Monday, October 20, 2014

A Fitting (But Incomplete) End: Death of Wolverine #4

The following is my review of Death of Wolverine #4, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


How does one go about killing an iconic character? It used to be such a difficult, almost profane question to ask. But over the past decade or so, Marvel and DC have made that question about as difficult as asking who they should cut from their fantasy football team. The death of iconic characters used to be a rare event that needed to be handled with the utmost care. The Death of Superman in the early 90s established the blueprint for such an event and its success, for better or for worse, established the precedent that so many would follow.

But since the Death of Superman, a lot has changed. Bill Clinton's affairs with interns is no longer news. Brett Favre finally retired from the NFL. Mel Gibson no longer has the clean image he once enjoyed. And in that time, Marvel and DC have killed, resurrected, and replaced so many characters that it's really not much of an event anymore. People look at the death of a major character the same way they look at jury duty. They just roll their eyes, suck it up, and wait for it to play out. But that doesn't mean it can't be a compelling story. Death of Wolverine #4 attempts to trigger those same emotions that events like Death of Superman once triggered among fans. It succeeds only in part, but it still manages to feel fitting.

There's nothing terribly epic about the setting. Wolverine doesn't go up against all his greatest enemies again and he doesn't face some overwhelming new enemy. Instead, he goes up against Dr. Abraham Cornelius. On paper, this doesn't sound like the kind of enemy that should be the one who successfully kills Wolverine. But from a conceptual standpoint, he is perfect for that role.

In many ways, Abraham Cornelius is the man most responsible for turning James Howlett into Wolverine. He is Dr. Frankenstein and Wolverine is his monster, minus the neck bolts. He's the man who is behind the greatest turning point in Wolverine's exceedingly long, horrendously complicated life. So him being the final enemy Wolverine faces works on so many levels. It's not quite full-circle. Wolverine's life can never be a perfect shape, but the concept still fits.

Where the concept breaks down is the actual details of the struggle. There's nothing terribly epic about it. If it were a big battle scene, it would barely qualify as a dramatization in a World War II documentary on the History Channel. Dr. Cornelius doesn't really throw much at Wolverine. The biggest threat Wolverine faces is some generic, Weapon X knock-off that's more forgettable than the last three Adam Sandler movies. It's a threat that's not really intended to take him down. And this is where the greatest weakness of the story is exposed.

When broken down into its basic elements, there's one uncomfortable detail. Wolverine didn't really have to die. The conflict he faces here is basically a dime a dozen for him. He finds an old relic of his past, seeks to destroy it, and succeeds. His lack of a healing factor isn't really relevant here. What he does to stop Dr. Cornelius wasn't the only way. It wasn't like he needed to sacrifice himself like Jean Grey, Superman, or Charles Xavier had to in their big deaths. What he did felt forced. He wasn't terminally ill. He wasn't critically wounded. He just opted for the one tactic that would kill him. It's like having a self-destruct button on a car and using it on a simple flat tire.

Even if what Wolverine did felt forced, the purpose behind his actions do carry some weight. This goes back to Dr. Cornelius being the driving force behind this conflict and everything that made Wolverine who he is. Wolverine did what he had to do to prevent Dr. Cornelius from making more living weapons like him. As inefficient as it was, he still succeeds in keeping the test subjects involved from suffering like he did. It's noble, it's heroic, and it's honorable. And he did it without hitting on married women or smoking a cigar. It is as fine a moment as Wolverine can have.


In the end Wolverine saves the lives of would-be victims when he had a chance to save his own. That has been one of the most common themes for Wolverine in his long, convoluted history. He seeks to stop those who would try to create monsters like him. And he had to succeed here because Dr. Cornelius said outright that he would never stop trying to recreate Wolverine. He believes that this is his only way of changing the world for the better. It's exactly as crazy and senile as it sounds. It still works, but it also feels forced.

As fitting as Wolverine's final battle might have been, it still comes off as emotionally flat. And it's not just because his death felt forced or unnecessary. There's a moment where Dr. Cornelius, with his dying breath, asks Wolverine what he accomplished. It sounds like a loaded question since Wolverine is older than a number of countries in the world, but it's meant to make him recall how far he's come from test subject to X-man. There are a lot of moments in that legacy and not nearly enough of them got touched on. There is an effort, but it feels incomplete. It's like only the first 10 pages in a 500 page photo album.

