Monday, April 9, 2012

Avengers vs X-men: An Intervention

Last week saw the arrival of the first issue of the much ballyhooed AvsX mini-series - a bi-weekly Marvel Event that is going to run for the next 6 months consisting mostly of fights between Avengers and the X-men scripted by Brian Bendis.

Now, most of the backlash against this series has come in the form of fans denouncing Event styled stories in general. I don't necessarily agree with that sentiment. I think comic Events are a bit like any other type of storytelling approach - they succeed (or fail) based on their own merits.

With that said, I think AvsX is going to be another one for the Fail column and let me explain why.

First, I don't think Bendis has ever had a good handle on how to dialogue some of the more esoteric characters in the Marvel universe. For writing the dialogue of street level characters like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Daredevil, he does an adequate job. However, anytime he has to write Thor saying something, it comes out like this:

I have this? 

This is really how Thor talks these days? Even putting that dialogue in some faux Medieval font from Blambot doesn't shake the feeling that this line was left over from Die Hard 4. Is that what is passing for verisimilitude now? And I know Bendis isn't the only writer who does this (Paul Cornell is guilty of it in DC's Demon Knights) With dialogue like this creeping in at the onset, I wouldn't hold my breath that it will get better by the time we hit month 3 or 4.

Hey, that's okay, you say because this series is going to be mostly action scenes, so who cares about the dialogue? 

Well, good point. Let's look at the action scenes we got this issue:

Early on, a mysterious object from space clips off the top of the building scattering all the people inside to the four winds.

Wow! People and debris falling every where! How will the heroes solve this problem? Well, Spider-man makes a giant web that somehow separates the people from the debris and saves everybody. All in the space of one panel break.

Also in this early scene, check out how Thor and Iron Man handle a problem with a Jet that has lost a wing in the middle of the city. Iron Man uses an unspecified ray blast of some sort to just atomize the separated wing, and Thor creates a magical wind tunnel to capture the jet and guide it to safety.

But Jim, you remind me, that's okay because comics are all about heroes using far fetched solutions to solve problems! Well, you may have a point, but I think the far fetched solutions in Silver Age Superman were often clever parts of a larger story with a twist to them.  Here we just get one panel with no attempt to even rationalize the physics or abilities involved. With Thor, you can say it's magic and just sort of shrug, but that nonchalance has been expanded (by the writer) onto the Spider-man and Iron Man scenes as well. It's perfunctory at best and lazy at worst.

Well, that's okay, because while Bendis may be weak on action scenes, he will come through on the fight scenes.

I wouldn't bet on that. Check out this scene where Cyclops is just beating on Hope for reasons that are a bit unclear.

Now, it's implied that he's training her for self defense here. However, if Cyclops is supposed to be seriously training Hope, wouldn't some form of martial arts be more effective? This scene, which runs several pages, resembles a bar fight as recounted by a guy who wasn't there. Like Thor's dialogue, there isn't any suggestion of a style other than Street Level 101.

But, but...Bendis writes good character interaction scenes.

Well, I guess you mean like this one with Mopey Wolverine who is the best at what he does (as long as what he does is exposition.)

As I said, what seems to be the marketing rallying cry of this series is the battles that are to come in each issue. However, writing awe inspiring (or clever) battle/action scenes isn't really Brian Bendis' strong suit. This has long been a complaint leveled against Bendis by many different comic reviewers and podcasters so I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. So, if you still feel compelled to buy this mini-series, go for it. Maybe the next one will be better. ;)

What I predict will happen is that somewhere around July or August we will see a lot of buyers remorse as those fans who bought into the hype with this series start to realize it just ain't that good.

- Jim


Trey said...

I didn't read it...but you're review doesn't shock me in any way. Events comics have gotten less and less about story, and more about concept and getting from X concept to Y "world-changing."

Comic books today largely don't seem to operate like other media where quality (or at least, certain qualities) are sought or preferred by the audience. It seems like their lifestyle accessories: you are either a person who reads comics (and therefore you read them whether you like them or not) or you do not.

MattComix said...

I am just so entirely sick to death of hero vs. hero stuff. It really just makes them all look stupid.

It's all done under the pretense of "shades of grey" and "post 9/11 world". But what it really boils down to is my Dad can beat up your Dad cheap fan-service.

I will never understand why fans feel this compulsion that their favorite hero must be able to beat up another in order to validate their fandom.

Caine said...

That's funny. Now that episode 4 of ABC's "MISSING" has aired it's proven all of my suspicions regarding how good THAT "Event" style storytelling would be (or not be). It's just not that good. :(

MattComix said...

Also at this point it's not even THE EVENT, it's THE ROUTINE.

Everything you know is wrong until next year when everything you know is wrong again.

There's no real downtime from it all either. If Crisis on Infinite Earths happens every day then it loses its punch. Everything is just a bridge to the next convoluted crossover clusterf**k.

Honestly, I would love it if both the big two declared a five to ten year moratorium on "events".

JimShelley said...

@Trey - yeah, I was thinking about your comment while listening to a comic podcast yesterday and noticing that many times the way the *reviewers* were talking about the comics was simply to say how cool or amazing they were but not really explain what made them that way. Like just having them was validation of their coolness.

JimShelley said...

@Matt, I think the answer to why we see so much hero vs hero stuff now is because this generation of comic writers (or is it the fans?) feels like hero vs villain is a non-starter. If Hulk fights Rhino, even one that has been augmented by some plot gimmick, then we still know who will win. It's sad but true. We are dealing with movie franchisable characters now, so it's not like any of them are in any real danger (nor were they in the Bronze Age, but at least the dance was fresh and new.)

JimShelley said...

@Caine - That's unfortunate about Missing. What about The River, have you checked that out?

JimShelley said...

@Matt (the second comment) - I don't think we will ever see a moratorium on Events. They just make too much money. :(

MattComix said...

@Jim. See, I don't get that either. Because even as a little kid I knew the good guys would win and I wanted the good guys to win because evil sucks. ..but that wasn't the point.

It was HOW the good guys would win that made it interesting. The tale was in the telling.

If the writer was doing their job then you would be engrossed enough in the story that you feel the character is in real danger even though your logical mind knows that the hero is going to make it so that there is a next issue.

..and if unpredictability was the goal comics have failed that to. The only difference is now I readily expect characters will get killed or maimed in some dumb and gory fashion only for the universe to be bent over backwards to resurrect them in time for their Hollywood feature film.

nude0007 said...

well, I was gonna comment, but you guys nailed all the really great points. It is indeed HOW. That's called storytelling, something seriously missing these days, as you all stated in some degree. This crap where Spider-Man can suddenly shoot enough webbing to catch a football field's worth of people and hundreds of tons of debris while separating them at the same time is just (pick a derogatory adjective). I have't read a Marvel comic in a while, but DC seems to be going for 60 words or less per comic. I literally finished one of their comics in less than a minute. Talk about feeling ripped off! I think comics are dead, they just haven't completely fallen down yet. Even teens will stop buying this crap at some point.
Matt, even knowing the hero will survive, you weren't sure that the bad guy could do SOMETHING that might have an adverse lasting effect on him (although it seldom did, in the old days at least). As you said, they don't have to keep upending the universe to make interesting comics. They could try writing good stories.

Anonymous said...

nice idea.. thanks for sharing.


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