Sunday, October 7, 2012

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, ROUND TWELVE = Sum things up

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AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #12 (Marvel, December 2012) Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman, story. Jason Aaron, script. Adam Kubert, pencils. John Dell with Mark Morales & Adam Kubert, inks. Laura Martin with Justin Ponsor, colors. Chris Eliopoulos, letters.

**** SPOILER ALERT - - - I just can’t help it! ****************

This series has now pulled off what I did not think was possible at Marvel - -a big mega-event that did not confuse and confound, and that actually impacts on the Marvel universe and future stories. Marvel finally put out a cross-over event that keeps the main storyline confined to the core book (rather than force wallets and purses to open for all the related titles in order to follow the story). Throughout a twelve issue run AVENGERS VS. X-MEN remained engaging, entertaining, and amusing. The team of writers managed a carefully-crafted blend with a nice and deft balance of humor and seriousness. A smaller team of artists kept things interesting and maintained a premium quality level of illustration.

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As things move forward with the new Marvel NOW universe and the changes yet to come, AVENGERS VS. X-MEN will probably be seen as the end tale of the previous universe and the bridge to the new world. For that reason it will have a place of prominence among other recent epic stories - - such as AVENGERS DISSASSEMBLED, CIVIL WAR, and SECRET INVASION (ranked in my order of preference with AVENGERS VS. X-MEN as #4). . Marvel NOW promises not to be a complete makeover = just the same players but with different perspective.

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN was a good run, and a good read. However, I’m relieved that it is finally ending. Most readers could figure out after Issue #10 where things were heading and it became a little slow to follow as it played out. For that reason, the end is a little less satisfying than anticipated. It’s clearly a case where the sum is not greater than the whole of the parts but rather the parts are greater than the sum. Here are some things worth noting in the final Issue #12:

1) FOREGONE CONCLUSIONS DEPARTMENT: In the opening pages Tony Stark shares the answer to stopping the Phoenix after weeks of isolation as he spent many sleepless days and nights searching for the solution. But before revealing the new plan, Tony shares his thought process (pure conjecture, as he says) and puts an unusual spin on the motivations of the pure Phoenix energy. It was upset when Wanda/Scarlet Witch used her chaos magic to proclaim “No More Mutants” and so the Phoenix then declared “More Mutants” beginning with Hope (apparently created by the Phoenix , says Tony.) This man clearly needs some sleep. Then, his big reveal is that Scarlet Witch and Hope must work together to halt the Phoenix. Isn’t that something that The Avengers have been working towards for some time, especially since early on they decided to get Hope away from the X-Men and train her at K’un Lun? So, Tony is just stating the obvious here and trying to put his stamp on it (like a true politician). All of which he says he learned through the “radical new idea” of “faith”. Ben Grimm/Thing’s response is a classic: “Soon as he starts passin’ around the Kool-Aid, I’m out.”

2) Credit the art team for effectively depicting the severity of Cyclops now containing all of the Phoenix Force as its’ destructive tendencies begin to set the Earth afire. There is a great two-page panel that opens the final battle that needs no words to indicate the powers at work.

3) The modifications to Cyclops’ appearance as he fully absorbs all the power of the Phoenix Force (no more protective eye visors, yet another change to the costume) remind me quite a bit of the appearance and look of the current Phoenix over at Atlas Comics. Oops!

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4) Surprise ending! ( Sure, nobody except Professor X gets killed. Hard to believe, but you know in the comic universe it takes an awful lot to kill a hero - - they usually just get stunned pretty bad.) Here’s what surprised me: In an about face, the Phoenix Force does inhabit Hope for awhile. So the very thing the Avengers were trying to prevent they help to make occur. And the very thing that Cyclops was trying to attempt (at first, before he was corrupted) - - teach Hope how to control the Phoenix Force so she could save mutant kind – he helps to make occur through his loss of the Phoenix energy force.

5) Because Hope learned her lessons well at K’un Lun she does have control and releases and disperses the Phoenix Force, scattering the powers across the universe, and creating scores of new mutants in the process. Who knew? (Sounds like the beginnings of a new title to me - - - The New NOW Mutants Academy.)

