Sunday, October 23, 2022

Them Guys Ain’t Dumb 13 (X-Force #33)

This is it: the final Judgment Day tie-in. All that remains after this is the conclusion and the epilogue. So, naturally, the final page of X-Force #33 takes place quite explicitly after Judgment Day has ended. That brings the conversation around to spoilers. (I will give you a few paragraphs before I actually discuss the final page in detail, so, if you actually care, maybe get out now.)

At some point in an event, a tie-in spoils something. Not necessarily anything big, just something. The nature of these large, lumbering projects involve various office and editors and creator schedules means that, usually, some comic ships on time while another falls a little behind and something gets revealed a little too soon. It already happened in Judgment Day when AXE: Starfox #1 revealed the hard reboot of The Machine that happened in Death to the Mutants #3, which wound out coming out a week later. That was the rare “writer of the event spoils his own plot point” move. The spoiler on the final page of X-Force #33 seems more egregious, however.

Firstly, the Starfox/Death to the Mutants spoiler was of a relatively minor plot point. The reboot of The Machine matters, but is only a portion of the efforts to stop the Progenitor from destroying all life on Earth. Learning it a week early didn’t alter the reading experience too much. Additionally, for some readers that are more tuned in, Kieron Gillen warned folks both on Twitter and his newsletter that they may want to hold the Starfox issue back until after they had read Death to the Mutants. While that may have only reached a fraction of the affected audience, it was an effort to diminish any spoilers for those who would be bothered by them.

Secondly, depending on your expectations and views on these matters, the final page of X-Force #33 is a large spoiler in what it says/shows post-Judgment Day. Yet, I’d be lying if I said it was a surprising glimpse into the future. I’m torn on giving into my worst instincts and blowing this out of proportion as I’m wont to do when it comes to the ‘ethics of events’ (which would be the course I would teach if I taught courses on comics), and acknowledging that the substance of the spoiler is hardly surprising or anything that couldn’t be inferred from the solicitations for comics post-Judgment Day. You may have noticed that the Marvel Universe is still there and most comics are proceeding as if Judgment Day never happened. Yet, anything that shows some of the after effects of the event matters.

Thirdly, there was a decision made to release this comic, whose story has barely tied into Judgment Day at all, the week before the final issue of the event and show something from after its conclusion. I’m always fascinated by those choices. The entire thought process that went into deciding that this four-part story would be a Judgment Day tie-in at all has me incredibly interested. It wasn’t needed. There was a small thematic connection with Kraven and judgment – and taking place at the same time that the Eternals attacked Krakoa added a little bit of drama – though, the timeline is incredibly messed up in this story given the large overlap of Eternals attacking Krakoa and the stuff with the Progenitor’s judgment... looking back, I must admit that, despite the Celestial ordering the Eternals to stop attacking Krakoa, it seems like they resumed doing so at some point... or I misunderstood that the “Cease!” command was temporary (me misunderstand a comic...? Never!). Ultimately, Kraven finding a way to come to Krakoa to hunt mutants didn’t require Judgment Day and was not made better by the connection, so having this be the tie-in that jumps ahead to after the event is over is particularly galling. This has been my go-to example of a comic that slapped a banner on the cover in an effort to take money from people and I continue to stand by that assessment.

It’s not the fact that one of the after effects of Judgment Day was spoiled necessarily; it’s that this was the comic to do it. It’s like they took my $15.96 USD (more in Canada) under false pretenses and, then, ended the entire exercise by spitting in my coffee.

But, you may be wondering what that final page actually spoils. I’ve held it off long enough, so, if this is actually a major spoiler in your mind, you have only yourself and Benjamin Percy to blame.

On the final issue, Kraven has returned to the North Pole after surviving the destruction of the Shadow Room. Scarred and injured, he stands over Avengers Mountain, returned to the dead Celestial it was before the body was used to made the Progenitor. The key part of his narration is: “A god has fallen. And the Avengers are in the process of occupying its body like mites on a rotting whale. I had to return here, to the North Pole, to bear witness to this encouraging reminder. Everything dies. Everything.” Somehow, the Progenitor will be defeated and it will die, returning the body of the dead Celestial back to its original place, and the Avengers will resume using it as their base of operations. Not exactly shocking, somewhat surprising in how literally things do not change with regards to Avengers Mountain... but not shocking in the broad strokes.

