20 Sept 2012

Cover To Cover: AVENGERS VS X-MEN #11

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Oliver Coipel, Mark Morales & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R:  Last Wednesday’s comic haul was ridiculously large, 19 titles in all for me, and having them all read by Sunday morning ready for reviewing would be a monumental task.  I’d better get cracking and cracking quickly not least because I didn’t have them in my possession until Thursday morning!  By Friday I’d only read one comic out of the 19 and I’d actually read it twice.  By the time I got home from a night out in the early hours of Sunday morning I still had 18 comics to read and, being in the mood for a read before bed I reached for the comic pile… and picked out that title I had already been through twice already. There is definitely something special about Avengers Vs X-Men #11, that is for sure.

It starts with a sequence that seems significant because of what it symbolizes and what it means to Avengers lore; taken on it’s own merit it’s a great scene acting as the measured lull before the inevitable storm and Coipel’s shifting from close up to longshot and back again frames it perfectly and certainly lends it gravity.  Taken in the grander and broader spectrum of the Marvel Universe it is of course a bit bobbins as it’s clear as day that the appeal for help should have been directed towards a young boy in a white and black suit with the surname of Richards (not least because Steve Rogers actually says "So I’m coming to everyone"), but then this is Bendis and both he and Axel Alonso did tie the hands somewhat by making this a team exclusive event in this modern and sprawling universe.

As with all of the preceding chapters (save for the superb Avengers Vs X-Men #6) there are other little niggles scattered around here; Xavier referring to Bobby Drake as Iceman purely because he’s not in his frozen form at the time and I’m guessing Bendis didn’t want the ‘new reader’ audience left feeling confused, to the rather bizarre lack of participation that Hope has considering the conflict-tipping end to the last instalment. Cap blathering on about arresting Scott for crimes against the blah blah blah! is also totally stupid when looking at the position that the Avengers are in at the time. This smacks of Bendis over-simplifying the characters at his disposal and not doing Steve Rogers justice by having him foolishly attempt to enforce such authority. Oh yeah, and Thor gets dicked, again!

Despite these minor bumps and missteps this chapter actually manages to maintain a terrific head of steam that shrugs off any thoughts of a mediocre score and part of that success of course lies in the hands of the writer. For all of my problems with Brian Michael Bendis’ writing style, he isn’t in the position that he’s in today because he’s an unskilled hack with disregard for the history of the canon; here he shows a deft understanding of what makes an event book great and pushes 50 years of X-Men love, pain and loss right to the foreground, bringing pupil against teacher, leader against leader, father against son as Xavier attempts to bring his protege’s power-drunk madness under control. It’s scintillating stuff as the two posture and clash over their philosophies, all the while the looming threat of the Phoenix Force coming clearer into view as the battle intensifies and escalates. For a conflict that promises far reaching consequences for the planet and the universe as a whole there’s an enjoyable feeling of the close intimacy and the claustrophobic excitement of such a deadly fight, as if all parties have been trapped within a box and have nowhere to run, only the option to face each other here and now. It’s a nice change to the constant hit-and-run tactics that the Avengers have been forced to rely on since the first brawl on Utopia all those months ago.

I mentioned part of the success of this issue lying in the hands of the writer, but for me the lion’s share of the kudos has to be placed surely and firmly in the palms of Olivier Coipel and the supporting art team; this is yet another masterclass in composing and framing an event as important as this. Every page feels full to the brim with aesthetic wonder yet never bloated, never too much. Coipel, Morales and Martin manage the tonal shifts tremendously well from emphasising the buoyant mood briefly seen by the arrival of old friends crossing the battle lines to the dark reality of the trenches as these superpowered mortals take on an unrelenting force of nature. I truly love the sunset vista that these artists render for the psychic plane upon which Xavier and Cyclops conduct a large portion of their fight and it’s a brilliant nod to the point at which these two find their relationship and, potentially the prospects for their people.

Before too long we reach the closing stages of this issue and, I certainly felt, the point of no return for a few of the characters involved. Here, now, after going over these 30 pages so many times through the past week and for the purposes of this review I’m still captivated by the events that unfold across those last 6 pages, the terrific sense of loss, anger and despairing understanding as the Phoenix once again drags its flaming talons through the hearts of the mutant family before unleashing the final, near-inevitable twist that will drop us squarely into the finale next month. You know I kinda wish that this could have been the end point, with Coipel’s magical pencilling, Morales’ brooding inking and Martin’s lavish and varied palettes seeing us through to this downbeat and mesmerizing conclusion, the air of possibility forever leaving us with a ‘what happened next?’ to contemplate. I just know in my gut that the ending we get in #12 won’t come near enough to this quality and drama. 9/10

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