AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #2 (Marvel, June 2012) Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction = Story. Jason Aaron = Script. John Romita, Jr. = Pencils. Scott Hanna = Inks. Laura Martin = Colors. Chris Eliopoulos = Letters.
I have to admit it. I’m now immersed in the Avengers Vs. X-Men mega-saga. I got hooked. I’m going to be writing about more than just the main primary title. I’d also like to provide some type of guide for the more casual reader and anyone who wants to explore this just a little bit. If I can help point out the essential best bets as well as the issues it’s safe to avoid - - I would like to provide that service.
I’ll be using a five-star scale = one star for good writing; one star for good art; one star for a well-done stand-alone story that can be enjoyed as is; one star for effectively connecting to the bigger main storyline and either moving that along in an important way or revealing some important background information and/or insight; and one star for making me want to read further and return to this particular title.
*****SPOILER ALERT !! SPOILERS BEGIN FOLLOWING THIS WARNING !! *****
The credits page tells you everything you need to know in order to pick up on the story. I thought it did a fine job of getting to the heart of the matter. So good, that I’m going to repeat it here for the benefit of new readers:
“The Phoenix Force is returning to Earth. It is a destructive entity of cosmic proportions. Seeking a host to channel it’s power.”
“The X-Men believe it will bring about the rebirth of the endangered mutant race. The Avengers believe it will destroy all life on the planet. Both sides believe that Hope Summers, the mutant messiah, is the Phoenix’s chosen vessel.”
“The Avengers have come to the X-Men’s island home of Utopia to take Hope into custody. The X-Men are determined to stop them . . . at any cost.”
The roster page that shows images of each team’s members seems a little better balanced than it did in Issue #1. The ratio of Avengers to X-Men is now 24 to 21, with two more individuals (Wolverine and Storm) straddling the line between both teams, as if they are undecided. In Issue #1, Wolverine had come over to the Avengers side by the end of the issue. Does this new image here mean that he is having second thoughts about it and may jump over to the X-Men team? What about Storm? Will she be having second thoughts and crossing over to the Avenger's’ side?
The opening shore assault is a little too reminiscent of the Normandy Beach invasion. It isn’t really implying anything or being disrespectful. It does disturb me a bit to make that connection. Maybe that was the intention - - - to make the reader open up some memories and be affected by it.
Aaron uses lots of captions to make statements and attempt to make some things seem more profound that they are. When the severity of the depicted situation is readily apparent to the reader these captions tend to come off as obvious, unnecessary and redundant. After a while, they just become a bit annoying.
John Romita Jr. returns this issue and continues his excellent portrayal of these events in vivid wide-screen panels.
Another one of my guesses/speculations turns out to be wrong as Quicksilver decides to join the battle and rushes to the side of the Avengers. His first assault is against his own father, Magneto. Can Wanda be far behind? We are given a brief preview of a disturbing and prophetic image from her journal.
Lest I forget to mention it, there are some great battles inside = Cyclops vs. Captain America; Thing and Cage vs. Namor; Emma Frost vs. Iron Man vs. Magneto; Hope vs. Wolverine; and Dr. Strange vs. Magick. Awesome stuff.
Rating for AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #2 . . . . . 4.5 stars (1/2 point on the writing)
WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #9 (Marvel, June 2012) Jason Aaron, writer. Chris Bachalo, penciler/colorist. Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey, inkers. Chris Eliopoulos, letters.
The cover throws down the challenge and proclaims: AVENGER OR X-MAN? A CHOICE MUST BE MADE.
That is what Issue #9 is all about - - - giving more detail and background on the Phoenix Force returning to Earth and showing the events that lead up to Wolverine’s decision and why he made the choice he did.
*** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT ***
I really enjoy the light-hearted style that scripter Aaron employs on this title. It is different and refreshing from his other works. I previewed Issue #1 of this title and saw many indications there. I’m glad to see in Issue #9 that he has maintained that tone. This still remains a serious book and a vital part of the current X-Men saga. It’s just the way that Aaron finds humor in all situations and is able to point it out, make us chuckle while still holding our respect and concerns for the individual characters. It’s a nice blend and a fine balance that not all writers can pull off so successfully as here.
The opening two pages set the scene perfectly. A pack of unruly aliens drink and carouse on Planet Sin while placing bets on what appears to be some type of racing event. It turns out to be wagering on which planet will be next to be devastated by the Phoenix Force as it passes by. Naturally, the planet chosen by these gamblers as most likely to be visited and destroyed next is . . . . . Earth.
What I appreciate most is that a casual reader could pick up this book, and based on these two pages plus the synopsis given on the credits page, quickly acclimate themselves to events and get immersed in the current activities. They/you/I don’t have to read all the other linked titles (even the primary Avengers Vs. X-Men limited series) in order to appreciate the singular story presented here. Now that’s how to do it right! This is a good story all by itself and needs no outside help.
