Avengers vs X-Men: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Event Books
Each year Marvel has what are known as events - miniseries that feature an epic, universe spanning dilemma that often affects multiple books. The problem with event books is that they rarely feel that special, and are nothing more than a way to charge extra for a book and to make you pick-up a number of tie-in titles that you wouldn't otherwise care for. Marvel's latest event - Avengers vs X-Men - was recently announced, and while taking the two most successful groups in Marvel and pitting them against each other should be a recipe for success, I can't help but feel it will be a letdown like all the others.
For starters, I wouldn't say Marvel has had the best track record when it comes to event books, as their last few offerings have been less than stellar. Fear Itself was a huge disappointment to me, and by the time the series ended not a lot had changed. The biggest revelations and answers came from epilogue books. Fear Itself felt like it wanted to be grander than it was, but it didn't want to play for keeps when it came to the superheroes. Two superheroes died and yet neither is dead. The event ended up feeling like a regular story arc that you'd find within one of the monthly Avengers books.
Before that there was Secret Invasion, which dealt with the issue of "Who can you trust?" as Marvel's mighty heroes found themselves engaged in a war with Skrulls that had taken on the abilities of multiple heroes and villains at once. A few heroes were returned and it was revealed that they had been missing for years while Skrull counterparts lived their lives, but as an event it was a lot of people fighting and not much else. Siege followed Secret Invasion, and besides the death of a character I don't think many people cared about in the first place, the book had no real lasting impact. I can barely remember what the book was about in the first place. Norman Osborn went crazy, defied the President's orders, heroes fought gods, and a city fell...I think that about covers it.
Out of all the event books, Civil War was perhaps the best, though it failed in execution as well. The idea was sound: pit two of the world's greatest superheroes against each other as they fight for what they believe in. It's a book we've seen before - heroes are always fighting other heroes in order to boost sales - but this battle made it feel like the stakes were higher. Should superheroes be policed out as government agents or operate as they have been and let their good service be enough? The series was decent, but I never found myself wanting to go back and read it again once I'd finished it.
Before Avengers vs X-Men was announced, a teaser image was shown depicting what fans knew to be the Phoenix Force - a cosmic entity/power that is most associated with that of Jean Grey. (One of the best X-Men stories of all-time is arguably the Dark Phoenix Saga.) After tapping into the Phoenix Force for one last time, though this time for good rather than bad, Jean Grey has been dead for several years and many fans would prefer for her to stay that way (not me personally, but more on that later). In a recent book titled Point One, a member of the Nova Corps was seen rocketing through space, trying to get to Earth in time to warn them of the coming storm - the Phoenix Force was awake and on the move again.
At the center of this event is Hope Summers, a young girl who was introduced as the first mutant born after the House of M storyline. Coming from such a horrendous event, which saw a steep decline in the mutant population, the X-Men naturally saw her as a messiah despite the fact that Bishop felt she was a sign of the end of times, and the reason for the future from which he came. In order to keep her safe, Cable decided to stay on the move and time jump around until she was grown and ready to come back to the timeline proper. He had some struggles along the way, including trying to stay one step ahead of Bishop, but eventually he returned with her as a teenager just in time for the Second Coming event to start. Cable sacrificed his life (or so we thought at the time) to save her and everyone lived happily ever after.
Oh yeah, and there's the whole thing about Hope looking just like a young Jean Grey, and the flame that appears around her just like the Phoenix Force, but surely that doesn't mean anything, right?
If any past event book could be considered a blueprint for what's to come with Avengers vs X-Men it will most likely be that of Civil War. The book will once again pit heroes versus heroes, and the reason for the struggle will be their own fundamental belief over what is right and wrong. One of the things that Civil War did right was make a case for both sides of the argument- at times it felt like maybe it would be a good idea to regulate superheroes and keep tabs on them, while at other moments it felt like the biggest mistake in the world. Based on the motives that have been revealed so far regarding the Avengers and X-Men, it's hard not to pull for the X-Men and see the Avengers not as the world's greatest team of superheroes, but rather the scum of the universe. Hope is a young girl who has had a lot of weight placed upon her shoulders and things seem as if they're going to keep piling on as the Phoenix Force closes in on Earth. The X-Men, who still see her as special, want to keep her safe and protect her from the Phoenix Force which seems to be heading straight for her. The Avengers, meanwhile, think that Hope is the key to protecting the world and essentially want to use her.
