Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Scanned Thoughts: Avengers and X-men: AXIS #5
We all get a little bipolar at some point in our lives. As a drunk, I can personally attest how easy it is to go from wanting to knock out every tooth in some guy's mouth to crying in his arms like he's my therapist. It doesn't always take alcohol either (although it certainly helps). Sometimes people just have shitty days that turns them into assholes. Battling the Red Skull and a couple of Adamantium Sentinels, courtesy of Tony Stark, is right up there with the first day of high school in days that will turn anybody into a villain. But now the Avengers and X-men are taking it a step further. After the battle against the Red Skull, both teams have realized that they're overdue for a little self-indulgence and not the kind that comes from a hooker and a bottle of whiskey. They're prepared to cross lines, shrug off burdens, and shit all over anyone that gets in their way. The details on how this inversion played out is still sketchy at best and its effects have been forced at worse. But it somehow finds a way to be awesome and Avengers and X-men: AXIS #5 tries to expand on that awesome in a new way. Sure, it's turning our favorite heroes into assholes, but in an era where Tiger Woods is an adulterous cheater and Newt Gingrich can be taken seriously after three marriages, we should all be used to it by now.
On the surface, it doesn't look like everyone is having too bad a day. It looks like one of those days in the Marvel universe that occurs in between a Skrull invasion and a Hydra attack. The skies are sunny, there aren't any monsters jacking up insurance rates on big buildings, and Spider-Man hasn't made another deal with the devil or had his mind swapped with one of his enemies. It's the kind of setup that would make a great One Direction video, minus the tween inuendo. It's the perfect day for Spider-Man to meet up with Nova (the dumb ass kid Sam Alexander version and not the Richard Rider version that more people actually like) for a meeting at Avengers Tower.
It's easy for them to be in a good mood. They didn't just get back from battling the Red Skull on a mutant concentration camp. It's also somewhat random because Spider-Man just saw Carnage play hero in the last issue. And now he's just shrugging it off? I get that when the Avengers call a meeting, any costumed hero has to drop with they're doing and work under the assumption that Hydra is holding the UN hostage or something. It just makes the setup feel somewhat choppy. I don't mind that in my sushi, but not in my comics.
The theme and purpose of the meeting, however, is not at all choppy because it is a direct result of recent events. Captain America (the one that's a Marvin Gaye fan) announces that the Red Skull has escaped and he's not in the mood to deal with it through a typical Star Spangled Super Speech to rally the heroes against him. He's decided to say, "Fuck you guys. I'm doing this myself," and uses one of Hank Pym's many ill-conceived gizmos to trap his fellow Avengers on a sub-atomic ant farm. It's definitely un-American and not in the typical Glenn Beck sort of way. He basically got all the heroes that weren't "inverted" and took them out of the picture without going through the trouble of killing them. I want to say that's a dick move, but that's working smart. Not hard. And what could be more American than that?
That's not to say it doesn't come off as a bit forced. The whole "inversion" concept was only loosely detailed in the previous issue and there's really no attempt to add to it. Captain America and the other inverted Avengers just plow ahead like John Goodman at a buffet table, exercising their new unheroic traits. Naturally, the only ones to escape their douche-baggery are Spider-Man and Nova. Because why have one of the more experienced and competent Avengers escape? That might actually make sense and we can't have that.
This pisses the inverted Avengers off in a perfectly understandable way. They were trying to work smart. They were trying to save themselves the trouble of roughing up their friends. But Nova and Spider-Man just have to make it harder on them. They're like that annoying user agreement that everyone has to accept before using any new Apple product, except the inverted Avengers don't have the luxury of just ignoring it like everyone else. They actually have to rough these two up to get them in line. I suppose it's not quite as bad as realizing they just gave Apple the right to force shitty U2 albums on their phones.
The battle that follows isn't quite as epic beyond a typical chase scene, nor is it intended to be. Spider-Man and Nova are now in full WTF mode and trying to escape. Since they're on the Avengers' C-team, they're not exactly equipped to fight back. That makes for some satisfying moments of pwnage, but nothing that'll find its way onto a Tosh.O video. Magneto makes sure of that, dropping in to rescue Spider-Man and Nova since he knows better than most that these two aren't going to get out of this battle with their bodies and dignity intact.
This is where it gets a little choppy again. The battle, while not set up to be that elaborate, goes off-track like an economics lecture on ADHD. The Scarlet Witch just shows up randomly. No warning. No hint. Her name was barely mentioned after the battle against the Red Skull. She just shows up after Magneto slips away with Nova and Spider-Man. And all she does is call Captain America and the Avengers dipshits for letting Spider-Man and Nova escape. But honestly, doesn't that fall under one of those, "It goes without saying," concepts? And beyond just deriding them, all the Scarlet Witch does is say she and the Avengers have no common interests anymore. She's now content just being an inverted hero on her own terms. That begs the question why the fuck did she show up in the first place? There are easier ways to denigrate the Avengers. Has she even heard of a message board? It makes as much sense as it sounds.
This leaves both Spider-Man and Nova just as confused as me, minus the influence of weed. Magneto ends up taking them to Avengers Mansion where they meet the other Captain America (the one who looks like the before picture in every Just For Men commercial) where they learn about this whole "inversion" bullshit. It would've been a great chance to flesh out the whole concept since it's about as ambiguous as corporate tax laws.
