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Avengers vs. X-Men (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

I’ll admit, I’ve always been broadly curious about how the Avengers and the X-Men franchises fit together. I’m not normally a massive fan of over-thinking the whole “shared universe” aspect of superhero comics. After all, how can Spider-Man continue to have it so tough when there’s a bunch of wealthy and well-loved superheroes who could vouch for him? Why wouldn’t Batman use Superman or Green Lantern for back-up all the time? It’s best not to dwell on the implication that all these comic books are unfolding at the same time, despite how fun the occasional crossover might be.

Still, I’ve always found it interesting that the X-Men books apparently share a continuity with Marvel’s publishing line. After all, the merry mutants are frequent victims of persecution and attempted genocide, the subjects of institutionalised racism and seem to spend the majority of their time as pariahs or outlaws. You’d assume that at least Captain America – the Sentinel of Liberty and all that – would probably want to take an interest in mutant affairs, or try to help them out a little.

Avengers vs. X-Men is a massive line-wide crossover between Marvel’s two largest and most iconic franchises. It is – as you might expect – mostly an excuse to throw the two sets of toys against each other, but it still has its fair share of interesting ideas. It doesn’t necessarily develop those interesting ideas in the most satisfactory direction, but it is surprisingly coherent for a twelve-issue series from five of Marvel’s highest profile writers and three of the company’s most respected artists.

Exactly what it says on the tin...

Exactly what it says on the tin…

“Hero against hero” fights are nothing new. They have been a staple of comic book storytelling for a very long time. Even in the early days of the Marvel Universe, it was quite common for two heroic character to meet each other, to have a misunderstanding and then to fight about it. Naturally, they’d eventually resolve their conflict and team up to continue their heroic business. Occasionally you’d throw a kink into the mix, like some mind-control or some misinformation, and the abundance of morally ambiguous heroes in Marvel comics (like the Hulk or Hawkeye) just made it increasingly common.

It isn’t, of course, a trope unique to Marvel, nor one that has gone out of date. For example, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s opening arc on the relaunched Justice League featured Superman going toe-to-toe against Batman, Green Lantern and the Flash. And, at Marvel, it seems like “hero against hero” has taken on a new life in recent years. Perhaps deliberately expanding and developing (and deconstructing) the cliché, most of Marvel’s big comic book events over the past decade have seen heroes fighting (what appear to be) heroes.

Cap gets into the spirit of things...

Cap gets into the spirit of things…

Avengers Disassembled saw the Scarlet Witch destroying the Avengers from the inside. House of M saw the Avengers resisting a world dominated by mutants. Civil War famously pitted Captain America against Iron Man, dividing the Marvel Universe in half. Secret Invasion revealed that aliens had been impersonating some of our heroes, prompting much clobbering to ensue. During Dark Reign, Norman Osborn decided it would be fun to dress up psychotic anti-heroes as iconic heroes, prompting the genuine articles to fight to reclaim their good names.

So, looking at that, it seems like Avengers vs. X-Men was only a matter of time. After all, it seems like we’ve had just about every other permutation of “heroes fighting heroes.” And, to be fair, I’m not really fundamentally opposed to the idea. As I noted above, heroes fighting other heroes has become something of a staple of the superhero comic book genre, to the point where even feature films like The Avengers will feature heroes duking it out with on another.

They need to Iron out their differences...

They need to Iron out their differences…

Besides, there is a sense that throwing the toys together can be a little fun. I’ll concede that it’s not my favourite style of comic book, but I can see the appeal. I’ve never been too bothered by the “who is stronger?” school of genre fandom, the kind that thinks it is entertaining to imagine a heated battle between the Enterprise and a Star Destroyer, or Battlestar Galactica and the Death Star. There’s a type of mind that argues based on data and statistics for these fictional objects.

I’ve never been too interested in that type of analysis. To me, the answer to any question like that is quite simple: which ever side the writer wants to win. If a writer can construct an interesting and compelling story where the crew of the Serenity can destroy the entire galactic fleet, then I don’t mind. As long as it is well-written and engaging, I don’t care that the victory is statistically unlikely. After all, an imaginary character winning or losing an imaginary fight doesn’t make them any better or any worse as a character; good and bad writing will do that.