While the details might be lacking, there are enough of them to get the point across. If the goal of this issue was to have Wolverine die with a sense that he accomplished enough to die honorably, it succeeded. But if the goal was to do so in a way that felt epic and worthy of his character, then it came up short. Death of Wolverine #4 doesn't have enough details to feel like the truly definitive end for Wolverine. It's impossible to make a life like Wolverine feel truly complete. His character and his history is so big and so profound that it just cannot be done. But in an era where characters like Bucky Barnes can come back to life, maybe that's the point. It doesn't have to be big or detailed. Like a good Apple product, it just has to work.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, October 17, 2014

Scanned Thoughts: Uncanny X-men #27


We've all had to deal with difficult people who make a big public scene. Half the time they come from children. Half the time they come from adults acting like children. Most of us aren't equipped to handle these people. These people usually require a time out, therapy, or a higher dosage of whatever drugs they are or aren't taking. Sometimes I think the X-men are more like therapists than superheroes because they end up having to counsel people who freak the fuck out when they find out they're mutants. Unlike said children and adult children, they have a more valid reason. But more often than not, the X-men can't deal with them the same way they deal with Sentinels. In his last will and testament, Charles Xavier revealed just how far he had to go to give a kid with insanely destructive powers the kind of therapy he needed. Now the X-men have to finish the job and they have to do it while Iceman insists on being a total prick. Emotions have been riding pretty high with this conflict. Uncanny X-men #27 promises to show just how much more therapy this kid will need and how much of it they'll blame Cyclops for. I was smart enough to not bet on this, but if I did the only sure bet would be that Iceman and Beast would still come off as total assholes in the end.

The only one who might be worth betting on at this point is Rachel Grey. She's the only psychic powerful enough to take on Matthew Malloy at this point, but even she's terrified of confronting him. And when the daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey is terrified, then it's safe to assume they're already significantly fucked to a certain degree. In the previous issue, Exodus already tried something similar with Matthew. He ended up getting the psychic equivalent of a shotgun to the head. Rachel is trying to avoid that fate while everyone else is trying to figure out if there's another way. All the while, Matthew Malloy is starting to get feel for his terrifying, obscenely potent powers. He's like a pyromaniac learning to use napalm. Little good could come of it. So there is a pretty significant sense of urgency at this point.


As this is happening, this is where the discussions between the X-men start to get a little divisive and for once, it's not because Beast and Iceman are being assholes. It starts with Cyclops, who suggests the utterly ridiculous idea of just talking to the guy. Everyone else rightly points out that's a stupid ass idea. That would be like sending a lawyer to calm down the Hulk. It can't possibly have a desirable outcome in their minds. Besides, that's not what Charles Xavier requested in his will. He said they would have to mind fuck the kid again. Talking over beer and a plate of buffalo wings just won't do the trick.

But it's during this conversation that some of the X-men reveal some outright hypocrisy. Since Uncanny X-men was relaunched, everyone from the Jean Grey Institute to the Avengers to assholes on message boards have been giving Cyclops crap for killing Charles Xavier. Yet here, one of the first things Wolverine suggests is killing Matthew outright. That's right, these same people who bitch and moan about Cyclops killing a man just casually suggest they kill this guy who by all accounts is scared shitless and had no intention of hurting anybody when his powers went haywire. I'm not going to say that makes Wolverine as big an asshole as Iceman or Beast. He would still have to eat a live puppy to get close to their league. But even Ted Haggard would call that kind of hypocrisy pretty egregious. It doesn't even amount to much for them in the end because, since they haven't pissed on Xavier's legacy enough, they opt for a less peaceful approach.


This involves Rachel Grey attacking Matthew Malloy psychically in a way that even Xavier might not be comfortable with. She makes him think that every superhero in the Marvel universe, including Charles Xavier, have converged on him the same way they would converge on Thanos if he was armed with the Ultimate Nullifier. Now she doesn't make him think the Hulk is about to jam his oversized fist down his throat. He basically just intimidates the hell out of him so "Xavier" can convince Matthew to let him rebuild the psychic blocks on his mind. And he has to do this while Matthew is remembering that he's killed all these people, including his own parents. I won't say it's a huge dick move. I'll just say that standard sized condoms might not be sufficient.


However big a dick move it ends up being, it still fails. Matthew Malloy might be losing his shit, but he's not stupid. He sees through the ruse. He knows as well as anybody that unless it involves the Red Skull or blaming Cyclops for everything, the Avengers and X-men would never converge on him. He also must have at least a Twitter feed of some sort because he also remembers that Charles Xavier is dead. Might have been a good idea to leave that part out, but I guess hindsight is a real bitch sometimes.

Now I don't want to say this makes Matthew a complete asshole. I don't even want to say it makes the X-men complete assholes, although they come painfully close at times. Part of what has made this story worth reading is that, aside from Iceman, nobody comes off as a total asshole. Matthew Malloy didn't intend to do all this damage and the X-men don't intend to treat him the same way they would treat Sinister on crack. It's not at all a traditional heroes vs. villains conflict. I know that kind of shit is more common these days than CSI spin-offs, but when they're done right, they can still be pretty awesome.


