SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Avengers vs. X-Men #7A comic review article by: Chris Kiser, Shawn Hill, Jamil Scalese
Chris: Issue-by-issue reviewing of event comics is a turbulent ride, ain't it, fellas? If my Summer 2011 as CB's designated Flashpoint marathoner taught me nothing else, it was that. The task is an often brutal slog through filler and overwrought drama in search of that little spark that'll let you announce to everyone that the hype was all worth it and mainstream comics have been saved at last. And, boy, we were sure we'd found it with this one, weren't we? Two weeks following the nonstop high-fiving-each-other-through-the-computer rave session that was our AvX #6 Slugfest, the hand print is only now beginning to fade from my laptop monitor.
But if you can count on the Marvel Architects this year for anything, it's in their ability to make eager-eyed pontificators like yours truly look like total chumps. Plainly stated, Avengers vs. X-Men #7 was a real let down after the greatness of the prior issue. If there's a reader out there who is actually taking a cue from the three of us on what comics to buy, then we sure screwed him over with all that stuff we said last time. It's like if you were telling your buddy how great Battlestar Galactica was, and he finally watches it and it's the one where Apollo's sleeping with that hooker and getting all nostalgic for that dead girlfriend of his you've never heard of. Whoops!
Shawn: I can't wait to hear where you think it went astray, Chris. Because for me, this issue was the logical next step of the previous one, and the culmination of what it means to have not one but five Phoenixes messing around with the Marvel universe. The fact that they think they're doing good (without necessarily being right about that) is the complicating factor here, and the one that sets this group of outrageous power-ups apart from Fear Itself, which was more about turning good guys bad (when Odin's enemy just didn't outright recruit villains) and wiping the earth clean in a destructive fire to then be aimed at Asgard. The threat of destructive fire this time is a different kind of cleansing, and until then we've got five very arrogant and powerful mutants who have finally seized control of the destiny of the planet itself, all in a way following in the footsteps of their megalomaniacal mentors and adversaries, but with unholy faith in their own incorruptibility. Their plans and their goals are epic, if inevitably flawed.
"Rebranding [The Avengers] as a global terrorist network?" Cyclops conducting a "rescue mission" on the "militarized children" of the Avengers and their "youth rallies?" Namor and Emma acting on their own history and not necessarily following Scott's agenda? Cap grasping at straws to stay in the game, Tony yet again trying to engineer a fix from behind the scenes, and through it all Wanda popping up all over the place for real or as a bogey-woman to strike fear into the hearts of mutants? Sure, this issue didn't have any big conclusions, but it had scope, it had impassioned pleas, and it had drama!
Jamil: For the bulk of these Sunday trips to Slugtown I have been the last guy in the car, and for the first time we have some palpable disagreement on the level of quality. I almost took the coward's route and gave this thing a three, but Chris, AvX comrade in arms, sorry, I'm leaning more toward what Shawn said.
There is smart, natural progression of the storylines introduced in the previous issue. Wanda has lots to do, Iron Fist is bringing his weird friends around, Namor is strutting like the king he is, and well... welcome back T'Challa.
Still, it's muddled. A very choppy issue that isn't without sin. I'll bring up the first, the one that's at the top of all our minds: how does Colossus go from not having hair to getting wicked sideburns?! Damn you, Phoenix Force! But, seriously, like our partner, I'm interested in knowing why you have grievances with this installment of AvX, Chris, because I had some issues with it too.
Chris: It's better than Fear Itself? Well, that may be true, Shawn, but it's an argument that reminds me of the time all my friends tried to convince me to buy a ticket to Transformers with their continual insistence that "it's not that bad!" I can appreciate my pals' integrity in not outright whoring for the pull quote there, but to this day I wear it as a badge of honor that I've never seen that particular Shia LaBeouf joint.