Fight of the Phoenix...

Fight of the Phoenix…

Nevertheless, there’s a school of comic book fandom that dwells on these sorts of conflicts. There are die-hard fans who are still shocked that Superman could beat Thor in Avengers/JLA. And the lovely Avengers vs. X-Men hardcover panders to those fans. The entire basis of the event is to pit these heroes against each other. There’s even a six-issue spin-off (Versus) intended to detail these sorts of fights. There’s a section in the back that records the statistics of this, as if it is a brutal form of comic book baseball. The events of the series are reduced to a handy scoreboard affording points for particular victories.

If I am to be honest, this is the least interesting aspect of Avengers vs. X-Men for me, and it’s one that sells the whole crossover kind of short. Don’t get me wrong, I actually don’t mind a good “fight” comic. In fact, there are some of the Versus encounters that work surprisingly well. However, the quality of the conflict is more down to the calibre of the writer than the participants or the outcome of the fight in question.

Cyke out!

Cyke out!

Jason Aaron, for example, proves himself to be probably the best “fight” writer of the collection. He writes the best “fight-heavy” issue of the main series (#2), and also the best fight of the Versus spin-off (#1). I’m a big fan of Aaron’s pulpy writing style. I liked his Ghost Rider and loved his Wolverine. As such, I wasn’t too surprised that Aaron writes bombastic superhero conflict very well. It’s clear that Aaron isn’t taking any of this particularly seriously, and is more concerned about having fun than crunching superhero stats.

The stories in the Versus comic typical featured lower-profile characters, written by stronger writers. I’m surprised that Rick Remender didn’t contribute more to Avengers vs. X-Men, but I liked his quick fight between Daredevil and Psylocke, hardly two heavy-weight characters. It’s clear Remender understands the story mechanics in place, and makes some interesting observations about the two franchises.

The beachhead...

The beachhead…

Remender’s brief no-win brawl is much more exciting than watching Katheryn Immonen writing the Thing fighting Namor, or Jeph Loeb handling the Thing against Colossus, despite the higher profile of those characters. There’s a tendency to write a lot of Avengers vs. X-Men as that sort of “brawl for the sake of brawling”, rather than coming up with understandable character motivations or perspectives. I don’t mind throwing the characters together, as long as the results are interesting and there’s a reason for doing so.

Avengers vs. X-Men doesn’t really have a reason for its first third. Running for twelve issues and featuring a variety of top-selling creators, it’s clear that Avengers vs. X-Men has been carefully structured and plotted. Indeed, the series follows a fairly conventional three-act structure, with each act having its own strengths and weaknesses. The first third of the story is the weakest, as it seems like a shallow excuse to throw the Avengers and the X-Men into conflict.

Bye, bye birdie...

Bye, bye birdie…

In a way, it’s a variation of the same problem that existed with Civil War. There is very clearly an ideological basis for this conflict. Much like Civil War, the conflict is rooted in the needs of the many against the needs of the few. In Civil War, Iron Man argued that costumed heroes must allow themselves to be held accountable in order to provide better security for the majority of ordinary people. Captain America rejected that argument as one that impugned the individual liberties of those heroes.

Here, Captain America is arguing that Hope should be handed of to the handed over to the authorities for the greater good, to help protect the planet from the dangerous Phoenix Force that is racing towards it. The writers shrewdly acknowledge that Captain America has been forced into a position opposed to his earlier stance here. Brian Michael Bendis allows Cyclops to point out, “And I’ve never know Captain America to fight on the side of fascism.” Later, Ed Brubaker has Tony concede his doubts to Captain America, “I know, but it wasn’t too long ago I was saying things just like that… and you were on the other side, then.”

Yes, there are a lot of explosion, why do you ask?

Yes, there are a lot of explosion, why do you ask?

