Saturday, September 08, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 1987 (The X-Men vs. the Avengers #1-4)

This Gravy Train has been chuggin' along for 25 years, folks...

The plot of The X-Men vs. the Avengers: Asteroid M, thought destroyed, is actually still in existence, is breaking up, and bombarding the Earth. The Avengers destroy most of the big chunks, but a couple land and they are charged with arresting Magneto to face charges in the World Court. At the same time, the Soviet Super-Soldiers go after Magneto so he can be arrested for sinking a Soviet sub previously. The X-Men don't like any of this and defend Magneto. Magneto, meanwhile, has tracked down a core of Asteroid M, reclaimed his old helmet and seems to have some sort of secret plan. It turns out that his plan is to use his mind-control circuitry to remove all prejudice from humanity. He abandons that plan after wiping all prejudice from Captain America's mind and it not affecting Cap's desire to arrest him, and turns himself in. At his trial, it seems stacked against him to start a mutant/humanity war after he's found guilty, so he uses his prejudice-removing helmet on one of the judges, is found innocent by reasons of being a sovereign power engaged in a state of war at the time of his crimes, and is shocked when that pisses off humans. The lesson: Magneto constantly assumes things and that makes an ass out of him and everyone.

It's actually not a bad read. I was expecting the final issue to be a trainwreck, because original writer Roger Stern's plot was thrown out, and the book was co-plotted by Tom DeFalco and Jim Shooter with DeFalco handling the scripting duties. Usually, in cases like that, the final product is a massive swing away from the story to date. Instead, that final issue offers something approximately some interesting writing on the mutant/human dynamic. Magneto shocked that Captain America is not motivated by racism is a pretty good scene, while the final image of Magneto realising that he continues to make things worse for mutant/human relations is a strong conclusion.

Funny thing about The X-Men vs. the Avengers and its relationship to Avengers vs. X-Men: the X-Men were wrong then, too. In the fight between the two teams, the X-Men were on the wrong side, both morally and legally, under the argument that mutant rights trump every other concern. Instead of the religious-driven Cyclops leading the charge against the Avengers as the X-Men put all of their faith in a cosmic fire bird that will save their race once it possesses a teenage girl, the X-Men are simply standing up for their teammate Magneto and his right to never face any sort of punishment for his criminal past.

The lack of change in 25 years is remarkable, because we all like to think that the characters are different now, don't we? I know Marvel wants us to believe that the characters and their world have changed over the past decade, especially. Yet, 25 years ago, we had the X-Men and the Avengers fighting with the same central argument: the Avengers, acting as representatives of the world, go to the X-Men and want to take one of their members away for objectively legitimate reasons, the X-Men get pissed because mutants stick together no matter what, the two teams fight, and, eventually, the X-Men realise that they were wrong and human/mutant relations are worse for it (okay, I'm assuming that last point as the end result of Avengers vs. X-Men). The details are different and so is the scale, but it's the same essential conflict. Does that mean that Avengers vs. X-Men is actually an homage series to honour the 25th anniversary of The X-Men vs. the Avengers?

If the X-Men have been the same for so long and, in both cases, they're in the wrong, I guess what I'm wondering is if the X-Men are actually heroes. Are they good guys? Or are they simply activists? An organisation dedicated to a single cause, all morality and legality suspended until said cause is reached? After all, here, they jump to defend Magneto from facing legitimate charges of mass murder -- and he used to try to kill them every other week. In Avengers vs. X-Men, they all join forces because they think the Phoenix will rescue the mutant race from extinction based on no evidence, fighting their friends in the process, and ignoring massive ideological differences that exist within the mutant community. These are heroes?

I expected The X-Men vs. the Avengers to be something I could hold up as a contrast to Avengers vs. X-Men. Something where I could show how far the X-Men have fallen over the past 25 years and, yet, they haven't really changed much. No discussion, no morality above genetics, and no option other than violence. That leap to violence is what sticks with me the most, both here and in Avengers vs. X-Men. As I've said before, this isn't some faceless group of humans whose motives are suspect -- this is the Avengers! The X-Men have stood beside the Avengers how many times? The Avengers have shown themselves to be honourable and not prejudiced against mutants how many times? It's not that the X-Men can't disagree, can't point out that their concerns are different -- it's that their response is always a punch in the face. The Avengers aren't much better in that respect, granted, but, in both cases, it's an X-Man who uses violence first.

Whether a regular 'superhero team' that's part of a thriving race or a near-extinct race living on an island it rules, they act the same.  Is there anything more to the X-Men? Can there ever be? The central concept is that they are a minority in a world that fears and hates them. They will always respond like this and that's troublesome. In some respects, I like that. I like that the X-Men aren't cookie-cutter good guys, that they will act against the law and conventional superhero morality when they think that it's the right thing. But, when their version of 'the right thing' is always the exact same thing and flies in the face of logic and reason, it's substituting one set of rigid morality for another. It's not something you notice as much until they're put up against another set of heroes and the X-Men look like the racists, because they can't see past the human/mutant divide. Any other time, it's against obvious anti-mutant racists or other human strawmen that serve to showcase the righteousness of the X-Men's cause. Against the Avengers, they're just a bunch of extremists with their heads up their asses.

Maybe that's all the X-Men are... Maybe that's all they ever will be...

Next week: Avengers vs. X-Men #11, New Avengers #30, Uncanny X-Men #18, and Wolverine and the X-Men #16.