SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Avengers vs. X-Men #2

A comic review article by: Shawn Hill, Jamil Scalese, Chris Kiser

 

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Shawn: Welcome back, Comics Bulletin readers! I hope everyone is enjoying our trio's look at this unfolding saga, now in its second official installment after a prelude and a debut.  Initially we agreed to hold judgment until the series' proper debut, which we were fairly mixed to middling about. Take that, best selling comic of 2012! Lace up your boots good and tight, ladies and gents, 'cause our conflicted responses weren't enough to drive us away for good!

Last issue, we couldn't get away from the Civil War comparisons. This month they're even harder to avoid, despite a change in scripter that takes us away from some of our beloved Bendis verbal tics and towards some more heartfelt expressions of fear, anxiety and anger from several key players. Most memorably Wolverine, Quicksilver and Hope herself. The entire issue is the extended battle sequence promised last issue, with a great shot of the Helicarrier hovering over the isolated island of Utopia starting things off on a tense, ominous note.

Jamil: You noted the two things I think separate "Round Two" from the opening salvo: the snappy, appropriate dialogue, and the nonstop face-punching.

Avengers vs. X-Men #2 is chock full of character moments and memorable violence. Jason Aaron packs a lot of players into the fracas and I admit it feels less grave and more fun, even if the stakes are extremely high. Cyclops getting bonked on the dome by Cap's shield twice in the span of 20 pages? Gold.

Chris: Are the battle scenes in this non-stop fight issue fun? I guess so, but it's hard for me to find them particularly engaging when I don't feel that this book has done an adequate job of properly building up to the grand scope that is now being superimposed upon them. Sure, Marvel put out plenty of prelude material to this miniseries, but, as we've discussed, none of that managed to make itself a wholly relevant part of the actual story. This is only the second issue of what anyone should consider the real AvX, and it appears that Aaron and the band already want us to believe that we've reached some sort of superhero-on-superhero climax. Sorry, but Avengers vs. X-Men #1 did not do near enough to sell me on the central conflict to warrant the full throttle approach being taken here.

You're looking for a Marvel series to compare this to other than Civil War? How about X-Men: Schism, released less than a year ago, which saw a similar ideological split between heroes result in super-powered fisticuffs. Unlike AvX, though, Schism saved the bulk of its infighting for the end, utilizing the appropriate measure of rising action to give those moments true weight. It was the best Marvel event book I've read in quite some time, but it wouldn't have been so if Cyclops and Wolverine climbed into the Octagon a mere 30 pages in. And, hey! Jason Aaron wrote that series too, so it's an extra disappointment to see the quality of the product he's contributing to this time around.

Jamil: Maybe my satisfaction comes from me reading this more as a "popcorn flick" as opposed to something ambitious or even a story Marvel fans deserve. The event is broken at its core. We've already discussed the problems in Marvel's two biggest and most popular teams battling it out, but for what it is, I walked away happy. It's a sad, sad endorsement to say I am content with something because my original expectations were extremely low, but that might be the case here.

I see the whole central conflict as a throwback to the crossovers of the Silver Age where one superhero would fight over basically nothing. To me, this thing is basically Cyclops vs. Avengers the way it's been built up so far.  Scott threw the first punch, and the Utopians were compelled to follow with the impromptu plan. It went down like this because Schism just happened; the Extinction team in particular have just recently thrown all their eggs in the Cyclops basket and probably feel an obligation to follow his lead on this. I'd argue that Scott has more clout than any other Mutant, maybe even Xavier.  

Shawn: While Storm has returned to her mutant brethren (the better to squabble with estranged husband and fellow Avenger T'Challa), the surprise for most is that Wolverine has not. He's been a weird kind of team player since his Alpha Flight days (that gruff exterior seldom belying a need for loving affection), and the New Avengers have been a positive home for him. Who knew that on the mutant divide he'd be the assimilationist, in contrast to Scott's current separatist position?

It makes a kind of sense to me, I guess, because Logan has always had a soft spot for the defenseless, especially the young and vulnerable. Call it Beauty and the Beast, but it explains his bonding with Jubilee and many other sidekicks of one kind or another over the years. It explains why he's keeping the legacy of the School for Gifted Youngsters intact (if in Jean's name rather than Xavier's), while Scott has become a hard-line military strategist and freedom warrior.

Jamil: The "fault-line" Mutants, like Ororo and Pietro, remain one of the most compelling elements of AvX. I wouldn't be surprised to see some of those characters switch sides at some point. One character I hope the team addresses soon is Beast, currently assisting the "away team" Avengers in cutting off Phoenix at the proverbial pass. Hank being where he is a statement in itself, but his situation is unique as a founding member of X-Men and a fiercely proud Avenger mainstay; I'd like to hear his opinion on things.

Logan is the de facto star of this issue. He has some of the best lines and moments, and it's not a mystery why with Aaron at the wheel. Wolverine for sure loves him some team action. Even though he might be the icon for the X-Men, I am not bothered by his allegiance to Captain America in this specific scenario. First, he hates Scott Summers as much as ever, and the Schism wounds are likely still fresh. Second, I agree with you on his experience with the New Avengers, and I think Logan understands there is a bigger picture than the plights of Mutants. The Logan you mention, the one with the soft spot, isn't the one we see the end of the issue. That "SNIKT!"moment is a candidate for my favorite panel so far.

