Thursday, 6 December 2012

Avengers Vs. X-Men: The Dumbest Superhero Book Ever?

This review is going to contain a lotta spoilers so be warned - if you want to save the crappy surprises for when you venture into this title, skip this review entirely, then come back and agree vigorously with my opinions. 

Back in the 90s, Marvel and Capcom teamed up to create a Marvel Superheroes fighting game; now in 2012, comes the late novelisation of that game. Not really, but “Avengers Vs. X-Men” is essentially the same idea – characters pointlessly brawling with one another.

The book started poorly with an introduction by a WWE wrestler called CM Punk. He incorrectly calls his intro a “forward” instead of a “foreword”; I immediately stopped reading and turned to the story proper.

Anyone saying you “have” to read a ton of X-Men and Avengers books before reading this are probably working for Marvel because you simply don’t. “House of M” and subsequent books like “Messiah CompleX” and “Generation Hope” are interesting to read and set up this story but all you need to know going into this event is that a) Scarlet Witch got rid of almost all the mutants on Earth (less than 200 remain) by uttering a spell at the end of House of M: “No More Mutants”; and b) Hope Summers was the first mutant born after the spell and was subsequently hailed as the Mutant Messiah.

Phoenix - the fiery and all-powerful being that possessed Jean Grey in the “Dark Phoenix Saga” - is returning to Earth because the “creative” directors at Marvel have run out of ideas and are desperately ransacking past, greater storylines for their new books. The vessel Phoenix is going to choose, everyone thinks, will be Hope, the first and only mutant born after Scarlet Witch’s “No More Mutants” curse. Captain America and co. remember the devastation brought about by Phoenix the last time it visited Earth and bonded with Jean Grey, so they are understandably terrified of this happening again. If Hope is to be the new Phoenix, she must die. But Cyclops and co. believe Phoenix’s return will signal the rebirth of the mutant race and undo the damage caused by Scarlet Witch. If Hope is to be the new Phoenix, she must live. And so we have Avengers Vs. X-Men, a massive Royal Rumble of superheroes sparked by an argument about a being nobody fully understands and a possibility nobody knows will happen for sure.

But don’t think about the “plot” and “storyline” too much! This is about fighting! Stare at the colourful characters as they shoot colourful power beams and punch one another in their colourful costumes while gritting their teeth. Wow, Cyclops is fighting Cap! Red Hulk is fighting Thing! Doctor Strange is fighting Magik! And so on…

I did actually find this first cycle of fighting exciting and thought that with the fighting out of the way, maybe this predictable scenario would take a different turn? Then when Hope hits the road, on the run from both sides, and Wolverine joins her, I thought great! Wolverine and Hope going it alone! And then that storyline fizzles out mere pages later and we’re back to the fighting. And more fighting. And more fighting. Until Phoenix arrives, and then more fighting entails. That initial burst of interest had long been eclipsed by the sheer banality of the story and unrelenting tedium of the endless fighting.

Superhero comics are more than just fighting but that’s all this superhero book is: fight fight fight. And despite having a massive cast of characters, all of whom have decades of defined personalities, this book essentially wipes away all traces of them so they’re all monotone dullards. Spider-man (in his brief appearances) doesn’t crack jokes or say anything witty or interesting because all this fighting is all so serious. Iron Man is basically relegated to the side-lines to scientifically figure out how to beat Phoenix (by the way, where’s Reed Richards?) so when he appears he’s talking boring science crap; his charming, roguish personality is entirely absent.

Instead, arguably the two most boring characters in the Marvel U are given centre stage: Cyclops and Captain America. Cap is whiter than white bread and with his no-nonsense manner of speaking is about as interesting: he is practical, dull, and unimaginative, repeatedly yelling “Avengers Assemble!” way too many times. Cyclops has the personality of a brick. When he’s not being told what to do by his girlfriend, he’s whining about mutants being an endangered species for the billionth time, wittering on like a fussy hen and glumly looking into the middle distance. These have got to be the most tedious men to ever headline a superhero comic. Long before this book was over I wanted both of these dudes dead, never to return.

The storyline does get punched up to the next level when Phoenix appears but doesn’t pick Hope to bond with, instead dividing its power amongst Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magik to become the Phoenix 5 – because Iron Man did some…thing to it. And now they have jazzy new outfits like they stepped from the pages of the last Marvel event, “Fear Itself”. Anyway… remember that Cyclops wanted to use the Phoenix to bring back mutants? That turns out to be the one thing he doesn’t do with the Phoenix power. He does make the world a better place, destroying all guns and weapons and providing free and safe sustainable energy for everyone instead.

In the end, Cyclops follows the obligatory bad guy path to hell even though he was doing well controlling Phoenix until the Avengers kept showing up and fighting him. The ending is forced and contrived, predictably ending in a fight and once more using Scarlet Witch’s ridiculously over-powerful ability, emphasised by Hope, to cast out Phoenix (until Marvel need it for another event story) and then, for no reason, every mutant whose powers were taken by Scarlet Witch at the end of “House of M” has them returned.

