Sunday, 10 June 2012

Avengers vs X-Men #5 Review

Marvel's latest summer event ends it's first act with a game-changing issue! When last we saw the company's two most popular superhero teams, they had both found their way to the Moon, the Phoenix Force drawing ever closer and the two sides locked in combat over the fate of the Mutant Messiah and soon-to-be-host, Hope. Captain America wants to take her as far away from Earth as possible, Cyclops wants her to embrace the power and reignite the ailing Mutant race. All the while, fan-favourite Wolverine hovers in the background threatening to gut her like a fish incase this all goes wrong. Never have the heroes of the Marvel Universe ever disagreed to such a degree. The superhero Civil War was a petty spat in comparison. In Avengers vs X-Men, the fate of the whole world hangs in the balance!

As I am only beginning my reviews with issue 5, I feel I should sum up my feelings on the entire event so far to give the best picture of how it is going. Unfortunately, I'm not coming down on it favourably. Ever since the first issue, these typically rational heroes have been acting like colossal jerks. Captain America inexplicably declared war on the X-Men and is talking about imprisoning the entire Mutant race, behaving wildly out of character. Cyclops has come off like a religious zealot, giving himself over entirely to a cause bigger than himself and putting the whole world in danger in the process, behaving wildly out of character. The only person who's actually acting IN character is Wolverine, but his goal of murdering Hope is so despicable, you really wish he would act out of character and try to save her instead. He's betrayed the X-Men at every turn and is actively aiding in snuffing out Mutantdom's last chance at a future. It was never going to be easy for Marvel to find a reason to have their most popular franchises go to war...and they still haven't found it.

This issue inparticular takes place almost entirely on the Moon, taking place over a matter of minutes. Hope keels over in pain at the impending arrival of the Phoenix Force, while the Avengers and X-Men simply hit each other like simpletons for twenty pages. There's an occasional plea by Captain America to Cyclops to stop this madness, but even in such a rational request, everyone is still committed to their own course of action, with no attempt at compromise. You'd think as they're on THE MOON, what's the harm in letting Hope take on the power, see if she can contain it and if not, have Wolverine use those claws he's been sharpening for the past four issues. Ultimately this issue is just another horrible example of Marvel smashing their favourite toys together and seeing what happens, regardless of whether it makes sense.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the schizophrenic creative team behind this series. All of Marvel's top tier writers have taken a crack at writing an issue a piece. I'm assuming that there was a huge group meeting to discuss where exactly the story was heading, but even then, these are wildly different writing styles and inner voices being used with every passing issue. A Brian Michael Bendis comic is a very different beast to a Jason Aaron comic, as it is to an Ed Brubaker comic and so on. They all have their various strengths and weaknesses and as a result, they never come together as a cohesive whole. This particular issue was written by Matt Fraction (famous for his work on The Invincible Iron Man, The Mighty Thor, Defenders, etc). He's well known for taking a step back from the emotional core and focussing on lofty bigger ideas of a grand scale. Considering he's got two superteams on the surface of the Moon scrapping it out, whilst a cosmic force moves ever closer in an attempt to consume them, you could certainly say he's guilty of that here. He does however frame the issue around a lovely metaphor where Hope questions whether she's the pilot of the bomber or the bomb itself. Amidst all the needless violence, I did appreciate such sentiment.

Ironically, the art is the one aspect of the series so far to remain consistant, with John Romita Jr handling every issue of this Act. However, the only reason he's been able to manage this feat is by turning in shoddy half-arsed art that conveys the bare minimum of detail. To be fair, I'm not saying it's the series itself that's bringing this out in him, as he's been coasting on "deadline" art for the past ten years or more. Only in very rare cases has he produced anything even remotely beautiful. For the majority of series he's worked on, he'll turn in whatever he's managed to accomplish in that timeframe, which isn't a whole hell of alot. This actually reminds me alot of his work on the recent relaunch of The Avengers. For the first 12 issues or more, he turned in some of the worst art I'd ever seen and if not for the similar style, would've had me wondering whether this was the same guy who wowed me on Amazing Spider-Man all those years ago. I'm not decrying the art as absolutely horrible, merely functional. There probably won't be any images from this series that stand out as a classic visual of our time, which is a real shame considering the monumental subject matter. I'm far more interested to see what Oliver Coipel achieves in the upcoming second Act.

Finally, the issue ends on a shocking cliffhanger, which I'd be an idiot to not address. So if you're not wanting to know what happens, please do not read beyond this point and go about your business. As established in the most recent issue of Uncanny X-Men, the Phoenix Force was definitely responsible for Hope's birth and the subsequent arrival of the "Five Lights". Not having her acolytes on hand at the time of it's arrival, the Phoenix Force possesses the five members of the X-Men's Extinction Team. Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik have all become living avatars of the Force. After their abrupt transformation, they take the broken Hope in their arms and abscond back to Earth, with their great work still ahead of them. This is actually a fantastic concept for the remains of the series and quickly dispells the notion that the Avengers have been utterly superior up until this point. The X-Men were losing, but now they've changed the game entirely and laid claim to the moniker of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. It'd be extremely easy for Marvel to make these possessed X-Men the villains of the piece and have the Avengers striving to stop their genocidal plans, but I'd be far more interested if their motivations weren't as simple as wiping Humanity off the face of the Earth and instead had the Phoenix wanting to bring about genuine change on a global scale.

6 out of 10  

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