However, the problem with both Civil War and Avengers vs. X-Men is that these books never quite make the leap between the philosophical and ideological conflict and the inevitable outbreak of violence. As much as Mark Millar might try to root the disagreement in class conflicts, Civil War sees Tony and Steve at each others’ throats with incredible speed. Here, the situation escalates impossibly quickly, to the point where you’d almost believe that Steve Rogers and Scott Summers had been waiting for an opportunity to go at each other for years. These are meant to be “heroes”, right?

Still, once you get past that first third, Avengers vs. X-Men evolves into something a bit more interesting. At its heart, Avengers vs. X-Men is more of an X-Men story than an Avengers story, but it still explores the interesting differences between the franchises. One of the implications of a shared universe is that the Avengers have really been standing by doing nothing while the X-Men have been persecuted. That accusation (which Millar wrote into Civil War) gets more serious when we consider events since House of M.

Making waves...

Making waves…

In the years since Marvel’s editorial mandated “no more mutants” in response to Grant Morrison’s superb New X-Men run, mutants have been on the cusp of extinction. It seems strange that the Avengers have never really turned their mind to that particular problem. Of course, story logic is in play here. If readers want to read about mutants, they’ll be X-Men comics. They probably aren’t buying The Invincible Iron Man to watch Tony work for equal rights. However, from the point of view of a shared universe, and a shared universe hosting this story, it raises some interesting questions.

After all, Avengers vs. X-Men is an X-Men story. It is driven by the return of the Phoenix to Earth, the cosmic creature established in one of the most iconic X-Men stories ever, The Dark Phoenix Saga. It features a bit of back-peddling on the damage done to the X-Men line in the wake of House of M. It’s the climax of the story featuring Hope Summers, that has been building since Messiah Complex through the X-Men line to this crescendo.

And then the Avengers arrive.

Burn with me...

Burn with me…

You can understand why Cyclops might be a bit ticked. “This is a mutant problem,” he states. “We’ll handle it.” Challenging Captain America, he argues, “It occurs to me, seeing you standing here, where were you for us? For the mutants?” You can see why Cyclops might be a bit worried when the Avengers suddenly decide to insert themselves at the climax of a narrative that he has been crafting for almost a decade.

It’s quite fun to read various meta-fictional commentaries into various comic book events, a bit of comic book self-awareness and self-criticism. After all, surely Dark Reign was a subtle parody of the anti-hero craze of the nineties? And Secret Invasion was an attempt to play out Civil War (heroes fighting heroes!) with a decidedly Silver Age twist (shape-shifting aliens!)? Marvel’s comic book crossovers and events don’t tend to be as explicit in their meta-fictional commentary as DC events. After all, Final Crisis is perhaps the best defence of comic book optimism, while Blackest Night explores the phenomenon of comic book death.

A jolly green giant...

A jolly green giant…

Still, I think that Avengers vs. X-Men is a fascinating look at the place of the X-Men in Marvel’s publishing line. The franchise was once the most popular book on the stands. Chris Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men remains one of the best superhero runs of the seventies and eighties. X-Men #1 is the best-selling comic book of all time. Bryan Singer’s X-Men was on the films that started the modern comic book movie boom. Even in the early part of the last decade, the line was still vital. It produced runs like Astonishing X-Men, New X-Men and X-Statix.

And then the Avengers happened. In the early part of the last decade, Marvel decided to develop the Avengers as their premier comic book franchise. Starting with Avengers Disassembled, and building through New Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis turned the Avengers into a powerhouse. And, arguably, he did so by borrowing several narrative tricks from Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men. He took the team out of their comfort zone, and cast them into a world that was uncertain about them.

The not-so-great bird of the galaxy...

The not-so-great bird of the galaxy…

He turned the central book into the nexus of a franchise of spin-off team books and tie-in solo comics, similar to the expansion of the X-Men line in the late eighties. The central arc of Bendis’ first volume of New Avengers was a potent metaphor for the moral uncertainty of the war on terror, giving the book an allegorical quality similar to Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men. The team spend a lot of time on the run and as pariahs. He even signed Wolverine up to the roster.

