Friday, June 14, 2013

Review # 13: "Avengers vs. X-Men"

"Avengers vs. X-Men." Oy vey.

As the story goes, Brian Michael Bendis had been building towards the currently ongoing "Age of Ultron" for a summer run last year. However, with the "Avengers" film coming to theatres, Disney wanted something in print that would draw more attention. The creative minds at Marvel got together (and WHAT a collection of minds: Bendis, Fraction, Hickman, Brubaker and Aaron writing with JRJR, Coipel and Adam Kubert drawing) and the result is a practical "Civil War II." However, instead of having an underlying theme dealing with freedom versus responsibility, this is really just a dressed-up pissing contest between Cyclops and BOTH Captain America and Wolverine as they treat a human being like a commodity.

Oh, and the world can end and stuff.

I've stayed away from spoilers in these reviews so far, but I almost feel like it's impossible to discuss what I'd like to without revealing the entire plot. So if you want to keep what happens a surprise, hit the ol' back button now.

Our story begins as the Phoenix - which once transformed and killed Jean Grey (or not. The manner of Jean's resurrection seems to be heading the in the direction of a retcon) - is coming to earth. Everyone expects it will bond with Hope Summers (adopting the last name of her surrogate father Cable) who is thought by many to be some kind of Mutant Messiah. Cyclops thinks this will somehow save the mutant race that was decimated by Scarlet Witch rewriting reality and cutting their numbers from the millions to only 200. However, the Phoenix has been a corrupting influence before and with Wolverine whispering in Cap's ear, the Avengers feel the need to get involved and try to take Hope into protective custody. Cyclops interprets Cap's appearance on his base of the shore of San Francisco as an affront and all hell breaks loose between Scott's half of the schism-split X-Men and Steve's merry band of heroes.

During the fight, Hope disappears and is tracked down by Wolverine while the Avengers head to space to try to stop the Phoenix from reaching earth. Logan lures Hope into the hands of the Avengers by taking her to the so-called "Blue Area of the Moon" where Jean sacrificed herself (or not. Again, it's complicated) where the team is waiting. Before they can leave, Scott, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik arrive to confront them just as Tony Stark deploys a Phoenix-killing device. And here's the twist: it splits the Phoenix Force into five pieces and it bonds with the aforementioned five. They decide to use the power to try to improve the world and set about doing just that.

Cap suspects the cosmic entity will turn evil again and recruits Charles Xavier to try to pick away at what the Phoenix Five have done. This - in effect - speeds up the corruption process as Namor gets pissed (which he is oft to do) and destroys Black Panther's home country Wakanda. With the help of the returned Scarlet Witch, they manage to pull the Phoenix Force from the Sub-Mariner and it merges with the remaining four. They all gradually end up in Scott, he becomes the new Dark Phoenix (despite holding off the corruption longer than anyone else), kills Xavier and is taken down. The Phoenix goes to Hope, she and Scarlet Witch use the force to repower the mutant population and the race is saved. Scott ends up in chains and is now the most hated man in the Marvel U.

As far as stories go, it's not bad and it's definitely memorable. It's also thought-provoking, but not really over any moral issue. It's more about analyzing the events that went down.

Time to do just that:

I will make no bones about it: Scott Summers is my favourite character, especially after his revitalization under Joss Whedon in "Astonishing X-Men." I feel strongly that he was poorly represented in the X-movies, which has led to an unwarranted disklike of the character among the casual audience. It doesn't help that Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" crapped all over him shortly after the first film came out.

So, as a fan - not objectively - it kinda ticks me off that Cyclops is painted as the ultimate villain in this when he was right from the get-go and Captain America was acting like a damn fool. Yet the Avengers are depicted almost exclusively as the heroes of this story.

Yes, Scott had been on edge, practically forming a half-villain team to protect his own island and the mutant race as he saw it. It's a cause for concern. However, he also had first-hand experience dealing with the Phoenix, his dead wife's lifeforce is still connected to the damn thing, and his daughter from an alternate future controlled it for years without any repercussions. He insists it's a mutant problem and that he knows what he's doing by trying to get it to bond with Hope. Captain America and Wolverine seem to disregard that and - despite knowing he's going to push back violently - still decide to go to the man's doorstep to try to bully him instead of consult him.

I'll admit Cap is ultimately correct about the Phoenix Force's corruption. But even THAT is the fault of the Avengers as Iron Man split it into five pieces to begin with. If they hadn't stuck their head up their own asses by fighting, and instead took a minute to think that - perhaps - linking Hope and their girl the Scarlet Witch (who by the way GETS TOLD by Vision the Bad-Ass Android - her ex-husband who in her psychosis she killed - at Avengers Mansion) together might do something, the entire mess could have been avoided and Charles Xavier would still be alive.

But, no - Scott gets blamed for the whole shebang and ends up in prison when Captain America should have had his ass courtmartialed. Also, Wolverine - who nearly killed Hope had it not been for her own smarts - acts high and mighty when his actions could have doomed his entire race.

Now some people may a share a differing opinion from me. However, that opinion - in my eyes - is what saves this book.

AvX suffers from severe pacing issues, and there are massive problems when it comes to the weight of what's happening. Part of it has to do with what it's a spiritual successor to. Scott's killing of Professor X and proclaimation that "(he is) Phoenix" has NOTHING on Jean Grey in "The Dark Phoenix Saga." The change in writers from issue-to-issue is noticable and - as usual with an event comic - there are some gaps that can only be filled by tie-ins.

Despite all that, this story is the re-genesis of who is now the GREATEST shades-of-grey character in the Marvel line. Is he a hero? An anti-hero? A villain? Ultimately, what makes Scott Summers tick is a mystery now and the notion that he was right all along makes it all the better.

That's right: Marvel made SCOTT SUMMERS the most interesting character linewide. THAT is amazing.

Rating: 8/10

Higher than other reviews you'll see, but in my book the ends justify the means.

Up next: the tie-ins.

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