Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ask Erik: Episode Five

Once a week, Erik takes one of your questions and uses it as an excuse to not think of a topic answers it, using the time to present information about himself, the entertainment industry, and Wikipedia research topics that people care about.

To Erik: What'd you think of Avengers vs. X-Men?

Never let it be said I don't keep just behind current events.

For comic book readers who were asleep under a rock during most of 2012, the biggest storyline to emerge from Marvel was the huge battle between the wayward mutants and Earth's mightiest heroes.  It was a huge, all-out, no holds barred that resulted in one (1) death, huge changes that I'm sure will last at least one year, and one of the most terrible costume decisions of all time.  So does it hold up to such other great company-wide crossovers such, well Fear Itself was pretty decent,, yeah, let's see how good it is.

Here's the plot breakdown in its simplest terms:  The Phoenix Force (a cosmic entity known to consume planets and inhabit the bodies of specific telepathic redheads) is coming back to Earth.  The Avengers, rightfully, are worried because planets in the Phoenix's path tend to look like Alderaan after the Death Star wanders past, and the X-Men...well, okay, Scott Summers, leader of the X-Men, believes that the Phoenix is coming back because of a girl named Hope, and that its return will save the day for mutants, which are now a dying breed in the Marvel Universe.

Now, I have to address something here...while I love the original message of the X-Men ("protecting a world that hates and fears us!") I hate what they've become.  Originally, the X-Men were symbols that could stand for anything that people were being persecuted for.  Skin color?  Sexual preference? Whatever you feel isolated from everybody else over, the X-Men represent you and your struggles to be accepted by the masses.

Granted, I don't believe a single gay person was ever hunted by a 40-foot tall purple robot, but that's comics for you.

This idea became a bit lost when the number of mutants in the Marvel Universe reached a number so high that they were taking over entire districts of New York, but was still there since, while there might be areas of society that was accepting to who someone was, leaving that area might still be a risk.  It did, however, lose the "try to be accepted" part in two ways:

1) "Mutant problems" were always kept separate from "everybody else's problems."  There were clear lines between the departments at Marvel, so you rarely had an event happen in the X-Men that spilled out into the rest of the universe.  This left the X-Men rather "trapped," since we never saw Captain America or Thor reacting to the fact that the government funded giant robots to hunt and/or kill mutants, or that an ancient mutant who believed in "Survival of the Fittest" was trying to exterminate all life on the planet save for those he felt were "fittest."

2) The X-Men only ever fought other mutants or people trying to specifically kill mutants.  This gave the X-Men a feeling more like mutant gang wars.  While I was reading the comics, I kept waiting for the day we'd see Cyclops eating a sandwich in Manhattan and suddenly find himself fighting Spider-Man's rogues gallery, or have one of the female X-Men date Tony Stark for a while.  It always felt like the best way the X-Men could teach people they shouldn't be feared was to try to do their best to show that they wanted to help everybody, not just keep their "own kind" in check.

And then came "M-Day," which is when the Scarlet Witch stole the "mutancy" from all but a couple hundred mutants, and no more could be born.  This changed the X-Men dynamic even further, as they didn't seem to be at all about being accepted by the masses anymore, and just focused on survival.  This is an interesting idea, but the thing that ruined it for me was the fact that it suddenly became so terrible that nobody would be born with the "X-gene."

Wanting you and others currently like you to be accepted by the masses is one thing, but if you've been fighting for years that "mutants deserve equal rights like humans" and "we're people, too," to suddenly declare that your "species" is about to go extinct makes me think you're backtracking some.  So no more mutants would be born, does that suddenly mean that the people who would have been mutants suddenly have no purpose to their lives?  They can't shoot lasers from their eyes or grow wings or simply understand every language by just reading it, so they should just give up because screw it, who would want to be human?

I mean, I get wanting a culture to survive past being integrated, or wanting to remember your history, but being a mutant doesn't seem to really reach that level of 'something will be lost."

And this was my biggest problem with the X-Men in this book, that they're willing to fight the Avengers because they hope that the Phoenix's return will mean their "race" won't be extinct.  Cyclops even goes on about how "mutants are supposed to be the next stage in evolution," which leads me to think he's changed enough from "we just want to be accepted" that he's now "look out, puny people, we're going to take your place so suck it up and live with it!"  Suddenly, the "bad guys" building mutant-hunting robots are a bit more sympathetic, since they're looking out for the continued survival of their own race.

So all the X-Men rally behind Scott (except Wolverine, so kudos to him) because if they didn't, it'd be one page of Cyclops trying to blast Cap and then Thor backhanding him across an island.  So there's that, which is why I was supporting the Avengers right off the bat.  A major twist comes when the Phoenix does arrive, it gets "blown up" and absorbed by five mutants, none of which are Hope, and the first thing those five do is try to make the world a better place.

Two quick side notes:

1)  Why does anybody let Magik run around?  She's a proclaimed leader of a section of Hell, she has no soul, and even before she became a cosmic-level character, she kept trying to murder any Avengers she fought and got glee out of bringing them pain.  The character needs to either just become a villain or take a bullet to the head.

2) Cyclops now runs around in a thong over his costume.  Thank you, Marvel, no drinking will help me unsee that.

Now, my initial reaction was that this would lead to teamwork between the two sides, helping five people unprepared for the amount of power they now wield to keep it under control, and perhaps show them slowly losing their minds as "absolute power corrupts absolutely."  But no, instead the Avengers start picking fights for no better reason than "We gotta stop the X-Men!"  I get that they're worried about the power corrupting, as one other reviewer I read called it, "Team P.E.N.I.S. (Piotr, Emma, Namor, Illyana, Scott)", but it seems like if they're currently doing nothing more than helping plants grow in the desert and eliminating diseases in third world nations, maybe you should cut them some slack?

If I was doing a standard review, I'd comment that the artwork is great, the spotlight on some B-level heroes is superb, and that, as per usual, my favorite moments happen in the side stories that were printed in books outside of the main storyline.  But while I like the new direction the Marvel Universe seems to be taking post-series, I really got the impression that things were rushed to get there.  Characters act completely out of character, fights are picked and then resolved with no real reasoning given, and the implications of the connection between the Phoenix at the end of the series and people getting mutant powers just makes the "SCIENCE!" part of my brain hurt.

If I had to list my favorite moments, I'd have to list a scene where Spider-Man helps the Avengers rescue a few of their fallen comrades and then makes a huge sacrifice to stay behind and hold off two people at a power level so far above his they barely notice him.  There's also a moment when the Black Panther straight-up backhands Tony Stark and tells him to "get over himself and focus on the bigger picture."  That's just great.  Oh yeah, and "chaos fist" is just a fun phrase.

As for the big fights...they were fun to look at, but ultimately meaningless.  Pretty much any character could defeat any other character in the right circumstances or with the right plot device, so when I see Iron Man (a guy in metal armor) able to actually give Magneto (a guy who controls metal) a strong challenge, I chalk it up to "someone thought this fight idea was cool, then had to come up with a way to make it work."

Worst moment?  The side story that had a fight between Thor and Emma Frost, which consisted of Emma Frost teasing Thor that he might want to be sexually taken from behind by a woman, and Thor responds by smashing his hammer between Emma's legs so she explodes.  Seriously.  What the *(@#.

Oh, one other thing.  Seriously, Marvel, is your trade paperback schedule so messed up that Avengers Academy has put out the end of their series before we get the issues that cross over with this storyline?  What the hell's going on over there?

In conclusion, I give this series...probably a low B.  It's nowhere near as good as my favorite huge company crossover (which, at current time, is still The Infinity Gauntlet).

No comments: