While “Avengers Vs. X-Men” was making high sale numbers, despite never seeming to fly off the shelves at my local shop, I swore off the whole thing, main book and tie-ins from other ongoings. Not out of some self-righteous “I’m too good for this” pride — though, okay, there was a bit of that — but because I was interested to see how it would read as a collected whole, as opposed to as a bi/tri/whatever-weekly mini. With the new hardcover collection on the shelf, now is as good a time as any to find out!
Written and Illustrated by Various
The Avengers and the X-Men – the two most popular super-hero teams in history – go to war! This landmark pop-culture event brings together Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Magneto and more in the story that changes them forever! And in AVX: Vs., experience the larger-than-life battles too big for any other comic to contain! Iron Man vs. Magneto! Spider-Man vs. Colossus! Captain America vs. Gambit! And more! Plus: For the first time ever in print, Marvel’s groundbreaking Infinite Comics are collected, revealing key events through the eyes of Marvel’s major players. It’s Marvel’s biggest event ever – but will the Avengers or the X-Men emerge triumphant?
There is not much more to be said about “Avengers vs. X-Men” as a story that hasn’t been said already. Sure, some of our favorite heroes act terribly out of character, and the series continues Marvel’s trend of having not much happen through the first few issues, then pulling the rug from under our feet when the new ultimate conflict is solved in the span of a single issue, but it did what it needed to do: it came up with an excuse to have heroes fight heroes, which the Big Two have realized is a favorite of fanboys everywhere, it gave Marvel a new status quo to build up from (only to tear it away a year or two from now, of course), and it pushed numbers. It’s still another instance of Marvel catering to diminishing returns, adding another couple of years to the tagline “A story X years in the making!” and building up the intimidating tower of continuity porn even higher, but if superheroes beating up superheroes is what you want to spend your money on, then by golly you’ll have it if you read this series.
This first collected edition of the event, however, bombs terribly.
Perhaps this story was not meant to be collected. Maybe it was not as noticeable when read on a month-to-month basis, but even if Marvel’s five architects worked together to flesh out the story of “Avengers vs. X-Men,” their individual stylistic handprints are all over their respective issues. Bendis’s issues don’t read like Bendis working with Hickman, Aaron, Brubaker, and Fraction, but just like Bendis, and this is the same for each writer except maybe Hickman. Some issues have narrative captions with internal monologue; others feature Claremont-ian third-person narration; some have nothing but dialogue. There is no level of consistency or unity — this is a series that proudly displays that it was written by different creators, and it’s distracting. When multiple creators with such distinct styles work together, collaboration on story is not enough if one wants to create a product that stands up just as well as a collected edition. The same problem is present in the art; while John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel, and Adam Kubert are each three of Marvel’s biggest artistic guns, they each have incredibly distinct styles. Kubert at least tries to reconcile the differences between his line work and Coipel’s, but the jump from Romita to Coipel is beyond jarring (even if some might say it’s a welcome change). There’s nothing either Romita or Coipel could do about this, no middle ground they could meet at — Marvel should have known that these two are so contrasting in their styles that they could not, and should not, have been placed next to each other.
The most incredible thing about this is that Marvel has in their bullpen editorial wonder Steve Wacker, the man who made “52” work. Compared to “52,” “Avengers vs. X-Men” is a cakewalk; sure, there may be one more writer involved, but A) this series wasn’t weekly, and B) there were less than a quarter as many issues (granted, this is only if we’re talking about the main book). If anyone could have made the “architects” concept work, it would be Steve Wacker, but his name is nowhere to be seen on this book. Tom Brevoort and Nick Lowe are hardly bad editors — in fact, both do a staggering amount of admirable work — but it boggles the mind that Marvel did not assign this task to the man most equipped to deal with it. Would comparisons to “52” been made by jeering fans? Most definitely, but I would rather have a comic that reads like a unified whole and is compared to one of the most unlikely success stories in comics than what we got.
This hardcover also collects the various “Versus” stories, and a few of the “Infinite Comics,” which would be a nice feature if not for one thing — they are collected in the back of the hardcover. Now, were “Avengers vs. X-Men” solely scripted by, say, Jason Aaron, this would make sense; for the same reasons that I lambasted the main book, interspersing the various extended fight scenes throughout the collection would detract from the readability of the series. However, seeing as there is already a lack of consistency… well, why not? With all of the included tie-in material lumped in the back, the reader has to either flip back and forth from the main event and the “Versus” short stories, or just wait until finishing the story as a whole. The first is tedious, and the second is pointless. These enlarged scuffles would have the most weight and be generally more exciting had they been cut and pasted into their chronological location in the main series, and considering the lack of authorial consistency, it wouldn’t even be as distracting as it would be in any other book. In fact, doing so might even help the problem — by inserting the various “Versus” and “Infinite” shorts in between issues, the subplots which were purposefully written stylistically different could cover up that similar differences occur from issue to issue in “Avengers vs. X-Men” itself. It’s hardly a perfect fix, but work with me, Marvel!
With a story that reads unevenly, supplemental issue that are not integrated well at all, glued binding that swallows up quite a bit of art in the gutter, and a price tage that barely makes up for the total cover price of the issues included, there is no reason for even the staunchest Marvel fan to pick up this deluxe hardcover. It is, frankly, a slap in the face to those readers who choose to read-by-trade (tradewait, even) that the first collected edition of this series would be in such an uneccessary and poorly executed format. If you are such a fan, and really want to read this event book, I suggest either sucking it up and buying the individual issues — I am sure your LCBS is dying to get rid of them — or waiting until Marvel releases it in a more affordable format. Marvel could have had a real winner and released both a trade collecting only the main series and an omnibus presenting every tie-in in chronological order; instead, they tried for the best of both worlds and failed miserably.
But, hey, at least the digital combo aspect is neat.