8 Dec 2011

Thought Balloon: Avengers vs X-Men is the 2012 Marvel Event

By Stewart R

Late last evening my Twitter feed began to fill with a flood of announcements and brief comments of surprise and elation about the big event revealed to tent-pole Marvel’s 2012. Everyone from creators within the industry to comic fans seemed to want to say something about it and the overwhelming majority of what I was reading was positive. Then, early this evening and while I was partway through writing this piece already, I spied a tweet stating that Marvel and the Architects would be conducting a live, streaming interview where they would outline the initial plans for the series and answer some fan questions along the way...

The following remains pretty spoiler free as we haven't really been told much that you wouldn't have guessed would be discussed and announced for an event called Avengers Vs X-Men! Those wanting to avoid any and all spoilers though, whatever they may be, will want to click away now!
What we will be getting, with the usual Marvel pomp and fanfare being shovelled down our throats for months to come no doubt, is the return to Earth of the Phoenix Force and following recent strained relations - see Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s Young Avengers: The Children’s Crusade for evidence of that - the X-Men and Avengers fall on very different sides of the argument over what that means and what should be done with young Hope, who may or may not be the target the Phoenix has in mind for its next host.

This will be the first event where all five Architects - Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron, Jonathan Hickman and Ed Brubaker - are all involved with the plotting and writing together and they will employ a ‘different writer/different issue’ technique for the writing duties over 12 biweekly issues. The current plan is to also vary the artwork with John Romita Jr, Olivier Coipel and Adam Kubert each taken up their pencils and pens to bring the illustrations to the page over a “3 Act” production with JRJr covering the first 4 issues.

As things generally go with these events there will be a prelude #0 issue (of course there will, where would we be without handing over more money for one?!) written by Aaron and Bendis and illustrated by Frank Cho, to be released in March with the main event following along in April. Oh yeah, and it was mentioned that the events in the upcoming X-Sanction will kind of, sort of, tie into where things start off with AvX. And because the reading public are a little “shell shocked” by the continuous rolling out of events this story is going to be exclusive to the event book, and the Avengers titles, and the X-Men related titles and that’s about it. Oh, and there’s going to be a sister title to go alongside the main event book as well... But don't worry, the main event book is going to be "new reader friendly"!

This is where things start to get beyond a joke and I have to say I have quite strong feelings about what Marvel are saying and what they’re not saying with this event.

I think I’ll start with the positives and say that it seems that the writers involved are reasonably excited about what’s ahead from the way that they offered up guarded answers in their interview and I get the feeling that maybe Fraction and Aaron have slightly more invested here as they have the closest ties, current and in the recent past, to the premise of this event. I imagine this whole shebang is going to impact Aaron’s writing on Wolverine and the X-Men a great deal in the coming year and that may also explain why we’re likely to see 16 issues of that comic released in 2012! Considering the way that the Architects formation was trumpeted to the heavens over the past year it’s also good to see this finally be put to the test in an possibly ‘sink or swim’ fashion and I’m going to be interested to see how this works with each writer handling the relay method of chapter production.

Matt Fraction seemed to offer up a few more details and opinions than any of the other writers and he mentioned that he was looking forward to the inevitable tactical battle that will play out between Cyclops and Captain America which would definitely be a highlight for me and there are some other potential fan-boy moments that may well justify some of the investment.

Positives, positives...? Oh yeah! I love Olivier Coipel’s art, I know John Romita Jr can deliver some fine work on even a middling day for him....annnnnnd....right, yup, it’s good to hear that books like Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor will remain seperate from the AvX events for the greater part.

Right, here we go...

Is it just me or are Marvel seriously struggling for ideas? Taken at a high concept level this just sounds like Bendis, Brevoort, Alex Alonso and anyone else who was invited along for the ride placed a huge dollop of Mark Millar’s Civil War - the last Summer event that I thought did itself proper justice - in one hand, scooped a heapful of any of the Phoenix stories from the past 50 years into the other, and then smooshed them together on a piece of paper and stood back with a look of pride and wonderment upon their faces! Even worse, they’ve had to go and drop in your expected and overused extinction-level event, presumably to make the scale reach that range of ‘awe-inspiring’ that Marvel go for every Summer and make the squabbling between factions of heroes even more tense as it’s ultimately against the clock! It all sounds rather lazy, rather uninspiring and uncreative at this precise moment.

When taken in context with Young Avengers: The Children’s Crusade and the groundwork that Heinberg has been laying there, with tensions running high between the groups - that series started in July 2010 let us not forget - it seems that this may well have been a plan some two years in the making from back when Marvel were giving us 'the Summer off' with tiny old Siege...and Fall of the Hulks....and World War Hulks...and Shadowland!

Brevoort’s “shell shocked” comment regarding the publisher’s continued bombardment of its readership, year after year with cross-title stories and money and enthusiasm sapping events is spot on, but his emphasis on this only affecting Avengers and X-titles is a little redundant considering that there are currently eight X-books on the go, most involved in post-Schism stories and four titles currently dedicated to various teams of Avengers. That’s thirteen books wrapped up in it (chucking the main event book in of course) before this mysterious ‘sister’ title - is it; Avengers Vs X-Men: Princess Leia edition by any chance? - is taken into consideration.

Then there’s the method in which this main book will be written. Certainly all five writers are accomplished in their own right - truth be told Bendis is the only one of the bunch I don’t have much time for in general but his popularity is proven - and certainly larger X-Men events in the past few years have worked well when they’ve been spread across 3-4 different titles with different writers getting a chapter at a time before passing on the baton. With AvX though I’m wondering if it’s not likely to turn out to be a case of a cooks and broth mathematical nightmare. A couple of the writers - I’ll go out on a branch and suggest it might be Brubaker and Hickman - will likely only get two bites at the cherry and those bites could suffer from four degrees of separation before we’re back to them again. We’ve been promised that each writer will bring his own writing style to those chapters which instantly has me thinking it’ll be a somewhat disjointed read even if they focus on a different pocket of characters each time. That’s without us looking at the effect that the changing art team will have to the feel of the story after each four-part act. Schism was jarring enough with a different penciller each time, but with scripting, pacing and dialogue fluctuating here, even with good editing, I’m wary of how this will flow as one continuous read.