Part of doing it right, unfortunately, still involves shit blowing up. To not have that in a story like this is like not having beer and buffalo wings during the Superbowl. It just doesn't work. So Matthew Malloy, now royally pissed at someone trying to mind fuck him, decides to deal with it by blowing up another SHIELD helicarrier. I'm sure that's going to make every taxpayer in the Marvel universe bang their head against the wall, but they should be used to it by now. It could easily be the moment where Mathew starts seeing the X-men and SHIELD the same way Lindsey Lohan sees rehab. However, this is another area where this type of shit storm is navigated in just the right way.

Even though he's blowing up a Helicarrier in a way that would probably give Dr. Doom a boner, Matthew Malloy doesn't totally hulk out. He doesn't declare the X-men or SHIELD to be his mortal enemies. He doesn't say anything that would even warrant attention on a message board. He actually flat out says he's not mad at them. He's just mad at Charles Xavier for lying to him. I won't say it's wholly unreasonable. I won't say it's that reasonable either. We all get lied to every time by Congress, pharmaceutical commercials, and user agreements for Apple products. That's not an excuse to destroy a helicarrier.


The extent of Matthew Malloy's temper tantrum gets a little confusing here because the details are sort of skilled. It's one of those points in the story where anyone reading this book stoned will have to hold off on another bong hit. One minute the helicarrier is going down. The next Cyclops is landing face first in the snow outside the New Xavier School. It's not clear how he got there. It's not even clear what Matthew did. It's only clear that he's back at the New Xavier School and feeling more hung over than I feel after a St. Patrick's Day party on Bourbon Street. His students are understandably concerned and confused. They're in good company too because right now, the only detail that's clear is that nobody should ever go drinking with Matthew Malloy on St. Patrick's Day.


Cyclops isn't the only one dealing with Matthew's mutant powered hangover. Rachel Grey and Storm wake up back at the Jean Grey Institute. Their students are understandably confused as well. There is some attempt at an explanation. Rachel reveals that Matthew actually spared them from the destruction of the Helicarrier. For some reason, he saw fit to transport them away from the destruction while leaving all those nice, hard-working SHIELD agents who were probably just hoping to live long enough to start collecting a pension or get rich as contractors to suffer in the wreckage. So I guess it's not an act of total mercy.

It does, however, make painfully clear that Rachel Grey's plan for dealing with Matthew Malloy was stupid as fuck. But like her father, she admits her failure. Unlike her father, nobody gives her shit for it. Maybe it's because she's a pretty redhead. Nobody in the Marvel universe can stay mad at a pretty redhead. But it's not like they didn't try to honor Xavier's wishes. This was his plan more than it was theirs and it failed like Paris Hilton's music career. There's no nice way to put it. Carrying out Xavier's will just earned them a bad hangover and some serious pwnage.


Now they're going to need an entirely different approach to deal with Matthew Malloy. Mind-fucking him isn't working. Threatening him with the collective might of SHIELD and the Avengers is just a waste of perfectly good helicarriers. Now even Cyclops is beginning to see why Charles Xavier went to such great lengths to keep this kid hidden and ignorant in ways that Mormons only wish they could get away with. They still need to deal with him before he renders the Jean Grey School and Cyclops' mutant revolution more obsolete than last year's iPhone. But this is where Cyclops comes to another realization that changes the tone of the story.

Earlier, Cyclops pitched another one of his hissy fits over what Charles Xavier did to Matthew Malloy. He went so far as to call him a hypocrite for keeping secrets like this and mind-fucking a mutant in ways that would've made the world's worst porno. This was part of what evoked the epic assholery of characters like Beast and Iceman. But he's not entirely wrong, even if he is prone saying dumb shit without the promise of Emma Frost's pussy to make it better. So he comes to the insane conclusion that they need a different approach to deal with Matthew. Since Xavier's method worked about as well as New Coke, I'd say that's entirely reasonable.


So how do they deal with a dangerous mutant like Matthew Malloy? If mind-fucking him won't work, how can they possibly deal with him in a way that won't piss off Maria Hill and every Avengers in every universe that ever existed? It's actually less daunting than it seems. Cyclops, in his infinite and probably severely concussed wisdom, decides to just flat out talk to the kid like he suggested they do in the beginning. On paper, it still sounds stupider than trying to teach Homer Simpson quantum mechanics, but on a less ridiculous level, it makes sense. Manipulating this kid just didn't work. So why not just flat out talk to him? That's exactly what Cyclops does, going so far as to say that Charles Xavier fucked up. He even offers to buy him breakfast. Because who can stay angry after a homicidal rampage after a plate of eggs and bacon? It sounds so ridiculous, but like the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, it works.


