SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Avengers vs. X-Men #1A comic review article by: Chris Kiser, Shawn Hill, Jamil Scalese
Chris: Welcome back, Comics Bulletin readers! I hope everyone enjoyed our trio's review of Avengers vs. X-Men #0 last week, or as I like to call it, "Prelude to Avengers vs. X-Men #1 Review, Subtitle: The real Sunday Slugfest starts here!" But as much fun as that exercise was, it ultimately boiled down to the three of us agreeing to hold judgment until the series' proper debut, which happens here in the first AvX issue numbered with a positive integer. Lace up your boots good and tight, fellas, 'cause this is where your opinions actually count!
Despite the 200,000-plus copies Marvel shipped to stores, I have to think that a fair number of readers are coming to this issue with a jaded sense of reluctance. How else could you approach a comic that so blatantly props itself up on a foundation of recycled story matter? The two main legs of the plot -- the arrival of the Phoenix Force on Earth and superheroes fighting each other -- were the hallmarks of some previous Marvel fare you might have heard of, "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and Civil War, respectively. Of course, stories in this genre borrow from the past all the time, and the success of AvX is really a matter of whether its talented but crowded writing staff can come up with a good reason for dragging these old tropes down from the attic. I'm not totally convinced they've done that, but what do you guys say?
Shawn: Well, I didn't withhold judgment, I liked AvX #0, but I like AvX #1 even better. Just to geek out for a second, did you see Cyclops get all up in Captain America's face? That was awesome!
It's funny you should mention Civil War, because that series also came to mind for me reading this. Except this time, Tony and Steve were on the same side, where they belong, and the reason for the uncivil disagreement breaks along much clearer ideological lines. Cyclops feels threatened, and desperate, and driven to act. He has no trust for Captain America, who comes off in this case like a big bully. Cap of course considers himself acting for the greater good (which he didn't think the Initiative or Tony represented back in the day), but Scott has no reason to trust his authority.
And instead of the trumped up instigator of that past conflict (Nitro blowing everyone up for no reason, bye-bye New Warriors), we have a more credible threat. The Phoenix is coming, and we don't know what it wants, aside from something to do with Hope, the poster child for her own name as far as mutants are concerned. I did like that Emma kept asserting, quietly, that Hope has a choice in this scenario. Even though it's pretty clear she doesn't.
Jamil: I'm surprisingly satisfied with what I read, even if I felt like I read it before. I'm still amazed at Marvel's bravado in revolving a major event around such a thin concept. As you guys said, this carries hints of previous crossovers, almost to the point of feeling like motif. I will even go as far as point out a similar theme in Fear Itself, where Thor comments on how the gods (comics) are slaves to their "cycles and refrains." Is an intended point of AvX to lull us into a place of comfort to later shock us out of it? I wonder why you would need 12 issues to tell this story.
I do agree with you Shawn, this feels a little more natural than Civil War, and it's pretty cool we get to the cusp of the titular conflict by the end of the issue. We also agree that the Cyke/Cap scene was absolutely badass, and in fact this issue had a lot of great dialogue, which normally means Bendis is at the top of his game.
Chris: Looks like I'll be writing the dissenting opinion here. I didn't feel won over by the setup for the big conflict, mostly because it felt rather vague and undefined for me. Keeping with Civil War as the standard bearer -- because that's really the most natural comparison -- that book divided the heroes amongst an easily digestible ideological rift, one that touched upon the actual post-9/11 debate of the state's proper role in maintaining public security. In Avengers vs. X-Men, everything is driven by instinct and speculation. Captain America and Iron Man, who must've been reading the Bleeding Cool message boards or something, are pretty sure the Phoenix is going to possess Hope Summers, while Cyclops, obviously a fan of Geoff Johns' DC work, just knows deep down that the Phoenix was always meant to bring about the rebirth of the mutant people. This is where a better issue #0, one solely devoted to contextualizing the brewing super-battle in terms of Marvel history, could have served a valuable purpose.
That said, I do think this issue does a fine job of establishing the Phoenix as a force to be reckoned with. Even if you knew nothing of Chris Claremont's prior story, you can tell by the way each character reacts to the Phoenix's very mention that she's a pretty big deal. That's where the scene between Cap and Wolverine -- my favorite in the book -- is particularly effective. By the way Romita draws Wolvie's tilted head and sad, concerned eyes, you can virtually hear the hushed tones in which he's speaking.
