Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Jim Cheung w/Dodson, Yu, Kubert and way too many inkers
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editors: Tom Brevoort with Daniel Ketchum and Wil Moss
Jamil Scalese: These event comics are a tricky thing. They’re unabashedly commercial and decorated with gimmickry. They work to sell high volumes of floppies and trades and to create new IPs to use at later dates (see: Secret Wars; Avengers 2: Age of Ultron). This is super true on the Marvel side which churns these things out twice a year and with too few alterations. At least with DC and their recent crossover Forever Evil they made valiant attempts to headline second tier characters, I’m talking about those lovable villains like Luthor and Captain Cold.
AXIS borrowed the idea of bad guy protagonists as it’s main pull but it didn’t really execute that aspect very well at all. The Inversion spell merely muddled the playing field and had many players switching depositions willy nilly. There was so much friendly fire that it almost parodied the trodden “hero vs hero” motif that is always a chief cog in these things.
In the AXIS #9 the Evil Avengers of Iron Man, Captain America-Falcon, Kluh and Cage attempt to kill Steve Rogers and the White Skull, very likely Chuck Xavier, in order to ensure the Inversion stays permanent. Magneto, Doom, and an enlightened Apocalypse join up to help ensure that everything is “reverted”, as it were. Everything is put back into place at the conclusion of this…well, except for three noticeable omissions.
Character death normally serves as the narrative consequence of crossovers but with that concept neutered at its core it’s very interesting/refreshing to see this development carryover beyond this miniseries. We knew through solicits that Tony Stark and Victor Creed were probably sticking to the switch but colored me shocked that Remender did the same to Alex Summers.
Shawn Hill: Just think about what you just typed. “White Skull.” That is about the most surreal element of this issue, something I never thought I’d see, a kinder gentler Nazi uber-monster, relic of the worst world war of the 20th century. Of course there were hints he was pretty much just Charles with vitiligo as the issue wore on, but seeing that Skull make wise decisions, and reach out with empathy and understanding to his friends and foes was still freaky.
The visceral charge of the reversals, however shallow, was the thrill for me in this series. Remender continues last issue’s more sophisticated dialogue, having Mystique and Creed compare their current situation to an earlier alliance of desperation and self-destruction; even inverted, the desire remains nearly the same. And Thor and Loki’s lonely battle on the moon, also an important contrast, as Loki tastes for the briefest of unlikely seconds what it feels like to hold and wield Mjolnir, an impossibility throughout eternity otherwise.
It took me a second to remember that Daniel Voodoo is controlling Wanda’s body when the witches all showed up to undo their spell; but I like that Remender only gave us shorthand hints, assuming we’ve been playing along and are as invested in the stakes as he is at this point.
Can you explain to me how Deadpool’s head can still talk though? Was it Inverted Zombie Deadpool after all?
Jamil: That’s a valid observation. Previously, the rule was that Deadpool could only be headless for a short while before eventually dying so that is a bit of mistake. I actually do kind of think the existence of Headpool from Deadpool: Merc With a Mouth is blended into what happens here.
I concur on the strong point of AXIS. Marvel’s version of Earth-3 did good work in that it rattled some weird reactions out of me. It came off as clunky early but I really like that Remender wrote all the Inverted folk as completely aware and accepting of the change. This really pulled through in the third act and especially the final issue. Holy crap is the Superior Iron Man a creepy villain, his speech a callous and dismissive soundtrack to disgusting actions. On the flip keeping Sabretooth in the land of protagonism pushes up resistance inside me that is firmly beat back by my curiosity. The Thor/Loki fight looked like the thousand fights but with an underlying Freaky Friday element that tosses all themes askew. Who am I rooting for again?
When I step back and try to make sense of AXIS, which at times was a little crisscrossed and misdirected, I see it as an extension of Uncanny Avengers, and a kind of sequel to the comic that birthed it, Avengers vs X-Men. Well, to be more precise — the first act “The Red Supremacy” was very much a offspring of Uncanny Avengers, but then the latter two acts spun into a bigger Marvel story. If you look at some of the main players of this story: Deadpool, Iron Man, Sabretooth, Loki, Carnage, Spider-Man, many of them have had no role in UA. I feel like this was Remender’s chance to play with some of the other toys in the sandbox. Due to branding and marketing it was labeled an event but I’m not sure it really should have been. It’s more of Uncanny Avengers Deluxe with a billion tie-ins.
