Avengers VS X-Men: The two biggest franchises in comics history go to war! A 12-issue event written by the unprecedented team of Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Jonathan Hickman, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction with art by the blockbuster trio of John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel and Adam Kubert, Avengers VS X-Men brings Marvel's biggest characters into conflict for an unforgettable battle beginning in April 2012!
Avengers vs. X-Men is about the Phoenix Force coming to earth, summoned to the planet to correct the Scarlet Witch's genetic tampering, which she used her magic to eliminate nearly all the mutants in the world five or six super mega universe changing events ago in House of M. The first mutant born after Scarlet Witch's actions was Hope, and she is expected by most to be the next vessel of the Phoenix. The Avengers plan to take her into custody before the Phoenix Force arrives, while the X-Men hope to train her to control the force and use it to restore the mutant race. This is what leads to the whole Avengers against the X-Men thing.
I'll skip the details, but when The Phoenix Force arrives, it splits into pieces and is absorbed by five of the X-Men: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magick. The five of them decide to use their new-found power to "fix" the world, a goal they're actually able to accomplish. Mankind is living in peace, and all the world's problems are solved. However, the Avengers know it's only a matter of time before the Phoenix Five lose control of their power, so they keep fighting them, causing them, ironically, to lose control of their power. As the "Phoenix Five" are taken down, the Phoenix power becomes more concentrated in the others until, finally, one X-Man remains with the full power of the cosmic force: Cyclops. With so much concentrated power, history repeats itself and Scott becomes Dark Phoenix. The Avengers, who have had their asses handed to them in nearly every fight so far against the individual X-Men imbued with a portion of the Phoenix Force now have to find a way to defeat that power at its full capacity. Don't worry, I have a feeling they will find a way. Oh yeah, and Professor X is killed in there somewhere (again).
Though I normally review books here at Reading Realms, I grew up on comic books and review them for other websites. I had been considering adding reviews for comic trades to Reading Realms, since I spend considerable time on them, and figured, "what better place to start than with AvX?" Also of note is the different format here. I went with a breakdown of problems instead of a standard review. Where I normally put a novel aside for another when I'm not enjoying it, comic books, with their more easily digestible format, make it easier to get to the end of a story even if you aren't enjoying it. So what earned it one star? Well, mainly the fact that I didn't have a graphic made for zero stars. To be serious though, the problems are numerous:
1. A Manufactured Event
Avengers vs. X-Men was the big Marvel Event this year. It has become standard practice to have large, multi-book crossover events every year to drive sales, whether they come together naturally or have to be forced into creation. Many actions and events are shoe-horned into place for the sake of creating the "means to an end" that is predetermined and will lead the next arc of stories, which will lead to the next event. This gives the reader the feeling that the entire comic book line is built around these events, resulting in more editorial mandates and less quality storytelling. The corporate overlords at Marvel don't understand that readers can tell the difference between a writer creating an amazing story that evolves organically into something bigger and a group of suits deciding on an artificially "shocking" which they can tout at comic cons and the Jimmy Kimmel show.
We see this in Hollywood all the time: a gifted director creates something great and studios try to break that creation down into a formula to recreate it. The success of Sin City brought us The Spirit. The success of Nolan's Batman trilogy has pushed the upcoming Superman movie, Man of Steel, toward a darker and more realistic take. It works often enough to make a quick buck and, therefore, is viewed as a viable marketing strategy, but it's not the way to make a great story.
Technically one could say that all stories are "manufactured," and that is semantically true, but I would rather have a writer "manufacture" the story than a group of editors or stockholders. Watchmen came to us because of Moore and Gibbons, not because a group of editors at DC got together and plotted the story out for the purpose of creating some massive hit, and then assigned their employed talent to execute a concept they may not fully believe in. After all, artists have visions, not committees.
2. Story and Pacing
Another huge issue is the ability to follow and understand a complete story when only reading the core series. Events like this bleed over into half of Marvel's line of books, not to mention needing several stand alone mini-series, including the prequel: Avengers: X-Sanction and sister book: VS, which seemed to focus on all the possible match-ups that could happen when you pit hero against hero. For the purpose of this review, I read only Avengers vs. X-Men (and the prequel) so that I could review it as a stand alone story. For the most part, one can follow and understand the story while only reading the core twelve issues, but, in doing so, pacing and structure become the larger concern.
