Monday, June 17, 2013

Review # 14: "Avengers Vs. X-Men Companion"

At an unparallelled level, AvX DOMINATED the lines of Marvel's two largest team franchises, which are hot with collectors. In Marvel's wisdom, they included lots of bonus content with the hardcover release of the main story, then compiled the others into a companion piece. I'm going to go through them bit-by-bit (since the main line can be purchased without add-ons) and let you know if they're worth your time. I'll give a thumbs up, thumbs down or thumbs in the middle, then have an overall rating for the companion omnibus at the end. Cool? Cool.

Collected in the AvX hardcover:


This six-part series is a collection of fights that aren't necessary to the story. You get some thought-out match-ups like Magneto vs. Iron Man, a pseudo-rematch of Spider-Man vs. Juggernaut with Colossus filling the original's shoes, the FF-fueled Thing vs. Namor and a ninja battle of Psylocke vs. Daredevil, along with some more random clashes like Captain America vs. Gambit and Magik vs. Black Widow. These are little more than exercises in curiosity, though there's nothing wrong with reading about a fight just to find out who wins. The answer, often, is surprising. However, there are some execution problems including jarring and unnecessary "AvX Fun Facts" which really take you out of the experience. Splitting the difference.

Verdict: Thumbs in the middle

Avengers vs. X-Men: Infinite

These three stories were written initially for Marvel's digital site, and while they're presented in print form they're at their best on a computer or tablet. Fortunately, the book comes with a download code granting full access to them (and all the other books.) Written by the ubertalented Mark Waid, they're all pretty good if unessential. One story features Nova crashing into Earth to warn about the Phoenix's impending arrival and another has Iron Man weighing battle scenarios. The best story, though, has Cyclops returning a second time to the "Blue Area" of the moon with the power of the Phoenix, using it to animate a copy of Jean Grey using dust from where Dark Phoenix destroyed itself. It's excellent and fittingly creepy.

Verdict: Thumbs up

Collected in the AvX Companion

Avengers Academy

The young mutants living in Utopia - including the likes of Pixie, Surge and a memory-wiped Sebastian Shaw - are transported to the Academy for safety. Hercules encourages an athletic competition, however things fall apart when Shaw escapes incarceration (in a GENIUS way) and an attempt to leave causes Juston Seyfert's Sentinel to pop up with its "destroy all mutants" protocol still in tact. The mutant side and student side square off - with some interesting allegiances, including a moral dilemma for X-23 who's pulled between the two. They come to a resolution with the teachers that certainly is interesting. Later, Phoenix-powered Emma Frost shows up to destroy the Sentinel which Juston does not react to well. It's alright, but the second half of the arc is pretty weak and a guy hitting himself in the head with a book multiple times isn't enough to push this to the positive side.

Verdict: Thumbs in the middle.

Secret Avengers

Given how amazing Rick Remender's run on Uncanny X-Force has been, this is shockingly mediocre. Beast is strangely-written and Captain Britain is as uninteresting as ever. Plus, you get the obligatory "copyright-maintaining" appearance of the dead Captain Marvel to once again ensure DC can't call "Shazam" by that name anymore. The Kree empire gets involved in the Phoenix mess for pretty much no reason whatsoever. Pure filler.

Verdict: Thumbs down


Brian Michael Bendis' relaunch - which I've discussed at length already - swings downward once more. Noh-Varr betrays the team to fuel the as-mentioned useless Kree involvement, Red Hulk makes a ridiculous assassination attempt and Hawkeye and Spider-Woman discuss their relationship. Clearly, not very groundbreaking. On top of that, the art for the first few books is terrible, and I was shocked when flipping back to the reference page to see it was drawn by Walt Simonson. His style just does not work in this book in the 21st century. It does get better towards the end, and his drawing of Spider-Woman is some of the best I've ever seen. But it's inconsistent at best.

Verdict: Thumbs down

New Avengers

This... is better. It's almost like Bendis saved his good stuff for THIS book. We learn that there's a centuries-old connection between the Phoenix Force and the kung fu society that powers the Iron Fist. Hope is taken to the ancient city of K'un-L'un for training at the hands of several old masters, Danny Rand and... Spider-Man? It's actually the latter who proves to have the best advice and provides the best moments. The other two stories include a cool attempted prison break by Luke Cage, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman with a twist ending, and the New Avengers transporting Emma Frost to a permanent place of incarceration when they're attacked by the mutant-hating Purifiers. Not a bad issue in this lot.