Shawn: My feeling is the number of issues will be used because of the sheer number of cast members in all those big battle posters they've been using to advertise this thing. If we go by this issue, each character is going to get their beat, and each is going to react in their own unique ways. Maybe that's something they've actually learned from Civil War (where most of the best character work was done in adjunct titles and tie-ins rather than in the plot-heavy slog of the core issues), to let their characters speak for themselves. That's something that the idea of multiple authors (rather than one monolithic voice) makes me hopeful about. And maybe that's the way to get around the generic plot motifs, as the fresh thing is we haven't seen Hope or Wanda deal directly with Phoenix yet, or at a time when mutants are so downtrodden and ideologically divided.
I also want to give credit to JRJR, who's doing a really solid job on this issue. He knows these characters completely, so everyone is fully themselves, and their moves and body language fit their words. I think I probably prefer him on the X-Men to the Avengers, but he's a solid storyteller who doesn't go in for an overload of splash pages or static poses.
Jamil: I actually thought plenty happened in the first issue. This is a 12-issue series, and while I think it's safe to assume that later acts and twists will expand this beyond two teams of heroes fighting (any bets on which will be the "let's stop fighting and team up, there's a bigger threat at hand!" issue?), I thought Bendis laid out the central conflict and the main players fairly quickly.
The central conflict is kind of vague, but I feel like that's part of the point. If you're looking for a contemporary allegory, maybe WMDs are a close comparison. Was the U.S. government sure Iraq had nuclear weapons? No, but they deemed action was necessary just in case. A "better safe than sorry" approach that I think Cap and the Avengers are adopting. On the other side the X-Men are protecting their interests, making sure they will be able to control of a weapon/force that will put them back on the track of being major players in the world. Although, I do have to admit both Steve and Scott seem to have no idea what step two is, even if they get their way.
I thought Romita Jr. did a damn fine job on this issue, but there are a couple occurrences of inconsistency that bother me. But, overall, I agree totally when you say he captured the diverse cast very well, Shawn. A particularly favorite moment of mine is Namor's smile when he realizes that Captain America and Cyclops are about to throw down. Oh, and that last double page spread, with the Avengers lined up on the Helicarrier. That has me geeked up for the next installment, for sure.
Chris: Good call on the WMD parallel, Jamil, as that was something I completely missed. Possibly because of the implication it holds for whom Cyclops and the X-Men are being cast as. I suppose this is merely the next step in the moral decline Cyke has been on since Schism, where he's increasingly willing to sell out anything and anyone for the sake of his own little group's advantage. If Bendis and company mean for AvX to be a war between two sides with equal justification for their actions, I'd say they've so far failed, but if the intent is to complete the X-Men's transformation into something genuinely worth being hated and feared, then they're right on track.
I mentioned Romita's good work in the dialogue-focused Wolverine scene, but I don't think he ought to be considered the go-to for grand scale action sequences with lots of characters like the one that opens the book. It's why I'll take him anytime on Amazing Spider-Man but never warmed up to him as the artist on Avengers. When a beaten-up Nova crashes into an airplane and the Chrysler Building on his way to earth, it's anyone's guess as to what's happening as the Avengers try to minimize the damage. Basically, we get three pages of a Looney Toons-style dust cloud, until everything finally settles down and we get some easier-to-follow talking.
Shawn: Wow. Where to begin? I'm going to have to get organized concerning my apparently extreme takes on three points you two bring up.
1) The "WMD parallel": Jamil, you can't seriously think the imaginary WMDs in Iraq compare to the "real" threat of the Phoenix for 616 Earth? Bush knew there were no WMDs to be found (as did most everyone in power at the time); he just needed an excuse to impose America's agenda on a foreign power. I don't think there is a contemporary allegory for this part of the story, at least not regarding the Macguffin that the Phoenix Force always is. The allegory I see relates to point 2, below.
