Friday, June 08, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 10 (Avengers vs. X-Men #5, Uncanny X-Men #13, and Avengers Academy #31)

I'll give Marvel one thing: no one saw that coming.

Of course, that doesn't make the ending of Avengers vs. X-Men #5 good or anything. I'm not sure what it is. It's one of those swerves where you're both "I want to see what happens as a result of this" and "That's really fucking stupid. They pay you guys, right?" The Phoenix Force arrives and, because Iron Man is a total cockblock, winds up possessing...

Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magik. None of whom are redheads.

My disappointment was almost guaranteed, I must admit. Marvel had only a limited number options with the direction of this story, none of them particularly great on the surface:

1. The Phoenix Force arrives, possesses Hope, and she resurrects the mutant race, proving Cyclops's crazy cult fanaticism right and Captain America's logic wrong.

2. The Phoenix Force arrives, possesses Hope, and she goes batshit crazy and must be killed, proving Cyclops's crazy cult fanaticism wrong and Captain America's logic right.

3/4. The Phoenix Force arrives, possesses someone not Hope, and either resurrects the mutant race or goes batshit crazy.

5. The Phoenix Force is stopped from reaching Earth, negating the reason for the central conflict of this story and leaving seven issues of characters fighting because the title says they should.

6. The Phoenix Force passes by Earth the way that it's passed by many worlds.

7. The Phoenix Force destroys Earth the way that it's destroyed many worlds.

I think that covers all of the variations. We were given option 3/4. We don't know if it's a 'resurrect the mutant race' or 'go batshit crazy' variation on that particularl idea yet, but that's where we are. Looking at the above options, do any inspire much excitement? It's almost like, upon reaching this point in the story, we're coming face-to-face with the fact that the Phoenix is a pretty limiting/stupid plot device. It coming to Earth leaves seven options, three of which won't be used no matter what. So, there are four options that we can expect to see and there isn't much variance in them.


Something I really liked about Avengers vs. X-Men #5 is that Matt Fraction made it feel like a 'big' issue. Good use of narration, good pacing, good reliance on John Romita, Jr. to sell some of the moments. In many ways, it felt like the first issue of this series that was successful, which is shocking given that this is the man who, last year, wrote Fear Itself.

The question then: has Fraction improved (learned from Fear Itself), or have the other issues been so poor that he just stands out by default?

After all, we've now seen all five of these writes take the lead, all working with the same artist. I haven't gone back to reread the first five issues to see how they work, but I can't imagine a smooth reading experience. Going off memory, I'd probably rank them: Matt Fraction (#5), Jason Aaron (#2), Brian Michael Bendis (#1), Ed Brubaker (#3), and Jonathan Hickman (#4). Part of that comes from what they had to work with in their particular issues, granted.

Next issue, Olivier Coipel takes over on art and we experience another shift in how this comic presents itself. I've touched on John Romita, Jr.'s art a little so far, but it has been the one constant of Avengers vs. X-Men as we've cycled through five writers.

His work on this series has been inconsistent and not his best. There have been a lot of panels where characters look slapped down with little care or thought. Barely formed blobs that are only recognisable because of the colouring. There have been far too many panels like that.

Thankfully, I can't spot any in issue five. Romita may have had some rough patches in the first four issues, but he brought it in his finale on this series. Flipping through, he's so damn good at clarity and focus. Panels that pop because what you're looking at is almost thrown in your face. His art makes this fight on the moon look epic, look big. When Cyclops makes his final speech about Hope and the Phoenix before Iron Man fucks it all up, he looks crazed in his restrained way. We can't see his eyes, but Romita still communicates the desperate faith on display.

Romita's strengths on display here: big action. The characters are more limited than they have been in past issues, avoiding a cluttered look, and the setting is wide open. They play to his ability to focus on one bit of action and showcase it for a panel. In previous issues, he couldn't do that as much. His thicker line work doesn't always look as good when used to draw background characters and there's very little of that here. This is the first issue that seems designed to let Romita look as good as he possibly can.


And, yes, Tigra, I'm sure Captain America will be fine with two longtime Avengers and teachers at the Academy being beaten up by a bunch of teenagers. That's so much better than simply letting them go. In one instance, you made a personal moral choice that Cap may not agree with, but would probably respect. In the other, you proved yourself bad at what you do for a living.

...this is the part where I throw in "#comicbooklogic" right?

Next week: AVX: VS #3, Avengers #27, and X-Men: Legacy #268.