Verdict: Thumbs up.

Uncanny X-Men by Kieron Gillen

This is the best series of side-stories in the entire crossover. There are excellent one-shots including a Red Hulk-Colossus fight, a Namor-Thing rematch that ends with a great joke, a disturbing answer to the question of what happens to the young X-Men after leaving Avengers Academy, and a stellar look into the heads of Scott and Emma during the final AvX fight sequence.

The meat and potatoes of the ten issues included, though, is Mr. Sinister, who has created an underground society of clones, practically turning himself into a species. His first appearance here is phenomenal, as a journalist version of Sinister decides to rebel and assassinate the ruling Sinister (it's complicated.) The result is very-Matrix like and ends with more than one disturbing twist. From there, Sinister takes on the Phoenix Five and almost wins. It is A-plus villain stuff, and the ultimate ending has Sinister showing an odd form of respect to Scott, his arch-nemesis. Their rivalry reaches an all-time high at the end of this arc.

Verdict: Thumbs WAY up.

Wolverine and the X-Men

Definitely the weaker of the two prime X-books collected here. However, that doesn't mean Jason Aaron isn't bringing the awesome. Cyclops surprises everyone by showing up at the school after escaping Avengers custody in an attempt to talk things out with Logan. Things don't go well, but don't end in bloodshed either. Colossus asks Kitty out on a date, looking to reconnect but it's clear that with the power of the Phoenix he has lost a lot of his humanity. There's an excellent story about Warbird where we learn about her tragic training history and Kid Gladiator comes of age.

Much like with Uncanny, a single villain shines through here though he though does not appear as often and does not have as strong a connection to the events of AvX. Psychotic young billionaire head of the Hellfire Club Kade Kilgore outlines his past and his evil schemes, and he pulls the strings behind a shocking apparent death.

Verdict: Thumbs up.

X-Men: Legacy

This better showcases the questions of loyalty among post-Schism X-Men than any other collection as central-character Rogue has difficulty deciding whether to side with Scott, or to stay out of things completely. Her hand is forced when Falcon, Moon Knight and She-Hulk arrive at the Jean Grey School's doorstep. The X-Men on faculty don't take too kindly to what is going on and a brawl ensues. After that, we get the inevitable Rogue vs. Ms. Marvel showdown, and the first real look at how things are going south REAL fast for the Phoenix Five. It's an emotional, disturbing gut punch and the world needs more Rogue team-ups with Carol Danvers.

Verdict: Thumbs up

A-Babies vs. X-Babies

An all-baby variant cover proved so popular that an all-baby, out-of-continuity (presumably) Mojoworld fight was commissioned for sale. It's pretty stupid, but innocent.

Verdict: Thumbs in the middle

And, finally...

AVX: Consequences

I loved the hell out of this. While there is some focus on Hope searching for Cable and Storm tracking down missing members of the Phoenix Five and the adjacent Extinction Team from Utopia, this is mainly about Cyclops and - to a lesser degree - his relationship with Logan. The notion of these two as the new Magneto and Xavier is hammered home as Logan wants to kill Scott to avenge the murder of Professor X. Much like Max and Charles, they've grown to have a lot in common yet are fundamentally different. However, the line in the sand is much more blurry, impacted by Scott more than Logan. Initially Scott accepts his fate in a normal prison expecting to become a martyr. However, a set of bad circumstances leads Cyclops to break the law by organizing an escape. Magneto, Magik and Danger bust him out, and Scott shows a mean streak like he's never had before. He stops short, though, when Magneto brings up a life of villainy, repurposing the group as outlaws in a poignant way. This is the best character work I've seen involving Cyclops since Joss Whedon's "Astonishing X-Men" which is as good of a compliment as I can hand to Kieron Gillen. It's a damn shame this was his swan song on the X-books.

Verdict: Thumbs WAY up

Phew. There you have it. The end result for the Companion is generally positive. While it does drag at points, it ultimately enhances the main story which is the main goal. If you want to pick and choose, I heartily recommend EVERYTHING on the X-Men side first and foremost, especially Gillen's work which - in my mind - outclasses the main arc. My only real gripe with this collection is it leaps over "Wolverine and the X-Men" 17, which is something I will get to in my next review.

Anyhow, mad props to all the writing teams for churning out this much content and somehow finding a way to not turn the massive event into a gigantic mess. They deserve applause for that alone.

Rating: 7.5/10 (though Kieron Gillen gets a gold star!)

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