Monday, June 25, 2012

Halfway Through Avengers vs. X-Men, Jack asks "Is it over yet?"

Hi. I’m Jack, and I’m a nerd. And no, I don’t mean the kind of nerd who wears pocket protectors or has a lucky inhaler. I’m talking about the comic book collecting, lightsaber owning, renaissance fair attending, Magic: the Gathering playing kind of nerd. I’m sure you can relate. You see, I tell you this because I want you to know that I’m on your side. That every time you wait in line for opening day tickets to the next big superhero movie, I’m there with you. Making out your contingency plan for the zombie apocalypse? Yup, I’ll help you with that. Or how about staying up to date with Marvel’s latest mega-event? Of course. So, my friends, I hope you’ll forgive me when I make the following confession: I hate Avengers vs. X-Men.

It hurts me to say it, but it’s true. Now I know that there are many who would disagree with me. In the past few months, I’ve been unable to so much as step into my local comic shop without overhearing the thrilled reactions of each and every fanboy who flips through the pages of the latest issue. I know it has the industry’s greatest talents behind it. And I love when a story brings fans together in such a way as this one has. But for me, A vs. X just isn’t doing it. So bear with me as I discuss my reasoning for what sucks about the series. That is, if you’re still reading this instead of tracking me down for a public lynching on account of hating anything connected to Brian Michaels Bendis.

I think my anxiety began at the first mention that A vs. X would center on the Phoenix Force. For me, my big issue with the Phoenix is that it’s something that never seems to be clearly defined. Sometimes it’s some sort of hostile alien. Other times it’s a destructive force of nature. Occasionally it’s portrayed as Jean Grey’s evil split personality or her own powers gone haywire, as with X3: The Last Stand. Although more often than not, it’s lazily written in as nothing more than Jean’s ticket back from the grave. The one thing that always remains true about the Phoenix is that every story involving it gives me a headache. Hell, back in the early nineties it even managed to ruin the X-Men Animates Series, the single greatest joy of my nine year old existence save for my Micro Machines Millennium Falcon and blue raspberry flavored Warheads.

My misgivings for the Phoenix aside, A vs. X also didn’t strike me as a terribly creative concept. I mean, Civil War was a mere five years ago. The memory of our favorite heroes going toe to toe is still fresh in my mind. And the fact that the X-Men were primarily absent from said conflict just makes the current title seem less like a sequel and more of a do-over. It’s as if the writers are saying: “Oh, you guys wanted to see more X-Men in Civil War? Our bad. Tell you what. We’ll just do it again, ok?”

For the record, I loved Civil War. Not just because it was the first time that we ever saw friends, teammates, and families at each other’s throats, but also because the story had undertones of real problems in America today. The Superhuman Registration Act represented Big Brother, and the general loss of privacy we all experience in an increasingly digital world. Not to mention the forever game-changing plot twists such as the reveal of Spider-Man’s secret identity and the death of Captain America. Sadly, Marvel demonstrated its typical haste to renege on both plotlines before either gained any real momentum.

Unfortunately, A vs. X seems to be less interested in setting up a hard hitting story and more focused on showing us who would win in a fight. It’s essentially the comic book version of the little kid taunt: “My dad could beat up your dad”. Yeah, maybe he could, but what difference would it really make? Why would they even fight in the first place? Apparently Marvel doesn’t know either. And so far, I’ve seen very little in the way of the ground breaking plot twists we’ve all come to love and expect. The roster for both teams has been predictable at best. My biggest complaint is that as big a pain in the ass as the Phoenix has been previously, the only two X-Men to have a problem with its return are Wolverine and Beast? So essentially, unless you’re a card-carrying Avenger, you just go along with anything Cyclops says? Especially since the outcome of the Schism mega event, this just doesn’t seem right to me. So far, the only highlight for me has been Tony Stark’s construction of a giant Iron Man rocket designed to murder the Phoenix once and for all, thus furthering my love for the billionaire playboy philanthropist. If only it had worked. At this point I have to warn you, if you haven’t read Avengers vs. X-Men #5, read no further. There will be spoilers.
Now I know what many of you will say. “No plot twists? What about the Phoenix Five?” Ok, I’ll admit, I didn’t see that one coming. Doesn’t mean it was a good or interesting twist in any way. So Hope decides she doesn’t want the Phoenix after all. Good choice. But as Tony’s rocket fails to destroy the giant bird, it instead splits into five pieces and enters as many X-Men. Because really, what’s more annoying than a Phoenix? Five Phoenixes, that’s what. I literally laughed out loud when I turned the page and saw the five of them standing there, all wearing costumes that look like knock-offs of DC Comics’Nightwing. The one host in particular that drives me crazy is Colossus. Doesn’t he have enough going on right now? I swear they should change the name from“Avengers vs. X-Men” to “The Many Personas of Colossus”. Let’s think about it. He’s already an X-Man who turns into organic steel. But lately he’s also been the Juggernaut. Now he’s the Phoenix too? What’s next? His mind gets merged with Xavier’s and Magneto’s and he becomes Onslaught as well? Marvel needs to stop ruining this beloved character and give us back the real Juggernaut as the iconic villain we love to hate.

Finally, I would like to point out that at least the set up for the next six issues looks a bit more interesting. I’m stoked to finally see the return of the Scarlet Witch, and the recent development of Iron Fist as some kind of destined savior seems pretty original. Plus, the godlike abilities of the Phoenix Five reshaping the world as we know it raises some tough ethical questions. But we all know how this one ends. History shows that no matter how good ultimate power may seem, that it’s only a matter of time before the Phoenix goes bat shit crazy and tries to kill us all. Good luck killing all five, Wolverine.
In conclusion, I feel like we all need to just take a step back and admit that maybe these mega events aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I miss when I was a kid and every issue you bought was a stand-alone story. You never needed to know any back history or buy six other titles just to stay afloat with the plotlines. Those were good times. Nowadays, you can’t even choose to ignore these events, since they have a way of seeping into all the other monthly titles. I’m beginning to cringe at the giant A vs. X banners on the cover of my beloved publications, especially since it’s only at the halfway point. Every time it leaves me asking myself: “Is it over yet?” Or, to quote everyone’s favorite webhead: “Remember the old days when heroes would cross paths, have a little misunderstanding and fight for a while, then put aside their differences to team up and save the day? Boy, I sure do miss those days.”
Me too, Spidey. Me too.

Jack of all Trade Paperbacks
Contributing Writer

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