Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Avengers vs X-Men

I get a certain number of books, and plan on what to by from month to month at the comic store. Marvel has been particularly egregious in regards to releasing two issues of the same series in a single month. When the title costs $4 to begin with, and it happens to multiple books I'm getting, then that really starts to hurt. I have definitely dropped some books as a result, and am glad to see certain titles I buy come a conclusion (willingly, or sometimes canceled. As an example, O.M.A.C. is getting canceled with issue #8, and Jason Aaron is leaving Wolverine with issue #304). Anyway - in short - Marvel is really pushing me to make more cuts in the future.

So I found myself conflicted with the announcement of Marvel's new Summer Event: Avengers vs X-Men. This has apparently be building for a long time on both sides of the aisles. It's going to be a 12-issue mini-series, shipping two issues a month. That equals $8 each month, in addition to a supplementary series, titled "A vs X", which is a 6-issues, published alongside Avengers vs X-Men, highlighting the fights between certain characters.

I was really planning on skipping this entire thing. Marvel's last big mini-series, Fear Itself, left me unsatisfied, with a mediocre story and less than entertaining shocking moments. Yet, looking at what this event is offering - I'm getting more and more excited for it. You might point out that this is just a smashing together of franchises -- and it is that; but it's coming along with the culmination of long standing plotlines, about the fate of Hope (the possible Mutant Messiah), and the Scarlet Witch (An Avenger who lost her sanity, destroyed the team, and warped all reality.) Add onto that the long hinted return of the Phoenix Force -- and it begins to feel like a can't miss event. At the very least if should be an entertaining and fun event; so, despite $8 or more, I'm signing onboard.

The Avengers and X-Men have actually had a few skirmishes between each other in the past. This past decade Marvel has transformed the Avengers into a best selling franchise, eclipsing Marvel's previous front-runners: the X-Men. The X-Men have seen a big of a resurgence, as spinoff titles like "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "Uncanny X-Force" have captured fan's imaginations. So it seems appropriate to see both groups challenge each other, now on a little more equal footing.

The Avengers first took on the X-Men all the way back in the 60s, with X-Men #9, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The story basically was a set-up for the Avengers and X-Men to fight each other - while Xavier fought against a villain, dubbed Lucifer, who was trying to destroy the Earth.

Crossovers where pretty rare back in those days - which made them special when they did happen. I bet seeing the colorful heros fighting against each other was pretty exciting back then; I've only been able to read the issue in the black & white reprints of the Essentials series.

There wasn't that much cross-over between both teams again for a long, long time. There was, however, a very obvious cross-pollination, with the Avengers recruiting former Brotherhood of Evil Mutants members Scarlet Witch and her bother Quicksilver. Wanda and Pietro went on to become great heroes and long-standing members of the Avengers. So right there was a deeply set connection between both teams. The connection became even more pronounced when it was revealed that Magneto, the X-Men's biggest enemy, was really the father of both Wanda and Pietro.

The X-Men came into conflict with the Avengers again during the Secret Wars cross-over mini-series. The X-Men where really at odds with the rest of the heroes during that series, intentionally separating themselves from the others, with a mutual suspicion against the other group of heroes. Although a lot of Avengers where part of that series -- it really was more of a whole Marvel Universe-crossover.

The real Avengers/X-Men Crossover took place during the 90s, in a storyline called "Bloodties", which ran through Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, Avengers and West Coast Avengers titles. It was actually kind of a personal crossover, rather than a sweeping event; the story was essentially fallout from the X-Men "Fatal Attractions" cross-over, where Xavier, to stop Magneto, erased Erik's mind - rendering him comatose. Fabian Cortez, one of Magneto's more fanatical followers, tried to take over leadership of the Acolytes. He was unable to hold onto the position, though -- as an upstart villain named Exodus took the lead. Cortez subsequently fled and kidnapped Luna, Quicksilver's baby daughter. Fleeing to the mutant slave island nation of Genosha, both the Avengers, X-Men, and Exodus where hot on their trail -- sparking civil war in the already politically turmultiotus country.

