SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Avengers vs. X-Men #12A comic review article by: Chris Kiser, Jamil Scalese, Shawn Hill
Chris: Avengers vs. X-Men is over, and it's hard to imagine what life will be like now that the three of us won't be getting together every few weeks to argue about it in front of the whole Internet. More than six months have passed since the debut of that
first zeroth issue that had nearly nothing to do with the story which wraps up here, a sprawling saga whose total issue count was only matched in its ridiculousness by the number of people it apparently took to create it. Over the course of that time, the book never encountered a pair of same-sided characters it couldn't force into baseless fisticuffs nor a creative risk it couldn't shy away from. Yet, for all the ways in which AvX broadcasted the fact that soulless Hollywood executive-types are our true masters now, it has been telling a decent enough tale for folks who are, you know, into that whole superhero thing.
Fitting, then, that the grand finale would be an issue that actually lived up to all of its promises while simultaneously failing to deliver a single impactful or stirring moment. Sure, the landscape of the Marvel Universe has once again completely changed, but anyone who stuck with the series through issue #7 could have probably served up a reasonable prediction of what shape those changes were going to take. If you programmed a robot to write the final chapter of a Marvel event comic, it would look a lot like what Jason Aaron churns out here. Though, to be fair, it's unlikely that the robot could ever grow quite as awesome a beard, so Aaron still has an edge in the pending Armageddon between machine and man.
Jamil: Six months. Feels like a generation ago in these fast moving times. So innocent were we, not knowing the trials we would endure over a spring, summer and now part of the fall. It wasn't all bad, but most of it was mediocre, and wow... did I really just read over 250 of pages and spend over 50 bucks on this fluff?
Chris: Please! Let me tell you about a little crossover called Flashpoint…
Jamil: The first surprise AvX "Round 12" offered came at the register. With this being the only book I bought this week, I pulled out a crisp five spot, completely confident it would cover the cost, only to have my Friendly Neighborhood LCS Employee politely ask me for 34 cents. A $4.99 finale?! Granted, 35 pages is super sweet, but what about all those $3.99 20-pagers you fired off, Marvel? Feels a bit cheap that you made the last issue so expensive, if you catch my wordplay.
After I shrugged that off, I guess I enjoyed the last installment a little more than you, Kiser Söze. I think there are a few memorable high points, though none touch last issue's Charles Xavier offing. The strength of the series has been its string of character moments, with the narrative jumping perspectives, choosing to use both main and bit players with each issue. Last Slugfest, I asked for adequate conclusions to the major character arcs, and well, Aaron delivered, to the point that I got kind of pissed that the rest of the series lacked the potency of this issue. Alas, we'll speak about that further on.
So I definitely disagree the last issue lacked impactful moments, from the apparition of Jean in the Phoenix fire, to Hope's fulfilled destiny, Nova's entrance and Cap's new policy toward mutants, I felt that Marvel succeeded in something making sure AvX left us with discernible benchmarks. That's something the past two or three events have completely lacked.
Shawn: It was something that Big Crossover Finales usually are, a series of massive reset buttons. But these at least reset the universe to the way it was several years ago, rather than just six months back. "More mutants," well, who didn't see that coming? "No more Phoenix," well, it's sort of the opposite version of what Bendis once did so brutally at the end of House of M, when "all that power" from Wanda's destructive spell found its way to some hapless soul or other and went on a short and murderous rampage (bye Alpha Flight!) before it was thrown into the sun. Or some other nonsense that makes me happy Bendis was not the sole creator of this romp and even seems willing to watch as many of the "achievements" of his Dark Avengers Reign are systematically (finally) undone.
Wanda's back and well into her redemption arc! Mutants are being kickstarted by a very diversified Phoenix force (it's Marvel's version of Buffy spreading the Slayer might far and wide). The Avengers are back in the business of rehabbing errant mutants worth saving (holla to Cap's Kooky Crew, set the dial to Avengers #16 on the way-back Machine!). And Hope actually had something important to do, nearly all by herself, also finally! That zeroth issue did have some relevance after all, Kiser-man; Hope went from whiny teen to "no longer the woman you knew!"
Chris: It's clear that Aaron and company intend for this finale to mark the conclusion of some sort of personal arc for Hope, but it's anyone's guess what the theme of the character's journey has been. What lesson has she learned from all of this that she didn't already know at the beginning of AvX #0? That an Iron Fist and Scarlet Witch powers combo is the ideal choice for battling cruelly ruined classic Marvel characters? That a white version of the original Jean Grey outfit is the most stylish Phoenix costume? Certainly the events surrounding Hope's transformation into the White Phoenix contain a lesson on the nature of power and responsibility, but that seems more relevant to the issues Wanda has been dealing with since "Avengers Disassembled." Maybe she's the one who should have been Phoenixed.
