SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Avengers vs. X-Men #8A comic review article by: Jamil Scalese, Chris Kiser, Shawn Hill
Jamil: The king has risen! All hair Namor, ruler of Atlantis!
What I appreciate most about good fiction is the way a plot can take a left turn when you think it's veering right, or when the writer/creator team/director/etc just flips the initial concept on its head. It's probably why I love AMC's Breaking Bad so much, as that show and its writing team are masterful at keeping the audience on its toes. I can't say that Avengers vs. X-Men is anywhere close to the antics of Walter White, but this series is now entering territories that I didn't suspect.
A Namor-centric issue? Sweet deal. Marvel's "First" Mutant is a character who has had a meteoric rise in my heart over the years. I never understood the appeal of what I considered a more boring Aquaman, but under the pen of several writers over the last decade, I have developed a soft spot for the grouchy but ultimately well-meaning powerhouse. I think he makes for one of the best antiheroes in all of mainstream comics, and it's a pleasure seeing him operate with such ferocity here, even only for a brief moment.
Chris: Except this time around, Namor is anything but well-meaning. Thanks to his inherent arrogance, the corruptive absolute power of the Phoenix and a few sexy whisperings from Emma Frost (if the relationship started as an affair, Scott, it's probably not destined to be marked by fidelity), he's gone straight Godzilla on the nation of Wakanda, where the Avengers are hiding out. There have been several moments throughout this story in which one side or the other has lacked clear moral justification for their actions, but this feels like the first time AvX has had an outright villain.
I will agree that there were several stirring individual moments in this issue, but I'm interested to hear from you, Jamil, on what particularly caught you by surprise. This seems to me like a fairly easy-to-anticipate next step proceeding from what we'd seen so far. The X-Men gain unmatchable power and set themselves up as benevolent dictators, ultimately proving the Avengers' misgivings about that situation to be on the mark. It's one of the fundamental archetypal stories (of course, lots of superhero comics are), and Bendis and the gang do a perfectly fine job with it.
Shawn: Since that main plot was rather predictable (save for a couple of twists: that the Avengers actually win one, and what this means for the other four PhoeniX-Men), I found most of my enjoyment in this issue in the smaller touches. The change in art led to, in a way, the most cartoonish and expressive style we've seen on this series thus far. JRJR and Coipel have a degree of naturalism, but Kubert excels at skewed angles, extreme viewpoints, and emotional exaggeration. I liked the small touch, for example, when Namor rains the tsunami down on Wakanda, that the toppling spires and towers already had their own water and plant features. The message is that Wakanda lives in harmony with nature, and that the Sub-Phoenix was disrupting that harmony violently (as you say, Chris, the villainy is quite clear).
From the writing standpoint, here was Bendis' chance to get in some of his signature quips and mutterings, but he didn't go overboard with it. His snarky Emma is generally fine, but his angry Panther was good, too. He also worked pretty well staging a dramatic battle with Kubert, and it was the perfect place to begin to fold in the K'un-L'un subplot he's been developing in New Avengers with Iron Fist and Hope.
Jamil: Instead of thinking for myself and writing something clever, I'll point to Shawn's answer about specifics, Chris -- it's the finer details. Really, I'm still a tad surprised a title called Avengers vs. X-Men would highlight Black Panther and Namor, fringe members of those groups. I've harped on that point for a few weeks now, but it does fascinate me. With the heavy focus on Captain America, Cyclops and Wolverine in the first act, I didn't believe Marvel was brave enough to do something like this. Color me shocked.
More things I enjoyed: Atlantis versus Wakanda is a neat concept, one that could inspire its own event if Marvel chose to go down that route. I also loved the twist on the Avengers victory over one of the Phoenix Five; keeps both teams on their heels. Professor Xavier's ultimatum makes for a great development, as he's like the X-Men's dad and he's been letting his kids run buck wild all over planet Earth.
We read an unquestionably superior Bendis script, I had to check the title page halfway through to make sure it was by BMB. This might be an unseen benefit to the gestalt writing team: the group plotting forces writers out of their bad habits. Bendis just does not write many issue-long fight scenes, and here it allows him to be much more selective with the text. We still have a load of double slashes and huge, page-filling panels, but you're going to get that. At least Adam Kubert executed it.