I guess I’m left wondering how this happened and why anyone thought it was a good idea. The spoiler is arguably minor in the details. Why release it the week before the finale of the event? Why suck any air out of that room if you can avoid doing so? We just had issue 32 of X-Force last week, so there wasn’t a rush. This could have come out the same week as Judgment Day #6. If the concern was having nothing this past week, then, I don’t know, maybe shift a few of the nine tie-ins from last week to this week?

Look, I get it. I spend a lot of time talking about shit like this. Release schedules and how effectively tie-ins reflect the main series, and everything except the actual comics. I would love to discuss the actual comics (and I have) in place of the mechanics surrounding the roll out of the event. Except Marvel can’t get out of its own way. Choices are made that highlight these things. Someone decided that, yeah, let’s release nine tie-ins one week and then a single one the next week that spoils part of the end of the event. Someone decided that this story would have a few token Judgment Day elements grafted on and wind up being the series with the most tie-in issues despite barely having anything to do with the damn event. What, am I going to talk about fucking Omega Red and Deadpool like that has anything to do with what I’m writing about here? No, someone decided to slap a Judgment Day logo on this comic, stick it in the checklist, and get me to buy it because I decided to buy this entire event.

This has been one of the best events I’ve read in a long time when I’ve read comics written by Kieron Gillen, Al Ewing, and Si Spurrier. Thankfully, that makes up more than half of the entire event at 22 out of 37 comics (on the checklist – 59.5%, for the record). But, the other stuff has been solid to fun game to see how different interpretations of the Progenitor’s criteria works to insulting money grabs that cheapen the story the event is trying to tell and, quite frankly, the stories the creators are trying to tell. And those stick out like a sore thumb. And it detracts from the entire thing. It absolutely does.

But, it worked.

I gave them the money and they got what they wanted. As I’ve been saying since the beginning, them guys ain’t dumb.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Them Guys Ain’t Dumb 12 (Immortal X-Men #7, Death to the Mutants #3, AXE: Eternals #1, AXE: Iron Fist #1, Legion of X #6, Captain Marvel #42, Fantastic Four #48, Wolverine #25, and X-Force #32)

Somewhere during the reading of the three Judgment Day tie-ins that Kieron Gillen wrote and were released this week, I was stunned by the complexity of the narrative he is telling. It is absolutely stunning to see the various threads weave in and out of different comics, pulling together all of these characters. Most events have a variety of narrative threads that the writer must hold together, though I find that they’re usually left loose for others to pick up or cast aside when the time comes to focus on a specific, singular endpoint. Somehow, Gillen’s narrative for this event has grown more and more complex as it has gone on – and he hasn’t abandoned any elements, instead keeps adding new ones. I’m still trying to make sense of it all, to be honest.

Since issue five of Judgment Day, we’ve been fooled into thinking that this was a simple, straight forward story, as the tie-ins that take place after that issue focused entirely on the group inside the Progenitor, looking to shut it down. That’s a fairly simple and direct story. Last week also saw the addition of the Starfox one-shot, which didn’t seem like it was adding a lot to the larger narrative, more tying off a loose thread. This week’s issues put that interpretation into question by dramatically expanding the scope of what is occurring in the world outside of the Progenitor. I’ve contemplated trying to lay out the entire plot/put it into some sort of workable order and that seems tedious. It’s rather cool how much is just forming connections in your head based off what order you read the comics in and what stray lines you pick up on. More than past events, I think Judgment Day will reward rereading greatly.

Immortal X-Men #7 stunned me. It was not just the best comic of the event this week, it might stack up with one of my favourite Kieron Gillen-written comics. And it shouldn’t. If you look at it from afar, it is a frantic mess that covers a huge amount of plot ground in a manner that probably only makes complete sense if you’ve read the other comics it references/teleports into briefly. Yet, grounding it in Nightcrawler’s perspective – his determination and fierce humanity – adds a needed throughline to tie it all together. From a structural perspective, it’s fitting that this issue that jumps from Judgment Day #4 to Judgment Day #5 to Death to the Mutants #3, possibly all the way into Judgment Day #6 with stops in between is centred around a teleporter. It’s a nice bit of cohesiveness that you’d expect from Gillen the formalist; as Nightcrawler jumps from place to place, moment to moment, the issue similarly makes jumps.