6) There are some nice reveals in the ending conversation between Cap and an imprisoned Cyclops. Cap feels responsibility for allowing “the world to hate and fear them (mutants) for far too long. I won’t make that mistake again.” I really don’t think he should get all the credit for that, but whatever. And this paves the way for Cap’s solution - - integration a la THE UNCANNY AVENGERS. The revelation concerning the Phoenix Force is that it isn’t a force of destruction (Oh really? What about all the planets and civilizations it destroyed on its’ pathway to Earth?) but rather a true force for mutant salvation. (I’m sorry . . . I feel this connection is fragile but let’s give it up for artistic license and an easy way/rationale for the writers to pull together what’s coming next). So, that means that the Dark Phoenix wasn’t really the true Phoenix, but rather the dark manifestations of that force when used by people with troubled or dark personalities (like Jean Grey and Cyclops?). Writer Jason Aaron uses Cyclops to try and make the definitive statement about this on the closing page when he has him proclaim: “That’s the thing about the Phoenix . . . . there always has to be destruction . . . before the rebirth.” If you say so, blinky.

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For the last time, here is my five-star scale to rate the spin-off and secondary titles in this series = 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.

UNCANNY X-MEN #19 (December 2012) Kieron Gillen, writer. Dale Eaglesham, artist. Matt Milla, colorist. VC’s Joe Caramagna, letterer. WARNING: The events of this issue take place at the same time as AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #12.

As events progressed in AVENGERS VS. X-MEN the Phoenix Five struggled with the pure energy force corrupting their intentions and bringing out their darker natures. All the power ended up being absorbed by Cyclops who went over the top in a destructive frenzy. Throughout the storyline, readers could see the changes occurring in his character as he became more and more influenced and corrupted by the power.

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Now it’s left to writer Kieron Gillen to play “damage control” and make us sympathetic to the character of Cyclops and see that’s he’s still a good guy underneath. It’s a weighty task and Gillen attempts to achieve it by giving us a glimpse inside the innermost thoughts of Scott Summers /Cyclops. It’s the simple tale of a man who took on too much power and responsibility and struggled to control it while maintaining his sanity.

One thing that can be said for “The Passion Of Scott Summers” is that it’s a noble attempt to portray him in a favorable light once again. The only thing I’m convinced of is that Scott Summers is now mad. If that is what Gillen wanted to accomplish, then he succeeded. (I kind of doubt that’s what Marvel wants). Even more noble is the artistic interpretations here of Dale Eaglesham, which are absolutely great to view and worth checking out.

Actually, one of the more satisfying images for me this issue (and it’s pure imagination) is Wolverine plunging his claws straight into Cyclops’ head. I almost wish it ended like that.

It ends with The Beast/ Hank McCoy confronting Scott in prison and summing up the destruction for him. He then concludes “Yes, Hope cleaned up after you. But you made a terrible mess.” And then he finishes with my favorite line of the issue: “Do you want me to show you the view? I could quote a little Shelley as you behold your works and despair appropriately . . ..”

More Beast: “It’s such a damn mess, Scott. Mutants were hated before? Your legacy to all these new mutants is to be hated more than ever . . ..”

And hysterical Scott is happy to learn there are “new mutants” and states “I’m happy to spend what remains of my life paying for my crimes. But I’d do it all again.” Really? He is cuckoo in my book. The last page shows Cyclops crossing his arms overhead as he faces a new skyline - - in an apparent sign of triumph.

I’m not really sure I like what I see/read here, but I have to give a FIVE STAR rating. You need to check it out and make up your own mind.

AVX VS 6

AVX: VS #6 of 6 (November 2012) Scarlet Witch Vs. Hope = Kieron Gillen, writer. Jim Cheung, penciler. Mark Roslan + Mark Morales + Jim Cheung, inks. David Curiel, colors. VC’s Joe Caramagna, letters & production. PLUS: Eight more one or two-page “throw downs”by various writers and artists.

The Scarlet Witch and Hope battle is very well done and fun to read/view. Of course, if’s you’ve read the AVENGERS VS X-MEN #12 first (and you should) you know that Captain America convinces both sides that they need to work together – so essentially this is a draw. Yet, the last page has a surprise which I won’t ruin by revealing here.

There are some fun and somewhat “catty” exchanges between Wanda and Hope with my favorite being Wanda saying: “I manipulate probabilities. . . . There’s a probability I’m not in the way of your fist.”

The remaining battles in this issue are weak, stupid or just not funny with one exception: Cyclops Vs. Captain America by Brian Michael Bendis, Jim Mahfood and VC’s Joe Caramagna. That made me laugh.

And, if you are a completest like most of us, you’ll want to get this issue to make a full set.

RATING FOR AVX: VS #6 - - - - - THREE STARS (Good story, good art. Good stand-alone story. But only one-half of this book.)

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