Friday, May 18, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 07 (Avengers vs. X-Men #4, AVX: VS #2, Uncanny X-Men #12, and Avengers Academy #30)

I normally buy my comics on Wednesdays after work, briefly stopping on the way to the gym where my girlfriend teaches a class and where I sit and read my comics. This week, I got them on Thursday and had the chance to chat with Retailer Tim. He's not usually there on Wednesdays (nor do I have the time to chat on Wednesdays). We were discussing Avengers vs. X-Men briefly and he asked if I was enjoying it. So far, I haven't placed much emphasis on typical 'enjoyment' in my discussion of this big crossover event, preferring to find some other angle to work with. This hasn't been a series of 'reviews' so much as me just talking about things that occur to me. So: am I enjoying Avengers vs. X-Men?

Sure am.

By that, I mean the larger event, not the actual series bearing that name. I'm actually not too fond of the series Avengers vs. X-Men. The shift in authorial voice has made for inconsistent reading, and it suffers from the same problem every Marvel event since Civil War has: the tie-ins are more interesting, because they're concerned with something other than plot. They can spotlight characters and their motives where the main series is like reading a plot summary with the odd big of characterisation highlighted for a third of the page at most. Just enough so characters doing things doesn't seem random and determined solely by the ever-popular reason 'because that's what the script says.'

The fourth issue of the series, with Jonathan Hickman playing the part of 'The Writer' this time, focuses in on the core of the series more than previous issues, glossing over everything on the edges even more. The 'Avengers versus X-Men' stuff gets a few token panels, but who really cares about the fights? The main show is Hope and her quest to prove that she can host the Phoenix Force and save mutantkind -- and her thinking the man to help her is the one mutant still trying to stop her under the excuse that he'll kill her if she's wrong.

Logically, this is the point where Cyclops stops, mumbles an apology, and everyone moves the fuck on, because the 'mutant messiah' is really fucking stupid. She's actually surprised when Wolverine calls the Avengers and tells them what's going on. At least Jesus knew what Judas was doing...

Aside from that, I couldn't tell you much about this issue. It lays out where characters are in the world, contrary to where some are in other titles related to this event, and... uh... the Phoenix is here? Things are not helped by John Romita, Jr. turning in some of his most lacklustre work in years on these issues. The odd panel has that old magic, but at lot of it is characters in poses that would make Rob Liefeld roll his eyes and a complete lack of energy. I say we blame Mark Millar, because he apparently opened Romita's eyes to the wonderful world of creator-owned comics and that has ruined him for work-for-hire. Which wouldn't be so bad, but he's still doing work-for-hire and everyone working with him is pretending that it's up to his usual standards.

Avengers vs. X-Men isn't a good series. It's not actually a good event when you look at how all of the books fit together -- mostly because they don't. But, beyond the main series, there are good comics that offer something of worth besides plot advancement.


Okay, so AVX: VS isn't one of them. It doesn't offer plot, but it doesn't actually offer anything else. The sad thing? The second issue is better than the first and it's still rubbish. I couldn't help but laugh and roll my eyes when I saw people praising the first issue (or failing to trash it) because it 'did what it said it would do' by delivering two fights without a bit of plot or logic. Never mind that the fights were awful, of course. Like last time, there's only one way to read the fights in comics: like they were wrestling matches.

Match #3: Captain America vs. Gambit

Steve McNiven writes and draws this fight and, apparently, artists don't necessarily do these things better without someone telling them what to draw. Unlike the first two matches on this card, there's a simple logic to this one and an actual winner. Unfortunately, the simple logic is about as simple as you can get, producing what looks to be a rookie match. The moves are basic and laid out in such obvious precision that you can predict everything that happens. In a sense, it is a rookie match with McNiven writing the whole thing. The closest thing to innovation or a 'cool high spot' is Gambit using his powers on Cap's costume and Cap totally no selling it. Honestly, I almost have to give McNiven credit, because he seems to have learned from the Hulk Hogans and John Cenas of the world: keep things 'competitive' until the hero needs to end it, at which point he no sells his opponent's big move and puts him down easily with his finisher. In a baffling move, Captain America's finisher is a punch. Weak sauce.