Yet, what hit me harder was the dedication and determination of Kurt Wagner. If you didn’t think him a top-class superhero before, this is the issue that should push him near the top of your list. He is relentless in his efforts to propel himself and the rest of the planet towards survival – so much so that he dies. Again and again. And again. Oh, and, then, again and again and again. It’s tiring to see what he does in this issue – it’s inspiring that he somehow does it with optimism and joy. While there is an element of necessity to everything he does, that he has to do it or they will fail, there’s also a willingness that comes through; that, if there were several options for survival and him doing what he does was only one of them, he would be happy to volunteer. So big is his heart and his love for... everyone. That doesn’t always come out in happy-go-lucky quips. Sometimes, Nightcrawler is angry and brutal, yet it comes from a place of love and terror.

Part of me wants to give Gillen credit for not going heavy-handed with Kurt’s Catholicism. A lot of writers would be tempted, particularly in the way that Judgment Day is very much rooted in conceptions of a judgmental Old Testament-style God and Catholic guilt (the judgments are basically, do you feel guilty for betraying your own ideals?); instead, most of that is pushed aside as Kurt embodies his Christian ideals through his (seemingly) endless sacrifice. He offers up his life numerous times, putting himself in a position of total service for the good of his fellow people of Earth. And he inspires others, truly. His scene with Destiny stands out as a truly touching moment – and demonstrates the effect that a failing judgment has on some, as Destiny seems equally inspired by Kurt and her own failure/fear to proceed in crafting the plan to save the world.

Gillen wouldn’t have a chance of pulling this issue off without Lucas Werneck’s line art. Crisp and evocative, that art holds together the frantic pace of the issue, keeping things clear in time and space. I’ve enjoyed his art on Immortal X-Men to this point and this is the issue that cements his status as one of the best artists in comics. He draws one hell of a Nightcrawler, maintaining that needed look of joy and optimism that sells scenes and makes his words actually seem more than platitudes. The cheeky grin on his face as he falls to the ground with Destiny, followed by the warm smile as he extends his hand to her, offering to walk down the difficult path ahead with her... they’re different looks to convey different emotions and meanings despite being the same smiling face. Werneck shows the difficulty of Kurt’s sacrifices, his tireless work – and how close he is at times to breaking. The smile that never leaves his face in the final attempt to recruit Moira isn’t a show of optimism for anyone, it’s a deserved self-satisfaction with a plan that’s working and the hope that he genuinely feels for the future.

Kurt’s sacrifices and his religious faith in the future are contrasted with the sacrifices of Ikaris and Phastos in Death to the Mutants #3, and Ajak’s trial of faith in AXE: Eternals #1. While we see exactly why Sersi failed her judgment, the continued willingness of Ikaris to sacrifice for others, to try to be better hit me. Did he know that the Resurrection Engines were gone? Does it matter? While Phastos killed his friend to save his friend... it’s a key plot point and a small sacrifice, in a way. It’s also one of the more meaningful deaths I’ve come across in an event and, given the deaths we’ve seen so far, one of the few that may actually stick when all is said and done. The Machine has been our entry point throughout Gillen’s Eternals run, right up through Death to the Mutants and, by restarting The Machine, Phastos effectively kills that mind. The Machine lives on, but The Machine that we’ve known is gone.

The judgment of Ajak didn’t go how I thought it would. AXE: Eternals #1 is the final of three one-shots bridging the gap between issues five and six of Judgment Day, following the group that is inside the Progenitor. So far, we’ve seen Tony Stark pass judgment and realise that the trial didn’t actually end, while Jean Grey failed. In both cases, the judgment (as it has for the others written by Gillen) hinged upon how much they live up to their own morality, their own code of conduct. What are their ideals and their goals – do they actually stand by them or do they betray them? Do they feel guilt for lying to themselves? That is the only measure of objectivity that the Progenitor seems to possess and it’s been interesting to see it applied to different characters.

Just over halfway through the issue, the judgment hits a moment that should solidify how the rest of the issue (and judgment) plays out: Ajak, having killed every human whose life was taken to resurrect her, battles against the ghost of the Progenitor while justifying herself and her actions, ending by stating “I am many things, my god. But I am not a hypocrite.” The Progenitor-as-Makkari responds “Yes...” acknowledging that Ajak lives a life completely adhering to her personal beliefs, morals, goals, what have you. Unlike Makkari, she does not regret creating the Progenitor and, in adherence to her goals, she continues to seek to make it into the god that she believes it can and should be. By all rights, she should pass judgment.