This is one of those issues where, on a purely pragmatic level, not a whole lot happens. If I were to summarize the events to someone with ADHD who sold their meds for weed money, I would tell them this story involved the X-men attacking Matthew Malloy, failing, getting pwned in the most merciful way possible, and Cyclops taking a wholly different approach. They still would probably lose interest the moment they saw a cat walk by, but that wouldn't make the assessment less valid. However, that doesn't mean these events didn't have a certain level of depth. They still moved the story forward. They still continued the themes established in previous issues and took them in a new direction. The X-men tried to do things as Xavier might have done them. They ended up getting their asses handed to them while costing SHIELD yet another helicarrier. Now Cyclops is going to try to do things his way and probably make Maria Hill insatiably horny in the process. It still doesn't do as much as it needs to to be fully awesome, but it gets the job done. I give Uncanny X-men #27 an 8 out of 10. So Maria Hill lost another helicarrier and failed to contain another dangerous mutant. But she got to see Cyclops step in and take charge again in a way that probably made her soak her panties. So I think if anyone asked her if it was worth it, she would say, "fuck yes." Nuff said!

X-men Supreme Issue 106: Civilization No Longer Lost Part 1 PREVIEW!


Throughout the history of Marvel Comics, the X-men have traveled to many exotic locations. It's a big part of any epic mythos. There's only so many times the X-men, or any heroes for that matter, can save the day in places like New York City and Washington DC. I've already incorporated some of those exotic locations into the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. The Savage Land and Genosha are places unique to the Marvel Universe and they both have a strong history with the X-men. I've tried to reflect that in X-men Supreme, but I've also tried to find ways of making them distinct for this fan fiction series. Genosha has certainly gotten quite an overhaul, going all the way back to the mutant uprising Magneto led back in X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution. But Genosha isn't the only exotic location that is associated with the X-men. There are other, lesser known places that give the X-men a unique set of challenges.

Since X-me Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths began, I've kept the X-men in familiar territory for the most part. There have been so many problems involving Genosha and the treaty maintaining such a fragile peace that they haven't had a chance to explore new places, as they have in previous volumes. Well with the return of the Black Queen in X-men Supreme Issue 105: Bleeding Hearts, the X-men are going to have to venture into unexplored territory once more. This time, the X-men will find themselves in a place that will give enemies like the Black Queen and Sinister the home field advantage.

This new domain, should this fanfiction series continue beyond X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths, will become very important to X-men Supreme. For that reason, this conflict is help create the biggest arc to date for X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. I've shown through events that began at the end of X-men Supreme Volume 4: Politics of Fear that Sinister and the Black Queen have been plotting for quite some time. Some of it has involved science, such as Sinister's ploy against Rogue and Gambit in X-men Supreme Issue 103: Shifting Tides. In X-men Supreme Issue 105: Bleeding Hearts, magic got involved through the Black Queen. Now these two powerful sources are set to converge in a major way in this new arc, which I've dubbed Civilization No Longer Lost. It won't just give the X-men an exotic new location to explore. It'll trigger the spark that will lead to some of the most important developments in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series to date. As always, I've prepared a preview that should set the stage for the conflict the X-men will be dealing with in this arc.

Sinister had been cooped up in his lab for quite some time. He had to be in order to stay under the radar of all those who would disrupt his work. It was agonizing at times, being constrained to these sterile environments for weeks at a time. But he was used to it. Now he, Gabriel, and his Marauders were about to get a nice change of scenery.

His beloved, Selene, was setting everything up. He was ready to join her at Mount Anton. Even though he was a man of science, he was not averse to using magic to achieve his goals. Speaking to Selene over a secure communicator, he could tell this little endeavor would give them plenty to work with.

“I see…no, I’m not surprised. You did say Miss Sefton would be feeling the effects already…Indeed. I guess we both overestimated her. It will make the next step much easier…of course. I’m on my way as we speak. I have our newest Marauder joining us. Since the X-men are bound to get involved, it never hurts to have a few tricks at our disposal…oh you have such a dirty mind, Selene. We’ll meet you and Madelyn at the base of the mountain. I’ll see you soon, my love.”

Sinister turned off the communication link as he and Gabriel approached his supersonic stealth jet. The Marauders were already inside and waiting impatiently to depart.

“At last, you’re venturing out from your lab/cave,” joked Gabriel, “Madelyn and I were about to have an intervention.”

“You weren’t worried that I was spending too much time with my work, were you?” scoffed Sinister.

“Oh it’s not your work that had us worried. It was the constant boasting at how close you were to the next step as you call it. We actually kept a tab of how many times you said it and every time the only thing that changed was the date on the calendar.”

“Science is a gradual process, Gabriel. Progress often comes in increments,” said Sinister.

“Does that mean we can stop the count at 22?” grinned Gabriel.

“When you see what my beloved has prepared, you’ll take back every one of them,” he replied confidently, “These missions to collect mutant blood samples haven’t been for show. They are an integral part of my quest to unlock the secrets of mutation.”

“Didn’t you say the same thing about those samples you collected from Weapon X, Jean Grey, and my pest of a little brother?”

“What I gathered from them raised more questions than answers. However, they still pointed us in the right direction. That direction is now taking us to the city of Nova Roma, a place Selene and I have been hoping to revisit for some time.”