2) The moral Justification of either side: Chris, you sound like you've lost all sympathy for Cyclops already. I see him as a minority champion. He's part of a maligned underclass fighting for survival. From my perspective, Cap and Tony are the 1%, and Scott and his side of the Schism are Occupy Utopia. This is hardly as arbitrary and unpredictable as the two sides of Civil War (which was an artificial distinction at best, as everyone wanted heroes to keep being heroes); for the simple reason that it's not a fair fight to begin with. What did Scott do besides refuse to turn a juvenile family member over to a government official?
3) Romita Jr.'s action scenes: I agree, he's not as good at those. I always found him kind of a weird fit for Thor stories, too, as his giant Celestials and alien kingdoms often lack definition. But I think he's bringing his A-game nonetheless. This issue, for example, when Ms. Marvel says she's going to need help as the seeming asteroids hit Manhattan, I couldn't tell what she was doing at first. Then I saw her catch the Empire State tower and keep it from crashing to the street. The scene where Spidey's webbing captures all the bodies plummeting from the building like a trapeze net was actually pretty cool, in fact.
Jamil: I didn't mean to compare Cyclops to Saddam Hussein -- my bad. I still feel like it's a decent comparison though. Iran works better in the analogy. The Avengers are the established power, the X-Men represent a small, influential nation, and they come to blows over a destructive force or a beneficial tool, depending how which side you ask. Still, I doubt this is the intended allegory, I mean it's so last decade.
The constant minority status of the X-Men repels me from reading a bunch of X-books, and why I loved the three word sentence that got rid of most of them. They make for some interesting and extremely compelling individuals, but the Children of the Atom have run the "hated minority group" concept into the ground. I understand that it's part of the core appeal, and there will always be a real-life group that they can represent, it's just a bit whiny to me. Hey, you shoot lasers and have steel for skin. Get over it, Mutants!
So, yeah, I'm definitely on the Avengers side. On a similar note, I was on the Pro-Registration side for Civil War. My political and personal leanings are on the other side of the ideals those respective two groups represent, but I loved the conflict they set up. Comics are a little too liberal, and throwing a righty in there every once in awhile makes for delicious tension and good reading.
So maybe that's what this is about. Two sides that are generally work for the greater good bickering and puffing their chest out over a complicated subject instead of trying to figure out how to solve it amiably. Sounds a bit familiar, eh?
Shawn: That is just your particular perversity, Jamil. You say you personally don't agree with the Avengers now or the Pro-Reg side of Civil War then, but you enjoyed seeing the opposition put through its paces. I think this conflict is interesting because neither side is really wrong this time. The Phoenix is a big world-threatening calamity, but Hope is a real person who should be able to choose her own fate without her liberty being curtailed.
I'm not disturbed by how everyone just seems to already know what their stance is; I think this is pretty basic Marvel ideology, that Cap wants to protect everyone, that Scott is on the defensive, that Wolverine is worried about the children, etc. I like the nuances I'm seeing, such as Emma's look of regret when Scott takes the first shot. But I guess it ultimately is about taking sides … they asked me which I preferred in my LCS, actually (Team Avengers got free buttons!), and I said I was on the side of the Phoenix. But that was just to be difficult. I haven't decided yet.
Chris: As with many superhero tales, there's evidently plenty of fodder here for meaningful discussion. I just wish the book itself had managed to be that interesting.
Jamil: Agreed, Chris. To me, it's a fine start, but things better start getting weird because I don't think the watered-down concept will be able to hold my interest for another half-dozen issues, let alone another eleven. Why is this series so long? Is it necessary for the story the Architects want to tell, or is it make a few extra dollars? I mean, shit, they already have a sister series that just features major players punching each other in the face, so this thing better be chock full of plot and character work. I don't even care if this thing even has a deeper theme or motif, just make it good, Marvel!
Follow along with Avengers vs. X-Men by checking out the rest of our AvX reviews:
- Avengers vs. X-Men #0
- Avengers vs. X-Men #1
- Avengers vs. X-Men #2
- Avengers vs. X-Men #3
- Avengers vs. X-Men #4
- Avengers vs. X-Men #5
- Avengers vs. X-Men #6
- Avengers vs. X-Men #7
- Avengers vs. X-Men #8
- Avengers vs. X-Men #9
- Avengers vs. X-Men #10
- Avengers vs. X-Men #11
- Avengers vs. X-Men #12
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.
Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.