So right now we’re in the home stretch of Marvel’s latest event AXIS, having just wrapped up their last event Original Sin two months ago, and the House of Ideas has already announced their next year long event Secret Wars. This new Secret Wars is not to be confused with the original Secret Wars, or Secret Wars II, or even the Secret War mini-series Brian Michael Bendis did back in 2004. No this new Secret Wars will run for a year and somehow revisit every Marvel crossover and event. The rumour mill has it that Secret Wars will be the catalyst for a company wide reboot of continuity. I’ve gone into this subject before and whether the rumours are true or not… well I guess we’ll have our answer in May 2016 when Secret Wars wraps up.
As I mentioned before Marvel’s still got their latest event going on right now with Rick Remender’s AXIS which is an X-men/Avengers crossover, and a culmination of his work in Uncanny X-Force, and Uncanny Avengers. Remender has been building to this for years and while both his Uncanny titles were fantastic AXIS has proven to be less so. While the idea of the Red Skull having Professor X’s powers and the return of Apocalypse should make for a great read and a truly earth-shattering story, the book has fallen flat and not quite lived up to it’s premise of classic Marvel heroes turning evil. The Avengers and X-Men have become cartoonish Snidely Whiplash-esque bad guys, and it makes for a bland and somewhat uninspired read. AXIS unfortunately isn’t Marvel’s only disappointing “major event’ from the last few years. There was a time when crossovers and events were a rare thing and when they did happen they tended to have major ramifications. That’s not to say all of them were winners (I’m looking at you Secret Wars II, Operation: Galactic Storm, and Maximum Security) but the rarity of the crossover made them more exciting. Now Marvel is putting out at least company wide events a year, and then line-wide crossovers every few months. And while there have been some good events like Schism, or Annihilation, there’s been some real disappointments too.Here’s my 5 biggest let downs from the past few years.
5 - Shadowland
Hey kids, remember when Daredevil went evil, became leader of the Hand, killed Bullseye, and builds a prison in the middle of Hells Kitchen? Yeah that was Shadowland. This mini-series and various tie-ins saw Daredevil pretty much turn against everything he stood for, and become the bad guy. Writer Andy Diggle pretty much threw away everything prior writers Ed Brubaker, and Brian Michael Bendis had been building in their respective runs, and decided to give us a run of the mill cliched possession story. Yeah, Daredevil is evil because he’s possessed by the Beast of the Hand, a demonic entity that acts as a undo button for all the bad stuff DD does. The uptick at from this event is that it paved the way for Mark Waid phenomenal Daredevil run. So if we have to go through a crappy story like Shadowland to get what came next, it’s a small price to pay, but totally worth it.
4 - Secret Invasion
This was a doozy of a let down. Building for months in Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers, as well as having ties with his Illuminati mini-series and Mighty Avengers title, this event was supposed to make you doubt the true identity of your favorite characters as they may have been Skrulls in disguise for months, perhaps even years. Sowing distrust and fear amongst the heroes they are caught unprepared for a full scale invasion from the shape shifting alien race the Skrulls. While a cool concept the mini-series and it’s various tie-ins suffered from pacing issues (chiefly too many damn issues spent in the Savage Land), confusing plot points (Spider-Woman/Skrull Queen pretended to be a triple-agent why?), continuity problems (Mockingbird was a Skrull when she died back in Avengers West Coast #90? Then why didn’t she revert back to her Skrull form?), and a somewhat underwhelming character death. While the book did have some cool moments like when Nick Fury said his God carried a hammer, and when Bucky-Cap and Thor meet for the first time, and there were some lasting ramifications like Norman Osborn saving the day and setting up the Dark Reign storyline, Secret Invasion fell just short of the concept and could have been handled much better.