“So I’ve been told,” said Gabriel, “Any chance you’ll take some time to get at least some semblance of a tan while you’re there?”

“I would rather not waste time on my complexion,” he chuckled in response, “We’ll have much to keep us busy while we’re there.”

Gabriel grinned. It had been a while since he saw some action. All this lying low was agonizing for someone of his power. Given Selene’s history with Nova Roma and the inevitable involvement of the X-men, he could finally put his power to good use.

He and Sinister were just about to enter the jet when they were confronted by the unexpected presence of Mystique. She had been on the jet waiting as well and apparently it wasn’t just impatience that was affecting her mood.

“Where the hell have you been, Essex? I’ve been meaning to have a word with you,” said Mystique in her usual coarse tone.

“You and the rest of the Marauders,” he said dryly, “Relax, I’m not keeping you out of the loop.”

“It’s not this mission that has me concerned. It’s this new addition to your pack of degenerates. I don’t like him.”

“Why Raven, whatever do you mean?” said Sinister incredulously.

Before Mystique could yell at him any more, the side door to the hanger opened and the new addition she spoke of entered. This new presence caused her to tense. She looked ready to maul the first person that got in her way. It was distressing to her, but amusing to Sinister.

“Victor Creed,” greeted Sinister casually, acting oblivious to Mystique’s discomfort, “So glad you could join us, despite your fashionable tardiness.”

“I was busy with a beer and a playboy. Sue me,” snarled Sabretooth with a feral sneer.

“This being your first mission with us, you would be wise to show a little respect,” warned Gabriel.

“I would, wouldn’t I?” taunted the former living weapon, “Too bad you’re paying me for my claws and not my respect.”

“Funny, I was under the impression you were the one paying us. It was my generous uncle who pieced you back together after that beating you took in Canada,” reminded Gabriel.

“Before I broke out you mean,” added Sabretooth, “Say whatever you want, kid. You’re still paying me to be here. It ain’t money, but some perks you can’t put a price on.”

Sabretooth kept smiling as he walked past Sinister and Gabriel to enter the jet. Along the way he stopped by Mystique, who was still gazing at him with a look that could melt all the adamantium in Weapon X. Sabretooth’s grin only widened. He even made a snide kissy face to further enrage her. It was a game they played every time their paths crossed. He never gave a reason for it, as if he was saving it for a special occasion.

Gabriel remained annoyed while Sinister looked like he was trying hard not to laugh. He kept watching until Sabretooth disappeared into the jet, leaving Mystique standing in a burning rage.

“I don’t know why, but every time I look at that man I want to torture him a billion different ways,” she seethed, “I felt it when Magneto worked with him when I was in the Brotherhood. Now I feel it even more!”

“Why might that be? You two don’t have a history, do you?” said Sinister, sounding like he was teasing her.

Mystique’s fists clenched at his conniving tone. It was his way of saying he still had answers that she wanted. It infuriated her almost as much as Sabretooth because she kept having to respond in the same agonizing way.

“I don’t know,” she said coldly.


Part of making the X-men Supreme fanfiction series appealing and compelling involves exploring new territory for the X-men. I try my best to make every issue and arc feel unique while maintaining the spirit that has made X-men so great over the years. But the longer this fanfiction series continues, the more it'll explore and distinguish itself from other mediums. I want to ensure that these distinctions are still enjoyable for as many X-men fans as possible. And a big part of that involves feedback from readers. So please, if you're enjoying X-men Supreme or if you think it's crap, please take the time to provide that feedback. Either post it in each issue or contact me directly. I always try to respond to address concerns. I understand it's part of the process of making this fanfiction series awesome. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Excelsior!

Jack

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Scanned Thoughts: Avengers and X-men: AXIS #2


We all get to a point in our lives when we're in the middle of a fight, at a job interview, or taking an exam where we think to ourselves, "I'm fucked." And shortly after that moment, our natural instinct is to start looking for someone to blame. Most of the time, it's our own damn fault for screwing up. But every now and then, there is one particular asshole who is deserving of our boiling hatred. Back in Avengers vs. X-men, Tony Stark was in that deserving role. He tried to solve the problem of the Phoenix Force by shooting it with a big fucking gun. That sounds like a solution by Dick Cheny, not the Avengers. Yet because he's rich and probably has way better lawyers anyone could effort hope to afford, he didn't get nearly as much shit as Cyclops. Now in Avengers and X-men: AXIS, the divide between the two teams has been bridged. They stand united against the Red Onslaught, as they kind of have to because any team that tries to take him on is pretty well fucked. But just when it seems they're coming together, Tony Stark takes a nose-dive into that asshole role again. Turns out, he was expecting Avengers vs. X-men to get a Dark Knight style sequel. And once again, he's an asshole for it. Now in Avengers and X-men: AXIS #2, they have to deal with that shit. However, I remain confident that somebody is going to find a way to blame Cyclops for this shit storm when all is said and done.

