The Phoenix, a cosmic force of destruction and rebirth, once inhabited the body of mutant psychic, Jean Grey, and went on to nearly destroy the planet. It has set its sights on earth again, this time with the intension of inhabiting a mutant called Hope, a child that is held by many to be the messiah of a decimated mutant population. Scott Summers (Cyclops), head of The X-Men and self proclaimed leader of the mutant race, believes The Phoenix’s return signifies a rebirth of the mutant race and convinces Hope to willing accept her role, Captain America and the rest of The Avengers, however, feel the destruction of Earth is too high a price to toy with as a gamble of faith, so the two factions come to blows over the fate of a child, a race and a planet.
Over the past decade or so, it has become an annual tradition for Marvel to throw its characters into a crossover of epic proportions, with stories that reverberate through many books and with consequences that last for years. From House of M through Civil War, World War Hulk, Secret Invasion, Siege and probably more that I’ve forgotten about, Marvel have taken their universe and shaken it so that we’re never quite sure how things are going to end up.
With so many epic stories behind them already, how could Marvel possibly keep the format fresh and lively? Well, where all the previously mentioned stories had a single writer at their helm, with other writers handling the overspill into the other monthly books, with AvX Marvel have experimented with putting together a sort of Super-group of writers and artists, all throwing their ideas into the mix and all getting a go writing a few of the issues in the main mini-series.
On writing duties were Marvel’s ‘architects’, an ensemble of their best writers that have been charged with forging the direction of the whole Marvel Universe, which includes Brian Bendis, Jason Aaron, Jonathan Hickman, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction (but not Kieron Gillen, Marvel’s actual best writer). On the art, John Romita Jr, Oliver Coipel and Adam Kubert, superstars all.
Here’s where reviewing the series becomes a bit of a challenge, as there are so many cool fights and turns of event that to bring them up here would ruin it for those who haven’t had it ruined for them already and plan to pick it up collected. What can be said is that the story is massive and never really goes where you quite expect it to, characters act in ways that are both logical but unpredictable, and above everything else, it’s a fun ride from beginning to end. The writers on an individual basis aren’t working at their best, but they’re far from their worst. The art is fantastic throughout, which, considering the talent, is to be expected, but things really take an upward turn in the chapters drawn by Coipel, a legend in the making if ever I’ve seen one.
So, the rub, or rubs, I guess, because there are several factors that stack up to rob AvX of the classic-story status it clearly desires. First, despite it being a consistently fun read, and epic in scale by anyone’s measure, it never really becomes exciting. This is not even the story’s fault per se, but the mindset instilled in the reader by Marvel’s decade long onslaught (no pun intended) of ‘epic stories of consequence’. Now, these consequences usually take the form of a shifting of the status quo, which those cynical amongst us might suggest only exist so as Marvel can release a whole new line of issue ones, but be that as it may, EVERYONE has learnt to simply roll with the events and shifts, knowing that we will be served up with more in about half a year or so.
It’s gotten to the point where a shifting of the status quo has BECOME the statues quo, which might seem quite innovative and invigorating from the outside looking in, but over time builds back-stories for characters and teams that are nearly impenetrable to new or young readers, and kind of leads in to our second rub.
The story DOES technically stand by itself and CAN officially be read as a stand alone mini-series, but is little more than a two dimensional series of scraps roughly linked with meaningless exposition if read without a good knowledge of Marvels recent and classical history, not to mention the fact that while you don’t necessarily have to pick up any of the Avengers or X-Men books that tie into the series to get along with what’s happening, you kind of DO have to pick up the series to get what’s happening in your regular monthly books, and as usual, some of these tie-in are shoehorned to within an inch of their lives.
Marvel is a business, and I don’t think any of us are so naïve as to think that they are going to quit this approach to claiming such a huge section of the marketplace with tried, tested and successful schemes, but it can’t be ignored that creating such dominance over comic store shelf space is a very bad direction for the industry as a whole, especially when most of those books are inaccessible to anyone other than the current readership, which is only going to shrink. It also can’t be ignored that Marvels most recent critical success stories, namely Mark Waid’s Daredevil, Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery, Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four titles and Matt Fraction’s recent Hawkeye series, all largely operate within their own sphere of influence, away from the summer crossover machine, and they’re all better for it, classical in feel but innovative all the same.
If we’re lucky, maybe Marvel will sight these books as the centrepiece to their new company direction, and we can look forward to a retaining of the status quo BEING the shifting of the status quo, and have a summer season where the writers just get to write good stories in their books without having to worry about the intrusion of an epic crossover… But I kinda doubt it.
Avengers Vs X-Men is a good series and most certainly worth a read, hampered only by the bitter taste it leaves in the mouth by problems it is merely a symptom of. Take that recommendation however you think it should be taken, and in closing, know that I remain a huge Marvel fan, just one who can’t help but become increasingly saddened.
B- grade – for originality
B- grade – for storytelling
A- grade – for artwork
Overall grade – B
Avengers Vs. X-Men will be available in collected trade from the 5th of November.