It only gets worse when the writing crew tries to impose more personal "growth" on some of the other major characters. Cap realizes that he needs to do away with that plain old style of canny Avengers teams featuring mutants like Scarlet Witch, Wolverine and Beast and start focusing on a more open minded, revolutionary approach featuring mutants like Scarlet Witch, Wolverine and Rogue. And don't get me started on Iron Man's discovery of faith, by which I mean the bastardized Hollywood version that encourages a person to take foolish chances with no good explanation whatsoever. I'm miffed as a lifelong churchgoer, but even more so as a comics reader, who thought all that build-up of Tony Stark studying the Phoenix Force was actually going somewhere.
Jamil: Some of the character growth hits the spot, while other elements feel contrived and hollow. Stark's story arc is so false and without substance I feel like a "lesser" Marvel genius like Hank Pym or T'Challa could have been inserted and it would have served more purpose. Didn't Iron Man just do the whole "learn to trust things you don't understand" thing in Fear Itself? In fact, it was one of the best parts of that series, so him floating in the background, slaving over tech and ancient scrolls is far less proactive, and thus a lot more lame.
I'll admit to not reading much X-Men post-House of M, so the actual step-by-step moments of Hope's journey from infant messiah to Cable's surrogate to feisty preteen is lost on me, but from what I know, this story is the best thing to ever to happen to the character.
She's free. She no longer lives under the bright shadow of the Phoenix. She did her time as messiah and now she gets to do what she wants. I think the sequence when Hope turned into White Phoenix (you so called that, Chris) hit the mark. Just after finally defeating the last of the Phoenix Five, the big bad space entity just ends up being absorbed into another mutant, and as all the heroes stand around and go, "Oh, for fuck's sake!" Wanda, the unlikely hero, rolls up to the newly reformed Mutant Savior and coerces her out of being the new avatar and instead gets rid of the annoying firebird and transforms it into, I'm sure, even more annoying mutants.
Shawn: A lot more, to judge by Cerebra, always happy to be counting new lights popping up on its mutant global chart.
Jamil: How can you not be happy for Hope? The last page of this thing is beautiful. At first, I thought Wanda's "No More Phoenix" decree dispersed her over the globe, spawning those new mutants, so I was glad to see her alive. Secondly, the look on her face sings relief. I cheered inside as she zoomed into the sky on her sexy little jetpack. Go, Hope, go!
Shawn: Maybe that's where satisfaction with this storyline lies. Do you or do you not identify with Hope? I warmed to her in the "Escape from the Negative Zone" annual crossover written by James Asmus in 2011, so I was ready enough to see her escape from Utopia and give Cyclops what for over the course of this series. I was also pleased with the various moves made between the competing factions. Of course the Phoenix Five were out of character, they were possessed. That includes Cyclops, who now gets to know what Jean felt like, even if it seems at the end that he hasn't learned much at all.
Hey, and did I blink and miss it, or did the final act of this story pass the Bechdel test? Wanda and Hope, talking to each other about the fate of everyone and each other and making a mutual decision without turning to Scott, Logan, Steve or Tony.
Chris: Look, I'm not denying that somewhere underneath all the writers' baton hand-offs and the sloppy artists' rush jobs there's a compelling story about an immature teenage girl who grows into the role of mutantkind and humanity's savior alike. Kubert draws a flower in the final panel so something poignant has to have happened, right? The problem is that all of us as readers have to work so hard to put that story together, drawing from other comics or our own imaginations to contextualize the glittering generalities the writing/art/editorial team actually places on the page. But that's nothing new for this series. From day one, this Slugfest team has been reading its own clever analogies and thoughtful interpretations into this series (Anyone else recall the Phoenix-as-WMD theory that Jamil cooked up?), but I wanted the AvX finale to sufficiently wow me on its own. And it really, really didn't.
But as I was saying before, I haven't been able to muster up an opinion about this book that isn't somewhat mixed. The sum of my criticisms of each individual issue would suggest a much harsher overall view than I actually hold. I think that's mostly due to the way in which AvX genuinely satisfied from a sheer plot standpoint, even as it consistently failed to present that plot with any discernible flourish. Unlike, say, Secret Invasion, Siege or Fear Itself, I believe Avengers vs. X-Men will be remembered by fans and referenced by forthcoming Marvel comics 10 or 15 years down the road. I'll put it in the same bucket as stories like Crisis on Infinite Earths or the original "Dark Phoenix Saga," comics that are no doubt important to the fictional worlds they inhabit but which are bound to sound a lot better in summary to subsequent generations of readers than they actually are to read.
