SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Avengers vs. X-Men #4A comic review article by: Chris Kiser, Shawn Hill, Jamil Scalese
Chris: While the three of us convene biweekly to chat rather cognitive dissonantly about each issue of Avengers vs. X-Men, our strikingly handsome and intelligent editor Danny Djeljosevic (whom I would never dream of brown nosing to) is choosing to follow the story only through the tie-in books that he already reads. It's a perfectly reasonable way to enjoy a big story like this, one that, given how horrible most of Marvel's recent event books have actually been, I actually employed myself during Siege and Fear Itself. And as of last issue, it certainly seemed like AvX was setting up those tie-in books quite nicely, splitting up the main cast across the Marvel U's hottest fictional vacation destinations on a wild goose chase for this year's Miss Teen Phoenix pageant winner Hope Summers.
Except that, well, by the second page of AvX #4, the issue of the main series that runs parallel to all those skirmishes across the fake globe, Marvel decides it's not even gonna pretend that those little side adventures matter. Oh, sure, we'll get several pages worth of tiny look-ins to those events, but only after we learn exactly where Hope is hiding and that her stabby romp with Wolverine is where the real action is. In your so-perfectly-chiseled-it-would-put-Chris-Hemsworth-to-shame face, Danny!
Shawn: You are so right, Danny is gorgeous, but I mean about the comic, too! Everything that matters in this issue happened in the first two or last five pages. Sure, it's nice to know Emma and Scott think they can manipulate everything, and that Hope herself has a more rational way of dealing with Wolverine than any evinced so far (including by herself, though I guess incinerating him was just the Phoenix getting back at him for always stabbing its hosts so much), but do you really send Thor on a "suicide mission?" It just seems silly, droning on and on about it, when you're obviously not going to kill off all the space farers.
Of all the Marvel Architects, Hickman is probably the one who leaves me the most nonplussed. I've never understood a panel of his Fantastic Four, hated his Ultimate Hawkeye and found his Ultimate Ultimates as uninspired as the rest of the line (save Spider-Man, as usual). So I'm actually surprised to have understood this issue, but wasn't drawn to it past the Jack London opening.
Jamil: You two are totally misrepresenting Danny. He's not just the prettiest guy at CB, he's also the most stalwart and suave. That guy absolutely commands respect soon as he walks in the room, and I include the Internet as one big room.
I actually thought the opening and closing of this issue were sizzling, and two of the more tense scenes of the entire event. But, as Chris alluded to, everything in-between is just a jumblefuck of repositioning and minor recapping. I mentioned in our review of #3 that the Avengers deployment to the five different Marvel landmarks were likely positioning for more fights in the tie-in books, but within 20 pages that was undone. Confusing. Why does it sometimes feel like AvX: Versus is the more important book?
Chris: It's not so much that the round-the-world missions get "undone" that bothers me here (the plot had to advance somehow), but rather it's the order in which information in this issue is delivered that neuters a large chunk of it. By revealing Hope's position and strategy in the very first scene, Hickman merely underscores the fact that all of this week's Avengers vs. X-Men fights were rigged up just to give other writers a framework for the stories in their tie-in books.
It's a real shame, because, as Jamil said, I think Hickman writes some of the best moments that AvX has seen to date. Emma commandeering the "weakest of minds" at the Jean Grey School? Hope and Wolverine boosting a spaceship just so they can put some distance between the Phoenix and 6.5 billion innocents on planet Earth? Loved 'em. And let's admit that Hickman didn't have the easiest of tasks having to put this thing together. There had to be some kind of cutaway scene to break up the various beats of the Hope/Wolvie "A" story, and who can really blame him for wanting to lead in with an image that no doubt had him audibly giggling as he emailed it over to John Romita -- Wolverine walking around with a polar bear corpse strapped to his back, drinking beer. Even so, some rearranging could have made this a four-star issue, but instead we're all giving it a three.
I guess what I'm saying is that they can't all be Djeljosevics when it comes to tight plotting. Seriously, have you guys read The Ghost Engine?
Jamil: The polar bear coat is one of the best things I've seen in the last few Marvel events. Wolverine continues to be the battery for this thing, and one of the most compelling players. Who thought in the span of one issue he'd ally himself with Hope and double-cross her for the same guy who betrayed him the issue before?
