I’ve been an open critic of the modern endless “event” mentality that has been going on in Marvel comics for a number of years. In the past, they’d have a major “event” once every couple of years. By major, I’m referring to events which affect most of the Marvel Universe and have far-reaching effects on almost every series they produce. They did Secret Wars from 1984-1985, followed by Secret Wars II from 1985-1986, but thereafter they didn’t have a massive “event” on that scale, maybe until 1993’s Mys-Tech War. Frankly, I’m glad I took most of the 90s off from reading comics, it was just an awful decade.
However, these days, they’ve figured out that having constant events is a money-maker so they have an almost endless series of “events” going on. Just the big ones include 2005’s House of M, 2006’s Civil War, 2007’s The Initiative, etc. In fact, there are so many “events” these days that if you just compare the raw numbers, even including minor events and crossovers, the total number of “official events” from the 1970s-1990s totals 39, including just long runs in closely-related books. However, just 2000-2012, the number is absurd. In 12 years, the number of “events” has been 67. There were twice as many events in the last 12 years as there were in the previous 30 combined.
As a comic reader at the time, I had recognized this attempt by Marvel to milk more and more money out of the readers by having these absurd mega-crossovers that often branched out to a dozen or more individual titles as well as it’s own core story, so beginning with Civil War, I simply bowed out and jumped off the “event” train. I carefully avoided reading any of those stories or any comics that were directly affected by those stories. It saved me a lot of money, I’ll tell you, especially since the majority of those stories just weren’t that good. Civil War, for instance, was the era where Iron Man took over running S.H.I.E.L.D. and Spider-Man took off his mask in public. It was the time of mutant registration and I detested every bit of that, hence I didn’t miss not reading it. Oh sure, I ended up dropping some of my favorite books, like Spider-Man and Iron Man but at least I retained my sanity. I want good stories, not blatantly obvious cash grabs. In fact, it was the prevalence of the Marvel “event” that eventually led me to give up reading comics at all.
But you know, it’s hard, after having read them for many decades, to give up cold turkey. Even though I probably “officially” stopped reading comics around 2007, I’d still pick one up occasionally, just to see if it grabbed me. None really did but I kept checking in with my fingers crossed.
In 2012, Marvel started releasing it’s most recent “event”, Avengers vs. X-Men, an event which they promised would completely change the way we looked at the Marvel Universe. With a great deal of trepidation, I decided I’d break my years-long boycott of the Marvel crossover and give AvX a shot. It would be just a read through the 12 issues of the maxi-series, I wouldn’t touch any of the crossovers, any of the tangential material, just the main story. Now that AvX has finally finished, let me give you a rundown of what I thought, from the perspective of a former Marvel reader with virtually no knowledge of the current state of the Marvel Universe.
To be totally up front about it all, it wasn’t bad but it certainly wasn’t great. There are elements that I enjoyed and frankly, things I thought were ridiculous. I’m going to give a very cursory explanation of the series, there will certainly be spoilers but nothing too in-depth. I’m sure anyone who really wanted to read it has done so already anyhow. The story begins as the Phoenix Force, the same cosmic energy that turned Jean Grey into the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix, is headed for Earth. Hope Summers, the time-travelling future relative of Jean Grey, is assumed to be the natural host for the Phoenix. The X-Men, still devastated over the events of House of M, where the Scarlet Witch’s powers erased every mutant from the planet except 198, are seeking a way to revive their race and see the return of the Phoenix as their ticket to renewed mutant-dom. However, the Avengers see it differently. They think the Phoenix is coming to destroy the planet and they can’t allow that. Both sides begin a long, drawn out fight over the future of Hope, dragging her one way and then the other until she gets upset and tells both sides what to go do with themselves. It becomes a free-for-all, the X-Men trying to keep Hope safe so she can rebuild mutant-kind, the Avengers trying to take her into custody so they can prevent her from merging with the Phoenix. Captain America splits the Avengers into different task forces and sends the most powerful to slow down the approach of the Phoenix, which they fail miserably. I think it’s important to see that even against the most powerful of the Avengers, the Phoenix kicks their ass with no problem whatsoever. After all, it has always been a god-like power, an elemental force of nature, even someone as powerful as Thor shouldn’t have a chance to stop it. As the Phoenix approaches, Hope starts to draw power from it and become exponentially more powerful, easily defending herself from the wishes of both sides. Everyone worries what will happen, but once the Phoenix arrives, she refuses to bond with it, rejecting it’s energy, afraid she may not be able to handle it’s immense power. Tony Stark, however, uses experimental super-science in an attempt to break up the Phoenix Force into smaller, more manageable parts, but instead causes it to bond with the