I’m also a little bemused as to why this particular event has been dealt with as an Architects project and not treated as a collaboration between the current Avengers writers and X-Men writers. Certainly the absence of Kieron Gillen from proceedings is a touch worrying. This is the man who has guided Uncanny X-Men terrifically well for over a year and who essentially gets to steer Cyclops moving forward so I would have expected him to be included, especially when studying the ranks and credentials of the Architects. While he’s been doing decent work with his Fantastic Four corner of the universe and S.H.I.E.L.D. as well, Jonathan Hickman seems a little out of place not least because he seems to be a writer whose speciality lies in building up a head of steam when it comes to his writing and he won’t get that opportunity here.

I’d best bring the light round to shine on the issue of cast size while we’re at it as well. Fear Itself felt ungainly this Summer and struggled to make a lot of the cast count in a main event book that spanned 7 issues. Admittedly, Fear Itself’s influence was felt across 22 other ongoing titles and mini-series so if we were looking for characterization I suppose that’s where we were supposed to be seeking it out! A lot was made at the time though that the X-Men wouldn’t really be involved in this Summer’s big event and I put that down to the sheer weight of numbers that would have been involved otherwise. Now, this may well be exclusively Avengers vs X-Men territory but that actually doesn’t leave an awful lot of Marvel’s heroes out of the equation. There are dozens of X-Men and mutant allies all told and while we can expect it to predominantly focus on the core, elder guard we know and love, it’s going to be unlikely that the entire populations of Utopia and the Jean Grey School are not going to be thrown in for the potentially jaw-dropping encounters.

The Avengers’ ranks have swelled somewhat recently too, encompassing four teams with line ups that seem to change as often as the green light status for the live action Akira movie/Ronnie O’Sullivan’s desire to play snooker/The Burmese military junta’s decision on whether Aung San Suu Kyi should stay home or not (something for everyone there), and the potential Earth cast for this 12 issue run is looking bulky to say the least. I mention our humble planet because it was also mentioned that since the Phoenix Force is a threat of cosmic scale we are likely to see some participation from characters of origins out in the wider universe, and that must have the arrow on the casting-scales pointing squarely at the ‘plump’ measurement?

Okay, fair enough I may be being hyper-critical here and the ultimate testing ground will be when the first couple of issues drop in April and we can see if it all comes together and works as a story, solely and with the accompaniment from any of the affected ongoing titles that appear on my pull-list. In any case it is likely to be a financial success for Marvel and dovetails rather nicely with the live action Avengers movie-related push that they’ll be kicking off in the Spring so I can understand why this decision has been made even if it does disappoint me.

The problem for me is that I am starting to grow weary of the constant desire that Marvel has to flood our Summers with often underwhelming ideas, that spread across the refreshing pond that is the shelves of our local comic book stores, like a reoccurring bloom of suffocating algae. It’s reaching the point now where I’m starting to ask whether it’s worth wading through it all every year, scraping off the muck to find the clear, fulfilling waters underneath when I know that pretty much, without fail, there will be another infuriating ‘bloom’ the same time next year.


Living Tribunal said...

There is an obvious disconnect between what Marvel thinks is a well crafted event and what the majority of discriminating fans think. And yet, to put it in lay terms - the shit does sell, year-in and year-out. That's why Marvel keeps going to the same poisoned well in the form of Bendis, and now Fraction. The only way to send them the message that we, the discriminating fans, are fed up with these events is with our wallets. Let's not buy the kind of drivel anymore. Let's insist that a title stand on its own, without having to tie into the next big line wide thing. Let's insist that Marvel focus on putting out a good product and cut down on the rotating creative team mentality. Let's insist that Editors do their job and actually edit the titles they are charged with, even if it means butting heads with Bendis or Fraction, or whoever over continuity or characterization problems. Lastly, lets get consistent with the artwork. Frankly I find it disappointing that modern day artists, with the convenience of computers at their disposal, cannot put out a monthly book with any regularity, YET in the old days the Kirbys or John Buscemas could put out sixty or more monthly issues in a row using only paper,pencil and ink. Are modern day artists just lazy, not being paid enough, or what? What am I missing here?

Stewart R said...

Yup, all fair comments LT! The need for consistency in their ongoing titles and allowing fan bases to steadily pick up through word of mouth would be my hope but in these commercial times it seems that Marvel prefer to 'freshen' the shelves with regurgitated safe bets to secure that initial burst of financial interest from fans.

I love the run we've had on Invincible Iron Man all the more for the fact that it's pretty much been Fraction and Larroca since the inception some three years ago. That dedication by the pair makes me keep on with the title even during small slumps because I know that they have plans for the character and the world that he inhabits and they hit the high level of quality so often.

I'd like nothing more than Marvel to come out now and say for 2013 - a long way off admittedly - that we won't have an event and instead they intend to have regular creative pairings of writers and artists complete 12 issue arcs on the majority of their titles running the length of the year. Heck, I'd happily take just 8 issues in the year if the level of creative consistency was maintained.

It disappoints me that Marvel can't see that they're diluting their own product so badly these days with over-exposure and souring it further with broken promises around delivery and writer/artist involvement. I get the feeling that much like the greater world in general we need things to bust in order for new, positive growth to surface at the House of Ideas.