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Trouble with Comics

Avengers Vs. X-Men #12

Story: Marvel Hivemind

Script: Jason Aaron

Artist: Andy Kubert

And so Marvel’s latest carnival ride grinds to a halt, creaking with metal fatigue, bolts scattered across the fairgrounds. I don’t know if it’s the long or short straw, but Aaron draws the one making him wrap it up.

In full disclosure, I haven’t technically read all of this series. That is, I’ve read the bulk of every issue, but as of #7, I’ve been skipping pages, and it turns out it doesn’t really make much difference. The reason is that, like so many pamphlets these days, there’s not enough story to justify its length. We get some of that even in this ultimate issue, with several pages of unimportant heroes flying around to no purpose, without dialogue. Early in the series, you could kind of get away with this kind of thing, but by now we all know that anything Nova or Avengers Academy do will contribute fuck-all to stopping Dark Cyclops.

Speaking of whom, when Cyclops ends up as a visorless, enflamed figure with what appears to be a glowing toilet seat around his neck, you just know that mistakes were made. I had been wondering for years why nobody seemed to “get” Cyclops, such a potentially interesting character. Had anyone got right what a self-righteous prig marrying a former villain might be like? Did Cyclops ever try to be a better brother? A better son to Xavier? No, for the past few years, he’s just been the dictator of his own island, arguably a worse leader than Magneto was for Genosha. A guy who never considered that he might be wrong, that other methods might work better. And now he’s just a big bunch of power in human shape.

Much of a film’s success has to do with its editing. We don’t think about it in terms of comics that much, except in cases like this, where the scenes are sequenced in such a way as to make several pages les interesting than they should have been. That is, we see Hope turn on Scarlet Witch, and the next thing we see, they’re going up against Cyclops. THEN, we get several pages of them fighting and then learning to work together, and nobody cares by then. Add to that that, let’s face it, it’s a little late in the game to explore the very understandable conflict between the last hope of mutantkind and the mutant who made her necessary. I can’t entirely blame Aaron, since several Marvel writers plotted this whole thing, but there’s more thought put into nonsense like Hope mimicking Scarlet Witch’s hex ability and combining it into the Iron Fist, than in exploring how any of these characters might feel about all this crazy stuff going on.

The denouement has elements of a good scene between Captain America and the now-incarcerated Cyclops, where Cyclops at first expresses some remorse over killing Professor Xavier, but then rationalizes his actions as a win for mutant kind, since Cap is going to form a new, mutant-heavy Avengers and do more to forward the cause for peace and understanding. Perhaps due to crosscutting between panels of other developments in the superhero world, Aaron never pulls together the scene coherently. It’s just crap banged into publishable shape quickly. Andy Kubert has never been and never will be an A-list artist, but at least starts off okay in this one, with a polish that’s probably more to do with whoever inked those pages, before obviously grinding it out at the end. If this was a baseball game, you’re supposed to put in your closer in the 9th, not the 6th inning journeyman reliever. Well, what was a basically sound story at its core was botched and stretched and padded until it lost all meaning and momentum. But maybe down the road, a movie or cartoon will use this, cut the fat, and make it actually work. 

—Christopher Allen

Marvel What Now?

Entertainment Weekly has the exclusive news on Marvel Now!, the wave of relaunched series in the wake of Marvel Comics’ latest hit comics event, Avengers vs. X-Men. The facts as presented in the article: At least three new or relaunched books, including Avengers by Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena, Uncanny Avengers by Rick Remender and John Cassaday, and All-New X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen. Avengers will be twice-monthly. Avengers has the largest team, up to 18 characters for Hickman to work with, including what may be for some a surprising choice, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu. Uncanny presents a Captain America-led team of Avengers that includes some mutants, as Cap realizes he didn’t do enough for them before. And All-New finds the original X-Men of Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman and Marvel Girl Jean Grey plucked right out of their youthful, Xavier Academy days and plopped down in a future (our present) more horrible than their worst fears, and seeing adult versions of themselves they don’t want to become. The new titles will spell an end for Bendis on the Avengers franchise, an end for Hickman on his Fantastic Four and F.F. titles, and an upgraded status for Remender.