Shawn: Let me stop you right there. One, please don't make me ever think of Shia LeBeouf's joint. Second, I have the same anti-Transformers badge you do! One-of-us! But third, Fear Itself sure did look pretty and offer a lot of excitement, it just was pretty hollow as far as motivation went (with a non-descript, unimportant villain), and just failed to exceed Fraction's grasp of Thor, or whatever. He'd be better off leaving the whole Thor mythos to JMS, probably. But AvX is more than just "not as bad as Fear Itself." It's more like the summer blockbuster done (mostly) right!
Chris: Both of you give the latest issue of AvX accolades for the way in which it progresses the overall plot, and your ratings may be fair along those lines. But from the perspective of storytelling momentum, I thought this comic really deflated the tires on the issue #6 vehicle that we collectively loved. The final panel of that last chapter was a pitch-perfect encapsulation of all of Cyclops's rage and frustration, an uncompromising call to action delivered as a clever turn on the most repeated phrase in Marvel Comics for the better part of ten years: "No more Avengers."
Yet when we see Cyke here attempting to make good on those words, it's in an awkwardly subdued manner when compared to the viciousness of the proclamation. By "no more Avengers," a grim command that appeared to suggest systematic execution at the least, it seems that Scott simply intended to speak heated rhetoric at the other team and try to put a bunch of them in X-Jail, but only after he treated their wounds, of course. In fact, his main role in this issue is to reprimand his fellow Phoenix on getting too harsh with the enemy! Cyclops is clearly content to keep getting into fun little skirmishes with the Avengers across the globe because a lot of that certainly happens here -- just like in every other issue of the series to date! I guess I felt that AvX #6 positioned itself as a real raise-the-stakes turning point, and nothing in #7 feels fundamentally raised.
Plus, there were at least three moments in which I could barely follow the sequence of events on the page. Is that what you meant by choppy, Jamil?
Jamil: I feel like Scott Summers is following through with his "No more Avengers" decree, it's just that he wants to distance himself from Wanda's "No more" modus operandi. There's a point in this issue to label the Scarlet Witch as "murderer" of the mutant race, and the new Cyclops is merely trying to mitigate and disgrace the Avengers brand. As much as I'd love Marvel pulling a Hal Jordan and turning one their most familiar faces into a powerful antagonist, I don't think they'd let the "boy scout" go there.
Emma and Namor agree with you, Chris, I think your beef is answered in-house. They both think Cyke is a little dainty with his approach in eradicating the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and the last page spread is pretty much Chris Kiser going off on the whole Neo-Phoenix Agenda.
But, yeah, choppy. The script and the art is full of transitions, swinging back and forth between the teams and sub-teams. An essential part of previous events House of M and Siege, two weeks ago I deemed Oliver Coipel the messiah of AvX comics, but he let me down a little here. He is trying to too hard with his layouts, some are phenomenal, others are "Ooo, pretty, wait...wha?" I can't put my finger on it, maybe the shots are a little too "close"? Everything is so crowded; we need thirty pages per issue, Marvel!
Shawn: I feel like this is actually the opposite of what we've had so far in this series. Rather than big stupid battles of brainless brawn (possibly implied by Cyke turning Wanda's words around last issue), we've got Scott the Strategist working hard to undermine the Avengers on every front, and pitting himself against Cap not with his shiny new helmed visor, but with his similar penchant (hard worn on the battlefield) for military planning. I'd much rather see a bunch of effective stealth attacks than more silly punching. And I usually hate it when the Avengers get a smear campaign aimed at them, but it's a real twist to have the mutant underdogs be behind it.
Plus, this is issue #7, not #12. All those other threads going on in the tie-in books have been pretty well orchestrated thus far: New Avengers at least feels crucial to understanding what's going on with Iron Fist and Hope (even as the Marvel Boy shenanigans over in adjective-less seem less relevant). The knowledge that there were earlier Phoenix visitations on Earth, that's a Fraction-heavy idea that expands the history of what happened to Jean and the mutants just as he expanded what being an Iron Fist meant for Danny Rand when he wrote that book. It's time to start folding these subplots in, no time to keep ignoring their implications in favor of big explosions. So this issue had a fairly balanced helping of both I thought.