The X-Men and Avengers both managed to save Quicksilver's daughter. It was a good cross-over; yet will always be overshadowed during that time in X-Men history, as there was a constant stream of cross-overs nearly every single month. Bloodties was a relatively small one.

So, during the last decade, a lot happened with the Avengers. Brian Michael Bendis took over the franchise, using Wanda Maximoff as the central character to destroy the team, before later rebuilding it from the ground up. The Scarlet Witch has the mutant ability to change probabilities, usually depicted as an energy blast called Hex-spheres, where she can change the probabilities of something in the favor she desires. Like, for instance, she could Hex-blast a book case and make it fall on top of a nearby enemy. Her powers, though, had exponentially increased over the years - to the point where she is able to alter reality itself. John Byrne, during his run on West Coast Avengers, famously had a storyline where Wanda's powers went out of control and she became evil. That plotline was reignited by Bendis - where Wanda's powers had completely overwhelmed her and made her loose grip on reality. There's certainly plenty of precedent to support this course change -- Wanda, married to the robot Vision, "magically" given birth to twins. She had also brought Simon Williams, aka Wonder Man, back from the dead simply by willing it. So Wanda's ability to alter reality was becoming quite dangerous. She killed a number of Avengers, wounding the team so much that they called it quits. The Avengers soon re-grouped, dubbed "The New Avengers"; through the group was very different, with the likes of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, and the Sentry being members.

Wanda was actually still alive, recovering from the trauma since being defeated by her fellow teammates. Magneto and Xavier were trying to care for her - but the potential danger she posed, if she acted up again, was too great to be ignored. So Xavier called the X-Men and Avengers together. Quicksilver feared that they where going to opt to kill his sister; so Quicksilver tried to get Wanda to save herself.

A brilliant white light subsequently engulfed all of reality. The X-Men and Avengers suddenly woke up in a brand new world - the House of M - in which mutants where the dominant species, and Magneto ruled over the planet. Bendis and Oliver Copiel did a wonderful job, crafting a compelling alternate reality, and having characters finding themselves leading very different lives. Wolverine had Nick Fury's job, being the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Spider-Man found himself a celebrity, keeping quite on the fact he wasn't really a mutant. Humans essentially where the outcasts of this society. Eventually a young girl, Lyla Miller, was found to have the mysterious ability to awaken people to their old selves. A large group of heroes where all gathered together and decided to confront Magneto and try and change back reality. Since Magneto was the ruler, the Avengers and X-Men naturally thought it had been Erik who had used Wanda to transform reality. At the end they found out it was really Quicksilver - and during the ensuing chaos of the battle Wanda broke down again; and said these famous words:

"No more mutants."

Reality went white again, with everyone waking up to the world restored. Yet there was a significant change for the mutant community. Wanda had essentially erased the X-Gene from nearly all mutants on the planet. Perhaps because of her familiarity and connection with the X-Men (and the fact Marvel didn't want to end the franchise), most X-Men retained their powers. An estimated 198 mutants where determined to be all that was left. This was a complete decimation of the mutant species as a whole. Where once mutants where projected to be the dominant species within 4 generations -- they where now shunted to near extinction.

The Scarlet Witch was no where to be found.

The mutant race was forced to pull together - with most remaining mutants on the planet all coming to Xavier's mansion. The government tried contain and monitor the X-Men (for their own protection, of course), turning Xavier's school into a mutant reservation.

Things began to change, though, when the seemingly first mutant birth in years occurred. A mad rush to retrieve this girl took place; as the Mutant hating Purifiers, warned of her birth, tried to kill her. Mr. Sinister and his Marauders where also vying to obtain the child. The time traveling mutant, Cable, was able to rescue her. Yet no place was safe for this little girl -- as prophetic warnings abound, either labeling her as the Mutant Messiah, or the Mutant Anti-Christ. One of the X-Men's own, Bishop (another time traveler), even tried to kill her - saying she was the one responsible for the ruined future world he came from. Finally it was decided that to ensure this baby's safety - Cable would take her into the future (very much like had been done with Cable himself, being the son of Scott Summers, aka Cyclops - who sent his son Nathan Christopher Summers to the future to save his life). Cable essentially raised this girl, now named Hope Summers, as his daughter.

When Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, inexplicably gained power in the government - the X-Men, having already fled from Westchester New York to San Francisco, where facing increased threats from both the mutant hating public and the government. So Cyclops enacted a plan, raising the sunken Asteroid M (Magneto's old lair) from the ocean, and making it into an island. Dubbed Utopia, this was to be a place where the last remaining mutants on the planet could live, outside of US Shores. Osborn did not like this, and sent his Dark Avengers (bad guys dressed as Avengers) to try and stop this plan.

Osborn, at the time, had a tentative alliance with the X-Men's Emma Frost. Seemingly both on the same page, Emma donned a black costume and lead a group called "The Dark X-Men"; Osborn's own mutant team, to help form and control public opinion. Emma, though, eventually revealed her true colors by betraying Osborn - allowing Utopia to be established.

Hope and Cable eventually return, with Hope now a young woman. Hope fulfills a bit of her prophesied destiny, using her powers to awaken 5 young people as mutants.

Cyclops, who has become increasingly militant in protecting Utopia, begins to show cracks that will tear apart the team. Magneto even comes to join the X-Men, hailing Cyclops as a true leader of the mutant race. This was quite symbolic; it wasn't Magneto that was changing his ways, but rather the X-Men under Cyclops' leadership becoming more in line with Magneto's way of thinking. This eventually causes a split for the X-Men, as Wolverine decides to open his own school (where Xavier's use to be) - so that the next generation of mutants didn't have to stay and risk their lives as soldiers protecting Utopia.

And that's the story so far, of the X-Men and the Avengers. Osborn eventually went crazy and lost his position of power - and the Avengers returned to prominence, with Captain America now the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Scarlet Witch made a return in "Avengers Children's Crusade". I personally didn't read that series; but there are hints Wanda might use her powers in the future to restore mutant kind.

A kind of prelude, to the Avengers vs X-Men mini-series, was done - featuring Cable returning to try and eliminate the Avengers. "Avengers X-Sanction" essentially served as a brief return for Cable, making one last time-traveling effort before dying to protect his daughter, Hope, who he believes is going to be killed by the Avengers in the near future.

Coming this March Avengers vs X-Men #0 will be published, officially kicking off the big event. The storyline is going to feature Hope and the Scarlet Witch -- with an impending return of the Phoenix Force to Earth. The Avengers are going to be convinced that this will spell disaster, and destroy the World. Hope has frequently been hinted to have a connection to the Phoenix Force - so Cable's prediction of the Avengers killing her may prove true. The X-Men see the return of the Phoenix Force as a prelude to a revival of the mutant race. So a war is going to break out between both teams.

Marvel has a large number of creators bringing their talent to this mini-series. Aprils issue #1 lists Bendis as writer, with issue #2 by Jason Aaron - both issues drawn with John Romita Jr.

Marvel has been releasing teasers of the rivalries between the members of both teams. Like Iceman vs Spider-Man, Storm vs Thor, Cyclops vs Hawkeye, and Wolverine vs Captain America

I don't know exactly how these fights are going to be dealt with in more length in the A vs X companion mini-series. In fact, I don't know who's even going to be writing those issues -- though A vs X #1 announces a split between characters -- featuring fights between Iron Man and Magneto, and The Thing vs Namor.

I really didn't think I'd be excited for this mini-series, and the extra $8 a month it will cost; but it actually is sounding better the more I hear about it. I probably won't buy A vs X, though. Regular issues of Avengers also promise some cool tie-in issues, though. Certain characters are bound to be pulled in two different directions, as Wolverine, Beast, and Storm right now serve as both Avengers and X-Men. I hope it all turns out ok. With different writers and artists collaborating - if not done well it could be a jumbled mess. Fingers crossed.

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