So what to make of all this? Well, the optimistic side of me that read nearly all of DC’s New 52 titles when they began has kind of gone back in his hole like a groundhog. Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso is quoted as saying he likes to take creators out of their comfort zone, but that seems a little disingenuous to me. He’s taking talent he’s familiar with, who have been writing team books for Marvel for years, and just playing some musical chairs. I sure didn’t see Alonso goosing Bendis out of his comfort zone during his much-too-long run on the various Avengers, taking a, “if it’s breaking but still sells, don’t fix it” approach. I still think he has his moments, but try to read New Avengers and tell me he isn’t just marking time. And as much as I like Stuart Immonen, I’d rather they put Bendis outside his comfort zone with a new artist he’s not that familiar with. I realize these two have sold a lot of books together, but at the same time, I think it’s harder to sell this as something “all-new” with the same Bendis/Immonen lineup. The premise for All-New X-Men is different, but I’m not sure I want to spend $24 on a first arc where Jean Grey & Co learn about the internet. It also begs the question of just how long ago they were supposed to be kids, for the world to have changed this much. 

I think Hickman is a good writer when he keeps characters in mind more than conspiracies and complicated history, so a huge cast for Avengers sounds like it could be troublesome. But I like Opena and have pretty high hopes for this one. As for Remender, I think he’s pretty good as well, though I’m a little surprised he has what is called in the article the flagship book. How is Uncanny Avengers and not Avengers the flagship Avengers book? I think the answer starts with John and ends with Cassaday, as it seems the talented artist wants to sequential art again after the last four years or so mainly provide covers for Dynamite Entertainment and others. Cassaday is always worth a look, and I like that he’s working with what I believe is a new writer for him. As far as the concept, with its mix of both Avengers and X-Men villains, including a rebooted Red Skull clone by Arnim Zola with his ’40s Nazi mindset, it sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Remender is good at goofy, over-the-top stuff, and after eight years of mostly talky Avengers ribbing each other at the dinner table, I’m ready for some crazy stuff.

What does it mean for the rest of Marvel? I’m sure we’ll hear more soon, at SDCC and elsewhere. I would guess New Avengers is gone, replaced by the twice-monthly Avengers, and Secret Avengers (which Remender was writing) is probably gone as well, with some of those b-listers ending up in Avengers. Avengers Academy? Who knows? Hopefully if it goes, Cristos Gage will have other work lined up, as he’s done a good job on that book. What’s more interesting is what the effect is on solo Avengers books like Mighty Thor and Iron Man, and if there are changes coming to the X-Men books. How much or how little is Marvel architect Matt Fraction involved in Marvel Now? And depending on the outcome of AvX, there may be little reason to have Wolverine and Cyclops still at odds and with separate books. Finally, while Marvel still has a stronger talent pool than DC, they’ve taken a bit of a hit with Ed Brubaker now only writing one mostly stand-alone book, Winter Soldier, and folks like Bendis and Mark Millar who still sell books but who arguably were at their zenith several years ago, the question remains whether Marvel is going to keep bringing over fresh talent. Where’s the next Hickman? Is Cullen Bunn the next big guy, or will people unfavorably compare his Captain America to Brubaker’s?

—Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 087 - Siege/Avengers Wrap

Siege #4, Avengers: The Initiative #35, Dark Avengers #16, The New Avengers Finale #1.

Writers - Brian Michael Bendis, Christos Gage

Artists - Bryan Hitch, Stuart Immonen, Mike Deodato, Olivier Coipel, Jorge Molina, Others.

After basically ignoring most Marvel series the past few years (getting a few in collections such as Captain America and, more recently, Agents of Atlas), Siege was a way for me to catch up at the tail-end of the Norman Osborn Era, and see what Bendis and the other writers were doing. I didn’t care for the plotting of issue #1 and thought Coipel’s art was less than dynamic, but the story picked up a bit with the revelation that The Sentry was possessed by his arch-nemesis (or other side of the coin), The Void. It wasn’t all that much of a revelation, as aside from having Sentry sleep with several superheroines I don’t think much effort was made to give him other enemies. He was Osborn’s high-powered stooge, and so it was inevitable he go down and go down hard. I mainly just liked how The Void was depicted as an evil crab.

I think Bendis is generally best with scenes of characters relating to each other without a whole lot at stake and not many plot points to hit. Siege is about clearing away what, in the chunk of Avengers back issues I read, seemed to be a pretty fruitful period. Crazy villain in charge of the military, with supervillains disguised as heroes while the real heroes are hunted and have to work off the grid—that’s pretty good stuff. Sprinkle in conflicts between old friends like Captain America and Iron Man and the more relatable concerns of bringing a baby into a crazy world (Luke Cage and Jessica Jones) and some kooky, larger-than-life romance (The Hood and Madame Masque), and there’s quite a bit of string to play out. 

