SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Avengers vs. X-Men #9A comic review article by: Chris Kiser, Shawn Hill, Jamil Scalese
Chris: Every so often during this misguided summertime romance with the likeable but not really that good Avengers vs. X-Men, there comes an issue that's likeable because it actually is good. This is one of those. And unlike Tony Stark, whose fakey-scientific endeavors to crack the enigmatic Phoenix code end only in futility, I've managed to figure out the pattern. It seems that each time AvX makes a jump forward in time between issues, a pretty solid reading experience entails. For some reason, the implication of a larger conflict carrying on outside the pages of this miniseries or its tie-ins draws me into the story much more effectively than a straight up incremental narrative. It's probably a pretty backhanded compliment, suggesting that what doesn't happen in the pages of AvX is more interesting than what actually does, so maybe the two of you can help me figure out what else made this issue such a success.
Shawn: I can tell you right away. Two mutants beat up Thor. I mean thrashed the hell out of him. Thor, not that stupid half-wit Ragnarok currently taking up space with the Thunderbolts, but the 100% real God of Thunder. They whipped him with their spikey whips! And then threw him literally into Hell, in the form of a volcano. Not pretty old Valhalla, where all the dead heroes are honored and only Hela is truly scary, but nasty old Limbo, invited to corrupt our world by scary Dark Ilyana. Like she needed to be more dark? That is pretty hardcore badass!
Chris: Nope, try again. That Thor fight occurred between issues too, and all we got was a single flashback panel!
Shawn: Furthermore, we got a much better sense of how this Phoenix-force thing is working. Corruption was tainting everyone save for (apparently) old Mr. Self-Discipline, Cyclops himself. I'm surprised that it took them until issue nine to go this route; it's actually a kind of restraint to give us even the tease of Phoenix making things better at first. Emma was tortured by temptation (not an unusual status for her ever, but on such a much grander scale), everyone felt a power-up after Namor's failure, and the Russian Terrible Twosome degenerated into the thugs you never realize they always had the potential to be. Now the more thoughtful of them are having those moments Jean had when she left that hologram of her better self with her family. We're seeing their last moments of humanity just as it burns away.
Jamil: Pacing? Asgardian beat-downs? Naw, guys, the MVP of this one is Spider-Man.
I know, it's not a stretch; the "Round" is obviously focused on him. It starts with one of the best AvX covers to date, the type that actually resonates move after you've read the issue, and ends with maybe the best fights too (although it ends a bit weird). Spidey reaffirms his position as one of the best fictional characters on the planet. Aaron and Kubert both strike the nail on the head in terms of personality, look and feel. But it's not so much the character as it is the individual concentration on one character. We've all commented on the lack of cohesiveness in this event, but maybe for the first time this read as a complete issue. AvX has lacked structure, as Chris said, there've been a few weird time gaps, and some type of a consistent narrative configuration, like each issue generally focusing on a different character or group's perspective, would have helped it immensely.
Still, just like most things in life, a strong ending is what people remember, and this crossover is tightening up nicely. I will be shocked, shocked, if Marvel doesn't get just a little bit batty in the last handful of issues here.
Shawn: As usual, I've gotten distracted by the ancillary plots. I think I'm just so happy to see Piotr and Illyana together, even in this way (even if we mostly just hear about it, Chris, you're right of course), after all the misery of their young lives. Of course it's all about Peter, and his brave sacrifice is totally within the wheelhouse of his general awesomeness. I'm kind of hard-pressed to think of a mediocre version of the character, though, so iconic have become his bravery, his quips, and his optimism in the face of crushing blows. Andrew Garfield made his put-downs a little more stinging and bratty in the recent film, but it still fit, and most other interpretations seem to, as well. He's as flexible as Batman in that way. I was almost more struck by the quieter scenes when he was training the impatient Hope; of course his speech about what being an Avenger really means would be tested almost immediately.
Chris: Jamil raises a great point in that this is the first issue of AvX that actually has a beginning, middle and end. The narrowed focus on Spider-Man, from whom we catch a glimpse of the larger scale goings-on, enables that to occur. Jason Aaron opens the book with a J.J. Abrams-style flash-forward, effectively setting up suspense and anticipation for what the rest of the issue goes back and builds toward. Unlike you guys, however, I don't think all the supposed drama of the ending is really earned.
Sure, Spidey's decision to put himself in harm's way to save the rest of the Avengers is absolutely heroic, and the way he exploits the noticeable cracks in the bond between Piotr and Illyana is astute and clever, but why exactly does it have to be Spider-Man who saves the day? Because he just made a speech to Hope about individual team members stepping up to the plate? Because he's on the cover? Aaron's moral of the story seems to be that the time always comes when a specific Avenger is uniquely suited to the task at hand, and it isn't firmly established why Spider-Man alone had to be the one to go matador against the Russian Phoenix twins. A scenario more purposefully tailored to Spider-Man's abilities or personality would have really sealed the deal for me (say, his Spider-Sense tipping him off to the impending cave-in or, perhaps, a more overt call back to his self-sacrificial manner of heroism), though as it was, there was still plenty to like here.
