SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Avengers vs. X-Men #11A comic review article by: Chris Kiser, Jamil Scalese, Shawn Hill
Chris: You lousy kids, when I was your age, we had to walk to school for a mile in the snow both ways, and it was always a full month's wait between issues of our favorite Marvel comics. But now that Joey Q and the gang are flooding the market -- er, I mean, meeting consumer demand -- by accelerating the production rate on the bulk of their titles, four-week intervals like the one between this issue of Avengers vs. X-Men and the last are a rarity. I can imagine it's all done quite a bit to hamper the long term story retention capabilities of the next generation of readers, so it's out of a pure heart of compassion for the youth of America that I offer the following recap.
When we last left this group of costumed characters who used to spend their days, you know, fighting super villains instead of other heroes, mutant messiah Hope Summers had just used her Mega Man-style copy powers to punt Cyclops all the way to the moon. Tony Stark was telling us that she was the Avengers' key to finally beating their Phoenixed-up enemies du jour, and he was about to explain why. So of course, it's only natural that the next issue would ignore all that and begin with Captain America making an impassioned plea to recruit the Hulk, right? "Hey guys, I know we've got this awesome chick on our team who just beat the most powerful being on earth in a one-on-one fight, but you know what might work better? Punching!" I swear, sometimes it seems like this comic is being written by five completely different people.
Jamil: I don't know, man. If my comics aren't fired at me on a biweekly basis I'm bound to forget about them. Thank heavens for recap pages, and master summarizers like Chris Kiser.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most disjointed event series in the short history of the recent fad. AvX makes Final Crisis look like a pinnacle of cohesion. Pushing Hope to the background and delegating her to a couple of wide-eyed shots and a shout of "No!" does feel wrong, but really, the little redhead has flickered in and out of the plotline from the beginning. There are a still a lot of character arcs that need some type of resolution, and this issue didn't focus on many of them at all.
Otherwise, this issue was kickass. I like my superhero comics big and explosive, and holy shit, a lot of stuff caught on fire in "Round 11."
Shawn: I can't believe I'm saying this (or my own bullet score for this issue), but if you want a kickass fight issue of burning things caused by long-seething resentments, BMB just might be your go-to guy. I've gotten bored of his hackneyed speech patterns long ago (that mimic people's poor communication skills far too well), and I really don't think 18 splash page explosions makes for the best storytelling format (unless this were NextWave miraculously revived of course). But one thing I'll give him: if you're the sort who cracked up when Thor got sucker-punched by Hulk in the Avengers movie, this issue does that for you on every other page. And even better, Bendis remembers all the petty resentments and bitter put-downs that set some of these characters against each other years ago.
So when Storm electrocutes Emma, you know she's been wanting to since the original Dark Phoenix saga. Bobby and Charles take Scott's rigid stance personally, too, as neither has let go completely of trying to reason with their possessed friend. Family member, really, since they've known each other since 1963. The same kind of feeling that has Wanda reach out to protect Magneto when he's the brunt of Phoenix fire. He's still her father, after all. It's just that for Bendis, all families are always dysfunctional. He's very good at taking "things fall apart" and making it raw and broken and scarred and vindictive, in ways that blur good and bad for everyone.
Chris: From the get-go, AvX has felt like a chain of isolated moments more than it has a naturally flowing story, no doubt a product of its write-by-committee approach. When those moments have worked -- as in the Spider-Man stuff we all enjoyed back in issue #9 -- the series has seemed like a success, but when they haven't -- anyone remember those weirdly overwritten captions from the fights in issue #2? -- this book has been a source of frustration like no other.
That having been the case, it should come as no surprise that the current issue finds itself divided among both types. While I disagree mightily with the high score Shawn is giving this thing, I can't argue against what he puts forth as its strengths. There are plenty of powerful moments here that bring with them the weight of decades of angst and inter-character tension, but on the other hand, we've got scenes like the Hulk opener that I mentioned earlier, where importance and gravity are foisted upon us artificially. By the way Cap addresses the yet to be revealed character on page one, you'd think he was about to hand Galactus an invitation to join the Avengers, so it's a bit of a disappointment when you discover that the new recruit is "only" someone so powerful as the Hulk. It doesn't help that the character ends up playing no crucial role in anything else that happens subsequently in the issue or that the exact same scene is essentially repeated two pages later between Rogue and Professor X.
