10 Oct 2014

Cover To Cover: AVENGERS & X-MEN: AXIS #1

AVENGERS & X-MEN: AXIS #1
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Adam Kubert, Laura Martin & Matt Milla
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: There’s no hiding the fact that Marvel seemed to brush Original Sin aside a little too readily in favour of pushing their big Autumn lineup with AXIS standing clearly in the limelight. As summer events go, Original Sin promised a big story, affecting the greater Marvel universe at large, yet it proceeded to be more introverted and less expansive than perhaps we were led to believe (and expect from previous Summer events), ultimately only leading to a minimum amount of changes in the wider universe. Even when we were in the midst of Original Sin it was easy to see that the publisher were angling more towards AXIS and the huge number of tie-ins that were incoming this October and November. And so the first chapter of the main series is here, Rick Remender at the helm and a handful of trusted artists set to bring us nine issues from now until Christmas Eve, but was it worth the wait and the overshadowing of Marvel's other big project of 2014?

As is the current understood standard for reading Marvel’s books, unless you’ve been following Remender’s work in his Uncanny Avengers - and prior to that any of the books that dealt with the fallout from Avengers Vs X-Men - you may feel a little lost in terms of just how events have come to this point with the Red Skull proving to be such a monumental threat. There is of course the brief summary catch up at the start to bring you up to speed, but it doesn’t quite cover all of the character struggle and history that Remender has laid down as groundwork through 25 issues of his monthly book.

To be honest, I was even a little bemused about the Avengers lineup who tackle a Californian incident at the start, since I’m months behind in my Hickman reading and this drops the recent status quo changes of Captain America and Thor right in without feeling any need to explain. This is Remender dealing with characters he hasn’t really had to handle before and while he captures them in broad strokes well enough for the sake of the bigger picture, it becomes clear that by the time the rest of the incredibly wide cast have all turned up we’re into territory in which perhaps this writer does not immediately excel. That’s evidenced by the stronger writing coming from his handling of his regulars such as Rogue, Wanda, Havok, Janet and even the mad, hatred-spewing monologuing of the Red Skull, now in near omnipotent Red Onslaught form. It’s when the Skull’s scheming begins to form greater shape that you can see Remender is in his comfort zone, characters’ wills being tested, allegiances being threatened, death lurking ever closer as the plan - long in the making - comes to dastardly fruition. Whenever a new voice enters the fray however, things have a habit of reverting to the standard Marvel line and handbook on how those characters should sound and act.

There’s also some confusion to be found in one of the main plot threads of AXIS which adds to the sense of disjointedness: the Red Skull’s telepathic powers and his on/off influence of the cast. Early on this influence is suitably disguised to bring about a sense of mystery, but as we return to the individual trials of Rogue, Wanda and, most of all, Havok, it becomes something of a chore to try and figure out if their actions are currently a result of Skull control - which fluctuates with crazy abandon it seems, you know, despite being FRICKIN’ ONSLAUGHT!! - or whether they’re punching someone they generally despise for valid, historical reasons.

The overall story I will say is engaging enough, with the Skull’s grand plan to lead a powered mutant army to cleanse the globe and establish his Reich Eternal, alongside sneaky advantages literally stolen from the greatest minds on Earth, pushing things on at quite a pace through this first instalment of a total of nine chapters. It’s just a shame that with a fairly decent premise and slight quality variation in depiction and handling of the cast that it’s the artwork that quickly and swiftly derails the whole thing.

I’m not quite sure what is going on with Adam Kubert’s pencil and ink work here, but it is incredibly inconsistent and in moments entirely below par for what I have come to expect from premium, $5 efforts from Marvel. The opening sequence is quite honestly bug-ugly with incredibly simplified figure work dropped into a squashed and uninspiring panel layout. It feels very reminiscent of Marvel’s work of the late '90s and perhaps that’s the kind of tone Kubert is aiming for, showing the link between Onslaught of old and this new threat via vague illustrative continuity. Regardless, I don’t feel it provides the high level of quality expected, Red Onslaught looking laughable at moments, facial expressions occasionally appearing amateurish and splash pages failing to impress. It’s not all bad - a quiet moment with Evan in the midst of the carnage is told well, as is Kubert’s depiction of Janet’s grief - but compared to Mike Deodato’s top grade work on the event Marvel didn’t seem bothered with earlier this year, Kubert’s pencil and inks can’t even compete.

I’m certainly not writing off Avengers & X-Men: AXIS based on this debuting chapter as I can see the promise in Remender’s story and know he’s a writer of the highest calibre. The odd blip in character work could easily have been overlooked if it weren’t bolted together with surprisingly poor illustration work from one of Marvel’s more revered artists. As it stands this sets a very mediocre benchmark for which (I hope) the series can only strengthen upon from here. 4/10

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