Monday, August 27, 2012

AvX: From Bad to Worse

Despite the fact that at least two chapters remain, I think it's safe to say that AvX has been a failure. I'm sure it's done well in sales and it has certainly  monopolized the comic world's attention, but as far as the story goes and the quality of writing it's really rather embarrassing for such a grand, heavily marketed event. I resisted this admission, willfully choosing to enjoy it for what it was, but that in itself was an admission of this story's lack of substance. It's a shame because with such a basic, primal, fanboy premise I had high hopes.

For the sake of some brevity (not a priority of the Marvel architects here) let's compare AvX with Marvel's 1987 miniseries event The X-Men vs. The Avengers, written by the famous Roger Stern (though Tom DeFalco wrote the finale.) First off there's the author. Sure, DeFalco stepped in to finish things off, but the majority of the series was in Stern's words, no matter how many people plotted it behind the scenes. AvX however is written by five different writers. Five.

Yes, they're Marvel's big, popular names. All have proven themselves capable of writing great comics (at least once in Fraction's case.) And a focus on quality writing and pushing your best authors into prominence is appreciated and understood by a fan like myself. But having five different voices is just idiotic. Let them go on their retreats and break down the plots and design the future of the Marvel Universe together, but when it comes to a major event give someone the reins. Or at least break the writers up into arcs instead of alternating every issue with a different voice. From the beginning, the lack of a cohesive style deflated any of the premise's natural tension and drama--from Bendis' forced set-up for conflict in the premiere issue to Aaron's ludicrous and overblown narration of god-like heroes trading blows on a beach. The 1987 version had no such discrepancies and inconsistencies.

At first reveal, the premise for both series seem simple enough to lend themselves to a great story. In 1987 the breakup of reformed villain Magneto's old base, Asteroid M, leads to a clash between the two super teams as the Avengers seek to keep old weapons out of a known terrorist's hands and the X-Men stand by an ally who has recently proved himself worthy of their loyalty. Throw in some Soviet Super-Soldiers looking for revenge on Mags and you've got the basis for some great scuffles. AvX, while a bit more high-blown, is simple enough at first. The Phoenix, cosmic force of untold power responsible for some of the best X-stories in history, is coming to Earth for the mutant messiah girl Hope, thus paying off stories that began years ago. The Avengers worry that the fire bird shall devour the planet, as is its tendency, while the X-Men wish to finally harness that power for the good of their dwindling species (besides, there must be a reason Phoenix loves 'em so much.)

Colossus, who once sacrificed himself so no more people would die of the Legacy Virus, now mercilessly beats Spider-Man without guilt and kills whales for fun.

When it was announced it had such potential. I don't necessarily need to see my heroes being heroes, and saving the innocent Kansas farmer or what have you. If they have a righteous cause, watching them pursue it, overcome obstacles and battle whoever gets in their way is satisfying enough. And when it's hero against hero, in earnest rather than oops-mistaken-identity-let's-team-up-now, not to mention the two main Marvel teams of which I am a fan of both, well it just seemed perfect. Ripe with opportunity to address direct tensions and conflicts and the overlapping history that comes from fifty years of continuity. But it was mismanaged from the get-go. Before any discussion or understanding, Captain America and Wolverine turn into complete assfaces who want to hold a teenage girl in some special prison, and decide to show up with an army rather than, say, shooting Cyclops an e-mail. This is just the beginning of the mischaracterizations that pepper this entire series; Logan has yet to stop being a complete douchebag after 10 issues, Cap is belligerent and strategically inept, Emma Frost is massively powerful even before the cosmic force inhabited her, Cyclops is a megalomaniac, Rachel Summers seems willing to hunt down fellow mutants and superheroes under orders despite her horrific past, and Black Panther is a total dick. (Well that last one might be spot on.)

'Let's throw in a major divorce on page 4, call it collateral damage and not mention it again.'

For the sake of story, or God knows what motivation, the true identity of these characters, built and nurtured and maintained for decades, have been twisted and disrespected for the sake of clunky, slow, anti-climactic plot points.

 Stern's 4-issue series, on the other hand, was true to all their characters, emphasizing their nature by the conflict they were thrust into. Magneto, torn between his past mistakes, present attempts at trying a new way, and the expectations in him held by the hiding, unremarkable, persecuted mutant, is the most sympathetic and recognizable version of the man ever seen. Mohawk Storm's team in general was characterized by a fierceness that dwelt in their bravery and loyalty, and sticking by Magneto in the midst of his redemptive conflict not only gave their loyalty a thrilling, tense test, but it cast Magneto as a symbol of the mutant prejudice they fought against daily. The basic idea of this series was the same; the two biggest and most popular super teams of the Marvel Universe duke it out. And yet they climax was set in a court room when the battles had all finished, and that was completely OK. It was no less dramatic or satisfying. Whereas in AvX when a sampling of both teams end up on the moon for a showdown and the writers give us the biggest twist of the story, it fell completely flat.

 Unfortunately what I think these 'architects' of events lose sight of, is that their readers come back because of character, not story. We love these fictional crazy impossible people. Naturally we love seeing what they do, but mostly we love them. That's why I still buy these comics after a train wreck like Fear Itself. Even in the pursuit of new readers, they must acknowledge that fans went to theatres to see Iron Man and Captain America not because they were hungry for a unique, thrilling, twisty plot line, but because they knew something about those characters. They are noble, brave, interesting, sometimes conflicted, and, yes, kickass.

Instead they've taken a 12 issue series, a platform for focusing on the biggest heroes in their arsenal, and disregarded the vast majority of them to focus on a select few. Unfortunately not to further their identities in any way, but to make them do potentially cool, flashy, unexpected stuff. They promised us a conflict where both sides would be sympathetic; instead the roles of villains, though switched, were painted so clearly it's almost insulting. There's not actual story here, no message, no development, nothing remotely satisfying; just plot points that were tacked on a board and will lead us directly into the next heavily marketed event.

I for one look forward to the lull between epics. It's not 'event fatigue.' I just want my characters back, at least for a little while.

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