Jamil: Maybe it was a longing created from the Avengers movie, but I liked Hulk's sudden appearance. I figure if there's going to be smashing, the big green guy should be involved. However, now that you point it out, Chris, it does feel out of place. Apparently though, it was supposed to be included as part of issue 9 but got pushed back because, you know, this series was plotted by five writers and a team of editors.
Shawn: The way I think about it, this issue is sort of a greatest hits of Avengers and X-men. Bendis is looking back through his own comic book collection and picking out favorite issues to savor all over again. I'd say we're getting Uncanny #134, maybe #152, and, with the Avengers trying to get along with green Hulk, way back to the Avengers' first five issues. And he did do something useful, Chris: he pounded Emma into the ground.
Chris: All in all, though, I suppose this issue will be ultimately judged -- and remembered -- according to the one key moment that none of us have directly addressed just yet.
Jamil: Yeah, we've danced around it a bit, but everyone will remember this issue, and the entirety of Marvel's 2012 event, for the death of Professor Charles Xavier. The attitude toward death in comics is pretty pessimistic -- and for good reason -- but I felt this one reverberate off the page. To its credit, I think Marvel has gotten pretty responsible with its death toll in recent years, choosing to pop off headliners during big moments (almost to a formulaic degree). Overall, this is a real brutal comic book, guys, both physically and emotionally, and I commend Bendis on making it believable.
I've anticipated this death for years. Despite being the godfather of it all, Charlie X has faded from the mythology of the X-Men incrementally over the decades as the team has shifted from school to strike-force to army and back again. It always seemed to me the Professor was on a short list for characters to off for easy emotional impact, but I didn't see this coming, well, until halfway through the issue, at least.
It's bold, it's powerful, it shakes things up. This isn't Apocalypse or a Sentinel killing the founder of the X-Men, it's his adopted son, the man he raised to be the golden boy of the mutant race. Now that same skinny kid is choking out his girlfriend and taking on just about every costumed hero on the planet. The change in Summers does not feel completely unnatural, his dickishness has increased noticeably over the years. Cyclops is in no way a villain in my eyes, but he is far from being a good guy. I'm going to enjoy reading his redemption journey.
Chris: It's certainly powerful and most definitely tragic, perhaps a bit too much for its own good. I've always been a Cyclops apologist, even when all the other kids in my fifth grade class were nuts for Wolverine. He was the Lee Adama of the X-Men, always trying to do right even if he often didn't get it right, but AvX has systematically destroyed any claim the character could hope to have of heroism. I'm sure you're right, Jamil, that there will be some kind of Cyclops: Reborn miniseries published down the line that aims to bring Scott back to the Marvel U's good graces, but the House of Ideas might have to outsource the script to DC's Chief Creative Officer in order to make such a now unbelievable premise work. Maybe Parallax was hiding inside Scott's visor this whole time?
Shawn: Oh, that was the moment you guys were talking about? Xavier's hardly been in charge of things since Wolverine started telling "Charlie" to suck it. I've been over bossy patriarchs since Morrison revealed the evil of the Doom Patrol's Chief, in fact.
My big moment was much geekier. When Scott delivers the classic "Birth of Dark Phoenix" speech, after Xavier tried a very long-winded version of Uncanny #136 on him (where his psychic powers just barely shut down Jean's mania, but only because she helped, and then the Shi'ar show up just to make it worse) and failed, that was the surprise I didn't know I'd been waiting for. Like so much of the rest of the issue, it's something we've seen before, but with a decidedly new twist.
Several characters (Kitty, Storm, Maddie, Rachel, I think even Moira went psychotic at one point or other) have gotten the cosmic crazy energy upgrade in echo of Jean over the years, but for Scott to go down the same trail that cost him the first love of his life? And for Dark Phoenix not to be a corruption of a perfectly nice Camelot-era ginger girl, who was personable and outgoing despite the tragedies in her life (and so motherly that even their enemies knew she was the heart and soul of the team); but instead to meld with an alienated, angry, introverted and emotionally repressed young man whose leadership skills just barely cover up for his gruff and cold social ineptitude?
