Thursday, March 22, 2012

And Did We Tell You the Name of the Game, Boy? (Avengers: X-Sanction #1-4)

What are we to do with prologue books that hint at the soon-to-be-here conflict and done by a creative team that has little to do with what's coming? Avengers vs. X-Men 'begins' with Avengers: X-Sanction, a four-issue mini-series where Cable tries to kill a group of Avengers chosen seemingly at random, thinking that, in doing so, he will save the world -- and, more importantly, save his adopted daughter, Hope. He's been to the future and seen a dead world because the Avengers apparently killed Hope, most likely because she's host to the Phoenix Force. Basically, it seems to be Avengers vs. X-Men in miniature where, from what we can tell, the story is about the Avengers trying to kill Hope because she's going to be the host of the Phoenix Force. It's almost like the overture for the event -- the entire thing played out briefly with Cable standing in for the X-Men and the six Avengers we see standing in for that entire organisation. And, yet, I'm not entirely sure I understand the point of it, especially when, at the end, Hope seemingly uses the Phoenix Force to cure Cable of the techno-organic virus that he was infected with as an infant.

Then again, this is Marvel in the 21st century. This comic may have no real connection to Avengers vs. X-Men. This is the same company that delivered a Prelude to Schism series that had, quite literally, nothing to do with Schism. What we read in this series could have nothing to do with Avengers vs. X-Men aside from the broad concept and some shared characters. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if, when next we saw Cable, he was still sporting his regular metal arm.

Assuming that this does lead into Avengers vs. X-Men, what purpose does it serve? It tells us that the conflict is coming. Cable has seen it -- and, in the process of trying to stop it, he's armed his enemies. Jeph Loeb, not known for being particularly subtle, does something that could prove integral to the event in a rather quiet way. Cable attacks the Avengers using anti-mutant technology that he found in Avengers Mansion in the future and, at the end of the series, Captain America strikes a deal with Cyclops to allow him to take Cable if they keep all of Cable's weaponry and technology. Cable arms the Avengers with means to assault the X-Men. (There's also the possibility that the Avengers never used any of those machines and simply stored them in the mansion and Cable discovered them unused and misinterpretted what happened. It also raises the question of who actually made the tech if it's stuck in an endless cycle of the Avengers taking it from Cable and Cable taking it from the Avengers...)

In essence, all that's accomplished is that the possible conflict is introduced, a point of division between the Avengers and X-Men raised, the Avengers receiving anti-mutant tech, and Hope is revealed to have the Phoenix Force (even though it's apparently coming from space?). And, honestly, only one of those things could be deemed 'necessary' given that the event will, presumably, introduce the story and conflict itself.

But, Avengers vs. X-Men is also a giant fight. And these four issues are centred around physical violence. One of the things that particularly interests me about the event is seeing how violence is used to tell the story, to advance things. Here, the violence isn't exactly thrilling in a traditional sense. Cable, weakened by the techno-organic virus, is half dead when the story begins and manages to take down the Falcon, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Red Hulk mostly through cheap shots, traps, and being lucky. He's the sad old veteran trying to have his last hurrah on a 'noble quest' to save his daughter and that shows in his fights. He's desperate and pathetic usually, relying on metaphoric ball shots and thumbs to the eyes. In the end, he's pretty much put down.

Yet, it's not satisfying because of the heavyhanded narration. The point of the violence, the story that's being told, is shoved into our faces so much, with such force, that the fights come off as muted and parodic to a degree. Loeb's first-person narration is so over-the-top that it's bad commentary that continually points out the obvious instead of elevating the drama. I like the ideas behind what's happening; the storytelling undercuts it as much as possible. Not as much visually since Ed McGuinness is impressive with fluid storytelling. The fight with Captain America is a basic, textbook fight. It's a three-star match. If you stick to the pictures, the fights all come off more clearly. Basically, mute the TV during the match and you're better off as those who put up with Michael Cole know...

I'm not sure how much this story will have to do with Avengers vs. X-Men directly with regards to plot. As an overture, it's sloppy and ham-fisted, mostly saying nothing.

Next week, we begin the event proper with... another prologue comic: Avengers vs. X-Men #0.