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X-Men: Inferno – Avengers (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

This weekend, we’re taking a look at one or two of the smaller Inferno crossovers. These issues are collected in the crossovers companion book.

In many ways, Chris Claremont’s Inferno can be read as something of a practice run for John Byrne’s Acts of Vengeance. Both were massive crossovers that spread across a significant portion of Marvel’s publishing line, demanding writers to tie their stories in to these big and over-arching events. While Inferno‘s reach was arguably more modest than that of Acts of Vengeance, it seemed that the demonic invasion of New York could not be contained to the X-Men books, and ended up impacting titles as diverse as The Fantastic Four and Daredevil. Walt Simonson’s Avengers tied into Inferno as well, making an interesting attempt to launch a new team against the backdrop of an X-Men event.

Meet the new team…

In hindsight, it’s certainly a move you have to admire, even if it was perhaps fundamentally flawed. Indeed, the team had literally dissolved only a single issue before this massive multi-title crossover, and so we join Walt Simonson’s book with a solo tale featured around Edwin Jarvis before we get to the small matter of Captain America (under the alias of “the Captain”) attempting to rebuild the iconic superhero team. It makes a bit of sense to reassemble the team against the backdrop of Inferno. After all, it did depict a version of New York in dire need of superheroes to save the day. Much as the original Avengers #1 brought the team together by chance to face a threat none of them could manage alone, there’s a valid argument to be made that Simonson’s Avengers should be assembled by circumstance as well.

However, there is one significant problem with all this. While Inferno presents a massive demonic invasion of New York, precisely the event to inspire superheroes, it isn’t an Avengers story. Writing a tie-in, Walt Simonson can only present his heroes overlapping with the event, not resolving it. This can’t be the story of the Avengers forming and repelling a demonic invasion, because it’s an X-Men crossover event. The best they can do is interact with it a bit and score some small-scale personal victories. While saving young Franklin Richards from demons is a significant victory for Reed and Sue, it can’t help but feel like a disappointing showing for “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

He who fights monsters…

In tying into a crossover, secondary books generally have to decide how they’re going to handle connecting to the main event. Obviously, secondary books can’t contain too many crucial plot points, lest they undermine the main books involved. They can’t resolve plot threads or deal with the threat of the event themselves. So writers are forced to choose between presenting the event through the eyes of a passive lead character, who is simply trying to make sense of an event they have little to do with, or creating the illusion of importance, as if trying to weave “deleted scenes” between the event itself.

Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil is an exemplary example of a book that uses the absurdity of the event to explore its lead character, rather than trying to engage with it directly. Walt Simonson’s Avengers, unfortunately, tries too hard to seem “important” to the scheme of the crossover. It features many of the demons appearing in the main book, and even presents the kidnapping of Franklin as a “behind the scenes” plot by N’astirh to have a “back-up” in case Madelyne Pryor gets out of hand. “This… dark childe you have found could aid us, Klytus,” the demon tells his underling, as if trying to convince the reader that this tie-in is really important.

Less than Fantastic…

It just ends up feeling a bit pointless, like there’s too much emphasis placed on the quest to get Franklin back – it feels like it should be this big dramatic beat, but is instead just an awkward attempt to prove that the Avengers did something during this gigantic multi-player crossover event. It’s a shame, because there’s actually a lot of potential in Simonson’s work here, putting the team together, but it just feels a little bit hallow.

There is, for example, something interesting about the idea of Simonson writing a team of Avengers fighting demons. After all, Simonson’s most famous work is his iconic Thor run. His team seems to lean towards that sort of delightful mythological structure, featuring not only Thor, but Gilgamesh – “mankind’s most ancient monster slayer.” You’d imagine that it would be fun to watch a Norse god and a living myth swat away the hordes of Hell, but Simonson never seems especially interested, which is more than a little bit disappointing, to be entirely honest.

Thunderstruck…

This is compounded by the fact that Simonson can’t seem to decide what his main plotline is, or how deeply he wants to wade into Inferno as the launching bed of his new Avengers roster. Sure, the demons eventually kidnap Franklin, but that’s only after Nanny from X-Factor ( an “egg with a voice”, to quite Gilgamesh) steals him first. Nanny, by the way, stands as one of the most irritating comic book characters ever created. Kang shows up, briefly, to direct the team to save the world. Even though it seems that he’s directing the wrong team. It seems like Simonson is trying to have it both ways – to tell his Avengers story, while tying into a massive event.

There is, once again, the sense that this could make for good pulpy comic book fun, but Simonson just seems a little too weighed down with all the stuff he has to get through, and never really stops to enjoy the ridiculous absurdity of it all. Consider, for example, the technobabble he has the villainous Kang spout as he mysteriously appears. “Once I was ejected from the probability envelope that surrounded the Avengers’ Quinjet into the maelstrom,” he explains, “I ceased to exist in any substantive reality! Even now, my existence can only have been produced by a confluence of random probabilities! And when those probabilities shift again, I shall be gone like smoke!”In other words, there’s no logical reason why he’s here, save that the story demanded it and Simonson wanted to write it. There has to be a more fun way of getting the point across.

A demon-stration of power?

It’s especially frustrating, because the first of the three issues here actually manages to make the premise fun. Immediately following the dissolution of the Avengers, it focuses on Edwin Jarvis, the team’s loyal butler, trying to make his way through a world without the superteam. It is, by turns, hilarious and heartwarming to see the butler prove himself quite the hero, without any superpowers or gifts or anything like that. It’s hard not to smile just a little bit as Jarvis becomes modest when the real Captain America shows up. Having saved the same woman twice, he seems to genuinely concede that he can’t measure up. “It’s all right, Glory,” he tells her, head hung low. “I realise there’s no comparison.” It’s a genuinely sweet moment, and I’m disappointed that the following two issues couldn’t offer nearly the same charm.

It helps that this first issue, more than the two that followed, embraced the inherent silliness of the event. “I’m beginning to see a pattern here!” Edwin declares, wrestling with a payphone. “Inanimate objects seem to have partaken of the animated life of cartoons!” One of the more awesome moments sees the consummate gentleman negotiating with a payphone. “Well, my technological friend, two can play at this game! Complete this call and I shall feed you all the change I possess! Frustrate that effort and I shall return momentarily with bolt cutters…”

I have to say, the team (Gilga)meshed quite well…

Walt Simonson’s Avengers seems to falter as it ties into Inferno in a more meaningful way. It’s a shame, because there are a wealth of good ideas here, but none of them are properly developed – the idea of the Avengers forming as a response to a cataclysm in another book, or a team with mythological figures tackling honest-to-goodness demons. Ah well, at least Simonson’s Fantastic Four tie-in to Acts of Vengeance was considerably stronger.

In celebration of Inferno, we’ve taken a look at some of the more memorable tie-ins and crossovers:

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