It should also be pointed out that Cap does a complete 180 on his original plan for no reason. Initially he wanted to stop Hope from having contact with Phoenix as he was certain she would be unable to control it leading to the destruction of everything. But by the end, he has no problem with her becoming the Phoenix! She has literally done nothing to warrant this sudden trust but he’s ok with it anyway. If he would’ve just taken a minute and thought about it at the start then this whole AVX storyline could’ve been avoided. Especially as it doesn’t seem like Phoenix did anything terrible to Earth – got rid of weaponry, check, produced free, safe and renewable energy for all, check. It’s not until the Avengers start trying to kill the Phoenix 5 that things go wrong. I guess I’m saying Cap’s reputation as a strong, thoughtful leader is totally unjustified and he is in fact a complete and total incompetent.

My edition was the mammoth 568 page hardback. After the Avengers Vs. X-Men #0-#12 main issue story arc comes the #1-#6 AVX issues which are just fights. At least with the main storyline there are respites from the fighting to attempt including some sorely needed elements like dialogue, ideas, character and plot development (despite none of these things being effectively pulled off); with AVX, it’s just fighting. So we get some arbitrary fights with Iron Man Vs Magneto, Magik Vs Black Widow, Namor Vs Thing, and so on. These are fights that are supposed to be happening in the main story but were separate to keep that story from slowing down. It was with AVX that I realised why Marvel had asked a WWE wrestler to intro this book – these fights were the comic book equivalent of WWE wrestling: staged, colourful, and meaningless.

Finishing off this book is Infinite Comics #1, #6 and #10. Infinite was created for the sole purpose of reading comics digitally on tablets, which is a great idea. Content-wise, these comics rehash the events already gone over in the main story arc but with added pages that don’t improve the story. Consequently, like AVX, Infinite feels like an unnecessary add-on.

And speaking of unnecessary add-ons, you may be wondering what the “AR” boxes appearing on every other page in the book mean - “Augmented Reality” is another innovative feature by Marvel to integrate interactive content into their comics. Because when I read comics, I always think, this is good but what I really want when reading is to watch video. It’s a strange idea to insert video of artists informing the reader how they came up with a particular design choice for the panel but how interested are you in hearing about that really? It depends on the reader but I’m not one of those who needs to know everything about the creation of a comic. Also, I read to read – I’m not some ADHD kid who needs to flick from reading to watching video and back again every few panels.

Also, Xavier dying is becoming kind of a cliché at this point. He died in Grant Morrison’s “New X-Men”, he died in “Messiah CompleX”, he died in this book. It’s not at all affecting knowing that the character who died in this book has died many times before and Marvel has had no compunction in bringing him back to life. It seems almost pointless of them to shoehorn in his death (to give their story more emotional weight perhaps) but all it does is underline how pointless this entire story is. While the rule is that no-one is gone forever in Marvel except for Spider-man’s Uncle Ben, the stories should at least be entertaining – fail that, and you fail big. And this book fails.

It’s odd that this would be the case. Some of the best comics writers working today worked on this book. Jason Aaron, one of my favourite comics writers, has written a great run on Wolverine and is working on the even better Wolverine & the X-Men title; Ed Brubaker wrote one of the most acclaimed Captain America books ever; Jonathan Hickman’s doing stellar work on FF and Fantastic Four; and Brian Michael Bendis, whose work on Ultimate Spider-man, Marvel’s flagship character, speaks for itself: 12 years of first class writing and counting, his stewardship of that character has been invaluable to Marvel and readers alike. And yet, all of them worked on this book and all of them failed to create an interesting story. Too many cooks in the kitchen maybe? But it makes me think that maybe it’s not just the writers who should be blamed for this awful book but the dodgy creative direction at Marvel who steered this book into such unfathomably crap waters. Either way, despite this book having enormous talent attached, it is a massive artistic failure.

So another year, another lacklustre Marvel Comics event. “Avengers Vs X-Men” is for those who enjoy WWE wrestling and like to play with gadgets and watch videos rather than read a comic straight through. This book is dumber than Lou Ferrigno’s pants. It’s also for people who don’t care much about anything related to good storytelling, like character development, memorable scenes and dialogue, and good writing – just superheroes punching one another. This review is already too long so I won’t go into the many plot holes the flimsy premise of this book rests upon but suffice it to say “Avengers Vs X-Men” is a cynical, contrived, bloated mess of a book that, despite its immense bluster, is ultimately a very small, piecemeal story with forgettable moments offering nothing of substance.

If someone tells you this is a good book and is worth reading, be very suspicious. Chances are they’re waiting for you to fall asleep somewhere around the 300th page and umpteenth consequence-free fight, then steal your kidneys. But I’d wake up! you say. Oh no - reading this boring book is far more potent than camphor. You won’t awaken until it’s all over. To re-iterate: read this and you will lose your kidneys to the black market and die. To avoid this inevitable fate, stay far away from “Avengers Vs. X-Men”. But who wins? you ask, the Avengers or the X-Men? Nobody wins, you poor soul. We all lose by reading this.

Avengers Versus X-Men

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