Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Avengers Vs X-Men #6 review

The Phoenix Force has touched five members of the X-Men, giving them the power to change the world. It's a week after the end of last issue, and Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Magik and Colossus have spent the intervening time doing good. They've fed the hungry, stopped wars, ended the energy crisis and they plan to do more. But before they go on, leader Cyclops demands that the people of the world pledge to live in peace, accept his Pax Utopia.

It's hard to argue with success, and even their recent enemies, the Avengers, can see that the mutants are doing a lot of good. Captain America has his team watching the 'Phoenix Five', but a grudging admiration is beginning to emerge within some members. President Barack Obama, though, has no doubt - while a heaven on earth is being created, the beings behind it are answerable to no one but themselves. And he's not having it: 'Something has to be done.'

The Avengers decide that means grabbing Hope, supposed intended Phoenix host, from Utopia island in a hit and run mission. But if they think they're going to get away with it, well, Cyclops and Emma actually know what they're thinking. Things look bad for Cap and co until a wild card appears - the Scarlet Witch. Her chaos magic can hurt Cyclops, allowing her to teleport the Avengers, and Hope, away. Cyclops decides he's had enough interference and utters three little words: 'No more Avengers.'

Which makes him either the wickedest, or stupidest, man on Earth. Given that he saw the tragic fallout after a deluded Scarlet Witch demanded 'no more mutants', to do the same thing is madness.

And intriguing. This event story is finally running full steam ahead, with big things happening and big stakes to play for. It's good that, finally, not all Avengers are blindly following Captain America, with Beast and Black Panther both going their own way. It's likewise good that Cyclops is seen as something other than lunatic aggressor (even if it's just until the end of this chapter).

Writer Jonathan Hickman adds some fine touches, such as Cyclops' reason for continuing to sport a visor, even though his new powers make it unnecessary; a surprising conversation between Colossus and an army of Zzzaxes; and a side trip to K'un Lun. More worrisome is his characterisation of President Obama as a hawk, ordering the Avengers to step in the minute US interests are threatened - the Phoenix Five have turned  a SHIELD base into a school.

He talks fine words about self-determination, but it's clear where he's coming from. This impression is emphasised by Marvel's head-scratching habit of apparently instructing artists to have sitting presidents hug the shadows of any room they're in. Here it makes Obama seem rather sinister.

I doubt that's what Hickman, penciller Olivier Coipel, inker Mark Morales and colourist Laura Martin intended. I do believe the positioning of Cyclops, during an inconclusive chat with a doubting Charles Xavier, is deliberate (click on images to enlarge). 
Tell me that's not classic 'would-be benevolent despot in secret headquarters'. While the X-Men are doing good, it seems we're meant to be of the same mindset as the President. Well, it's comics' default position, when someone with immense powers is improving the world in the blink of an eye. Rather than ask ordinary women and men, especially those in the developing world, how they feel about being able to forget the fundamental worries of daily living, the superheroes always decide that self-determination is more important than progress. That's Professor X's position here, as Cyclops asserts that all men will eventually accept the 'future' he's imposing: 'It's cheating ... it has cost nothing.' 

Cyclops isn't even demanding everyone bow down in return for his golden age - he just wants people to live in peace, and think of ways to make the world even greater. That really does sound like a good deal. The Phoenix Five are solving problems humanity has so far proven unable to beat, and letting even more people live free - how is that bad?

Remember how the Avengers cocked up way back when, in The Korvac Saga? A villain turned benevolent god aimed to transform the world for the better, but the Avengers could see only the villain, and Paradise was lost. I don't expect to see it, but logic demands the Avengers reference that occasion during current events - they really have been here before, so what have they learned? Will they make the same decisions again?

This issue costs the regular $3.99 but comes in at a meaty 36pp of story, which is far better than Marvel's usual deal for this price point. And rather good pages they are, with plenty to enjoy, and much to ponder before next issue arrives. I blow hot and cold on Hickman, but I've no major qualms about this issue; he balances big, daft superheroics with intriguing philosophical issues. The only thing I'd change would be the raid on Utopia, which has the Avengers donning stealth costumes more wacky than cool. If there's an action figure range on the way - and what other reason could there be for such silliness? - some kids are going to be giggling.
Still, Coipel and Morales give it their best. They grab the script by the scruff of its neck and draw the heck out of it. The scenes of the Phoenix Five cleaning up Mankind's mess are magic, while quieter moments - such as Scott and Emma using telekinesis while relaxing - help sell the idea that the future isn't so scary. And there's a page from the K'un Lun history books referring back to New Avengers #25 that looks simply fantastic. It's a shame this art team aren't around for the whole 12 issues.

Jim Cheung and Justin Ponsor produce a heck of an imposing cover - again, is there much doubt we're meant to find the Phoenix Five more scary than heroic? I do know I find them interesting enough to be back here next time.

Maybe by then I'll even learn to not read so quickly that I mistake an ad for a story page. Still, the juxtaposition of these pages did give me a laugh.

8 comments:

  1. Verily the most interesting issue of this series so far; Marvel have thankfully admitted that this entire mini-series is nothing more than a 'mash-up' between heroes, not another over-hyped 'this changes everything, nothing will ever be the same again' tosh they churn out every year.
    I really rather enjoyed this issue. The idea of a Phoenix Five [Im sure that was an 80s cartoon!] is so intriguing, not least because Cyke in full Phoenix flow is proving quite the adept at changing the world in profound and wanton ways, and the Avengers's reactions are verging on the slightly insouciable to predictably suspicious. You can see where this might be leading of course, but just for once Hickman's writing [who Ive found rather cold and remote on Fantastic Four] has struck the correct chord and is giving us what we want/need; tons of action, a plot that can go in several directions at any time and heroes changing sides as opinions ebb and flow.
    Those stealth costumes - surely they must clank when they walk? - are a silly abstraction tho, and can be misconstrued as an indulgence to the story; aernt the Avengers's powers enough? And Black, er, Barack Obama in shadow? That sort of things been going on with comic-book Presidents for years, not to make the stories appear 'present day' [bit silly, as time goes on and Presidents change] but more to present Presidents as 'suspicious' and ready to overreact. And that happens here as Obama does a Bush and steamrolls into action because Americans generally fear anyone with too much power - other than them of course. Predictable, but then in the context of the overall story also understandable. Mind, the biggest change here is that in this book Obama is actually doing something [whether we agree or not] unlike his real-world counterpart![satire here].
    Personally I think Marvel should dispense with real-world Presidents and create their own version, just like Hickman has just done over in his Ultimate Avengers. Just a suggestion.
    The art here is finely judged; plenty of small/large and large panels giving us keenly choreographed vignettes, we have a well-drawn book of perspectives marked out by close-ups of faces and long body shots. Even without any dialogue [which by the way is more precise and cuts straight to the heart of the plot here - nice touch indeed!!!!!!] the reader can glean the precise template of how the story is advancing.
    And I dont know if anyone is using those app things during the story, but do check out the bit where Cyke turns around when you turn the app on - it is INTENSE! Fluid motion capture seen to be believed. Its far superior to the previous AvX ish where I used it during the Black Widow/Illyania fight where 'Tasha somehow seemed to pull two guns out of her ass, but never mind!
    I was very impressed by this issue. Avengers vs X-Men hasnt grabbed me so far - it is what it is, after all just a mash-up - but this was an absorbing read.

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    1. I popped over to Formspring this week and asked Tom Brevoort about they shadowy presidents. He said that, yeah, it's about not dating the books with identifiable presidents (I like the optimism that says Obama won't be the only African-American POTUS). More surprisingly, he added that it was the choice of individual artists. You'd think a company as cross-overy as Marvel would have a policy.

      I liked the AR lawyer this time. I've not managed to get the motion comic to work, sadly.

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  2. The art on those pages you posted is impressive. Coipel has evidently improved massively since his work on the Legion all those years ago.

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    1. Indeedy, but I still love his work on Legion Lost, it was such an intense change.

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  3. That was certainly highly impressive work that Coipel did on his Legion run. He made everything look so nervy and edgy with them. Oddly, I didnt think the same when he jumped ship to draw the Avengers; they just looked ugly.
    Coipel's art has that Image look from the Nineties that I always found appealing.

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  4. issue 8 namor invades wakanda, wonder if wakanda can survive phoenix namor

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    1. Sounds like that'll be quite the ruckus.

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    2. then you should see the cover

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