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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…

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Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers – Disassembled (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” Today and tomorrow we’ll be taking a look at the two Brian Michael Bendis events that kick-started the writer’s work on the franchise.

Avengers: Disassembled welcomed Brian Michael Bendis to the Avengers franchise. The super-star writer had enjoyed long and well-received runs on Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil, but his tenure on the Avengers franchise proved much more divisive. Taking over for a three issue arc on the main Avengers title, Bendis literally destroyed the team. Not only did he demolish a lot of the iconography associated with the bunch of superheroes, he also launched a fairly scathing deconstruction of the stalwart superhero team. Bendis wasn’t just going to adopt a caretaker position on the series, he clearly planned some very serious remodelling. That meant that some walls had to get knocked down. In many ways, Disassembled feels like a brutal demolition.

Things come apart…

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Ultimate Comics Avengers by Mark Millar Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

Read our review of The Avengers here. And because it’s release day in the rest of the world, here’s a second Avengers-related review. And it’s a long one.

They say you can’t go home again. The Ultimates was easily one of the best comics of the past decade, and perhaps the comic that really got me into the medium. A clever, timely, astute and well-considered exploration of the superhero in the twenty-first century, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch undoubtedly had a massive influence on everything that followed. Of course, all this would seem to be for nothing when Jeph Loeb took over the franchise for Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum, two stories that were very poorly received and damaged the franchise quite considerably. So Millar’s return to write four six-issue miniseries of Ultimate Comics: Avengers seemed like a breath of fresh air. Critical and fan reaction to his twenty-four issue run has been somewhat muted, and there’s no denying that a lot of the magic from that origin story was lost. That said, I’ll concede to finding it an interesting, complex and occasionally compelling examination of Millar’s views on superheroes.

Not quite the ultimate Avengers comic…

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Mighty Avengers: Dark Reign (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

Read our review of The Avengers here.

Dan Slott’s Mighty Avengers is so distinct from Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the second Avengers flagship book that it might as well have been a different title. Indeed, the name (and, arguably, the use of thought balloons) represent perhaps the only ties to the second major Avengers title. While still defined by it, the status quo has little to do with the aftermath of Civil War, and the lineup is markedly different. In a way, you could argue that Bendis and Slott had similar goals with the title: an attempt to tell more bombastic and traditional Avengers stories, with high stakes and a global focus, in contrast to the relatively “urban” feel of Bendis’ New Avengers. There’s no denying, however, that Slott handles the nostalgia and conventional superheroics with far more aplomb than his predecessor.

Not so Mighty...

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Kurt Busiek’s (& George Perez’s) Avengers – Avengers Assemble! Vol. 2 (Ultron Unlimited) (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

I want to enjoy Kurt Busiek’s Avengers run. It’s apparently one of the better Avengers runs out there. In fact, I can actually see the reasons why one would fall in love with it. It has great characters, great villains and great stories, written by a writer who adores the subject matter and an artist who is among the best in the business. And yet I can’t help but feel locked out of the series, as if this is a book intended for those who like a particular style of old comics – rather than those seeking accessible and fresh takes on classic characters coming together to fight evil. This second volume is perhaps the highlight of the run, collecting – as it does – the Ultron Unlimited storyarc, perhaps regarded as Busiek’s finest hour on the title (with only Avengers Forever and The Kang Dynasty competing, depending on who you ask).

Boy, is his face red...

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Kurt Busiek’s (& George Perez’s) Avengers – Avengers Assemble! Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” And so we begin, one month short of the release date…

It is good to be together again.

– Thor, Once An Avenger…

A lot of life is context. In order to fully appreciate things, you need to know the history and events which drive it. Kurt Busiek’s massive almost-five-year run on The Avengers is well loved by comic book fans, but is quite hard for me to get a read on. The plots are simple, the cast is over-crowded and the dialogue is corny. However, these are perhaps the reasons why the run is held in such high esteem, because the fictional Marvel Universe of 1998 was quite different from how it looks today.

Consider them assembled... all of them...

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Marvel Crossover Continuity

In August, I decided it would be… interesting to take a look at the event-driven storylines that Marvel was producing between 2005 and 2010. So, for sixteen weeks (and more, if you consider the occasional bonus back-up feature), I reviewed one of the many “events” Marvel produced during the period. I’ve grouped the particular strands of continuity together below for easy of browsing (also providing the original date of publication). I hoped that exploring this particular aspect of the medium might grant me some insight into why big events like this continually upset on-going stories being told by writers in individual characters’ books. It was an interesting experiment, even if I doubt I’ll be engaging with the core of the Marvel Universe so thoroughly any time soon.