It seems like the Progenitor is ready to fail Ajak, citing the consequences of her strict, fanatical faith. She created a god that will destroy everything, including her. Even it can see that that was a mistake and says, “There is faith... and there is too much faith.” To this point, the Progenitor didn’t judge the subjective morality of anyone, only how closely they lived up to their own closely held ideals. We know that the trial has not ended, that the Celestial still judges the planet, and that there is a larger plan in play that we don’t have the details of yet, so this could merely be an element of that – another deferral of judgment after we’ve seen it defer many before. Not at odds with that interpretation is that this is the beginning of the further growth of the Progenitor into the sort of god that Ajak believes it can become. It moves past its singular form of judgment to a more nuanced one when forced to finally judge its primary creator. This is a god that we know was created through an act of belief and that belief continues to shape it, mould it subtly and gradually. Thus far, this new god has been mostly viewed as a static creation, one set in stone – but some of its narration has suggested growth and change throughout the event – and few gods remain in a single place.

The primary question remains as we head towards issue six: what sort of god will the Progenitor be at the end of Judgment Day?


In this week’s glut of tie-ins, I found myself increasingly disappointed with the writers of them. The quality of the individual comics varied, but quality wasn’t what I found myself focusing on. No, what bothered me is how Kieron Gillen is the only writer to have the Progenitor fail a hero/protagonist of his comics. In fact, aside from one instance of a villain being failed in one tie-in, no writer explicitly failed any of their characters. To me, that’s a big failure to actively engage with this event in a truly meaningful way.

Let’s go back and look at the actual judgments, shall we? I’m skipping anything that didn’t have a definitive or deferred judgment or was written by Gillen, with one exception.

X-Men #14: Cyclops passes.

Avengers #60: Hawkeye passes.

Amazing Spider-Man #10: Spider-Man passes.

Fantastic Four #47-48: This is maybe the only contentious one as the end of issue 48 shows a thumbs up, possibly just for Reed Richards (it seems almost symbolic for the whole world, to be honest) and issue 47 has Reed narrate “So, if my family – my ordinary, extraordinary family – could be judged and come up wanting?” which could be read as either a hypothetical by Reed or a statement that the other three have already all failed. Given that the other three seem pretty unbothered by the whole Celestial judgment thing, treating it like any other world-ending threat, I’m interpreting it as they hadn’t yet received judgment and Reed was talking out his problem, proceeding on the idea that Earth would need to be saved from a being that could fail his family. The judgment at the end of issue 48 is also vague and not entirely consistent with the rest of the event. But, there are no definitive failures.

AXE: Iron Fist #1: Iron Fist and Loki both pass, while Iron Fist’s brother fails. We are not given enough context for Lin Feng’s failure. The two passes make sense as both characters show a lack of hypocrisy consistent with the judgments we’ve seen elsewhere, while the failure lacks any real context.

Captain Marvel #42: Captain Marvel, Lauri-Ell, and Chewie the cat all pass. This is a fine enough issue and has a bit of a clever conceit in following the cat around. The only moment that struck me as out of place with the event was when Chewie catches a mouse and the Progenitor-as-Carol following it around briefly gives it a thumbs down until it lets the mouse go.

Wolverine #24-25: Wolverine passes, other judgments are deferred/not shown.

Legion of X #6: Legion passes.

Marauders #6: We don’t know who passes or fails. Steve Orlando chose to engage with the process of healing and justification rather than the end result, which seems like a fair way to engage with the event. Although, Psylocke does explicitly get mentioned as passing, while Daiken theorises that he failed without it being confirmed.

The X-Men Red tie-ins featured no judgments except overlapping with Magneto’s passing in Judgment Day #4, while X-Force’s tie-ins haven’t had any judgments yet either, but still may next week.

Now, let’s contrast that with the various judgments that have occurred in Gillen’s titles:

Pass: Kro and the entire Deviant race, Phastos, Kitty Pryde, Thor, Ms. Marvel, Starbrand, Daniela, Dr. Doom, Jada, Miles Morales, Magneto, Ikaris, Iron Man, and (possibly) Ajak.