The art by Bachalo will not be appreciated or enjoyed by all. It’s a different style that takes some getting used to. It’s been some time since I have read any books that he has worked on. This is better than my memory of his style. Things sometimes appear a little simplistic; and sometimes they appear a little cluttered. However, Bachalo accomplishes a lot within the format (small panel, multi-panel per page) employed here. Some of the point-of-view angles and perspectives show some creativity. I’m reminded a bit of the late 1970’s works by Walt Simonson and see traces of his style here. His long-shots of characters can sometimes appear cartoony (or like stick figures) but once accepted it is easier to appreciate. It’s fun to see how Bachalo visualizes some of these characters, especially Captain America.
Aaron shows a side of Wolverine here that you don’t always see - - - as a caring school superintendent thoroughly immersed in the welfare of both his students and staff and very much aware of the mentor/lead-by-example role and responsibility as it relates to personal development and growth.
As to that decision made by Wolverine (in the midst of conflicting interests) I could claim a continuity error if I wanted to nit-pick - - - but I am willing to overlook it in the interest of a better story. When Wolverine gets the news from Captain America about the oncoming Phoenix Force in AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN #1 he gives Cap some insight into the anticipated difficulty of taking Hope into custody but declines to take a side and appears very non-committal. In the longer meeting detailed here, Wolverine does take a stand and agrees when asked to help the Avengers. Let’s just consider that the events in AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN #1 relate a different and earlier meeting when Cap first spoke of this to Logan. In WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #9 Cap returns with new and confirming information; and this second request persuades Logan to make up his mind. There, I’ve settled it!
There is some more detail here that is not critical if missed, but also helps to enhance the story going on in the main AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN book. Logan/Wolverine states to his staff: “I’ll be on that team. My responsibility is to protect this school. No matter what. And that’s what I’m going to do.” Beast worries that there is a deeper meaning to his words and cautions: “I know why you’ve always kept your distance from Hope. It’s because you knew this day would come. And if she starts to go Dark Phoenix like Jean did, you figure you’re the one who’ll have to kill her. I just want you to remember, she’s only a child.” (Now go back to AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN #2 and look again at the key moment between Logan and Hope.) We also learn that Gladiator, the current lord/ruler of the Shi’ar home world, means to protect his son (Kid Gladiator, a student at the School) and agrees to activate the Death Commandos (a Phoenix =-related preventative measure).
There’s also time to learn a little more about student Idie Okonkwo, Toad the janitor, and some day-to-day events/calamities that occur on campus. This is a very good book.
Rating for WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #9 . . . . . 4.5 stars (1/2 point on the art).
THE NEW AVENGERS #24 (Marvel, June 2012) Brian Michael Bendis, writer. Mike Deodato & Will Conrad, artists. Rain Beredo, color art. VC’s Joe Caramagna, letters & production.
As with WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #9, THE NEW AVENGERS #24 is not an essential reading requirement for following the main AVENGERS VS X-MEN storyline. However, bypassing this issue would mean you miss out on the most compelling story of the trio reviewed in this article.
The script is worthy of 2 stars. However, I am not about to violate the rating system I just set up earlier and start bending the rules - - - so it stays at 1 star for story rating. It’s a very strong star, and a very moving story with a take-away social message/insight on current American family demands and priorities.
I am familiar with the work of artist Mike Deodato and I don’t recall being as impressed as much as I am with the illustrations in this issue. The teamwork of Deodato and Conrad really puts a bolder definition on the art and the detail is very sharp and crisp. As with the story, the artwork is my favorite of the three issues reviewed. That says a lot, because one of those other artists is John Romita, Jr. ( a personal favorite) and THE NEW AVENGERS #24 is mostly barren of dynamic action panels/fight scenes.
*** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT ***
The story this issue is book-ended by the arrival of the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier above the island of Utopia and spends a little time reflecting on the conversations inside just before the ground assault. The Red Hulk does his best to be a major motivator/confidence builder/cheerleader. The final images of the Avengers descending to the ground are the most powerful of the issue.
The middle story revolves around the return of Jessica Jones and baby daughter to Avengers HQ and a heartfelt conversation between her and Luke Cage on their path forward. Following some threats by Norman Osborn, she had left the team and secreted herself and the baby from public sight. Their family conversation is beautifully drawn and beautifully written. It’s a familiar conversation to some and concerns parents torn between duty to job and duty to family and how they set priorities. Given the nature of their jobs, it has much more impact and implications here but should strike a nerve with any parent who spends their working time in law enforcement or public defense. (Or any parent with a demanding job, absorbed in their job, or following a rigid career path). Everything comes to a critical moment when Captain America calls the team together to explain the current threat and mission plan.
Rating for THE NEW AVENGERS #24 . . . . . 5 stars.