Note: It is incomplete. I had planned to follow The Avengers through to Siege, but it looks like my reviewing schedule caught up with them – for the same reason I haven’t got around to The Thanos Imperitive yet. I will return to this thread in the future.

Avengers-Based Continuity

It was a good decade for The Avengers as a franchise, with Marvel consciously pushing the franchise to the forefront – not just in comics but in other media as well. If the nineties and early naughties belonged to the X-Men (with X-Men: The Animated Series on the airwaves, Bryan Singer’s X-Men in cinemas and crossovers like Age of Apocalypse in comic books), this was very clear attempt to take that back. Brian Michael Bendis was tasked with turning the Avengers into Marvel’s prime franchise and succeeded – most of the “big” comic book events of the decade revolved around them. That said it was certainly a controversial restructuring of the book, with a line-up crafted to feature more popular characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine instead of more obscure characters like Quicksilver or the Scarlet Witch.

The Avengers branched out into other media too. Iron Man demonstrated that Marvel’s “big three” could hold viewer interest in cinemas, and promised a series of crossovers on the big screen that would see The Avengers assemble under the direction of Joss Whedon. As a brand, Marvel made sure these characters were everywhere.

The stories featuring these characters over the decade form something of a larger meta-story which seems to reflect on the superhero genre as a whole. Although Bendis’ New Avengers opens with a supervillain breakout, the characters spent more time fighting each other than bad guys (Civil War, World War Hulk). When they did fight bad guys, they were more often than not corrupted mirrors of themselves, be it the Skrulls who had managed to so perfectly imitate heroes despite being villains (Secret Invasion) or government-sanctioned psychotic “Dark Avengers” (Siege). It was a story about how difficult it was to be a hero in the last few years – in the wake of the “dark age” of comic books – and a deconstruction of the effectiveness of a group of individuals like this to actually make a difference. You could even argue that this was a grim reflection of real world political and social uncertainty – particularly mistrust of authority (it’s telling how much time these heroes spend going “rogue”). Of course, this is open to interpretation, and many fans were less than pleased with the execution of this particular tale.

“Cosmic Marvel” Continuity

Marvel’s Cosmic Universe got a much-needed revitalisation this decade, offering perhaps a better-plotted and more straightforward avenue for Marvel’s crossover events. Although Jim Shooter had done great work with many of these characters in the nineties (with Infinity Gauntlet and so forth), they had mostly remained in relative obscurity before the relaunch.

The distinguishing aspect of these stories is the way that they are structured. Rather than a big event coinciding with countless tie-ins across countless books, most of these stories would open with a single prologue issue which would branch into a handful of miniseries running for a set number of issues, before dovetailing into a main series. This meant that every issue remotely connected with a series could be collected in a hardcover. Admittedly the titles become more entangled in continuity as they went on (with War of Kings tying in directly to Ed Brubaker’s The Rise & Fall of the Shi’ar Empire story arc in Uncanny X-Men), but by and large these series served to avoid pointless tie-ins and an exceptionally convoluted continuity (everything you needed was included in the books themselves).

They’re the best crossovers that you weren’t reading.

X-Men Continuity

The last decade has been an interesting one for the X-Men, as both the books and the characters have found themselves looking for purpose. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men posited a world where mutants would be the dominant species with a few generations and proposed to move the “mutants as oppressed minority” metaphor firmly into the twenty-first century, where the worries weren’t (at least for the most part) about government-sponsored genocide or legal rights, but cultural and social questions about the way that mutants and humanity live together. This was clearly a step too far, as Marvel decided to essentially wipe out the mutant population, feeling there were too many mutants in the Marvel Universe. This was done with three words from a psychotic Scarlet Witch rather than a more subtle approach (like simply reducing the number of mutants featured in various books).

Suddenly the X-Men found themselves facing extinction, and this became a driving narrative force for the book. It was as if the line was actively rebelling against the editorial mandate forced upon them. Instead of granting narrative clarity, the edict had instead complicated things. It also forced the X-Men away from their widely-loved position as a civil rights metaphor and towards a more straight forward “find the cure” narrative. It also served to isolate the franchise from the rest of the Marvel Universe (except for Wolverine, of course, who is everywhere) – the X-Men were always busy doing their thing and trying not to die out rather than assisting with Civil War or Secret Invasion. The solution to this narrative thread is entirely predictable, but it does offer a clear structure to the X-Men stories from the period.

It’s interesting to note that while all the major Avengers titles from this period (New/Mighty/Dark Avengers) have been consistantly collected, the X-Men books have not been. Ed Brubaker’s run is quite difficult to collect in one consistent format, as is Matt Fraction’s – and both are writing for what should be “the flagship book” of the X-Men publishing line, Uncanny X-Men. This makes it considerably harder to follow than the Avengers franchise, for example.