Shawn: If this is where they were going all along (and I admit never being able to pass up a trip to the moon's Blue Area, and even that Hickman is its proper custodian at this point) , I think they should have found a better way of getting there. Like how about even the slight chance of finding Hope at any of those locales so meticulously laid out on the info page/role call. Weird scenes of sighting her (or a Phoenix-after-image, etc.) all around the world? If she's the Macguffin everyone should be looking for, shouldn't they have come close at least once or twice? Instead, she's gone from glowing with excess power and incinerating people (who just happen to have a healing factor) to building hidden tech and commandeering a rocket to the moon? Not to mention raiding the liquor store with her false ID.
And if Logan was going to be this reasonable, then shouldn't he have been beered up by Cap before they ever got on the heli-carrier? Hasn't he learned yet that the Phoenix cannot be "snikted?" It didn't work when he stabbed Rachel (then Spiral fixed her I think), and it never really worked on Jean either. Do you see what I mean about not being able to connect the dots when Hickman is writing? These aren't the same two characters from the first issue.
Jamil: In the same vein: wouldn't Hope just absorb Logan's healing factor, rendering his stabby-hands useless? Who hasn't thought these paths out their logical conclusions, the characters or the creators?
With the odd pacing, and a lot of snippets of places and scenes that really don't matter (how many times do I need to see Thing and Namor fight?) I really enjoyed the small plot reveals and nods toward the future of AvX. The previous three issues had some spectacular moments for the individual characters, but Hickman highlights story clues and it's refreshing. My particular favorite is the reveal Iron Man is attempting to build a "Phoenix-Killer" machine, which nods to a "Plan B" and an actual pragmatic solution to the overarching problem to the all-powerful cosmic force.
Other plot points I enjoyed are Hope's formulating, and letting the reader in on her plan and the aforementioned Wolverine switch-up double-cross. Bit by bit there is promise that this bland concept will up the stakes, hopefully increasing the intrigue to The Ghost Engine-type levels.
Chris: I personally found the moonside double-cross to be rather cheap, as Wolverine's compromise with Hope was the first reasonable and levelheaded thing I've seen one of the Big Three characters do since AvX began. But I can better live with it -- and possibly put to rest the misgivings you two had -- if I assume that Logan had a change of heart after considering the reality of having to put a fully-Phoenixed Hope down. Hickman would have done well to connect those dots himself, though it doesn't take a No-Prize winner to make it all work logically.
I was sad to see that this issue features the return of the sloppy Romita and Scott Hanna art team from issues #1 and #2. At least one panel in the Wakanda scene involves some physics-bending character positioning, and more than once Colossus's head doesn't look like it's screwed on right underneath that Juggernaut dome helmet. But the most awkward visual moment of all comes when Thor faces off against the Phoenix Force in outer space. Unless Hickman's script called for the Phoenix to react to Thor's hammer throw by crapping out some kind of world-destroying fire turd, then I'm not sure exactly what action is taking place here.
Shawn: I thought it was turning that planetoid into a giant Eye of Agamotto. Which means I had no clue either. But I'm guessing it ate the little planet in order to power up. Also I sort of got that everyone was floating in space in defeat (and liked the silence of the sequence), but Ms. Marvel's fetal position especially was sort of weird. However, I do think JRJR did some good work with facial expressions and small details, like Emma's pleasurable mind control. On the last page, Magik is the only one who looks happy about the impending threat.
Jamil: Loads of weird little visuals break up a decent issue by Romita Jr. and co. Like, what's up with those beer cans literally sticking to Wolverine on page 2? Are they falling out his hands? Why was he carrying them all? I have to give it up to Logan for being so green in a place where no one lives and in a time when he has bigger concerns.
The space scene, while beautiful in some aspects, doesn't tell me anything. Sure, it implies the away team failed, but we all knew they would. What exactly happened when Thor hit Phoenix with his hammer? It looked like it took a pee all over a nearby planet and made it explode. The various battle scenes are invariably hot and cold. We questioned it before -- why did they pick JRJR for an extremely action heavy series? While his Captain America/Wolverine scene from last issue was on point, that certainly had a lot more care and thought then what's going on in Wakanda, the Savage Land, et all.
Chris: Quite enjoyable in parts, the technical shortcomings of AvX #4 just avalanched too much for any of us to give it more than a middle-positive review. Perhaps more importantly, however, on an overall story level the series really has begun to deliver, especially to those with an affinity for the Marvel U. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next, which won't be for another three weeks this time around.
Comics ain't cheap these days, though, and with two-thirds of the series still to go, maybe now would be a good time to ask our old pal Danny for a raise. Wait, what do you mean we aren't getting paid for this? Gah! I take back everything I said.
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.