I'm still hearing his vile declaration echoing in my head, and it could still get much worse before it gets any better.
Chris: Dark Phoenix, eh? You mean, the version of the evil version of the Phoenix who wants to destroy everything, thus forcing the heroes to fight it? Well, that certainly sounds different than what has been happening for the last four issues or so.
My apologies, Shawn, but what you praise as a clever set of references to past storylines, I'm inclined to call out as somewhat lazy and overall meaningless. The final page of this issue might have made for a nifty moment in a video game, but how much was the story of Ocarina of Time really enhanced when the final boss changed his name from Ganondorf to Ganon?
Shawn: Well, it did let you do the last five levels all over again in different colors, didn't it? That was cool.
Jamil: So wait... does that make Hope the Master Sword?
Even though Dark Phoenix is a bit redundant (the cleansing fire burns hotter and more ruthlessly now, I guess?) I felt that the last page reveal did hold a lot of energy and meaning. Mr. Hill, you sum it up so perfectly that I really have nothing to add. Cyclops' transformation into the thing that consumed and destroyed his first love is so deliciously ironic. A perfect justice for being such an overbearing, relentless hard-ass over the years.
Collectively, I thought the entire art team put forth a fantastic effort as #11 shines as one of the visual highlights of the event. Olivier Coipel is required to draw dozens of characters, and he nails just about every one of them, from Iceman to Doctor Strange. His particular brand of paneling still throws me off every once in a while, but ultimately Coipel has been a saving grace, dropping in every time my eyes needed a refresher. The colors have been top-notch all long, and Laura Martin does some of her best work here, especially in the group shots. Working within the Marvel mandated palette of bright and sunny, Martin's choices help in establishing the ominous tone that makes this issue work. Then again, this is coming from a guy who is tragically color blind.
Shawn: Somehow you still know when the colors look right to you I imagine. That's a very subjective thing anyway. Rest assured that there was a whole lot of burning red and yellow, but it never obscured the individual characters. Yes, Coipel last gave us that excellent vision of Utopia-as-Olympus in #6, and the glamorous Phoenix Five raiment, and now he's making all the right moves in the near-climax. This issue of violent devastation looks as good as any of Immonen's work on Fear Itself last year.
I think the Five did really think they were doing good for awhile, and now all the pretenses are off with Scott. I'm hoping he gets the redemption arc down the line you describe (hey, or even a nine-issue children's crusade, like Wanda did), but for right now the carnage has just begun. Strangling Emma and killing Charles: that's just phase one. Potentially.
Chris: Looks like they're throwing it back to Kubert for the finale, so I guess this is goodbye for the series' hands-down artistic MVP. As for what else is in store? Probably the emergence of Hope that we were all denied this time around, and I'm prepared to cringe if she becomes the "Light Phoenix" or something like that. Personally, I'm hanging onto the possibility that the Architects have been saving up a really cool idea to go out on, something more creative than another slew of Claremont and Byrne references. A definitive statement on the purpose of the Phoenix or a means of ending its menace for good would be nice.
Shawn: Well, the story did begin with Cyclops arguing with Hope. I have a feeling it will end that way, too.
Jamil: I'm looking for Jason Aaron to close off all these dangling character arcs. Wanda, Hope, Stark, Cap even. Luckily for us, a majority of those characters are featured on the finale's cover.
But you raise a solid point, Chris, this ain't over and we ain't satisfied. Aside from knowing it came to Earth before and went up against the Iron Fist magic we've got squat on Phoenix. I mean an entity by definition is faceless, and that's why the Phoenix Five worked, but the chance to advance the canon, not just the characters, feels greatly missed.
Our favorite little schizophrenic comic is reaching its end, and we were promised an outright winner. I feel like the Avengers and X-Men have one more spat in them before it gets all cuddly in A+X and Uncanny Avengers. The world will find out in three weeks, and the Comic Bulletin AvX crew will tell you if it sucked. Stay tuned!
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!
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.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.