Chris: You know, those character-driven aspects should be the heart of this book. Why, then, does Aaron expend so much authorial energy directing our attention to the details of the fights themselves? I am, of course, referring to all those awkward, overwritten captions that seek to wax poetic over things like a big red man punching a big metal man. "Irradiated muscles strain. Organic metal groans… The San Andreas Fault shudders with each blow." It's pretty painful. For 22 pages, Aaron treats Dan Jurgens' script for Superman #75 as the definitive manual on writing for comics, yet never once does he approach a moment as singular as the death of Superman. Either that or he's purposefully channeling Chris Claremont, who, for all his great contributions to comics, wrote in a caption-heavy style that holds up poorly to today's standards.

The whole thing just comes across as forced. Again, if the story structure had given these fights more backbone, there wouldn't be the need to work so hard to play them up as big an important. As it is, Aaron is stuck using a gimmick that, to me, creates a major distraction.

Jamil: I, too, am a little weirded out by the captions. Some were good (like the Iron Man/Magneto moment), most were just funky and felt like posturing for sister series AvX: Versus.

Shawn: While I like how many of the beats in this battle no one wants play out, I have worries on a few fronts: Wanda is staying in the shadows, just as she did at the beginning of "Disassembled" (though Quicksilver chooses an interesting side for once). And Hope finally takes action to determine her own fate, which would be good, except how much determination can you have when already possessed by the Phoenix? That didn't go so well for Jean in the past.

Jamil: I think we'll see plenty of Wanda, Shawn. You'll get your fill, don't worry. 

Shawn: I'm not worried she won't be in it; I'm worried what she'll do once she finally shows up.

Jamil: Hope's full Phoenix rage-on is a bit of a surprise. Not sure how that thread is going to play out, and how it connects with the other Phoenix (the entity). If Phoenix is in Hope and Hope is on Earth, why does the one at the beginning of AvX #1 and Point One matter at all? I'm kind of a noob on the topics of god-like forces of death and rebirth so maybe I'm not understanding something.

Chris: I don't think we're supposed to view the Phoenix Force as something that actually exists in physical space. The flaming bird we've been seeing flying through the cosmos toward Earth seems to be more metaphorical than actual, its impending arrival representing the point when Hope will become the Phoenix's new host in full.

Shawn: That makes sense. I see it more as Hope sort of being the ideal receiver to whatever the Phoenix is broadcasting. Pretty soon everyone will hear it, but right now only Hope has the right frequency. I also enjoyed the "Snikt!" moment, and the fallout. It echoes many of Wolverine's encounters (either threatened or actual) with those possessed by the Phoenix, and it seems she's gotten a little tired of his interference, to judge by the extreme response.

Chris: In our discussion of the last issue, I mentioned my dissatisfaction with John Romita, Jr.'s abilities to clearly depict a multi-character action scene. Well, those are pretty much the only kind of scenes we get this week, so it's a bit surprising to see that he's been given the drawing duties again. To Romita's credit, the melee is much easier to follow this time, but I still question the choice to feature him on this book. In a lot of the wide-angle shots, his characters appear big-headed and stumpy, and there is the matter of his style tilting more retro than cutting edge. Given the book's preference for spectacle over story, perhaps Marvel should have signed up one of those artists the critics always make fun of -- like Greg Land, perhaps -- who would at least have all the 14-year-old boys thinking this was the most awesome thing they'd ever seen.

Shawn: That would have at least insured me not buying it, as I put my foot down regarding Land with Ultimate Power and the Girl Wrestler Serpent Squad, and haven't bought an issue he drew since, no matter who wrote it. He's the worst! JR Jr. is infinitely preferable, and I think he's doing well with a huge cast. Skewing retro is almost never a problem for me, since I still get excited whenever Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, Mike Grell, Michael Golden etc. even do a cover, much less illustrate a full new issue of something. One aspect of "retro" to me is storytelling ability taking precedence over splash pages.

I can't comment on Schism, having skipped it entirely, but I don't find this story as shallow as you do, Chris. We're not just getting narration (in fact, I hadn't even noticed how much of it there is until you pointed it out); we're getting conversations to go along with the fights. These are adults, and they're trying to reason with each other over this impossible situation. They look and sound like adults (well, except for Red Hulk, I guess). 

The mutants are openly questioning Scott's extremism, and the Avengers are doubtful if this is the best approach. If we dare to pick up the WMD parallel again, perhaps this is rather like a smaller country testing nuclear weapons, when one of the big world powers tells them to stop. The big power thinks it has the right, for the greater good, and the little one thinks they need to protect themselves. In this case, they know that Phoenix can destroy planets if it wants. And they fear that Hope (whom Cap has met) may not be able to control it any better than Jean did. Nobody wants Dark Hope!

Chris: I'd love to read that smart comic about nuclear proliferation that we're writing here in these reviews. Too bad the one Marvel is publishing is the superhero equivalent of pro wrestling.

Jamil: Yeah, we give this a little too much credit in the theme department. Right now it's just a big fight, with the plot void of additional layers. In fact, this event is so bare right now I am convincing myself that there must be a few outrageous twists coming down the line.

Shawn: I think there are definitely plenty of twists to come. Nobody expected Hope to take the path she did at the end of the issue. This first volley is essentially over with that surprise; I don't see this fight as the major conflict at all. It's going to get a lot darker before Phoenix rises.

Jamil: So, to sum up, I liked this issue for all of its charm and action, but there is no way this extrapolated over the entire series is acceptable. The way comics are told these days I didn't expect to see the big throwdown for another couple episodes, so I think I'm just happy the story has some legs and is moving along. 

So I think we're locked in, huh, guys? We Slugfest'd #0-2 of AvX and with these things coming out every two weeks me might have committed ourselves to tackling the whole shebang. If that's the case I wish you guys good luck, and good mental health. We'll probably need it. 

 


 

Follow along with Avengers vs. X-Men by checking out the rest of our AvX reviews:

 


 

Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.

 


 

Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.

 


 

Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!

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