3 - Avengers vs. X-Men
This mini-series seemed forced from the get-go. The Avengers see fit to stop the approaching Phoenix Force, despite the Phoenix having been something the X-Men have handled in the past, and must take Hope Summers, Cyclop’s adopted grand-daughter (the Summers family tree has some wonky branches), into custody. Well this doesn’t sit well with the X-Men who fight the Avengers to keep Hope, who has been training to take the Phoenix power and become the Mutant messiah that was promised in a completely different crossover (Messiah CompleX in case you were wondering). The Avengers in all their wisdom make problems worse when they break the Phoenix Force and it inhabits 5 X-Men, instead of Hope, who at the last moment hesitated before she became it’s host. Cyclops, White Queen, Colossus, Namor, and Magick, calling themselves the (insert eyeroll) Phoenix Five, set out to change the world by solving all it’s environmental, and sociological problems, which all go back to normal after the series’ conclusion, cause who the hell’d want world hunger to stay beaten? Anywho, Cyclops eventually goes all Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix when the Avengers attack him and steals the force from his fellow Phoenix Five (ughhhhh). The Phoenix is excised from Cyclops but not before he kills Professor X, where he becomes labeled a murderer and traitor by his fellow X-Men. Avengers vs. X-Men suffers from too many cooks in the kitchen, with Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, and Jonathan Hickman all sharing writing chores, leading to inconsistent tone from issue to issue, and problems with pacing. The art doesn’t fare much better either as Adam Kubert, Olivier Coipel, and John Romita Jr. switching off issues, and while all are great artists, their styles don’t mesh well. AXIS has a similar problem with switching artists, and detracts from the overall story. What was supposed to feel like a successor to 2006’s Civil War ended up feeling mediocre, and nowhere near as successful as Millar and McNiven’s post 9/11, post Homeland Security Act view of Marvel’s America.
2 - Age of Ultron
Let me say this, despite being a big fan of Brian Michael Bendis, he does not do well with big stories. He’s done a few major events and none quite live up to the level of epicness that should go with a big crossover. Nowhere is Bendis’ shortcomings more apparent than in Age of Ultron. This book sees Ultron win, killing the majority of the majority of humanity, the heroes that survive decide that the only way to set things right is by travelling back in time and stopping Ultron before he’s ever built. Which Wolverine takes as killing Hank Pym before he invents Ultron. Well that plan goes about as well as a mormon at a Gwar concert. The present is still messed up and Wolverine and Invisible Woman have to reenact the third act from Back to the Future 2 and set things right. Much like in Secret Invasion Bendis takes a long time to get the momentum going, and when the story starts to pick up pace, it breezes past what should have been the main thrust of the story. The climax of the event where time is broken by the heroes meddling is not fully explained nor is it really set up to be all that disastrous in the book, the rammifications are left to be dealt with in other books after Age of Ultron. The art is shared between Bryan Hitch, who does the first few issues (and was supposed to do the whole mini, but it’s Bryan Hitch so we’d be waiting 5 years for a 10 issue mini-series), Brandon Peterson, and Carlos Pacheco. None of the artist’s style gel well together, and it becomes especially painful when Peterson and Pacheco switch off pages in a single issue. The change is jarring and makes for a muddled reading experience.
1 - Fear Itself
Oh Fear Itself… Where to begin with this book? I should like this book. Really I should. It has amazing AMAZING Stuart Immonen art, I mean some of the best he’s ever put out, but that tells you how ultimately flawed this event is. When one of the best artists in the industry is putting out his A-Game art and it still can’t save it, that’s bad, I mean real bad. Writer Matt Fraction isn’t a bad writer, not at all, but he was so far off the mark with this mini-series event that he may as well have been facing the opposite direction, and pointing towards the ground. Poor characterisation, cheesy Odin-powered body armor, character deaths and major ramifications all undone by the mini-series’ end. When Odin’s long forgotten brother is released from his prison, the All-Father turns into a malicious bully, beating his own son, and abandoning Earth. Evil hammers rain down from space and are claimed by super-villains. Bucky dies. Thor dies. Paris is turned to stone. Iron Man starts drinking again. Steve Rogers becomes Captain America again. A bunch of heroes get Asgardian Tron-like battle armor and weapons. Cap lifts Mjolnir. All these things should be awesome. Every single one of them, but Fraction’s writing just doesn’t do any of these moments justice. And that’s the true tragedy of this mini-series, was the potential that it just didn’t live up to. It’s not like Matt Fraction hadn’t written some of these characters before. At the time he was in the middle of his truly great Invincible Iron Man series, and had written a number of Thor one-shots, but for whatever reason Fraction’s characters didn’t line up with the versions he’d written in the past. Since Fear Itself, Fraction has dialed back his super-hero work, opting instead for creator owned stuff over at Image, and that’s probably for the best.