Fail: Captain America, Emma Frost, Destiny, Mystique, the Delphan Brothers, Makkari, Sally, Sebastian Shaw, Tom, Luke Cage, Katrina, Charles Xavier, Daredevil, Sersi, Eros/the world(?), and Jean Grey.

Plus many deferrals/non-judgments that also say something, I suppose. But, looking at those two lists, it’s a healthy mix of heroes, villains, civilians, and characters that feature heavily in the two regular titles that Gillen writes, Eternals and Immortal X-Men.

What makes the choices to pass all of the characters so frustrating is that the majority of the tie-ins by writers other than Gillen and Al Ewing take place between issues three and four of Judgment Day, focusing on that period of Celestial judgment. Some handle that judgment well, some less than well, some not at all... yet, overwhelmingly, whether the comic is good or bad, consistent with the Progenitor in Gillen’s books or not, the result is the same: everyone passes. We get one singular explicit failure of a character that’s meant to be the bad guy but lacks further context, one possible suggestion that three quarters of the Fantastic Four failed before maybe they all passed, and an issue that engages with the idea of the event by not delivering definitive judgments. There is a concerted effort throughout the tie-ins to engage with the Celestial judgment and the way that most use it is to blandly give a thumbs up to their characters. If you focus in on individual issues, the results seem justified and not a problem, but, taken as a whole, it points to the lack of editorial cohesion and overview that is needed to create a balance, unified event. The result, as a whole, is to further separate Gillen and his work from that of his peers – to further emphasis that, with a few exceptions, this event and its strengths are carried by him and his artistic collaborators with others either unwilling or unable to actually engage honestly with the true premise of the event.

How could no one want to tell the story of a character that fails and what that means aside from Gillen?

Soon after issue three, I had an idea that, at the end of the event, I’d go through and give every issue involved a pass/fail to see if the event, as a whole, passes. Since then, I’ve seen such a gulf expand between what Gillen and Ewing have been doing consistently throughout and what nearly every other writer involved has produced that it doesn’t seem fair. The event is a great one and happens to feature a host of bland, skippable tie-ins that add virtually nothing to it, like so many events of the past (and future). What tips things in favour of the good is that, along with the main series, Gillen wrote a large number of tie-ins, making it so he wrote nearly half of the total event himself. It’s easy to toss out the forgettable tie-ins when over half of the total event is incredibly high quality that actively adds to the story and themes.

If that sounds harsh, that’s because it’s meant to. Thanks to the quirks of scheduling, this week had nine Judgment Day tie-ins come out for a total of $37.91 USD (more in Canada!) and what became incredibly apparent is that, after reading the three written by Gillen and Legion of X #6, the remaining five were barely worth the time and money. I could have stopped there and gained the same amount of insight into Judgment Day as I did after reading the remaining five comics. More than half were completely skippable and... I don’t get it. I truly don’t understand the process that leads to this. Which is why I am dismissive and chalk it all up to efforts to get money for nothing, piggybacking off the event for a sales bump, and delivering little of consequence.

And I don’t mean in a plot sense. Legion of X #6 didn’t actually add a whole lot to the main event story. It mostly contributed some surrounding details for the plots of X-Men Red #5-7, which itself carved out a nice little slice of the main event for itself. These are comics whose primary focus is their own characters and advancing their own stories using the event and, in the process, manage to enrich and deepen the event. It’s not just “Hey, what happened on Arakko?” Legion of X #6 adds extra depth to the efforts of Nightcrawler in Immortal X-Men #7 without directly commenting upon them. The X-Men Red issues, yes, expand upon Uranos’s attack, but quickly sidestep that to focus on its own characters and the fallout of that attack, positioning Magneto and Storm into their position to act in Judgment Day #4 and, then, deal with those consequences. These comics engage with the event, both in how they can affect it, but also in how it affects them. X-Men Red, in particular, veers in an out of connecting actively with Judgment Day, almost like a line on a graph that moves towards, away, and overlaps with the mean. Marauders #6 also felt like a tie-in that tried to genuinely apply the ideas of Judgment Day to itself and how that could impact its characters and story going forward.

The other tie-ins took a superficial element of the story, did an issue or two featuring it, and it feels like it meant nothing. Not really. They were issue(s)-long versions of single panels from Judgment Day #4, except less consistent or intellectually curious.

And we still have one tie-in left to go before we get to the finale of this event.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Them Guys Ain’t Dumb 11 (AXE: X-Men #1, AXE: Starfox #1, and X-Men Red #7)

Why does Jean fail and Tony pass?