Jamil: A big part of this event's marginal success comes from the decision to let it actually mean something. You're so right, because just about every big crossover since Civil War has failed to stick to the slimy walls of continuity. AvX produced a handful of worthy moments that will hopefully serve as flagpoles on the vast Marvel landscape. Amazingly, over twelve issues some things did happen, even if it is significantly back-loaded. I, too, have majorly mixed opinions about the series.
Somewhere between garbage and gold is my official assessment. AvX failed to deliver grander themes and only threw a few successful plot twists at us. It's a comic with an agenda: to close off a magnitude of character storylines and set the reader up for the next wave of relaunches. The plot is an afterthought. The editors' presence coats the pages of the book, with an overarching goal to bring the far-wandering X-Men line closer to home and mix it in with the success of the Avengers, a current pop culture buzzword.
Beyond that, it's about reshuffling, retooling and reviving the characters, especially those fallen by the wayside. Wanda has been on the hook for almost ten years, Hope has had the prophecy of savior over her head, the Storm/Panther relationship dissolved, Iron Fist burst back on the scene about five years ago and disappeared just as quickly etc. Perhaps the meaning we were looking for has been staring us in the face the whole time, guys. The Phoenix bring with it destruction and rebirth, and with the conclusion of AvX, we are embarking on a new era of Marvel comics, where nearly nothing looks or feels the same as before. Bendis writing All-New X-Men? Jason Aaron on Thor? Mutants and Avengers living together under the same mansion roof? It's hard not to be at least a little intrigued by every Marvel NOW! book, but do the ends justify the means? Hell no, but somehow, miraculously, I'm more excited about the offerings from Marvel now than back in April.
Due to my nerdiness, and affinity for line graphs, I thought it'd be fun to chart our issue by issue scores to reflects the tumultuous ride across the MU.
I'll throw some stats at you and let you comment. The average per-issue score was 3.3. Shawn enjoyed AvX the most with an average score of 3.53, I was close behind at 3.42 and Chris remained our resident naysayer at 2.96. The artist with the highest overall issue score was Adam Kubert (who really killed the last issue, one he worked on during the time in which his father passed) at 3.33, John Romita, Jr. was 3.13 and somehow Copiel, the best artist on the series by our account, had an issue score of 3.11. The writers ranked as so -- Johnathan Hickman 3.58, Jason Aaron 3.5, Brian Michael Bendis 3.44, Ed Brubaker 3.33 and Matt Fraction 3.
Shawn: The chart makes me sorry I never hit 5 stars once on this series. Was I being too cautious? Did nothing achieve comic book perfection for me in this event I really enjoyed? The question of posterity is an important one, especially in a story which hinges so strongly on plot points and world-building stories from 30 years ago.
Hmm, I notice I had the only flat reactions, with subsequent issues often hitting the same point for me until the highs of #9 and #11. But I also never fell below 3 stars (with the art kicking even when the story didn't and vice versa), so maybe that's about right. I enjoyed the majority of this series, and while I got annoyed by a few red herrings and holding patterns along the way, I ultimately am happy for all that character rebuilding Jamil is talking about, and I do think it leaves Marvel positioned to go some new places after too long a stagnancy.
Chris: If either of you had turned in a 5-star review for an issue of this series, I'd have promptly handed in my resignation to Comics Bulletin Co-Managing Editor Danny Djeljosevic, his rugged handsomeness notwithstanding.
The aspect of my line on the graph that most immediately jumps out is how it's such a chain of sharp peaks and valleys. Given that Avengers vs. X-Men was a single, continuous story, the degree to which my temper ran so hot and cold to this thing makes me feel like Homer Simpson the time he went to that Bachman Turner Overdrive concert. "Get to the workin' overtime part!!!"
But, in all honestly, what else could any of us have expected? Marvel practically guaranteed a fractured narrative by throwing five different writers at the book, even if those five are the most heralded in the publisher's stable not named Mark Waid. It's like they tried to mimic DC's creative strategy for series like 52 and Brightest Day without stopping to think it through. While those books also employed numerous writers and artists, they essentially functioned as anthologies, wherein several separate stories converged only at key points. AvX was a different dish altogether, so when you try to follow DC's recipe to make it, you end up stuffing a sirloin into a toaster.