Shawn: Uncanny Avengers Deluxe is something I obviously would have just bought, anyway. What would you say about the state of the tie-ins vs. the main story? Better, worse or on par? The ones you’ve pointed me too in your extensive coverage I’ve all enjoyed a lot.
While I thought the art was good, I don’t really get the inking onslaught. Were Jim Cheung’s pages coming in late enough that whoever was around that day had to do them, one by one? I thought he had his usual clarity for the most part, and I really enjoyed his White Skull, Loki and Scarlet Witch. I’d be happy if he was the only person ever to draw Scarlet Witch, as he earned a special place in my heart for Children’s Crusade.
Jamil: Cheung was a breathe of fresh air to close things out. His cover work for the series spoiled me and so far he’s the only one that has made Kluh look cool (could be because he designed him). There are mixes of Kubert, Yu and Dodson in the issue but it’s Cheung who stands out, expertly nailing much of the final action sequence. The only portion that fell flat was Dodson’s denouement, but maybe that’s because of that super peculiar and pretty dumb moment where the now-bad-again villains lie to cover for the heroes. …What? Why?
To go off your point on the exclusivity of certain creators to a project or character, I believe these events should only have one, maybe two artists maximum, and fit into the house style of Marvel. That criteria can shift a little bit, for example Origin Sin succeeded because Deodato worked magic and the plot mixed right into his core style, but they should hold steadfast to a certain look for the events. Cheung and Dodson both fall in the range of the Marvel ambiance, but I wouldn’t put them next to each other. I get that these choices are made logistically and not for pure creative reasons, but given how far out they plan these things I think it’s possible to have a small(er) pool of pencillers to serve as other side of the “Marvel Architects” concept the company was pushing a couple years ago.
In the end AXIS was worth the time. I like Remender a lot so I was pretty excited for this and it delivered with a bunch of neat superhero moments stacked on top of each other. It wouldn’t be the first work I’d hand off to the friend but I would recommended it if they were into reading a healthy plate of tie-ins.
So that partly answers your question, yes, the crossover titles helped fill this one out, and where probably of a slightly better quality. I’ll answer that somewhat more robustly below in my review of the final batch of tie-ins.
Shawn: I was not impressed with the Dodson work in this series (except when they did the Enchantress, there’s a special affinity there). But this issue was packed with visual interest from Cheung. I can’t imagine showing this to a novice reader, either. That’s because Remender knows his continuity well, and all of the better character moments in this series were based on years of story and audience expectations about how these particular players would behave. At moments the changes were crudely done, but in the last arc the details were back in focus and the twists improved, and the changes that are sticking I think might play out in a variety of surprising ways.
As to why the villains would want to clear the Avengers’ good name, maybe they want a clear line betw — nah, you know, I got nuthin’.
Tie-In Tie Up:
(Brian Posehn; Gerry Duggan; Mike Hawthorne; Mirko Colak; Terry Pallot; Ruth Redmond)
Just over two years on the run and the issue count is fairly staggering. Thirty nine by this writing team is impressive and though I’m hard on Posehn and Duggan the quality has not dipped below “meh”, and yeah, that’s a compliment.
Deadpool’s AXIS adventure has been better than his Original Sin stint, but that may be because it was shorter and with better art. Zenpool was a neat digression and the character was a treat under Remender’s pen in the mainline series. Also, I must report I finally get the idea behind Zenpool: Deadpool is imbalanced and thus Zenny is balanced. Better late than never, yeah?
This issue retires the pacifist and cleans up house after AXIS #9, particularly in regard to Evan, who functioned as one of the main villains of the crossover. The two first venture to reunite Wade’s head with his body, then scurry underground to seek refuge in the Monster Metropolis. When shunned there (apparently Poccy Lips got history with the underground populace) Deadpool puts his friend up in a safe house close to his daughter. All the while the comic gifts us with some of the best dialogue in the run. The Wade/Even relationship has become the most unexpectedly sweet bromance in comics. Still warming up to Shiklah though.