It’s actually not that complicated or difficult: because Tony is not a hypocrite. He’s an egotistical shit whose solutions constantly cause new and bigger problems, and he knows it. Does he regret some decisions he’s made? Yeah. Put in the same situation, would he do the same things again? Yeah. His goal, in moving forward, is to be better and be equipped to make better decisions that maybe won’t have as terrible of unintended consequences. He’s only as good as his current level of intelligence and store of information, and he knows it. He keeps building better machines to solve problems, hoping to build one good enough. It’s a little crazy; it’s also honest.

Jean fails because she is the Phoenix and she denies what the Phoenix is. She is content to use the power of the Phoenix for her purposes, while regretting the insatiable destructive power that comes with it. Once, she destroyed a whole world as the Phoenix and she’s been trying to make up for it ever since. She denies it was her... even though it was. She is the Phoenix, yet positions it as a separate being where, when she does something good with the power, it’s her, but, when she does something bad, it was the Phoenix. There is no acceptance of this other part of her; she is divided and she is a hypocrite.

The most important panel of Jean’s interaction with the Progenitor comes after she tries to argue that all of the good she has done, the worlds she has saved, must make up for the destruction of that one. The Progenitor says in response, “Your friends would have saved those worlds without you. And they have not burned any,” while her expression has the horror of realisation, drawn perfectly by Francesco Mobili and Frank Martin. It’s a harsh judgment and moment of clarity for Jean – yes, she’s done good with the X-Men, but she was never essential that good being accomplished by the X-Men. If they would have succeeded without her, did she actually accomplish any sort of penance?

Now, that the Celestial gives a specific answer to that question (no) doesn’t mean it’s the right answer. Obviously Kieron Gillen isn’t arrogant enough to think himself capable of solving complex moral quandaries like this – and, if he were, I’d hope he would put those skills to better use than superhero comics – the answer given is one that fits within the moral framework of the Progenitor. The problem isn’t that she can’t make up for destroying that world; the problem is that she tries. She thinks herself somehow above violence and killing, yet is bonded to an elemental cosmic force whose very nature is rooted in destruction and rebirth. The nature of the Phoenix is to destroy and she fights against that, regretting an act of largescale destruction, never investigating the other half of the equation.

Judgment Day is, as Dave Buesing (the proprietor of Comic Book Herald) tossed off on Twitter last week, a similar event to Original Sin. That was an event about revealing hidden truths, while this is one about revealing the hidden motives, goals, and contradictions of characters. Who is honest with themself about who they are, what they are doing, and why? Captain America thinks himself an inspiration for good upon a world power as it sinks further and further in decay and corruption, bringing the world down with it. Cyclops thinks himself the leader of the X-Men. Tony Stark thinks himself a genius problem solver who can’t escape creating new problems with his solution. Jean Grey thinks herself a loving, peaceful woman who is separate from the Phoenix.

“You are the Phoenix, now and forever.”

When the Progenitor says “justify yourself,” it means justify yourself to yourself while it shines a light on the truth. Who are you really, at your core, and can you justify that person to yourself and your self-image? That doesn’t mean the ‘real’ you is good or moral or worthy... it’s just the true version of yourself. Is the version of Jean Grey that tries to do good and ‘make up for’ the destruction of the Phoenix a good force in the world? It seems so. Would a version of her where she fully embraces the Phoenix be a good force in the world? There’s a definite possibility that it would not. That’s not what the Progenitor cares about. Is Jean Grey honest with herself about who she is as the Phoenix? No, she is not. So, she fails.

This approach to an event is different from what we’re used to. The death and destruction of the event so far is par for the course. The idea that ‘nothing will be the same’ is similarly the norm (though, as we all have access to post-Judgment Day solicitations, we know that to be the usual bit of fibbing... not that I’ve seen anyone actually promise that for this event now that I think about it). It is an event of revelation about these characters and where it goes from here is anyone’s guess. Will it change the characters moving forward? It doesn’t have to. Having your soul laid bare before a god and revealed a hypocrite may inspire change, though I’m not sure anyone would be surprised if it didn’t. For a lot of people, it may invoke a deep sense of shame that they do their best to ignore while they resume their normal lives. I’m sure there will be plot consequences from Judgment Day; I see the potential for character consequences that deeply affect some moving forward. The event is a brief moment of clarity to take a good look at these characters and who they are at their cores, and it will be interesting to see if any realign and change based on this.

