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.