This is the way things work in superhero comics: trauma explodes and its aftermath is only good for shuffling the status quo. Grief gets its 15 minutes, sure, but cataclysmic happenings are really just about getting readers interested in coming back for new chunks of story.
That’s not always a bad thing, but it’s annoying when that function is so transparent, like it was in last year’s Flashpoint event from DC Comics. Avengers vs. X-Men wasn’t as bad as that storyline in that regard, but I still seemed like it was racing to some new shape for the Marvel Universe.
Now that it’s done, I wanted to look back at AvX and pull out a few takeaways from the big mutants-vs-everyone event. Plot developments get referred to below, so stop reading now if you don’t want to get spoiled.
Who Are the Good Guys Again?: After Civil War, this is the second time in recent memory that Marvel has aimed its top-tier characters at each other over philosophical differences. They better not revisit this trope again. OK, yes, the external threat in AvX was on a cosmic level and tied to one of the company’s most iconic storylines. But the tether to the Dark Phoenix arc highlights the problem of pitting hero vs. hero too many times. There were still villains aplenty in that classic Claremont/Byrne X-Men run and they served to highlight what a nasty piece of work Jean Grey was becoming under the influence of the Phoenix. Even when you’re swimming deep in the waters of moral relativism, it still helps to glimpse at real, honest-to-badness evil. If only for a sense of proportion.
Ruby Quartz Blindspot: Big event storylines in superhero comics exist to wave editorial magic wands. Dead characters come back, magic kingdoms fall apart and all sorts of people get new/different powers. So, part of me was hoping that the last few years of Cyclops being a massive jerkhole would meet their end in AvX. Instead, the end of the crossover sees a Scott Summers who’s not very repentant. Yeah, he was right — in a roundabout way — that the Phoenix would ensure a future for the mutant race. But he did some terrible things to get there. Will there be redemption for Cyclops? Probably. It seems that some moral rehabilitation for Cyclops and others will be part of the storylines in Uncanny Avengers and the other upcoming Marvel NOW! books. But Professor Xavier’s first student has wound up feeling more unlikeable than he ever has.
My Favourite Character, More Depressing Than Ever: First off, let me say that in Jonathan Hickman I trust. His run on FF and Fantastic Four have been poignant displays of widescreen emotion. But he’s going to be the primary architect of Black Panther’s destiny and I find myself wincing the same way I have before, hoping that the ruler of the Wakandas will get a sharply realised portrayal that brings out the best in him.
The Panther’s going to be a central character in the re-launched New Avengers title, which will gather up the clandestine power brokers known as the Illuminati, to deal with extinction-level threats. In a conference call last week, Hickman said that this team won’t get along. That kind of dynamic could work well with T’Challa, who’s been written as prickly before to good effect. But I also want the part of the character that’s an aspirational spiritual leader to shine through as well. Hickman will take T’Challa to interesting places, I’m sure. This Black Panther fan just wants some hope back in his favourite character.
Stuck in a Moment: What I enjoyed most about AvX — and most maxi-series in the same vein — is the big thematic backdrop it provides for character dynamics to unfold in front of. This series — and some of its tie-ins — gave us Luke Cage wrestling with what superheroing means now that he’s a father, The Vision giving the Scarlet Witch the coldest of android shoulders and Tony Stark finding faith in kung-fu spirituality. Smaller-scale human moments make a storyline centered on change easier to take when you know that the deus ex machina paradises and stronger-than-ever power levels are going to fade.
No More…Crossovers. Please?: Ultimately, I didn’t hate Avengers vs. X-Men as much as I thought I was going to. The writers who I like on various individual projects still had chances for their sensibilities to shine through. And I’m intrigued by the way Marvel’s shuffling talent on its titles now that all the Phoenix-ing is done. But, AvX again leaves me wishing that superhero universes could create changes that bubbled up more organically from individual storylines, rather than from the top down.