Fans often complain about comics being "written for the trade" these days. The problem with that theory is that it's not altogether true. The real problem is that they are written for both the trade and the monthly. This can be done right (we see it every arc from comics like The Walking Dead), but all too often it's handled poorly, and Avengers vs. X-Men is no exception.
Instead of allowing the premise of heroes fighting heroes to build in a way that feels natural, it occurs too quickly and, as a result, most of the heroes' actions are out of character and don't always make sense. In order for us to have the hero vs. hero fighting that some fans salivate over, some sort of epic battle is built into nearly every issue. This not only takes away from the one or two battles that truly should be epic, but also steals time away from other things that need to unfold in the story, like the build up to conflict I spoke of, or the preparations for the final battles. Whether some of these things I missed take place in other books or not is irrelevant. Avengers vs. X-Men is its own series, and, as such, should be able to stand on its own, especially considering the nearly fifty dollar price tag for all twelve issues.
3. Deus Ex Machina
All too often, stories are built up to a point that the odds appear impossible to win, only to have something magically occur to wrap up everything at the last moment for the good guys. Although I think Marvel tried its best to avoid that here by building up that solution and showing Hope (sort of) train and prepare for what she will have to do in the end, it doesn't really work. As the story pushes toward the end, the problems I've mentioned build to a climax that overshadows the story itself.
It felt like editors decided two things that hurt this story before it began. First, "hero vs. hero is a popular concept. Let's make the Avengers fight the X-Men," and, second, "we want to be at 'this point,' (the point of a Marvel NOW! relaunch) at the end of the story, so do whatever you have to do to get there, whether it makes sense or not." Perhaps I'm dramatizing, but the point is that the story doesn't flow, characterization seems off and the reader is pulled out of the story by things that are nonsensical, sometimes offensively so. Cyclops, the leader of one of marvel's major teams and a long time hero, is built up to become a villain and take a tragic fall, but the actions of the Avengers, who are equally if not more at fault for the whole mess, are met with no corresponding tragedy. It accomplishes Marvel's goals of moving the status quo of the universe where they want it while showing their most popular characters punching each other, but it does so clumsily and, frankly, in a way that is bound to alienate fans of the X-Men and cause them to resent The Avengers.
Some of the ideas have potential in Avengers vs. X-Men, but they fail in execution. The Scarlet Witch, a mutant who has the power of "chaos magic," our first deus ex machina, planted the seeds for this event years ago, when she said "No More Mutants," and all but 198 mutants lost their powers and became human. Hope, our second deus ex machina, was the first mutant born after what was dubbed "M-Day," and has powers that are also somewhat limitless and vague in that she can mimic the powers and manipulate the genes of all mutants. So, the big solution here is that Scarlet Witch and Hope are some sort of yin and yang that compliment each other and can work together to stop the Phoenix. At least that's what Marvel is going for, but it doesn't work organically. You just have to take their word for it.
First it fails because their powers truly don't have a hard definition and can essentially 'do anything' needed story-wise. This brings us to the second reason the concept doesn't really work: their powers don't make sense as yin and yang. Their characters do, I suppose, but not their powers. I could live with that though. The third reason is that Hope doesn't do anything differently than what she can already do. There was no break-through in training. She simply uses her power, mimics Wanda's superpowers, and they beat up Dark Phoenixclops.
The mirror side of deus ex machina is not knowing what to do when you give characters unlimited power. I've focused on Scarlet Witch and Hope so far, but the bigger issue is Cyclops. A character that has the power to do nearly anything constantly limits himself by fighting hand to hand, using his optic blasts to knock people down instead of using his Phoenix powers fully. Jean Grey once used the Phoenix Force to repair the Universe, and Hope uses it to restore the mutant race. Cyclops uses it to kill his father figure, the one person he may be as close to as Jean Grey, but not once does he use it to end the fight against the Avengers.
The Bottom Line:
I've pointed out the main reasons why I believe this is a poorly written story. Worst of all, though, is what they do to characters here. These are characters that I was somewhat neutral on before, enjoying them when they are used right. Cyclops, Wolverine, Captain America, and Beast, to name a few, I end up despising by the end. Not because they are good or evil, but because they behave obnoxiously without justifiable reason. And the blame for that lies solely on the writers.