Chris: It seems like Marvel has been giving Namor a heavy dose of promotion these last couple years, with his pivotal roles on the X-Men and in Defenders. Maybe they're more jealous of DC's sales on Aquaman than they're letting on. To me, seeing the Sub-Mariner and Black Panther play important and extreme parts in the story comes across as more like risk aversion than it does courage. I mean, who else's homeland are you going to destroy and which other character are you going to turn into a bad guy -- one of the A-listers who's anchoring your billion-dollar film franchise?
It's interesting that both of you praise the fact that the plot-by-committee approach puts a damper on Bendis's trademark voice. For me, it's a detriment, and only part of the reason for that is the fact that I generally enjoy BMB's flair for banter. I think one of the reasons company-wide crossovers like this one get a bad rap is that they so often consist of substance over style to such a degree that style is almost completely crowded out. Given how basic the overall plot has tended to be, I wish AvX were showing more evidence of craft and artistry, even if that means it would bear the mark of a writer whom not everyone likes.
Oddly, I'd say that Kubert, too, exhibits the same kind of forced genericism -- perhaps as a result of the same tight deadlines that we thought might have plagued Romita, Jr. Sometimes he and John Dell have things looking like Mike Deodato, other times it seems like a half-hearted rendition of Kirby and too often characters go noticeably off-model. This isn't a bad looking comic, but I might not have guessed it had been drawn by someone of Kubert's caliber.
Shawn: I've always found Kubert kind of inconsistent. Generic is sort of his style, in a way. He did a decent Scarlet Witch this issue, and that gives him a pass with me. However, as to Bendis suppressing his style in order to further the larger plot, what I meant was he suppressed his mannerisms, which have become tics and crutches at this point. What sucks about some Bendis action issues is that it's all splash-page, explosion, clever quip, explosion, unexplained magic spell, violence, explosion, verbal put-down, cycle-on-repeat, etc.
He only indulges in that sort of stuff once in this issue so glaringly, and of course it is in the pivotal defeat of Sub-Phoenix by Scarlet Witch. Whatever it was, it knocked them both out and made the Phoenix Force so angry it dumped the loser and fled towards its other four avatars. But, what was it? Did Wanda just hit on the right frequency? Does Chaos magick automatically disrupt Shi'ar mumbo mysticism? It looked like it hurt, but nothing else was clear except the aftermath.
I have a different take on Namor's status, as well. I've been thinking for a while now that emphasizing his mutant side and making him a supporting character in the X-Books actually lessens his status. After all, it's been all about the Avengers for the last few years, the X-Men have been taking a back seat relatively as far as sales and prominence. Namor doesn't have a history of siding with the repressed underclass, he sees himself as a world leader. So you can sort of look at his Phoenix moment as one big temper tantrum at the current status quo.
Jamil: The lack of finesse, both in script and artwork, is probably why I only give "Round 8" a slightly above average rating. The ebb and flow of the whole endeavor is making me a little seasick. The physics of AvX are so hollow I can't even ask questions like "Why Wanda?" I'm still trying to figure out how Cap's shield could even affect Namor or how Red Hulk is capable of having his arm twisted off.
I hope Marvel continues down the path I talked about in my first paragraph. Namor's (brief) prominence, Hope's journey in K'un Lun, the Avengers on their heels, these are elements that pique my curiously, make this event feel less like Civil War and Fear Itself and more like its own story. After all, AvX is now labeled the final chapter in a story arc that started way back in the early aughts. It's time to ratchet things up. House of Ideas, let's see some serious consequences for the characters.
Chris: I'm sure there will be plenty of serious consequences, plucked right from the regular menu of surprise endings these things typically pull from. A character death here, a major betrayal there and the Marvel Universe will never be the same again!
But that doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to seeing exactly how those anticipated developments play out. As much as I tend to begrudge this series its lack of panache, as a fan, I'm still having a reasonable measure of fun. The Avengers are at war with the X-Men, and there are plenty of less enjoyable products coming from Marvel and DC these days.
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
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.
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.