Even if they do, they'll still have to cast at least some of the blame on Tony Stark because it's his handiwork that dumped a Sentinel-sized shit into an already raging shit storm. He actually spends the first part of this shit storm in a state of shell-shock while these Sentinels make quick work of that massive Avengers/X-men coalition that joined them in the previous issue. Captain America (the new black one) has to save his miserable ass before he shell shocks them all to death. As his pampered ass is getting saved, he starts musing over what a little shit he was growing up. He actually used to make a list of enemies Richard Nixon style and study their weaknesses as though they were plans for the Death Star. It really shouldn't surprise anyone that a former alcoholic turned hero would have some serious problems. Yet because he's Tony freakin' Stark, he'll never get blamed for it. His lawyers won't let him.

Once he gets his shit together, Iron Man figures out what the Adamantium Sentinels are doing. They're not just killing the Avengers and X-men. They're hitting them with some blue beam and making them disappear. Being the tech whiz that was also smart enough to make money and get laid, he surmises that the Sentinels are just containing them and not killing them. The Red Skull would never just stop at a quick and painless death. That wouldn't make him a very good Nazi now would it? But it's still worth noting that these Sentinels are Tony Stark's design. This is what he designed them to do. The Red Onslaught is just borrowing them like a guy borrowing his roommate's car to do a beer run.


There's really no ambiguity in Iron Man's thoughts. He makes clear that as much as he tried to give up the ways that made him the chief asshole during Civil War, he never truly let go of them. And it's because he couldn't that the Red Skull was able to turn his assholery against him. I don't like admiring Nazis in any capacity, but even I have to admit that's pretty damn smart and a much more satisfying kind of pwnage.

It leaves Iron Man humbled and humiliated in a way that he's not equipped to process. But his ass gets saved courtesy of Dr. Strange. Magic saves the tech wizard. For him, that must be like pouring acid on an open rectal wart. He's able to meet up with Rogue, Magneto, and the Scarlet Witch. They're still in the fight and they think they actually have a plan. Rogue reveals that Charles Xavier's mind is still alive in some capacity, as was revealed in the previous issue. All they need to do is "invert" the personalities and hope it doesn't backfire horribly. That's like giving a trillion dollars to Bernie Madoff and hoping they don't lose too much of it. But I guess when the Red Skull teams up with Onslaught, they're kind of stuck with these batshit crazy desperate plans.


Even if it is crazy, it makes for a pretty awesome battle scene. There's nothing underdone or flat about it. The battle against the Sentinels and the Red Onslaught still feels as epic and satisfying as a porno marathon in an IMAX theater. And even as they battle, Magneto still takes some time to get in a few potshots at Iron Man for making another mutant-killing Sentinel. That might not be all that productive when going up against someone like the Red Onslaught, but since Tony Stark's lawyers are nowhere in sight, why not bust his balls a little? He sure as hell won't get this outside a high-end BDSM club in Germany.

That's not to say that Iron Man doesn't bring some strategy to the table. He also reveals that these Sentinels are programmed to only go after villains. So they'll be a little more reluctant chasing him rather than traditional villains like Magneto. While I'm sure that makes Magneto want to bust Iron man's balls even more, he goes along with it. And while the Sentinels are busy, Rogue throws in a much deserved blow against the Red Onslaught. Honestly, what could be sexier than a beautiful woman armed with Wonder Man's powers hurting a Nazi? Anyone who doesn't get horny by something like that is probably a Nazi themselves. She even manages to save Nova in the process and since this version is a teenage boy, she's also ensured he'll have the most awesome wet dreams until his 21st birthday.


For a moment, it seems that Iron Man's plan is working. They're able to hit the Red Onslaught and disorient the Sentinels. Then, like the last two seasons of Two and Half Men, everything turns to shit in ways that couldn't be worse without Ashton Kutcher becoming Iron Man. The Sentinel manages to take Magneto out of the fight. Then Dr. Strange and the Scarlet Witch get captured. That means their whole "inversion" plot goes right down the shitter. It happens pretty fast. In fact, it happens too damn fast at times. It still lacks the details to make it feel as visceral as Jet Li fight scene. It's the same problem the first issue had, although this part of the battle is definitely an improvement. I still think it could've benefited from ripping off a few more Jet Li movies.


It puts Iron Man in a position where he basically feels like Ben Stiller does for most of his movies. He's now without any support and completely at the mercy of his own creations. It's like one of Dr. Frankenstein's monsters making him his prison bitch. Instead of trapping him like the others, his Sentinels look to crush him like a cockroach. For someone with such a rich history of being a total dick, that's almost merciful. It's probably for that very reason that Magneto refuses to come to his aid. And as big a dick move as that is, I can hardly blame him. Iron Man muses about how much an asshole he was for dreaming up these things, but like Tony Romo in elimination games, he keeps falling short. Lucky for him, Nightcrawler isn't nearly as big a dick as Magneto and he saves his miserable ass, even though he doesn't deserve it.