I really didn't find it choppy, though I admit I had to read a few times to figure out what Wanda did to Magik, and that Emma also stepped into the battle. Too many tall blondes with energy nimbuses. I also felt a little cheated by the Wanda vs. Magik battle, as those two witches could have fought in a much more convoluted Dr. Strange in Ditko-land kind of way. Wanda's still being played as nearly hysterical, barely holding it together, and we don't really know why, since she's had eight years to calm down. It was cool to have Magik at least see her as the big enemy, and to aver to Scott that Wanda was bad mojo all around.
And equally cool was that sequence between Emma and Namor, which referred obliquely to Uncanny X-Men Annual #2 (2006, which, you guessed it, Fraction also wrote), which retconned their long history of mutual self-interest into life, and sets the stage for Namor to be the major player in the story he needs to be. I've felt living on Utopia has kept this powerhouse from the early days of Marvel too much in the background, but he shows exactly what he can bring by issue's end, giving us a hint of the devastating scale of the forces now at his command.
Chris: All of those issues you guys had with the visuals were problematic for me as well. There were too few instances in this issue where I had a clear sense of who was doing what where. Some of that is probably Coipel's fault, but Fraction doesn't do him any favors by throwing in some actual teleportation to go along with all the narrative scene jumping. I've never been so disoriented by caption text as I was when I saw the "Wakanda" pop up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean fight.
With so much counting against this book in my eyes, I can't help but start to notice some of the smaller deficiencies that I might have otherwise overlooked. When Cap calls Hope the best expert on the X-Men that the Avengers have, does he have to do it with Wolverine standing right there in front of him? Of course, these are the very same Avengers who can't wait a single page before flaunting Doctor Strange's warning not to overuse the magic necklace that turns the wearer into a decoy Scarlet Witch.
Alas. I hear what you guys are saying, but this comic just didn't do it for me. I feel like it wasted an opportunity to go nuts by instead playing it safe, particularly with the tempering of Cyclops's extremism. They even slapped the AvX logo over his face on the cover instead of giving us a clear glimpse of his optic blast rage! When all is said and done, I think I'm going to remember Avengers vs. X-Men fondly as a story, albeit one that was constantly hampered by shoddy execution.
Jamil: Yes, the cover is perhaps a metaphor for the whole damn thing -- a pretty piece of art blotted out by a giant piece of editorial mandate. Can't say I disagree with you on many points. This issue could have been way sleeker, way sexier; I think there are good ideas and initiatives here, but as you said, the execution is lacking.
It again harks back to my main concern going in with this event, the multiple creative teams (seven in seven issues) just doesn't speak well to continuity and consistency. This might be the problem with Cyclops going soft so quickly. Jonathan Hickman has never really written the X-Men, but Fraction is pretty intimate with the AvX main roster, perhaps he had problems with writing the more angry and possessed leader that really rocked "Round 6". Perhaps Coipel didn't connect with this script as deeply as he did with Hickman's. There sure were a peculiar amount of inconsistencies.
Overall, I just am in love with the ideas and plot threads issue seven chases. Compared to the boring, spacey, predictable Act 1, this issue is still some of the better crossover comics I've read in the past a decade. We spent the first couple months talking about Cyke and Cap, now we're chatting about Iron Fist, Black Panther and Namor, all main players going forward. In a specific aspect that's a huge improvement on the fluff we read previously.
Shawn: I'm far from losing faith in this second act. I don't think Cyclops is acting any softer than was promised last issue: I think he's acting smarter. He is really going for some long-term, final solution-style endgames to the whole AvX thing, knowing he can accomplish more by strategic moves than by "damn the torpedoes!" tactics. Namor might get a harsh wake-up call next month in Wakanda (the Panther usually has something up his sleeve), but it was pretty killer seeing flaming winged bird of vengeance Emma as she avenged Magik (even if she torched Hawkeye yet again). The Phoenix Five who survive this are going to understand what Jean went through more than they ever have, and that's just one facet that makes me agree with Jamil about how much better this crossover already is.
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.