In the grand scheme of things I know it's easy to say, "Well, you sacrifice the needs of the few for the needs of the many," but we're talking about a teenage girl. The X-Men want no harm to come to her while the Avengers want to throw her to the lions and see what happens. I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to root for the Avengers in any way with this event, as their approach to saving the world this time around seems horrible and cruel. Should the X-Men really just give Hope over and let her potentially die or succumb to the Phoenix Force, which Jean Grey was only able to control some of the time? Jean Grey was a veteran and had the best teachers, while Hope is still wet behind the ears. It's a horrible situation and one I can't get behind at all. Personally, I hope the X-Men tear the Avengers a new one for sinking to such lows.
Another problem I'm having is that the X-Men are currently a fractured bunch: after only a few months, are readers just supposed to accept the fact that they'd temporarily shake hands and agree to a truce in order to protect Hope? I adored and collected the X-Men for the longest time, but eventually I had a falling out with the various titles (I believe House of M was the final straw) and finally found myself taking all the titles off my pull list. When the X-Men event books surrounding Hope started to happen, however, I found myself once again enjoying the characters I grew up loving and have since added several titles back to my list. A big reason for that change is Schism, an event that was slightly uneven at times, but packed a huge punch in the end that saw the fracturing of the X-Men into two camps. On one side you have Cyclops, who wants to keep mutants safe on Utopia and protect his race of people. On the other is Wolverine, who is tired of seeing children being used as weapons and thus decides to go back East in order to start Professor X's school up again. Schism was a major moment that reached its peak when Wolverine threw into Cyclops' face the fact that Jean would be so disappointed in the man he had become. At that moment it wasn't about two people fighting for what they believed, but two people fighting over a woman, several years removed, who they both still had strong feelings for. After Schism ended, the X-Men went their separate ways, and now half the X-Men family is on one side and half is on the other. The X-Men have been apart for exactly three months and already Marvel wants to throw them back together. Doing so seems like it will undercut everything of worth that happened throughout the Schism storyline.
As I write this, Avengers vs X-Men has officially kicked off with what could be considered the prologue series leading up to the event - Avengers: X-Sanction. In it, we learn that Cable didn't really die when he sacrificed himself to save Hope, but rather he time jumped far into the future where he stumbled across Blaquesmith (an alien also able to jump through time). What starts as a simple conversation turns into something much more. Blacquesmith reveals to Cable that the nuclear holocaust they're currently in is all because Hope wasn't around to stop it. When pressed for answers, Cable learns that the Avengers are behind Hope's "disappearance" and so he heads back with a simple mission: take down the Avengers so Hope (his surrogate daughter) may live.
Based on the first issue alone, Avengers: X-Sanction doesn't instill much hope for the actual Avengers vs X-Men event. For starters, Blacquesmith throws Hope's name out in a rather manipulating way, as if to pull on Cable's strings and dance him around like a puppet (for whatever reason that may be). Plus, he's quite vague about what actually happened to Hope. Cable seems to think the Avengers caused her death, but Blacquesmith's wording isn't the clearest. I can already connect the dots and fill in the storyline of how Avengers vs X-Men will play out. The two teams will fight. Some secondary character or villain will factor in. The teams will unite and fight the evil together. The end. Avengers: X-Sanction already paints a picture in which the X-Men will be able to manhandle the Avengers with ease. Cable was never exactly a pushover, but here he's extremely sick because of the techno virus that is ravaging his body. And yet he's still able to take down Falcon (ok, not that difficult) and Mr. Avenger himself, Captain America. If a sick mutant can give a beating to America's golden boy, what's to stop a strong and healthy mutant from just destroying the competition? Magneto could throw Iron Man around like a ragdoll. Colossus with his new Juggernaut powers could easily go toe-to-toe with the Hulk. Avengers: X-Sanction just seems to undermine the Avengers, which doesn't bode well for depicting them as actual powerhouses when the event gets underway.
The only thing that gives me solace is the fact that the event won't last forever and will end just like the ones before it. While the event books themselves have often been a disappointment, the months that follow them usually see titles riding a new high of creativity, bringing more to the table than the events ever did. When Civil War ended we saw Iron Man in a position of great power, Captain America a criminal, and several heroes trying to find their way among the New World Order. When Secret Invasion ended, Norman Osborn rose to power and led to a time designated as Dark Reign, which included the creation of the Dark Avengers, the actual Avengers as fugitives on the run. Overall it was a time of some really excellent storytelling. If Avengers vs X-Men continues the trend of previous books, I can only hope that it also apes the months that follow, as that seems to be where the planted fruit is at its ripest, ready to be plucked. I personally hope the event will see the return of Jean Grey, as I'd love to see her join Wolverine's cause, work at the school that is now named after her, and maybe - since she has openly acknowledged in the past how her marriage to Scott is finished - Wolverine will finally have a chance to be with the woman he loves. If something spectacular can ultimately come from the event, perhaps it won't be a complete waste in the end, but I have my doubts for when the event is actually in full swing.
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