When Iron Man wakes up, he finds himself trapped in a bunker with what's left of this once powerful Avengers/X-men coalition. And since the Red Onslaught turned the whole planet into hate-filled extras from a Quentin Tarantino movie, they can't expect any backup from other heroes. For some reason, they were able to hide themselves from the Red Onslaught. Kid Omega, who usually doesn't make such meaningful contributions, is nice enough to protect their minds. Iron Man then finds out that a whole night has passed. It gave the Avengers and X-men enough time to evacuate the prisoners and somehow avoid the Red Onslaught in the process. I'm not even sure how the fuck that's possible, but I guess I'll have to chalk that up to another one of those details that got skipped or forgotten in between bong hits.

In addition to being low on details, it's also pretty damn bleak. They horribly outmatched by the Red Onslaught. Because of that, they really don't have the luxury of bickering or whining about past exploits. That means nobody is able to pin this on Cyclops directly, although I'm sure some are thinking it. It also leads Iron Man to give a very half-hearted Braveheart style speech. It really doesn't say much other than they just need to do the right thing because it's the right thing. It's basically the kind of shit Superman has been doing since the 1930s. So it's nothing novel. It's enough to make them willing to fight alongside Cyclops again and it makes for another moment between Havok and Wasp. But again, the utter lack of depth of their relationship makes it a meaningless aside that adds no honest emotion to the struggle.


That makes it all the more refreshing when the fighting finally resumes. The details on how they get the ball rolling again still isn't that clear. The lack of refinement is now starting to be a pattern and not an anomaly. It's annoying, but it doesn't make the action less satisfying. It's especially satisfying to see Cyclops and Havok working together again. There's even a very honest, insightful musing from Havok where he tries to reach out to what's left of Professor Xavier to let him know that as much an ass Cyclops was while under control of the Phoenix, he still cares enough to save his legacy from the Red Skull. He doesn't blame Cyclops or even demean him, which he did a damn good job of during Uncanny Avengers. It's probably the most likable that Havok has been since he beat up Kang the Conqueror and after the shit Iron Man has pulled, we need someone to start being likable.


As nice as it is to see Cyclops and Havok fighting together, this united struggle of good vs. evil doesn't exactly go their way. It doesn't end as badly as it did for Braveheart, but it sure wasn't as valiant as they probably hoped it would be. One-by-one, the Sentinels are able to capture them. They disappear from the fight so that the Red Onslaught can torment them in a more meaningful, Nazi-style manner later on. It leaves only Iron Man left to stop the Red Onslaught and his creations. Looking back on it, he probably should've come up with a more inspiring speech. Because just doing the right thing and fighting together as heroes got them precisely dick this time. Sure, they were able to fight alongside Cyclops without hating themselves. But it didn't help them win the day.


So with Iron Man now at the mercy of what he created, the Red Onslaught looks to really savor this moment. Not only is he going to crush Iron Man, he taunts him about how he's read his mind. And in between the memories of the orgies and drunken three-ways he's had with the entire Victoria's Secret catalog, he claims Iron Man has just as big a god complex as the Red Skull. I would say it's a bit of a stretch, but it's not wholly inaccurate. This is the same guy who tried to shoot a god-like power with a big as gun and hope for the best. So maybe he needs to have someone like the Red Onslaught shove this in his face.

It could've made for the most humiliating defeat Iron Man could've suffered with his pants on. But before that happens, Magneto shows up again. This time, he brings backup in the form of a whole team of villains. Apparently, even they don't like Nazis all that much. They would much rather fight like heroes than let an asshole Nazi mind-rape the entire planet. They have limits to their villainy and they just aren't willing to cross that Nazi line. Given how not crossing lines worked out for the heroes, it promises to make for a much more interesting battle.


There weren't many subtleties in this issue to say the least. There was no subtext or deeper meaning. It was just a collection of various Marvel heroes battling the Red Onslaught while Tony Stark played the part of narrator. It was basically the antithesis of Lost. The story began in the middle of a battle. That battle continued and took a crazy turn at the end, but not so crazy that it would warrant a DUI. There was some effort to add a little depth. It wasn't a complete waste, but it really didn't accomplish much. All it did was put Tony Stark in a position to confront the fruits of his douche-baggery. Not much changed with the Red Onslaught. Not much changed with the unity team as well. There were some great moments between characters like Cyclops and Havok. But there were a lot of other moments that felt skipped or missed. That didn't make it any less entertaining. Yes, there was balls-to-the-wall action, but it didn't feel like the kind of mindless action that belongs in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. It still lacks refinement, but it's getting more intriguing. I give Avengers and X-men: AXIS #2 a 7 out of 10. It still has a ways to go, but it's already gotten to the part where Tony Stark is an asshole and everyone stops blaming Cyclops, at least temporarily. I'd say that puts this story ahead of schedule. Nuff said!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A (Not Quite) Epic Onslaught: Avengers and X-men: AXIS #1