AXE: Starfox #1 seeks to tackle this idea head-on. Eros spends the first half of the issue detailing his history (as he sees it) and he doesn’t seem to really know which version of himself is the ‘true’ one. I do think it’s telling that Gillen explicitly ignores Jim Starlin’s recent trilogy of graphic novels with Alan Davis and Mark Farmer where the creator of the character finally did something substantial with him. Starlin reframed Eros as a sociopath to complement Thanos the psychopath, dove into his somewhat solipsistic worldview and recast him as a ‘unique being’ ala Thanos and Adam Warlock. The trilogy also seemed to end with the complete, final death of Thanos, and has been pretty much ignored ever since. That the first large statement by Eros’s creator on who the character truly is has basically been deemed out of continuity and ignored is impossible to ignore within the context of this event.

Eros has not officially had judgment passed upon himself. Unofficially, it was his appeal to the Progenitor of the hope of change and needing more time that prompted the final judgment. “One day” is always in the future, some distant horizon, one that Gillen recasts as that endlessly elusive place for Eros to return to, a demonstration that his parents’ goals to create a new Eternal were worthwhile. Except, of course, by avoiding that fate, all he did was prove the opposite. Thanos was a genocidal maniac, while he was a “moderately successful adventurer.” Up until this point, that has been the real Eros. Here, he distinguishes between Eros and Starfox, like the latter was a role that Eros played when, if it’s who you’ve chosen to be for the majority of your life, is it a role? That he sees it as different, separate from himself is the hypocrisy teased out in this event. He wants to be something more and his actions have shown him doing that thing where a character is revamped by a clever writer and artist with an updated look, attitude, mindset, inventive use of powers... maybe it will stick. Maybe change is possible.

Reading the Eros in Judgment Day so far, I’ve yet to be convinced. Whether it’s Gillen not completely comfortable with the character in this new mould or if it’s a purposeful element of the character as he’s embracing a new delusion, I can’t say for certain yet. We haven’t seen enough of this ‘new’ Eros to know if it’s going to stick or not. His fight with Zuras has Eros arguing for change through a return to the status quo, which is certainly a fun idea to just toss out there. If the Eternals are to change and progress, then they need the same leader that they’ve had for millennia. It reads to me like a stall for time, which it very much is.

I read and reread AXE: Starfox #1 and I’m more and more convinced that we’re getting a preview of the self-delusion of those who are going to run from their true selves after this event. Eros is Starfox, a sociopathic moderately successful adventurer who found himself in a position where he needed to adapt to the most likely version of himself that could let him return to his true self. The freewheeling Starfox would never have gotten out of the Exclusion, so he invented a serious form of Eros that could appeal to the Eternals... one that turned out to be perfectly suited for the crisis at hand. The slick, charming sociopath is always there. It’s not a coincidence that Eros says he wants to inspire and the first failure we saw was Captain America for the very same self-view.

The more I think about it, the more I think that it seems like Gillen is ignoring Starlin’s recent interpretation of the character because Eros is ignoring it. When the Progenitor failed the people of Earth, it was a judgment of Eros – and by association, the people that chose to have him speak on their behalf, deluding themselves into thinking that Starfox could be their saviour.

That’s why the judgments continue...

Next: nine, count ‘em, nine Judgment Day tie-ins.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Them Guys Ain’t Dumb 10 (AXE: Avengers #1 and Amazing Spider-Man #10)

Another tie-in written by a writer not named Kieron Gillen and yet another variation on the Progenitor’s judgment process. As we continue further into Judgment Day and the inclusion of comics by folks other than Gillen, we’re seeing that few of them adhere to the style of judgment we’ve seen in both the main series and the tie-ins by Gillen, generally. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re departing from Gillen or his ideas of what the Celestial judgments are like. That each writer has, so far, done something different suggests that there are no set in stone specific guidelines for the judgments.