Cutting those strings and getting back to the status quo of reasonable government and superheroes free to trash property and endanger civilian lives with the full support of those civilians is not where Bendis’ strengths are, so the miniseries had little momentum. Were there many of you out there who bought Siege #4 with breathless excitement? You knew the basics of what was going to happen. Bendis and Coipel get to the finish line with some nice if unspectacular moments, and lots of heroes standing around watching almost as passively as the reader. Volstagg fapping Osborn with the side of his sword isn’t worth $16.

Avengers: The Initiative #35 has to be a little bittersweet for Christos Gage, as the issue gives a lot of room to wrapping up Siege plot threads like the end of the Diamondback/Constrictor romance, as she smartly plays on her past with Captain America to get a pardon, intending to get Constrictor the same deal, but looking on from above, he just thinks she’s dumped him and makes his escape, heartbroken but resigned to a life of crime. I didn’t think I’d ever write anything like that about perennial third-stringer Constrictor, so points for the effort. The parts of the book that feature the regular cast are less interesting. I’ll give the rapprochement of two characters a pass because I wasn’t around for their romance and breakup in the first place, but the scenes involving Justice and others blathering about keeping the superhero school dream alive don’t have anything fresh to them. I will give Avengers Academy a try, though, since there Gage will have a much better artist in Mike McKone.

The New Avengers Finale is a bit of an oddity. I suppose they did a one-shot instead of a final issue of the regular series since New Avengers is relaunching next month, though I’m not sure putting a one-shot between the series makes that less confusing. The first thing that stands out to me is that after about a decade of pretty good choices in projects, Hitch has made two choices in a row (including Captain America: Reborn) that seem superfluous and uninspired, building off the monthly work of others. 

Right from the cover, one of the more timid pieces I’ve seen from Hitch, we know we’re not in for anything close to his best. He shares pencil duties with Stuart Immonen, but I’m guessing both were doing something closer to breakdowns on some pages, with Butch Guice’s (credited as main inker here, with Andrew Currie and Karl Story backing him up) rougher style seeming to win out in most panels. I like Immonen and Guice fine, just don’t expect this to look a whole lot like Hitch. 

Bendis seems to have cranked out this script without much thought and little editing, as there are some silly errors. Oddly enough, the main story, which finds the Avengers team of Captain America (Bucky), Ronin, Mockingbird, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man, Cage and Wolverine on the trail of Masque and Hood. As Hood lost his powers, I’m not sure why they need so many Avengers, but whatever. The lovers on the lam seek help from Masque’s dad, Count Nefaria, who gets a funny line that shows his greed winning out over his paternal instincts, and it’s funny that, like most dads, he’s disappointed in his daughter’s choice of boyfriend and thinks she can do better. Hood wants Nefaria to re-power him and Nefaria is going to soak him for all his money to make that happen. The Avengers show up before that happens and that’s pretty much it for the story, aside from making clear that the good guys are the good guys again. The story has no complications and didn’t need to be double-sized at all. For some reason, I feel kind of protective of the old villains who don’t get around much anymore. You sort of want this to be Nefaria’s Crazy Heart, but no, he just really gets his ass kicked, sliced and fried. Any of these Avengers could have taken him solo, but instead they take turns. Poor bastard.

Dark Avengers #16 finishes off that book, and it’s the best of the lot. I like the dusty, sun-bleached look of Deodato’s art, plus there’s more new story here, even if it’s mostly setting up the new Avengers books. Daken escapes in a fun scene that doesn’t soft pedal what a cold-blooded killer he is. Bendis refuses to kill darling Victoria Hand, or at least let her rot in jail. Instead, Steve Rogers sees something in her and puts her on his team, which is just crazy enough to work, or else it’s just going to lead to stories with a character who should have gotten off the stage. We’ll see. I did really hate Deodato’s depiction of Osborn, which now isn’t just Photoshopped Tommy Lee Jones but is now some weird computer modeling that looks more like a Gerry Andersen Thunderbird. That wasn’t a good way to end the book.

As far as the new Avengers books look, I have to think Bendis has some other members in mind besides the ones we’ve see in the promotions. Besides Bucky and Luke Cage, all the others have at least one solo and/or team book guiding their fates. That doesn’t give Bendis a lot of room to operate. I would guess he’s got some other reclamation projects in mind.

—Christopher Allen