of Earth raising their collective game. The whole subplot about Orchis feels too compressed, as well.

So I’m not sure it quite sticks the landing. And part of me wishes that we’d spent more time in Ajak’s company, since in some ways this whole thing is the story of her religious journey, and the Progenitor is just the outward projection of that. But maybe not – perhaps it’s a better story for keeping a bit of distance between us and Ajak.

At any rate, by the standards of line-wide crossovers, this is good – there’s an awful lot of characters running around, but that’s in the nature of things where event books are concerned. It’s got the sense of scale, it works as a finale for Eternals, and it works as an X-Men story too. And the Avengers lent us their house for a few months.

Bring on the comments

  1. Michael says:

    The ending seems to be inconsistent with the plot for Dark Web. The Phoenix Foundation starts resurrecting normal humans, with Jean copying the memories. But the premise of Dark Web is that neither Jean nor Maddie can restore Ben Reilly’s memories by simply copying Peter’s pre-Amazing 149 memories into him- Ben can only be restored by magic that will kill Peter. If Jean can copy memories into a clone as part of the resurrection process, then why can’t she or Maddie just copy Peter’s memories into Ben?

  2. The Other Michael says:

    Probably something something damaged soul or cloned too often or Mephisto or *shrug*.

    While this was mainly an Eternals thing, the crossover did have a few significant in the moment repercussions for the X-Men: Orchis gone public as pro-humanity, Magneto’s death, the Great Ring of Arakkoa shuffled around a fair bit, Brand killed which exposed a vulnerability in her plan to Cable, lots of Arakkoans killed– okay, so it’s still almost all X-Men Red related…

  3. jayrubadub says:

    Always love Kieron’s narration and dialogue, and I love his ideas about all the characters he has a point to make about. But I don’t think I would have enjoyed this if I hadn’t already read Eternals and been reading the X-Books, and I think that lack of accessibility hinders its success as (nominally) a line-wide crossover. I think to get the full effect of this story, you definitely need a lot of the core tie-ins to do some emotional heavy lifting, and the busy work of plot mechanics. I found a good read order for the most complete story without superfluous tie-ins read like this:

    Free Comic Book Day: Judgment Day
    AXE: Eve of Judgment
    AXE: Judgment Day #1
    Immortal X-Men #5
    X-Men Red #5
    AXE: Judgment Day #2
    AXE: Death to the Mutants #1
    AXE: Judgment Day #3
    AXE: Death to the Mutants #2
    Immortal X-Men #6
    X-Men Red #6
    AXE: Judgment Day #4
    Legion of X #6
    X-Men Red #7
    AXE: Judgment Day #5
    AXE: Death to the Mutants #3
    Immortal X-Men #7
    AXE: Avengers
    AXE: X-Men
    AXE: Eternals
    AXE: Judgment Day #6
    AXE: Judgment Day Omega

    That’s a lot of books outside of just the core 6 issues (or we’ll call it 11 with the bookends and the one-shots) to have to buy (if you’re not already) to really appreciate the impact of the story. This definitely was not new reader friendly, and as the culmination of Gillen’s Eternals saga it was never going to be, but maybe then it shouldn’t have been a crossover of this scale? But then I wonder if the story works as just a crossover between Eternals and Immortal X-Men (and maybe X-Men Red), and I don’t think that does either.

    Fantastic art. Hate the Phoenix Corporation idea. Wish Immortal shipped twice a month.

  4. K says:

    Artwise, superhero comics are really in a sweet spot right now which I can only call the post-Stuart Immonen era.

    That man somehow figured out the perfect balance of realism, dynamism and cartooning which can sustain a monthly book. Nowadays clearly all the new artists (like just about everyone who’s worked on Hickman’s X-books, including Schiti) are trying to put their own spin on that, which seems like pretty much win-win all around.

  5. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Regarding Dark Web, Ben is unhinged as of the end of the Beyond plot arc. And in the recent Amazing Spider-Man it goes beyond Peter’s memories – he wants his soul.

    And the Krakoan resurrection is fuzzy on that.

  6. Eric G says:

    One thing that I thought really helped was the fact that so much of the crossover was written by Gillen. I can’t recall another event like this which was so extensively by one writer, which gave the whole thing a coherency many of these things lack.

