A (Not Quite) Epic Onslaught: “Avengers and X-men: AXIS #1”

For the past decade now, the major comic book events for Marvel and DC have fallen into one of two categories. One involves two teams of superheroes clashing in long, drawn-out conflict that may or may not be the result of psychic manipulation, cosmic forces, or inept politicians. Events like Marvel’s Civil War and DC’s Trinity War have spoiled the market over the past decade, so much so that at times it feels like one of those fashion trends that can’t end soon enough. While events like Avengers vs. X-men aren’t quite as bad as Crocs or Ugg boots, they tend to leave impacts that can’t be retconned soon enough.

The other event involves multiple teams of heroes teaming up to take on a threat that usually involves multiple teams of villains. These events are more traditional and basic. They’re as old and as basic as Batman punching the Joker or the X-men destroying an army of Sentinels, but slightly more elaborate. They really don’t break much new ground. There’s only so much variation in a story that involves defeating an army of killer robots, invading aliens, or Nazis. It’s like trying to make reruns of the Honeymooners funnier. There’s only so much flexibility to work with. That doesn’t mean they can’t succeed. These stories can be as epic as DC’s Blackest Night or as bland as Marvel’s Fear Itself. But Avengers and X-men: AXIS #1, Marvel’s latest crossover event, promises to stretch that flexibility to its limit and attempt to navigate the gray area between these two categories.

It’s a bold and respectable concept to attempt. However, it only succeeds to a marginal extent. The setup of the story is a problem in and of itself. Anyone who didn’t follow the preludes in Magneto or Uncanny Avengers is going to be lost and confused. That in and of itself isn’t too egregious since so many major events have preludes. But even for those who did read all the comics leading up to this event will feel lost and underwhelmed at times. So those who dedicated themselves to this story before it began aren’t going to be much better off than those who didn’t. It’s like a game between the freshman and varsity team ending in a tie.

The problem isn’t the conflict itself. In fact, the greatest strength of this issue is the nature of the conflict. This isn’t a typical uber-powerful enemy trying to win the day by taking the equivalent of cosmic steroids. The Red Skull, who became the Red Onslaught, isn’t just attacking his enemies. He’s using the psychic powers of Charles Xavier to evoke hatred and resentment for every unguarded mind on the planet. That essentially means the Avengers and X-men will now have to try to save a world that hates itself so much that it’s ready to tear itself apart. They might as well be fighting a crowd to buy a defective smart phone.

It sets up a very difficult battle for them to fight, but it’s a global battle that becomes an afterthought way too quickly. It almost feels like an aside because so much emphasis is placed on just getting the X-men and Avengers on the same page. And even that process ends up being pretty sloppy.

The action is poorly detailed at times and not nearly as epic as it could be. Some of these details feel too random and convenient. There are few connections that form a logical path that lead all the relevant characters into the battle against the Red Onslaught. This lack of connections makes the story feel disorganized and unrefined, like a far less grittier version of Saving Private Ryan. So even when the Avengers and X-men do come together, it comes off as something that was done just to remind everybody that this is a crossover. It’s a reminder that really wasn’t necessary.

There are some efforts with the characters to make the story more engaging. Some do succeed. Moments with Rogue, the Scarlet Witch, and Iron Man do help make this story feel more meaningful than just another heroes vs. overpowered Nazi battle. But others, namely those involving Havok and Wasp, fall too flat. They either rely on drama that was painfully forced and out-of-place or older conflicts going back to Avengers vs. X-men and Civil War that most readers are probably sick of by now.

Despite this disorganization and misguided character moments, the core of the story remains strong and definitely gets stronger by the end. The greatest strength of the story in Avengers and X-men: AXIS #1 is the way in which the Red Onslaught attacks the world. He doesn’t use bombs, racists speeches, or expensive lobbying efforts. He just projects thoughts that bring out the painful insecurities of his enemies. These insecurities disrupt what was shaping up to be a badly needed moment of unity between the Avengers and the X-men. So instead of coming together like the final epic battle in Lord of the Rings, they’re now poised to crumble under the weight of their petty insecurities like the final season of Lost.

What this issue lacks in detail, it makes up for in concept. The execution of that concept is what makes the story worth following. Even if some of the characters involved are forgettable or downright unlikable, they help establish the strength of that concept in a way where the details missing from this issue can be incorporated with subsequent issues. Unlike a chip on a statue, the flaws in Avengers and X-men: AXIS #1 are fixable. The oversights and missteps can be corrected or more refined at the very least. There’s plenty to build on with this concept. Whereas the threat of a super-Nazi villain should bring bickering teams of heroes together, this might actually find a way to do the opposite and that’s definitely a story worth telling.

RATING 6 / 10