But Steve Rogers doesn't reveal anything that we don't already know. He says all the Avengers that were on Genosha have been inverted and all the villains that were there as well were inverted too. Now a guy like Steve Rogers can be forgiven for not knowing the details since he wasn't there and he knows as much about inversions as I know about quantum mechanics, but it still comes off as painfully incomplete. The effort is there, but the results are not. And unlike my old algebra class, this shit isn't graded on a curve.
Steve Rogers actually spends more time worrying about the new inverted Hulk, who goes by Kluh since coming up with another name might actually have required effort. Somehow an exceedingly pissed off Hulk is far more of a concern than the Avengers turning evil. Now to be fair, I think both concerns are fairly even when it comes to levels of fucked up. Both are capable of doing a fuckton of damage. But given what Nova and Spider-Man just experienced, I think the priorities are a little fucked up and not in the sense that beer takes priority over food. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if Nova didn't add to it as only a non-Richard Rider Nova could.
As Steve Rogers is talking about how dangerous Kluh could be, Nova just up and flies away (to fucking Arizona no less) and starts fighting Kluh. He doesn't wait for Steve Rogers, the same guy who once battled the Nazis, to come up with a plan. He just flies out and takes on Kluh in the middle of a rampage. I get that he's young, inexperienced, and prone to the kind of poor impulses that usually lead to hilarious Youtube videos, but this just adds to the overall choppy flow of the story. One minute he's trying to wrap his head around the idea of heroes becoming villains. The next he's taking on an evil Hulk. This might make sense to someone who missed their ADHD meds, but not to a semi-coherent drunk.
And it gets even choppier than that. While Spider-Man and Steve Rogers are busy banging their heads against the wall over Nova's latest rookie mistake, the X-men show up to make their day even worse. They arrive in New York City packing Apocalypse-caliber firepower. Storm announced in the previous issue that the X-men were ditching the whole "Peace and love" part of their mission and skipping straight to the part where they tell humanity to fuck off. And they do a damn good job of it to, arriving in one of Apocalypse's ships. I'll give old school X-Factor fans a moment to stop drooling.
No, there's no explanation on where the ship came from. No, there's no hint of how the other students at the Jean Grey Institute are reacting to this. I imagine even teenagers would be a wee bit confused that their loving, supportive teachers are now okay with joining Apocalypse and landing a ship in the middle of New York City. They must really not want to get detention or something. It's another one of those missing details that robs the story of some badly needed depth.
It makes up for that to some extent by having the X-men crash at the Avengers Tower. They don't attempt any of that peaceful diplomacy bullshit that Charles Xavier preached. That shit went out of style during the Carter Administration. They just demand that the Avengers hand over the Red Skull, which isn't wholly unreasonable considering that this led to a pretty nasty argument the last time they crossed paths. It gets even worse when Havok sees that the inverted Avengers have given Wasp the Saw treatment. Granted, it's not entirely clear why Havok would be pissed off. He still calls her his wife, even after they made clear that Kang's time-traveling bullshit constituted an annulment. It's another unnecessary detail that distracts from a perfectly enjoyable Avengers vs. X-men battle. And this time, nobody tries to shoot a cosmic force with a fucking gun.
It's not much of a fight though. Again, it's not intended to be the same epic battle we saw against the Red Skull earlier. The main goal here is for the X-men to let the Avengers know that they're inverted asses are grass and if they want avoid resorting to solving problems with giant guns, they'll order every human being to evacuate Manhattan Island. It's exactly as unreasonable as it sounds. The only thing that makes it enjoyable is seeing Apocalypse punch Captain America repeatedly in the face. Granted, it's not as unreasonable as it could've been. He doesn't say he intends to wipe out every human in the state of New York. He doesn't even say he wants them all to kiss his ass on the way out. It's a dick move, but it's not what we all know Apocalypse to be capable of. So if the X-men truly are inverted, then at least they can say they're a more reasonable kind of inverted.
Reasonable or not, the lack of refinement in this whole "inverted" concept still makes for a choppy and confusing plot. I'm starting to think we're not going to get much of an explanation. The X-men and Avengers are just asshole now. They might as well be mind-controlled or been replaced by evil clones. It takes away from some of the novelty the concept promised earlier. But still, seeing Apocalypse and the X-men beat the shit out of the Avengers was still pretty satisfying.
This is one of those issues where ambiguity is thrown away like modesty in a Victoria's Secret catalog. There's no subtlety here. There's not even at attempt to deepen the mystery. The Avengers and X-men have been inverted. They're now unapologetic assholes and they're not afraid to enjoy it. That utter lack of subtlety makes it feel a lot less nuanced than before. Now, both teams are carrying themselves as if they were being mind-controlled. It really doesn't feel genuine or intriguing. It just establishes that this is who these characters are now. That's entirely fair, but it doesn't do it in a way that has a meaningful impact. So the heroes are assholes now. That shit isn't exactly new. Between Superior Spider-Man and everything ever written by Mark Millar, the setup in Avengers and X-men: AXIS #5 comes off as more novel than it really is. It has it's moments. It certainly moves the story forward. But it's still choppy as hell and lacking in refinement. That's why I give it a 6 out of 10. It doesn't do anything horribly egregious. It's not like Dan Slott or Jeph Loeb is writing this story. But like Julia Roberts in the past eight years, it doesn't do anything all that meaningful. Nuff said!