  7. Fett says:


    Ben lost approximately 99% of his memories. Restoring Peter’s memories won’t restore the memories of his life post Amazing 149.

  8. Joseph S. says:

    Echoing what The Other Michael says above, this may have been a Eternals event that marketed itself otherwise, it nonetheless moved the X-storylines forward quite a bit. Since the Scarlet Witch was nominally a mutant, is Cap’s resurrection the first time we’ve seen a non-mutant character resurrected? That seems significant. The Moira/Orchis storyline is moving forward. One of the more enjoyable crossovers in recent memory.

  9. Michael says:

    @Fett- but Maddie explains to him that the spell won’t restore his post-Amazing 149 memories either.

  10. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    As someone reading Eternals, Avengers, and some of the X-books this didn’t really work for me.

    It was too stretched out for what ended up happening.

    Maybe I’m just not into giant zombie space gods.

    I liked the thread of the regular humans and the Starfox stuff.

    The psychic illusion psych out plus the magic reset button ending really didn’t sit well with me though.

    It’s like the worst tendencies of ongoing superhero stuff.

  11. Josie says:

    Why did I think this was 9 or 10 issues?

  12. Fett says:


    At the end of the Beyond Story, Ben was exposed to a substance that should have killed him but instead it altered his mind and costume (his memory loss is due to a different device that the Beyond Corp. used to try and control him), leaving him mentally unhinged. Ben is no longer thinking straight so he has no rational reason for doing what he is doing.

  13. Sam says:

    I was into this until about the 4th or 5th issue at which point I abandoned all hope for it. Nobody over 12 believes that a crossover is going to destroy the world/universe, but the resolution can be done in a clever way. This way was not clever.

    @Josie With the Eve of Judgement issue, the Omega issue, 3 one-shots, and the 3 Death to the Mutants issues, it clocks in at 14 issues by Gillen not counting his Eternals series.

    Frankly, the “Druig needs to do something to shore up his popularity” doesn’t make sense given that he became Prime Eternal about 5 minutes before the events of the crossover started happening.

  14. Josie says:

    I’d thought it was 9-10 issues of the main book, plus all the unnecessary one-shots and tie-ins and whatnot. Maybe I just assumed it was a similar length to AvX and Axis. I dunno.

    Has a follow-up Eternals series been announced? God, they are just the dullest characters ever, both in the comics and in the film. I do appreciate Marvel’s attempt to get talented creators to sell an Eternals book to tie-in with the movie, but the movie arrived with a thud, disappeared, no sequel has been announced, and despite the praise the comic has gotten, this event hasn’t met similar reception. I wonder if this property is going the way of the Inhumans (i.e. away).

  15. Mike Loughlin says:

    I enjoyed this event. I especially appreciated the focus on characters and the big hero moments. The biggest problem was the need to put the toys back in the box, but at least none of the characters were rendered virtually unusable. a la Tony Stark after Axis or Carol Danvers after Civil War II.

    Sam: I can’t remember ever thinking a world-shaking event in a super-hero comic would result in the “real” death of a fictional character. I get it if how AXE handled stakes took you out of the story. I look at super-hero cliffhangers as an exercise in figuring out “how will they get out of this one?”

  16. Salomé H. says:

    @Josie: I’m actually pretty sure a second Eternals film has been announced at this point, though it’s really difficult to gage the present direction of the MCU in general. Without the Avengers, it feels like it’s missing a core series to anchor all the different threads emerging…

    That being said, I quite enjoyed the film for what it was, as well as Gillen’s run: it’s a slow burner, but for a while there, it was one of the monthly titles I was looking forward to. I appreciate a lot of the more abstract sci fi ideas, and at least the lack of definition of the characters was rendered as a plot point, to some extent.

    It could have done with a second year of world-building and detailing it’s mythology, though, rather than getting derailed into a barely convincing crossover event. Did anyone else feel an eery similarity with the forced end of Leah William’s X-Factor run? A last stretch of issues made to work in more capacities (and quantities) than necessary…

    @Sam: True. Although for all of its awful architecture and storytelling, Onslaught did manage to be a large scale crossover event that wiped out nearly everyone involved… There was a nice moment in Joe Kelly’s run, actually, when Jean, Sam, Cecília and Maggot find out the non-mutant heroes are back. It had it’s charm.

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