five X-Men, thus creating godlike beings out of Cyclops, Colossus, Namor, Emma Frost and Magik. These five mini-Phoenixes, led by Scott Summers, set out to change the world for the better. Scott, after all, has been trained by Professor X, the morality is strong with this one, he doesn’t have a self-centered bone in his body. They make crops grow in deserts, they clean up the environment, they purify the water, it seems like they’re actually doing a lot of the things they had hoped that Hope would accomplish as the Phoenix. However, there is a dark side to the Phoenix and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When you can do virtually anything, no matter how moral you are, chances are that eventually you’ll give in to your baser impulses. Instead of saving the world, the X-Men decide they ought to rule it. Instead of fixing the planet’s problems, they start thinking it may be better to wipe everything out and start with a clean slate. The remaining X-Men and Avengers, hunted by the mini-Phoenixes, join forces begin covertly attacking individual Phoenixes from their hidden base in a pocket dimension. Namor is the first to fall and when he does, his portion of the Phoenix Force is split among the rest, increasing their power. Next, realizing that they are being hopelessly corrupted by their power, Colossus and Magik take each other out, greatly increasing the power of the remaining two. Cyclops and Emma Frost give in to the dark side, which isn’t that much of a surprise, and while engaged in a battle against the Avengers, Cyclops shoots Emma in the back, thus taking all of the power. He transforms into Dark Cyclops, the Phoenix-powered agent of evil. Professor X shows up, demanding that Cyclops stop before it’s too late, but he is summarily killed by the now evil Cyclops. No human or mutant can now stand against him, it’s up to Hope, who they’ve been secretly training on K’un-L’un. With the help of the Scarlet Witch, Hope wrests control of the Phoenix Force from Cyclops and together, they destroy the Phoenix, but only after Super-Hope repairs all the damage to the world caused by Cyclops and, surprise surprise, brings back all the mutants! Cyclops and his depowered cohorts are placed in chains for their crimes and Captain America announces a new team of Avengers, this time made up of X-Men.
It’s not the greatest story ever but it could have been worse. Maybe the biggest problem though, as anyone who has read a Marvel comic, or any comic for that matter, knows that Professor X isn’t dead and the Phoenix Force sure isn’t destroyed. Nobody ever dies in comics, not really. They just sit it out for a while until someone comes up with a reason to bring them back. Especially in this currently movie-dominated genre, copyright laws require the characters to keep appearing in the comics every now and then to keep them as viable candidates for big-budget box-office blockbusters. This has been going on for so long now that nobody with even a passing familiarity with comics cares if anyone dies. It has no emotional impact. They’ll be back. It’s only the clueless noobs who don’t understand that death is for… a while, make a big deal about it. Remember 1992’s Death of Superman and the media hype? Tons of mainstream, non-comics people crying that Superman, the cultural icon, was dead? Sorry, just a cash-grab.
So why do comic companies keep playing these games? Why do they keep hyping the death of major characters when they know nobody believes them? Certainly, it can’t be for emotional impact, we just look at Spider-Man splattered all over the concrete or Batman blown to kingdom come and shrug. It’s no more real now than it was the last 47 times they did it. Professor X is dead? How is this any different than Uncanny X-Men #167? Or during Legion Quest? Or Messiah Complex? Or Ultimatum? Or heck, if you want entertaining, the new X-Treme X-Men where alternate universe Professor X’s are killed repeatedly and he ends up as little more than a head in a jar? He’s dead? So what? I guess it could have been worse, the cover to issue 11 could have been emblazoned “In this issue, an X-Man will die!” It wasn’t that hyped, even though Marvel blew the surprise in interviews done the same day the issue was released.
I guess the biggest problem is that it was a stupid fight to begin with. Where Captain America started out wanting to protect Hope from the Phoenix Force, he ended up doing exactly what Cyclops wanted to do the whole time. There was never a reason for both sides to start swinging, had Cap and Cyclops not been acting like immature asshats. You’d think that after all these years, both of the, would have learned to talk things out before unleashing superhuman abilities? But no, if any of these characters were actually reasonable, they’d actually have to work to come up with decent storylines. Another absurdity comes with the fact that Cyclops really only killed one person throughout AvX, yet he’s being treated as one of the greatest monsters in history, yet he stands beside Wolverine who has killed hundreds or thousands of people in his day and the Phoenix caused Jean Grey to detonate a star and kill millions. Sorry, Cyclops just doesn’t seem that bad, especially since he was being controlled by an extraterrestrial elemental force.
So now that it’s all over, we move into the ridiculously named era of Marvel NOW! Sorry, frankly not impressed, any more than I was with DC’s New 52. I guess we’ll see if decent writers can save anything from this mess in their Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences. I’m not really holding my breath, but we’ll see.