Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 03 (Avengers vs. X-Men #2, Avengers #25, and Wolverine and the X-Men #9)

One of the first things I noticed about Avengers vs. X-Men #2 is how the opening scene doesn't match up with what we saw last week in New Avengers #24. Here, Colossus is 'thrown' at the SHIELD helicarrier by Magneto and the fight with the Avengers begins that way. Last week, the Avengers jumped out of the helicarrier while the Red Hulk yelled a pump up speech about fighting smart and not taking on anyone too powerful one-on-one. Three weeks into this crossover and the utter lack of planning and control is already apparent, even between comics written by the five writers behind the event. What, do the 'Architects' not compare notes? Is Tom Brevoort only capable of remembering one script at a time -- or incapable of actually telling one of his 'star writers' that, hey, maybe everyone should get on the same page and not begin this event looking like rank amateurs?

And the sad thing is that this is a minor difference. It's something that most people will ignore. But, if this sort of thing is happening in two of the first three comics released as part of this event, what will be happening, oh, four months from now when we're a few dozen comics deep and no one can keep track of the main plot let alone minor details? If this is any indication, expect this to be an event where we will be able to fashion our own individual versions of what actually 'happened.' An event with optional canon and apocrypha. Events always have that to a degree -- just not involving comics written by the main series writer(s). There's a reason why Absolute Final Crisis collects everything related to that event that Grant Morrison wrote and why Secret Invasion reading order includes everything Brian Michael Bendis wrote. With five main writers, Avengers vs. X-Men could cast a fairly wide net as far as tie-ins go -- though, right now, the only titles involved in that respect are Avengers, New Avengers, and Wolverine and the X-Men. The other regular tie-ins aren't written by one of the five main series writers.


This week, we're still in the core 'Architects' group with Jason Aaron writing the second issue of Avengers vs. X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men #9, and Brian Michael Bendis contributing Avengers #25. I'll begin with Bendis, not having a lot to say. Avengers #25 is a similar tie-in issue to New Avengers #24: brief moments of connectivity, but, really, it's a bridge between the most recent storyarc and the event. Unlike New Avengers #24, it's less satisfying and, conceptually, doesn't show the same eye towards series pacing. New Avengers #24 took a step back to focus on Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, something that packs an emotional punch and changes things up from one action-driven story before heading into another. Avengers #25 is an action issue. So, the breather/transition issue is more of the same...? An odd choice to say the least and one that falls flat. There's no emotional hook and the writing flounders. It's a comic that washes over you and leaves no trace aside from memories of Walt Simonson drawing pages well. In an abstract way, it's the same comic as New Avengers #24, but does everything wrong with that abstract concept that that issue did right. These two comics juxtaposed side-by-side illustrates just how inconsistent Bendis can be as a writer, swinging wildly from one extreme of quality to the other without varying what he's doing too much. It's like, sometimes, he doesn't understand why people like some of his comics and not others, and just throws things out there, hoping they'll land, and never entirely confident or sure that they will. I do the same thing when I'm trying to be funny. I don't quite know what other people will laugh at, so, until they react, I never know if what I'm saying is indeed funny to other people. I can't judge that and I get the feeling that Bendis's time on the Avengers book has been very much the same thing.


After a couple of weeks of Bendis being the central writer of this event, Jason Aaron takes centre stage this week and we get our first big shift in writing styles on Avengers vs. X-Men. The approach of having five writers trade off scripting duties makes this an event book that's almost like a collection of tie-ins that form one 'coherent' story. It reminds me a bit of those Marvel summer crossovers that would take place over annuals written by a whole bunch of people. Or even the Superman comics for almost the entire '90s. Except, here, it's one core series that is supposed to, ideally, read somewhat smoothly issue to issue. It's hard to judge just how well they are accomplishing that goal after two issues. But, there is a noticeable shift.

It's hard not to look at issues of this series and what the story beats are and wonder if another writer would have been 'better suited.' This issue was one of chaos and bits and pieces of violence with a little bit of debate thrown in. It's a hodgepodge feeling out issue. Last issue was the basic introduction where Bendis was the best choice, because he can do that sort of thing directly and clearly. Here, I'm torn between Aaron and Matt Fraction as the writer best suited for this sort of thing. Aaron juggles chaos well in Scalped and Wolverine and the X-Men. However, Scalped is usually a mixture of violent chaos and quiet chaos, and Wolverine and the X-Men has a much more lighthearted approach. He can write good fight scenes, though none of the fights we see here are even remotely developed. The closest we get is the talky fight between Captain America and Cyclops that would have read much the same if they were just standing around.

There's a sense that Aaron's identity as a writer isn't really here. This is a comic written in a fairly generic manner despite the bits and pieces of overblown poetic narration. It's like Aaron was striving for a style that wouldn't stand out. I wonder if other writers will do the same. Out of the five, Brian Michael Bendis has the most distinct dialogue and Jonathan Hickman has the most distinct style. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have co-written together and seem to adapt well to the 'generic Marvel style' well. Aaron shows here that he can as well. Maybe this won't be a choppy ride too much, aside from those moments where Bendis and Hickman can't suppress their natural style.


Two issues into Avengers vs. X-Men and the obvious problem is that it's hard to see twelve issues of story here. How long can you stretch out fights? Given Hope's display of the Phoenix Force and her taking off, the story seems to be shifting, growing beyond the simple fight. Or, adding to it at least. Is this story about what we think it is or will is get partway through and change?


Wolverine and the X-Men #9 is similar to the Bendis Avengers tie-ins we've seen so far: an establishing issue that transitions from where the book was to the event. Cap recruits Wolverine and Beast to the cause, those touched by the Phoenix feel its approach, and, well, the school keeps on keeping on. However, it integrates the coming of the Phoenix better and seems to be carving out its own subplots that may or may not be reflected in the main series, namely Gladiator coming to Earth to make sure his son doesn't die. It's more entrenched than the Bendis issues and it happens very naturally. If this wasn't a big event, the only part of the issue that stands out is the role Captain America plays. The rest feels like a natural 'next logical step' for the series to go. Partly because the title has kept one foot in the 'cosmic' realm and partly because the Phoenix is an X-title plot point.

(How do any of the characters know about Quentin Quire's connection to the Phoenix since that happened, for us, in Morrison's final arc and in a panel no other character would be privy to?)


Three weeks in and there's a mixture of good tie-ins, bad ones, and a general lack of coordination before we've even gone beyond the central writers of the event. (I'm going to experiment with format week to week as I struggle to learn how to write about this event, particularly with variations in the number of related comics that come out each week. I'll probably figure it out in the second-last week.)

Next week (aka tomorrow): AVX: VS #1, New Avengers #25, Secret Avengers #26, and Uncanny X-Men #11.