Given that the Avengers had been borrowing a lot of the narrative tools that the X-Men took for granted, this sort of conflict seemed inevitable. After all, if Wolverine has been “joint custody” for eight years, then pretty much everything is up for grabs. In a very fundamental sort of way, that’s what Avengers vs. X-Men is actually about – a conflict concerning the unique identity of the X-Men in the shared Marvel Universe.

Wovlerine's all burnt up...

Wovlerine’s all burnt up…

And, quite frankly, it’s a fight that Cyclops can’t win, as much as the X-Men might put themselves on an island locked away from the world. The ultimate outcome of Avengers vs. X-Men is Uncanny Avengers, a team book written by Rick Remender pairing up heroes and villains from both franchises. While the adjective is borrowed from the X-Men franchise, the noun is Avengers. Whether Cyclops wants to or not, he’s going to have to learn to share.

Indeed, over the course of the crossover, the Phoenix itself is incorporated into the broader tapestry of the Marvel Universe, and taken out of the “exclusively X-Men” category. It is now shared between the X-Men and the Iron Fist mythos, as Marvel begins to consolidate its shared universe. There’s a sense that the company is making a creative decision to force this integration, to more tightly intertwine its characters and properties within the shared universe.

Exploding into the scene...

Exploding into the scene…

It makes sense. It has been happening for quite some time now. Indeed, the Scarlet Witch plays a pivotal role both here and in House of M because she is both a mutant and an Avenger, so it isn’t as if the two concepts have been kept entirely distinct and separate. However, there is a very clear sense that Marvel is looking towards more firmly integrating its properties, and consolidating its iconic characters. It makes a bit of sense, since both the Avengers and the X-Men are multi-billion dollar franchises, even if they are owned by two separate companies.

The last third of Avengers vs. X-Men seems written with that in mind, and feels more like a launching pad for various Marvel initiatives. Avengers vs. X-Men, appropriately enough given the themes of death and rebirth, marked the official end of Brian Michael Bendis’ time on the Avengers franchise (he is still writing Age of Ultron, though) and marked the relaunch of the X-Men franchise with Bendis at the creative helm. It will be interesting to see if he can relaunch and renovate the line in the same way that he reinvented the Avengers brand.

City on the edge of forever...

City on the edge of forever…

The last third of Avengers vs. X-Men suffers a bit because it is very clearly building towards that status quo shift – making books like All-New X-Men and Uncanny Avengers feasible. To be fair, it’s still much stronger than the end of Secret Invasion, which simply set up the company’s Dark Reign in a couple of panels buried in the last issue. At least here it seems like some care has been put into the planning and structuring of the story. While the final reversal, and the decision to cast Scott Summers as an unambiguous villain, still seems a little clumsy, at least the story expands logically.

It is worth talking about Scott Summers a bit, because he’s a fascinating character. He was invented by Stan Lee to serve as the lead protagonist of the X-Men book. He fits a familiar pattern. He was a geeky teenage boy wearing dorky glasses, handling incredible power. However, he was also relatively dull, by the standards of Stan Lee’s protagonists. When Christ Claremont got hold of the book, he jettisoned most of Lee’s original characters. He did keep Cyclops around, though, and put him through some fairly depressing character development.

Well, at least Spider-Man hasn't lost his sense of humour...

Well, at least Spider-Man hasn’t lost his sense of humour…

It’s that character development – that includes watching the love of his life die and then marrying her doppelgänger before abandoning his wife and his child – which marks the point at which Scott deviates from the heroic template. Marvel is relatively flexible when it comes to heroic characters, but Chris Claremont developed Scott to the point where he couldn’t be just another lead character. Claremont shrewdly turned X-Men into a franchise about dysfunctional people, and Scott ended up as the dysfunctional heroic team leader.

This makes him an excellent foil to Captain America, the leader of the Avengers. As Emma notes of Scott, “He literally used to be a boy scout.” Captain America is a natural leader who survives as the embodiment of American confidence. Scott Summers was told that he would grow up to be something special, only to watch his future (repeatedly) fall apart. Confronting Professor X at the climax of the event, Cyclops’ resentment and bitterness is palpable.

This isn't what... okay, it's actually EXACTLY what it looks like...