Winner: Captain America [*1/2]

Match #4: Spider-Man vs. Colossus

This is a semi-rematch after Spider-Man's classic battles with the Juggernaut, whose powers Colossus now has. Honestly, this match should have been Survivor Series 2009 Batista vs. Rey Mysterio. Spider-Man uses his speed and agility to stay one step ahead of Colossus until Colossus hits some power moves and Spider-Man is killed, losing because the ref has to call the match. We actually almost get that, amazingly. Kieron Gillen lays out the match in a very similar manner (although Spider-Man's moveset is considerably less impressive than Rey Rey's), but, because of the demands of this series where, apparently, only jobbers like Gambit can actually lose clearly and definitively, things end in a time limit draw, provoking the crowd into booing everyone involved unmercifully. The comic may say that Colossus won, but that's bullshit. No one one with this match. No one.

Result: Time limit draw [*1/4]


Uncanny X-Men #12 is more coherent than issue 11, building on the series's second multi-issue storyarc and delivering the Namor/Thing rematch that no one demanded with a couple of X-jobbers brought along for the ride. Namor does get to redeem himself for his previous loss to the Thing (which happened in Namor's pet stipulation of the Underwater Cage Match) by burying Luke Cage. See, it's not just that this event is the Avengers versus the X-Men, it's also the Avengers Office versus the X-Office. Take that, Bendis.

What's surprising is that Gillen doesn't even try to play things straight in this issue. It's a comic that spends 90% of its space discussing Namor's sexual prowess, building to the punchline where the Apex guy assumes that Namor and the Thing fighting is foreplay, causing Namor to retreat in disgust and giving the Thing another cheap victory. I can only assume that, somewhere down the line, the 'big death' of this series will be the Thing having his heart ripped from his chest by Namor who then makes a snide remark about snorting it so he can totally be tripping while having sex with six or seven females from a variety of species.

In other news, I have no idea who the completely white woman with Namor and Sunspot is. Nor do I care.


I'm not entirely sure what Avengers Academy #30 is meant to convey. That's part of the point, I think. The central struggle is over the idea that the Avengers dropped off the students from Utopia at the Academy with orders that they not be allowed to leave, arguing that it's for their own good, because Captain America doesn't want to have to beat the shit out of teenagers. And because he's a facist in this story.

Christos Gage largely shunts the idea of which side in the Avengers/X-Men conflict is right to one side, preferring to approach it from the perspective of 'Is it right to lock these kids up?' What makes it a far less interesting comic than I'd hope is that the fix is in pretty early: it's wrong to deny the kids the choice. Gage doesn't put much effort into giving the other side any credibility or support. It's a fairly smooth blending of 'the Avengers are facists who hate freedom' and 'the Avengers are anti-mutant racists,' which is a little surprising from a book that you would assume from the title is more representative of the Avengers' side of the conflict.

In a funny way, this is a comic about giving kids the right to vote. We, as a society, have picked a rather arbitrary way to determine whose opinions we will value and whose we won't: the age 18. That line doesn't really have anything to do with intelligence or knowledge, but the idea that people under that age aren't fully people and can't be trusted to participate in society at the same level of those older. It's a fun idea to play with and one that I, personally, have strong feelings about (and have since I was a bright, politically-minded 15-year old).

Yet, this isn't actually about giving kids the right to vote. That's the subtext. The actual text of this comic is a bunch of teenagers complaining that an adult decided that he would rather not have to fight them and involve them in a conflict that, because of their inexperience, could result in their deaths. This is an adult deciding not to send the kids off to war and the kids bitching because they aren't learning why the Avengers are 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes.' That disconnect is hard to ignore and hangs like a black cloud over the issue. I understand and agree with the ideals of the comic, but the actual reality it depicts shows why ideals don't always work. It's wrong, in theory, to keep those kids there and deny them the choice of entering the conflict; but, it would be wrong to allow them to fight and die because they are young and not nearly as adept at the adults standing across from them.

Essentially, this is the Cyclops/Wolverine fight all over again and it's a little less interesting this time. Of course, Sebastian Shaw is just going to kill them all, so the point is moot.


Next week: Secret Avengers #27 and Avengers #26. (Avengers #26 came out this week, but, since it covers much of the same ground as the plot in Secret Avengers and only one Avengers vs. X-Men comic is coming out next week, I've decided to save it.)