The following is my review of Avengers and X-men: AXIS #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


For the past decade now, the major comic book events for Marvel and DC have fallen into one of two categories. One involves two teams of superheroes clashing in long, drawn-out conflict that may or may not be the result of psychic manipulation, cosmic forces, or inept politicians. Events like Marvel’s Civil War and DC’s Trinity War have spoiled the market over the past decade, so much so that at times it feels like one of those fashion trends that can’t end soon enough. While events like Avengers vs. X-men aren’t quite as bad as Crocs or Ugg boots, they tend to leave impacts that can’t be retconned soon enough.

The other event involves multiple teams of heroes teaming up to take on a threat that usually involves multiple teams of villains. These events are more traditional and basic. They’re as old and as basic as Batman punching the Joker or the X-men destroying an army of Sentinels, but slightly more elaborate. They really don’t break much new ground. There’s only so much variation in a story that involves defeating an army of killer robots, invading aliens, or Nazis. It’s like trying to make reruns of the Honeymooners funnier. There’s only so much flexibility to work with. That doesn’t mean they can’t succeed. These stories can be as epic as DC’s Blackest Night or as bland as Marvel’s Fear Itself. But Avengers and X-men: AXIS #1, Marvel’s latest crossover event, promises to stretch that flexibility to its limit and attempt to navigate the gray area between these two categories.

It’s a bold and respectable concept to attempt. However, it only succeeds to a marginal extent. The setup of the story is a problem in and of itself. Anyone who didn’t follow the preludes in Magneto or Uncanny Avengers is going to be lost and confused. That in and of itself isn’t too egregious since so many major events have preludes. But even for those who did read all the comics leading up to this event will feel lost and underwhelmed at times. So those who dedicated themselves to this story before it began aren’t going to be much better off than those who didn’t. It’s like a game between the freshman and varsity team ending in a tie.

The problem isn’t the conflict itself. In fact, the greatest strength of this issue is the nature of the conflict. This isn’t a typical uber-powerful enemy trying to win the day by taking the equivalent of cosmic steroids. The Red Skull, who became the Red Onslaught, isn’t just attacking his enemies. He’s using the psychic powers of Charles Xavier to evoke hatred and resentment for every unguarded mind on the planet. That essentially means the Avengers and X-men will now have to try to save a world that hates itself so much that it’s ready to tear itself apart. They might as well be fighting a crowd to buy a defective smart phone.

It sets up a very difficult battle for them to fight, but it’s a global battle that becomes an afterthought way too quickly. It almost feels like an aside because so much emphasis is placed on just getting the X-men and Avengers on the same page. And even that process ends up being pretty sloppy.


The action is poorly detailed at times and not nearly as epic as it could be. Some of these details feel too random and convenient. There are few connections that form a logical path that lead all the relevant characters into the battle against the Red Onslaught. This lack of connections makes the story feel disorganized and unrefined, like a far less grittier version of Saving Private Ryan. So even when the Avengers and X-men do come together, it comes off as something that was done just to remind everybody that this is a crossover. It’s a reminder that really wasn’t necessary.

There are some efforts with the characters to make the story more engaging. Some do succeed. Moments with Rogue, the Scarlet Witch, and Iron Man do help make this story feel more meaningful than just another heroes vs. overpowered Nazi battle. But others, namely those involving Havok and Wasp, fall too flat. They either rely on drama that was painfully forced and out-of-place or older conflicts going back to Avengers vs. X-men and Civil War that most readers are probably sick of by now.

Despite this disorganization and misguided character moments, the core of the story remains strong and definitely gets stronger by the end. The greatest strength of the story in Avengers and X-men: AXIS #1 is the way in which the Red Onslaught attacks the world. He doesn’t use bombs, racists speeches, or expensive lobbying efforts. He just projects thoughts that bring out the painful insecurities of his enemies. These insecurities disrupt what was shaping up to be a badly needed moment of unity between the Avengers and the X-men. So instead of coming together like the final epic battle in Lord of the Rings, they’re now poised to crumble under the weight of their petty insecurities like the final season of Lost.

What this issue lacks in detail, it makes up for in concept. The execution of that concept is what makes the story worth following. Even if some of the characters involved are forgettable or downright unlikable, they help establish the strength of that concept in a way where the details missing from this issue can be incorporated with subsequent issues. Unlike a chip on a statue, the flaws in Avengers and X-men: AXIS #1 are fixable. The oversights and missteps can be corrected or more refined at the very least. There’s plenty to build on with this concept. Whereas the threat of a super-Nazi villain should bring bickering teams of heroes together, this might actually find a way to do the opposite and that’s definitely a story worth telling.

Final Score: 6 out of 10