This isn’t what… okay, it’s actually EXACTLY what it looks like…

“I finally put the world the way it’s supposed to be,” Scott tries to convince the Professor. The Professor concedes that Scott didn’t develop that messiah complex entirely on his own. “I blame myself,” Xavier confesses. “I put you on this path.” Cyclops’ character development for the past few years has pushed the hero into some uncomfortable places, turning him into almost a religious extremist. “You’re sounding like me now, Scott,” Magneto muses early on.

Ironically, the writer who has the best grasp on this aspect of Cyclops is Jonathan Hickman, the only writer here who hasn’t written extensively for one version of Cyclops or another. Hickman is great at figuring out how comic book concepts work together, in a way that reminds me of Grant Morrison. For example, Hickman points out that Cyclop’s visor has become symbolic.

Burning his bridges...

Burning his bridges…

When Scott is granted the power of the Phoenix, Xavier inquires, “You don’t need the visor any more, do you, Scott?” Scott responds, “Once, a great man taught me the value of having a singular vision… of seeing the world as it could be. I would never want to lose that, Charles.” It’s a beautiful moment, one that is both strangely endearing and also deeply worrying, and it’s a shame that Hickman didn’t write more of Cyclops before this. Although I can’t wait for Marvel to start publishing nice oversized hardcovers of his Avengers and New Avengers work.

To be fair, perhaps wary of what happened to Iron Man at the end of Civil War, when the character was turned into a fascist and spent most of Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man and Bendis’ Prime trying to atone for it, Avengers vs. X-Men does try to mitigate Cyclops’ villainy. Mark Waid writes a few nice ∞omics that add shading, and make it clear that Scott is trying to resist the incredible power handed to him. “I can not — I will not — let the Phoenix change me,” he vows. Avengers vs. X-Men saves Cyclops’ full villainous breakdown until the final chapter.

Hammer time...

Hammer time…

However, the comic still ends with Cyclops playing the role of villain. However ambiguous his actions in the earlier chapters might have been, the series ends with Cyclops willing to justify the murder of his mentor and all the destruction he has caused. He is honest about his crimes, and willing to face the consequences, but he is unrepentant. “Change never comes easy,” he rationalises. “There were always going to be sacrifices.”

It’s a shame that Avengers vs. X-Men couldn’t quite maintain a sense of ambiguity around Scott Summers through to the end of the event. Of course, you could argue that giving the X-Men a clean break as a franchise means divorcing Scott Summers from the team, and casting him as an explicitly villainous influence allows the franchise to splinter from him and forge its own new identity and direction. It’s just a shame that the crossover ends up coming so firmly down against him, arguably to an even greater extent than Civil War came down against Iron Man.

Cyclops could always light up a room...

Cyclops could always light up a room…

Anyway, despite the considerable flaws with the first and final acts, Avengers vs. X-Men gets a bit more interesting in its second third. Once the dust has settled on the initial confrontation, but before the book needs to set-up a line-wide relaunch, there’s a curious status quo established. It gives us a bit of a role-reversal for both the X-Men and the Avengers. The X-Men are established as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, while the Avengers wind up feared and hated. It would be a more effect plot point from the Avengers’ point of view if we hadn’t just emerged from an extended period of time where the Avengers had been fugitives.

The book acknowledges this reversal. “We’re beloved,” Scott observes. “They’re mistrusted.” Bendis even has Spider-Man underscore the point to his fellow Avengers, “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly how it feels to be me… every day of the week.” Again, it’s the kind of plot point that would have carried more weight if Bendis hadn’t already guided the Avengers through Dark Reign, which was specifically designed to put the Avengers’ in Spider-Man’s position. Bendis even used a Spider-Man villain for the arc.

Time for a time-out...

Time for a time-out…

It’s worth noting that there is a fundamental difference between the X-Men and the Avengers. The X-Men comes from a very different place. During Claremont’s time writing Uncanny X-Men, he established the group as an ethnically and cultural diverse group, arguably representing a much broader spectrum of the human experience than the heroes who form the core of the Avengers. As people who know what it is to feel prejudice and hatred, who are familiar with exclusion and suffering, Avengers vs. X-Men suggests that the X-Men are far more likely to be dynamic and pro-active with that sort of power.