Mike Hawthorne receives a sweet assist from Colak on pencils and the two artists mingle together sufficiently. The result is an even clearer, more refined look for a book that typically excels in its visual precision and technical execution. Pallot’s non-intrusive inks compliment the linework and as a whole Hawthorne has done a exceptionable job creating a baseline look for the comic. The layouts, both panel and page, are superbly thoughtful and the emotion and underlying humor of the story is captured well. Redmond’s colors also deserve a nod, keeping with the gentle, sometimes hazy look that Val Staples and Jordie Bellaire helped established about twenty issues ago.
The issue reads as a wonderful capper to year two of Deadpool, tying off some subplots and acknowledging the large supporting cast they’ve created. There’s an affect of a fresh slate to the ending, a nod to Deadpool’s core status quo and the outlook of the character for the next chapter.
Superior Iron Man #2
(Tom Taylor; Yildiray Cinar)
The new-look, new attitude Stark is very likely most interesting result of AXIS, and on that promise I’ll probably stick with this book for a good spell. It’s just too rife with potential to not give it a long leash.
So far Tom Taylor and Cinar are using much of the leash’s slack because Superior Iron Man has yet to really catch a flow. Outside of evil Tony the plot is failing to hook me as the core story has no real thrust. Much like the first two issues there’s a heavy focus on Daredevil and it’s washing out the main character and his new outlook. In a weird way the book’s structure is inverse to a solo title, that is, Iron Man is the villain and Daredevil’s the protagonist. If that pattern would hold, a rotation of heroes trying to best Tony with the “bad guy” winning each time…well that would prove extremely dynamic…but we’re not there yet.
Part of the book’s problem is that Iron Man is such an unmitigated dick that it’s dangerous to focus the whole story on him. Taylor’s dialogue and voice for Stark is great, it’s pretty chilling to hear this guy speak of holding himself back around his Avengers peers and shrugging off the harm Extremis 3.0 is doing to the city of San Francisco. The natural resistance is to recoil at a heroic stalwart like Stark turning into a big(ger) ass but I think it’s fascinating and could lead to phenomenal character examination. Again, we’re just not there yet.
The same critique of the art remains, way too mundane for a book about a tech and ego. Yinar would be awesome on a street-level title like Heroes for Hire or something more straightforward in its concept like a Hulk comic. There’s an uncertain blandness that doesn’t speak to the art quality, just the art direction. I’m waiting for this series to heat up. Maybe it could drop a few bombs or vary the team-ups a little bit. There are elements hinting that the story will tighten, like the Pepper subplot, but more work needs done to justify this creative choice.
Tie-In Tie Up WRAP UP:
To follow up on Shawn’s inquiry regarding the tie-ins, yes I found them pretty damned good overall. AXIS had some messy elements but there were some good ideas behind Inversion. While the onus is always on the creators the feeling that editorial forces boxed in Remender (and thus his art partners) was present from almost the beginning.
The responsibility of fleshing out the Inversions fell to the tie-ins. The villains and anti-heroes got a respectable amount of play with AXIS: Hobgoblin, AXIS: Carnage, Magneto, Deadpool and Loki: Agent of Asgard all shining a light on the darker characters. AXIS: Revolutions did some good work too, though the only can’t-miss ish is #3. Will we see a return of the self-Inverted Sandman?
To go off an point from the main review: AXIS is the event for the Remender-Verse of Marvel comics. While Jonathan Hickman drives the Marvel/Avenger bus Remender has a separate vision, a stylish SUV driving in the other lane. So it should not be surprising many hero-centric books skipped AXIS. The ones that did were team titles like Avengers World, which carried on the awesome event tradition of pulling out some D-listers for a fun side story. From what I’ve read Peter David used AXIS to round off his All-New X-Factor run with some strong character work. Wolverine and the X-Men and Inhuman also worked to show off the Inverted heroes and their sinister ways.
Superior Iron Man and Captain America & Mighty Avengers are the two series that birthed from within AXIS and look to have life outside of it. I’ve covered the former, and I’m also healthily interested in the latter. I’ve heard people moan about the new Cap’s persona in CA&TMA and I’m interested in how effective it is to open Sam’s legacy that way. Sadly, budget and time prevented me from taking a look, the same story as Loki: Agent of Asgard. Sorry, Al Ewing!
Of course you should expect to find Shawn and I covering Uncanny Avengers #1 (v2), which will pick up multiple threads from AXIS. See you in January!