This week, Zeb Wells’s version of the judgment in Amazing Spider-Man #10 is both good and bad. The good is that a silent embodiment of the Progenitor following Peter Parker around all day is quite fitting for the character. It’s the personification of the guilt that he walks around with all of the time that drives him to be better and do the right thing. You can question the form taken by the Progenitor (as Tegan O’Neil pointed out on Twitter, Peter coming to grips with the ghost of Gwen Stacy has been so overdone that it’s virtually meaningless, particularly when an alternate reality version of the character is a frequent supporting player in his life), but the way it plays out actually ties into the idea that each judgment is tailor-made to the person being judged – and the criteria often seems self-imposed. So, Peter walking around all day face to face with his own guilt as it silently judges him just works for me.

Where Wells goes off track is in the application of this form to all of the characters we see throughout Peter’s day. In the case of Kamala, it actively contradicts her judgment in Judgment Day #4 (one of the rare factual contradictions in the event thus far). The application of that guilt that hangs over a person’s head applied to everyone is interesting conceptually, yet out of place within the framework of the event (as much as it is about guilt). Quite frankly, it lessens Peter’s judgment for us when we see others having identical versions. The point is that he is this person so wrapped up in guilt and carrying the weight of the world around that this is the only way that the Progenitor could judge him.

Taken in isolation, I’m tempted to say that the revelation that May finds comfort in the Progenitor taking the form of Ben. It’s a sweet moment – which is its purpose in this specific comic. Within the framework of the event, it falls apart a little. While the Progenitor’s judgment has brought relief to some like the Deviants, we’ve also seen (or told) Kitty Pryde pass and face lingering effects from the experience. Even when you pass, the experience can be incredibly unnerving to be judged by a god-like being. That everyone’s judgment is unique and different makes it difficult to definitively point at that moment and shout “Wrong!” All I can really offer is that is another example of a writer choosing what works for their comic over what works for the event as a whole, a choice that’s hard to criticise too harshly, particularly when it’s a fairly minor detail.

(One scene that I struggled with and has no impact on the event is the J. Jonah Jameson one where he’s a panicked guilt-stricken man trying to frantically make amends before he is judged/the world ends. I get the scene and the reason it’s here... it doesn’t ring true, for me. I have no doubt that JJJ feels guilt over certain things he did; I doubt that he would act like this to avoid judgment. I find it far more likely that he would double down and try to justify his actions and the reasons for them even while acknowledging that he regrets doing them. But, like I said, that’s a personal view of the character and... well, he did it in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man published by Marvel, so I’m factually in the wrong there. I can’t really say he wouldn’t do that, because he did, officially. Doesn’t mean I have to like it...)

The two issues this week feature judgments of characters who are far harder on themselves than anyone else would ever be. Both Peter Parker and Tony Stark walk around trying to be better because they think they’ve failed so much. I’d argue that Tony’s view of himself is a little (lot) more justified than Peter’s. AXE: Avengers #1 gives a fairly convincing case for why Tony Stark is a piece of shit, pulling in as many nasty details from his past as possible to point out how consistently he’s failed or done the wrong thing despite good intentions. But, like Peter, he keeps going and keeps trying to make things better. I’m not sure that I completely agree with that final thumbs up, though there are different ways to view a person who keeps fucking up yet doesn’t give up. At first, the Progenitor implies that the problem is that Tony never actually changes his methodology and winds up making the same mistakes; but, later, the emphasis is on the fact that he doesn’t give up. It’s hard to reconcile those two viewpoints.

What seems to make the biggest difference is that, if you asked Tony, he would say he failed. And then say that doesn’t matter, because the problem still exists and he’s going to do what he can to solve it. Tony is a man of science, which means trial and error. Science involves a lot of failure before you find success. As he says, he’s not the strongest... what does he bring to the table when it comes time to save the day? He brings his mind and his science. He can’t avoid getting it wrong, because, until he tries, he doesn’t know if it will work. The Progenitor was an effort to stop the war between the Eternals and the mutants of Krakoa and what’s been lost in the shuffle is this:

That plan worked.

The creation of the Progenitor stopped that war. Tony and company succeeded in their stated goal. Side effects and unintended consequences are a son of a bitch, though. That’s where Tony’s ‘failures’ usually come from: his successes. He solves problems and those solutions create new problems and, then, he solves those, too. He doesn’t give up.

And, for the record, the judgment that Tony goes through here is unlike others we’ve seen from Gillen previously. That could be because Tony is inside the Progenitor or because it’s different, there’s no set form. I’m curious to know what Gillen’s outline/guiding document actually says about these judgments given the variety we’ve seen so far – and the variety we’re bound to continue to see over the next two weeks.