Thursday, May 03, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 05 (Avengers vs. X-Men #3 and Avengers Academy #29)

Chapter Three, In which the thematic replay of Civil War is made even more obvious...

There's a leaning in recent weeks to shift from the idea of this conflict being Sensible Heroes Trying to Save the World vs. Crazy Cult Who Thinks God Will Make Them Great Again towards Government Group vs. Innocent Family. Not to the extent where anyone who's reading this story thinks about it as such; no, it's one of those things where characters in the comics try to redefine an obvious conflict to their advantages. Of course Cyclops would want to change the story since one doesn't make him the Mutant David Koresh. Beyond that, there seems to be an attempt by the writers to move the narrative into that realm, because it's a less one-sided conflict. If you look at the conflict between the Avengers and X-Men objectively, there is obviously a good guy/bad guy dynamic at play (staunch X-Men fans will deny this, but they have drunk deeply of the Kool-Aid). On one side, you have a group that see a giant cosmic being that's destroying every planet it encounters on its way here; on the other, you have a group that hope that they're somehow special and will not only not be destroyed, but the cosmic being will look upon them with love and grant them miracles and shit. If it weren't the X-Men making up that second group, there wouldn't even be a question of whose side anyone is on. So, the narrative can't actually be about that. The X-Men can't be the clearcut crazy villains of this story since the appeal is watching two groups of heroes fight, dividing the audience in two.

Just like Civil War was supposed to. Except it didn't either.

Civil War was based around a fairly similar one-sided premise: a criminal whose superpower was to blow himself up, surprise surprise, blew himself up and everyone blamed the good guys, because... I guess Captain America's superpower is to magically stop Nitro from using his powers. From there, it became a conflict between two groups with Iron Man and Captain America as the figureheads of each side: those in favour of registering superheroes and having them work for the government (security) and those who think that superheroes should have the ability to choose how they use their powers and only police those that use them in antisocial ways (freedom). The attempt to divide fans between these two sides failed, because everyone on Iron Man's side (especially Iron Man) was depicted as an asshole. Very unlikable. Part of the problem seemed to be that no one writing the comics seemed to agree with Iron Man's side. Maybe they did, but they sure didn't write their comics like they did. And that is key to what appears to be happening Avengers vs. X-Men.

The basic problem of the Avengers being the good guys and the X-Men being the bad guys has addressed by trying to remake Civil War to an extent by having the Avengers under Captain America play the role of the pro-registration side, while the X-Men under Cyclops are the plucky rebels espousing freedom from government tyranny. (Sidebar: Since Utopia is an independent nation, it's not really government tyranny. It's more like a declaration of war. And since Cyclops surrendered, I think Captain America just conquered a country.) Last week's issue of Uncanny X-Men ended with Cyclops's letter to the media where he basically calls them the Gestapo there to take a sweet, innocent teenage girl from her bed in the middle of the night (while leaving out the cosmic destruction bird) and Avengers Academy this week has Captain America rounding up the mutant youth and dropping them off in a 'detainment centre' basically. It may be a school where they're provided with a lot of amenities, but all that really sounds like is minimum security prison. And prison is prison no matter how nice. Then again, as the State, the Avengers could be seen as putting minors in protective services, so it's not all bad. Nor does it seem as such in the comic.

The strange part is the scene where Iron Man almost berates Captain America and says "...but it wasn't too long ago I was saying things just like that. And you were on the other side." The X-Men had surrendered and Iron Man is upset because he has no idea what to do next with them. It's a moment of petty bickering that stands out as forced. That's also the case with Captain America jumping from zero to 'throwing someone out of a plane' with Wolverine later in the issue. There's an obvious effort to make Avengers vs. X-Men Captain America into Civil War Iron Man, and it doesn't fit. Part of the problem is the the context where there's an immediate threat in the Phoenix that wasn't there in Civil War -- there's far more objective evidence that, yes, the Phoenix is a threat to the world and it must be stopped than, uh, superheroes blow up schools at of the fucking time.

This is the part where I make the 'it's not in his character to overreact like this' argument, but the last time someone made the 'not his character' argument, Matt Fraction retorted with "Well, he did it in the comic, so suck it, True Believer!" That said, this doesn't feel right. This is the way a man who's unsure of himself acts -- someone who doesn't know what he's doing and has never encountered problems like this. His going from arguing with Wolverine to hitting him is too rash to ring true. Granted, it was in the service of taking him off the board, but it still did not seem like the character (which I say about a comic written by a man who's been writing that character for well over half a decade).

There's also something too cutesy about Iron Man being the one arguing with Captain America. It's not subtle and that makes it less effective. It's an obvious ploy to make the Avengers seem less like the good guys and the conflict to be on more of an even playing field. But, it does show that Marvel has learned some lessons since Civil War and how to present a conflict like this. They're not any more effective this time, but the effort is there. The execution is what lets them down.

Next week: New Avengers #26, Wolverine and the X-Men #10, and X-Men: Legacy #266 (unless my shop has no rack copies of that one since it's not on my pull list).