“Right now, we are remaking the world,” Cyclops boasts at one point, “transforming it into a better place for all living things.” Discussing an abortive Avengers attempt to defeat the Electric Legion, Iron Fist finds Colossus’ approach to the situation rather surreal. “They just… talked it out.” While Cyclops and his four colleagues are using the power of the Phoenix to re-shape the world, the rest of X-Men stand by then, tacitly endorsing their plans.

Oh, blast!

Oh, blast!

None of the feats completed by any of the “Phoenix Five” X-Men should be impossible to an Avengers team hosting the mystical power of Thor and the intellectual genius of Tony Stark, but the X-Men begin to change the world itself. Granted that power, and a reprieve from the hatred and fear, the X-Men are not only able to change the world. They are willing to do it, which is something absolutely fascinating. It is, perhaps, the most interesting idea contained in the crossover – the implicit acceptance that the Avengers are a generally conservative force in favour of the status quo, while the X-Men’s political philosophy is more dynamic and radical.

Of course, this is hardly a radical comic book narrative. This has become something of a superhero staple since books like Miracleman or Squadron Supreme. The reality of comic book publishing means that the heroes can’t ever push the comic book universe too far from our present-day world. It needs to remain relatable, so the heroes can’t dynamically or radically change things. They can’t topple real-life dictators, cure real-life famine or even invent affordable flying cars.

Well, that's a little unfair, isn't it?

Well, that’s a little unfair, isn’t it?

So Avengers vs. X-Men has to end with the X-Men punished for their hubris, and some justification for why their actions are morally indefensible. Of course, the stock arguments are suggested. Scott Summers has no moral authority to disarm every nation on Earth. Of all the writers, Hickman handles this best, giving Obama a reasonable justification for his opposition to “Pax Utopia.” He argues, “In spite of all our flaws, I believe in mankind — we have a history of forward progress. But when it works it is because there has always been some outlying culture of accountability.”

And, interestingly, if perhaps unintentionally, Avengers vs. X-Men feels like it almost justifies all the racism and fear that the X-Men have garnered over decades of publishing. Okay, a lot of anti-mutant racism amounts to little more than “they look different”, but a lot of those human extremists opposing the X-Men were afraid of the power and the influence that the mutants held – the idea that mankind’s replacements were already arriving, and that – if allowed to survive – mutantkind would dominate and conquer humankind.

Bear with me.

Bear with me.

Unfortunately, Avengers vs. X-Men seems to justify that particular fear, and to suggest that perhaps humans are right to fear mutants, that their prejudice is well-informed. After all, if even the X-Men – created to protect a world that fears and hates them – could be corrupted with that sort of power, what would happen if an amoral (or even immoral) mutant were granted such a gift? It’s a terrifying thought, and it feels like the whole ethos of the X-Men has suffered a significant setback. In many ways, Avengers vs. X-Men is just a typical “ubermensch” superhero story, but using mutants in such a way has some interesting connotations.

Avengers vs. X-Men is the work of a whole bunch of massive Marvel creators. Brian Bendis, Jason Aaron, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker all worked on the main series. A larger portfolio of writers worked on the spin-offs, including big names like Jeph Loeb, Mark Waid and Rick Remender. In a way, this confirms that the event is really more in keeping with the X-Men publishing line than the Avengers line.

A flash mob...

A flash mob…

The big events relating to the Avengers were typically driven by one author. Brian Bendis wrote House of M, Secret Invasion and Siege. Matt Fraction wrote Fear Itself. Mark Millar wrote Civil War. In contrast, the X-Men line tends to split its crossovers across books written by a variety of creators. Messiah Complex was the work of Ed Brubaker, Peter David, and Mike Carey, among other. Second Coming was the work of Matt Fraction, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, along with others.