Jamil: My sentiment exactly; it's a chaotic shit-storm. There is a hint of failure in not being able to string together two or three great issues, and the lack of form or subtlety is almost inexcusable. The multiple creators thing is still kind of a head scratcher, I guess it was worth a try to do something different, but it came out uneven, and at times, very uninspired. According to our numbers, the undisputed favorite issue was the Spider-Man-centric #9, and I think our collective least favorite was probably #5 with a blabbering Hope on the moon. We took a shine to good art, but really valued story turns and strong character moments. "Round 9" points to where AvX glimmered, and where event comics can kick ass. Framing the story through Peter Parker helped relate the magnitude of the actions to us non-powered folk. The Hope narrative followed a similar track but failed to pack a punch, but that's probably because of JRJR's art, which really, in retrospect, was a pitfall to the entire thing.
AvX focused on the Cap, Cyke, Wolvie trio in the beginning, then Iron Man slipped in there, the Phoenix Five took a crowded step forward, and Iron Fist, but not Danny Rand, slithered around in a subplot mainly explained in a New Avengers tie-in. Toss in Professor X late in the game, pretend Emma was there the whole time, remind everyone Spidey has a movie out and at the last minute bring in that Witch chick and the Hope kid and trust no one noticed the lack of central thread. Avengers vs. X-Men in name alone promises a multiplicity of characters, so calling for true order (while balancing a large cast) might be asking too much, but we also were put off by the use of sporadic captions, frequent splash pages and odd action physics. My point is, this thing jumped all over the place.
Shawn: They kind of Marvel Architect-ed the heck out of this thing, didn't they?
Chris: Going forward, I'd like to see the publisher's next event be the product of a more singular vision. And I'm sure that when the time comes, Marvel will be taking my opinion to heart instead of getting all sparkly-eyed over the fact that AvX was the only book in its lineup capable of outselling Justice League.
Jamil: The market never lies. We're all aware of the tremendous financial success of AvX, easily the most sold series of the year. Consistently claiming the top three spots for half the year looks like a huge victory for Marvel, until you look at the rest of the chart and see that most of the top ten is dominated by Bat books and Watchmen prequels. That accentuates the success of this event, and given how it crushed all other books most months Marvel has stated this is a blueprint for future company-wide crossovers.
Per the theme of this week's Slugfest, I have mixed feelings about that. First off, the length of this series is flat-out stupid. Easily, two to four issues could have been completely sliced off and no one in all of fandom would have noticed or cared. The first five issues really sucked, no joke. If you've got twelve issues worth of story then publish twelve, but don't throw in superfluous paper and staples just to get my money. Forreal. I'm still kind of pissed about the five dollar finale.
Second, no more mega-teams, that really has to go. I'm all for the head writers sitting down and forming the plot, but no more than two writers on script duty, and they'd have to work in unison. I understand the stable of artists, especially given the length, but who made that schedule? The first four issues by JRJR are serviceable, but not event level, then Copiel and Kubert alternate, with the former making the other two look somewhat inferior. On the writing side, one writer uses captions with an omnipotent, poetic narrator, another uses captions that float freely through two or three character's heads. What is going on at the House of Ideas? Get your shit together.
And get more weird. This thing rocked when it took chances. The best part of the series is the resurgence of Iron Fist, who will probably be given his own book here real soon. Alongside that are Wanda and Hope, and a beaten but still fascinatingly obstinate Cyclops, showing us that you can do cool things with characters many fans have reservations about.
Shawn: I agree with the weird part, more of that is almost always better. However, I felt the alternating writers (and variable tones) added to the variety of the series, somewhat justifying that attenuated six-month roll-out of installments. I was actually impressed by how very well coordinated the whole thing was; it wasn't for once the case of too much resting on one writer or artist's shoulders, and it came out pretty much like clock-work, and something happened almost every time it did. For me this had the flavor of what Busiek initially did with Thunderbolts, pulling out new surprises from decades of established continuity. It almost reminded me of the 1970s House of Ideas in some ways, of course, that was a pretty chaotic time, too.
Jamil: So in conclusion: cut out the crap and raise the stakes. The company did an awesome job of balancing risk with a tried and true formula, and it generally worked. We have a new era ahead of us, boys, and I'm looking for bold new comics that compel me to visit my LCS on a weekly basis. Marvel, you didn't totally botch this one, but we're keeping a dutiful eye on you.
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.