Jamil: While it's debatable, I am in the opinion that Spider-Man has more heart (or passion, or spirit, or however you define his particular brand of gusto) than every other hero in the Marvel catalogue. To me, the reason Spidey has prevailed through the decades is his unrivaled empathy for living creatures and the unwavering mission to protect them. I think the commendable -- but quixotic -- mantra "No one dies" speaks to that. I don't think it's that only Peter Parker could save the day, any of the Avengers could have stalled the Phoenix Siblings, it's that he is one of the few heroes willing to sacrificing himself for the greater good.
Shawn: Spidey didn't have to be the one to sacrifice himself, he just was the one who thought of it first, and took action. He was tired of that mood of foreboding laid down by Aaron in the issue, when each portal opening to K'un L'un only brought more bad news. He wanted a win.
Chris: I don't disagree in the slightest. Once again, the two of you have added some astute analysis of the story in this series, albeit one that rests upon details that aren't really emphasized in the comic itself. Will the fivesome of AvX writers ever start helping you out with the heavy lifting?
Jamil: The fighting Rasputins definitely served as touch of fun, a logical but clever step of deactivating two more of the ultra-powerful pseudo-antagonists. However, I'm a smidge confused about the nature of the power loss. Is there like a Phoenix mini-boss health bar somewhere, or does the entity just deem you unworthy and puts your portion back into the pool? Whatever the case, I can feel the story going downhill, and we actually had some noteworthy events happen in this one, including the hottest couple in Africa hitting their first martial speed bump.
Shawn: I don't think it was their first. Hopefully T'Challa didn't pull out the annulment card over their first tiff. More like the final nail in the coffin, and I'm like "finally!" It was a poor match from the start. The scene, however, was a nice example of the human interplay going on beneath the world-shaking disasters.
And I'd say yes, the Phoenix is finding these avatars unworthy, and is going to give Hope another chance soon.
Chris: It was a perfect match, Shawn! After all, they are both black!
Shawn: I mean, they had that long-ago meeting in Marvel Team-Up #100 (when they were still African teenagers), but that was never enough to build a relationship on. They're both much too brooding and introverted to reach out that much to each other.
Chris: Though the story ramped up quite nicely, I was sad to see my least favorite AvX feature crop up again this week -- the action scene where you can't tell what's happening. Romita Jr. managed to throw one in just about every other page, Coipel followed suit in issue 7, and now Kubert graduates from pledge to full member of the AvX artists' fraternity by making sure a rather pivotal scene inside the volcano is nigh impenetrable. Seriously, what is Spider-Man doing when he webs Wolverine and She-Hulk and then kicks that pile of rocks?
Shawn: He's triggering a cave-in (with super strength?) while tossing Wolvie and Shulkie to safety. So he'll be locked in alone with the Rasputins. I guess I'm doing the heavy lifting again, but that's how I saw it. I actually am finding the non-speaking characters pretty amusing in this series. She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, Scarlet Witch -- whether injured, captured, or shuffled off-screen, they just soldier on from location to location.
Jamil: I thought Kubert tightened up his work considerably after a lackluster performance last issue. There are definitely some scenes where the action doesn't jibe right, but I have that problem with a lot of action in comics (hell, film and TV barely get it right). I won't argue the scene you're talking about, because I had to reread that and a few others a couple times, but I am overall very satisfied with the visual quality of this issue, and the execution in some sequences, like the 18-panel double-slash Colossus/Magik/Spider-Man fight, is top-notch. But I do agree, it appears disorienting smashing is commonplace for AvX. (Speaking of, where the fuck is the Hulk?)
Chris: Yeah, it is a step up from the last one he did. The art team as a whole really nails that fantastic first page, setting the tone for the entire issue. I realize that putting a blur filter over a panel is a pretty simple Photoshop operation, but it works wonders.
Shawn: I guess this is when Rulk decided to go and try to assassinate Scott, because of his own delusions about how Captain Rogers is eyeballing him. Which was pretty deep for a Bendis story, another fun Avengers tie-in. Speaking of which, the final three stories are going to be scripted respectively by Brubaker, Bendis and then Aaron again. Think he's set some stuff up for his finale already?
Jamil: I've actually think Bendis has had some of the strongest tie-in issues, at the very least New Avengers has made for excellent complimentary reading to the main series and the preview pages for New Avengers #29 featuring the Illuminati look sizzling. Jason Aaron has been one of the strongest creators so far, and balanced the elements excellently in this issue, so I'm glad he's the one wrapping it all up.
We all agree Avengers vs. X-Men #9 offers a level of craftsmanship missing from all the other installments. Shawn's comment on Aaron touching on the more human elements is probably a huge reason for that. We see sibling rivalry, a divorce and a teacher turning on his former students, all poignant relationships sent through the ringer. By putting us in the head of the emotional centerpiece of Marvel, and showing us the personal ramifications of these two groups fighting we are more deeply impacted by the entire premise of good guys beating each other up.
Shit is getting real. We're left with only Scott and Emma as Phoenix hosts, and the Queen is looking like she's on her way out. The big fiery bird has come back for Hope, and unfortunately she still has no idea what she's really supposed to do. This thing has so many moving parts that even Iron Man is a little flustered by it. In the end, if the writing is a strong as this, the art avoids the huge mistakes and we get a few more subtle Wu-Tang Clan references I think this event could come out a surprise winner.
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.