Avengers vs. X-Men combines this relatively broad talent pool with the highest profile names. All the writers plotted the event together, and the careful structuring of the art maintains a certain consistency across the twelve-part event. That said, you can still feel the different authors’ voices at work here. To be fair, Avengers vs. X-Men plays each to the strength of each of the writers. Bendis writes the dialogue-heavy first issue. Aaron writes the big brawl issue. Hickman handles the high-concept stuff.

Lifting the book to new heights...

Lifting the book to new heights…

Still, it is occasionally noticeable. Characters are more prone to David-Mamet-style exchanges in Bendis’ chapter, while Aaron has a gift for rendering the glorious absurdity of superhero comics. “Hand that has touched the floor of the Marianas trench meets a jaw made of living stone,” a caption box that could only have been written by Aaron tells us. “They hear the punch all the way in Oakland. Point made.”

Similarly, Hickman is the writer who adds some wonderful pseudo-science-y ideas to the back story of the Phoenix, and gives us Stark working on high concept weaponry. “If I’m going to build a Phoenix-killer, I’ve got to figure out a way to crack universal expansion.” Still, it’s not too distracting, and it seems like the writers all have a clear idea of all of the major players involved in this drama. It’s very clear that a lot of planning went into all this.

Charles takes a trip into the sunset...

Charles takes a trip into the sunset…

That said, I’ll confess that I’m a bit disappointed with the way that Wolverine is handled, especially in the issues written by Aaron. Aaron has been doing an excellent job on Wolverine, and his work on Schism suggests that his view of the character is pretty consistent. Indeed, Aaron’s character-based continuity is something I really like about his writing, the fact that he has a clear understanding of any of his characters.

Aaron’s Schism reads much better when considered as a “bridge” between his work on Wolverine and his subsequent Wolverine and the X-Men. Logan’s passionate response to Scott’s decision to train the mutant children to kill is very clearly motivated by events written by Aaron in his own book. It’s never explicitly stated, but it’s a powerful piece of connective tissue, and the fact that Wolverine literally leaves one book to arrive in the other makes the link obvious.

Looks like we've got a Colossus problem here...

Looks like we’ve got a Colossus problem here…

The problem is that Avengers vs. X-Men asks us to accept Wolverine deciding to kill Hope, rather than allowing the Phoenix to claim her. Given how big a deal Jean Grey’s death was to Logan, to the point where he named his school after her, it’s understandable that the Phoenix draws an extreme reaction from him. However, the story never really gives us any nuance or depth, or suggests any conflict beneath Wolverine’s exterior. He justifies it as “what has to be done”, and that’s it. It feels a little shallow, and it’s a massive shame that Wolverine isn’t better written here – especially since he’s the character who unites both groups.

Avengers vs. X-Men is flawed, in the way that so many line-wide events are flawed. However, it is a little bit more interesting than most. It’s a conclusion to quite a few years of meandering and confused X-Men stories, but it’s also an insightful exploration of the differences between Marvel’s two core franchises. It isn’t a classic, but it does stand as a marked improvement over a lot of the company’s line-wide comic book events.

Cyke-o...

Cyke-o…

Still, it serves its purpose. Truth be told, I am quite curious about the relaunch building off the back of Avengers vs. X-Men. I would love to see Bendis’ X-Men and Hickman’s Avengers collected in oversized hardcover. Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers would also be nice, but there’s a long queue of Remender books in need of the deluxe treatment. I’m still waiting for an omnibus or two collecting Venom and Uncanny X-Force. If Marvel collected all of Secret Avengers into one giant tome, I’d buy that too.

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4 Responses

  1. Really great post! Was a good read 🙂

  2. I love your analysis of the conservatism of the Avengers, in my opinion it is really the satirical cornerstone of Bendis’ run.
    Well we see more of your great reviews now Marvel is wrapping up their collections of the Marvel Now era?

    • Hi Eugene! Thanks for the kind words. It’s all about time at the moment. If I can find the time for coverage, I will do my best. But my dance card is pretty full at pleasant. (Having a full-time job does not help, alas.)

  3. Definitely a review worth reading for 5 years. Very epic. Jonathon Hickman and Ed Brubaker are good at writing things.

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