Saturday, May 12, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 06 (New Avengers #26, Wolverine and the X-Men #10, and X-Men: Legacy #266)

Last week, Captain America and the Avengers seemed forced into the role of facists to make them less heroic and to make the X-Men easier to get behind. This week, the Avengers are again forced into a role that doesn't suit them: racists. With this week's Avengers vs. X-Men comics being two X-books and New Avengers, a title that has taken the idea of telling a 'tie-in story' to such an extreme that it's barely worth thinking about until we can see the entire story and judge if it actually does anything worthwhile, it's easy to see how this week is the week that it becomes about Mutant rights and race war. (I am legitimately surprised that no one shouted "Helter skelter!" in X-Men: Legacy #266. I admire Christos Gage's restraint.)

It's an easy direction to take things, but is far lazier than last week's Civil War-inspired facist take on Captain America and the rest of the Avengers. That, at least, showed some semblance of learning from a past event where Marvel failed to keep two warring sides on equal grounds and applied it to a story where things obviously leaned in one direction over another. Here, though, we have all of the X-Men falling in line with the idea that this is a mutant versus human conflict involving a group whose second (third depending on how you look at it, I guess) line-up included two mutants who were only known as terrorist followers of Magneto. Say what you will about Captain America and the Avengers, but it's hard to paint them as anti-mutant given the group's long history of accepting mutants (and androids and aliens and Inhumans and beings from alternate realities and past versions of teammates stolen from time before they became the hero they already know). The Avengers is basically a group that lives Xavier's dream and leads by example.

In story, Cyclops trying to turn it into a mutant/human conflict makes sense -- as much sense as turning into a facism/freedom conflict -- but he's also clearly a kind of crazy cult leader. There's a whole group of mutants that moved to the other side of the continent to get away from his craziness. And, this week, it seems all of them except Wolverine is ready to fall back in line behind him with few doubts? What's weird is that X-Men: Legacy #266 and Wolverine and the X-Men #10 show the faculty at Wolverine's school discussing what they should do in two very different ways (again: GREAT FUCKING EDITING, IDIOTS) and the end-result is the same: mutant solidarity in the face of crazy odds and a general consensus that the Avengers are trying to stop the Phoenix from returning because they hate mutants and not because it keeps destroying entire planets on its way to Earth? It is possible that all X-Men have been so opposed and beaten down that they've lost their senses and have caught Cyclops's crazy stupidity, I guess. Maybe?

Both issues take two different approaches, only one of which actually comes off as plausible. In X-Men: Legacy, a team of three Avengers show up at the Jean Grey School to make sure that everyone there stays nice and calm and doesn't go anywhere. That's an obvious confrontational move, particularly when it's easy to observe the school without necessarily alerting the X-Men to their presence. Instead, things devolve because we're dealing with a bunch of people who don't know how to deal with feelings of anger and frustration without hitting people. That makes sense. We're dealing with stunted growth and psychological damage that's hard to understand completely. In many ways, the mutant/human overtones are superficial, because it's really about us vs. them with the reasons not mattering. All that matters is that they came here and it's pissing us off. The Avengers made a bad play and turned many of the X-Men who were content to keep teaching and ignore Cyclops's crazy cult conflict into an oppressed minority group that is suddenly feeling very threatened and oppressed in their own home. Now, the Avengers don't do this because they hate mutants, merely because the school is home to possible allies of Cyclops and his X-Men, and they aren't sure if they will join the fight or not. That's a logical move and it becomes a big fight because everyone involved is fairly stupid and immature.

Wolverine and the X-Men, on the other hand, offers less of a reason for Cyclops's recruitment tactics to work. He shows up uninvited at Wolverine's school and everyone basically tells Wolverine to go fuck himself despite all that's changed since Schism is a powerful cosmic entity coming this way that destroys planets with ease, all under the guise of mutant solidarity. I guess my problem is that, out of all of these mutants, only two (Wolverine and Beast) seem willing to question the idea that the Phoenix Force will somehow be a good thing for mutants and Earth. In expanding the concept of this being a mutant/human conflict with a group that's been established as fairly pro-mutant for almost its entire existence, intelligent characters have to shut off their brains. It's too simplistic -- and, yet, maybe realistic?

I have a hard time understanding that type of thinking, because of who I am, I suppose. That sort of irrational allegiance is foreign to me. There is no reason why all but two mutants would suddenly turn "Fuck the Avengers, all hail the giant fire bird in the sky!" aside from the sort of irrational loyalty built by comradery, oppression, and basically only encountering people who want to kill them. I still think this direction for the story is too forced and one-sided, too much of an overcompensation, but it doesn't seem as implausible as I thought when I began this post. What I also question is if this will actually make the Avengers seem less like the clear-cut 'good guys' in this conflict given that my first reaction was that the X-Men all come off as simple-minded fools who conveniently forget that the people they're fighting have had their backs pretty consistently. It seems too easy and too simple of a way to expand upon the conflict.

It's also writing the characters in an odd corner: either the Phoenix is a force of good and the X-Men are right, or it's a force of bad and the Avengers are right (and dead). That's not a very good place to have the story right now, particularly when you have so many of your characters turning their backs on logic to join up with Cyclops. There's a third possibility that the Phoenix is neither of those things -- and that seems like the safe bet. But, will it somehow avoid the trap of making one group seem entirely crazy in the brief seconds before total destruction or one group seem entirely racist through the fault of being wrong?

Next week: Avengers vs. X-Men #4, AVX: VS #2, Avengers #26, Avengers Academy #30, and Uncanny X-Men #12. Big week.