Best Shots Comic Review: AVENGERS & X-MEN: AXIS #9

Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #9
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers & X-Men: Axis #9
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jim Cheung, Terry Dodson, Leinil Francis Yu, Adam Kubert, Mark Morales, Dave Meikis, Guillermo Ortega, Mark Roslan, Rachel Dodson and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

What makes good men do bad things? And what makes good creators make bad books?

The first question might have been the intended premise of Avengers & X-Men: Axis, but having read all nine issues, all I could think about was the latter. What could have made a seeming slam dunk in the form of Rick Remender - not to mention a cadre of talented artists, including Adam Kubert, Jim Cheung, Leinil Francis Yu, and the Dodsons - turn into a mess of a comic that feels both overstuffed and underwhelming? Perhaps the problem isn't so much these talented creators, but that they have been tasked to a playbook that has only produced pyrrhic victories.

In a lot of ways, I get what Marvel's intentions were with Axis. They sold gangbusters with Avengers vs. X-Men, just in time to capitalize on a billion-dollar movie franchise, and they wanted to have the hero vs. hero dynamic of Civil War, which was one of the highest-selling books of the past decade. Two great tastes must taste even better together, right? But where Axis falls is that it's much more like the former book than the latter, even down to its mystical mumbo-jumbo high concept, rather than the organic clash of ideals Mark Millar set up. What's the point of having a story about good and evil when it's established at the get-go that the choice is barely in their hands at all? That with just one magic spell, heroes can become villains and villains can become - when they're actually on-panel - fledgling heroes.

And I think that's part of Axis's main problem with its narrative. I've said this before in previous reviews of this series, but this series' focus has been all over the place. With essentially three different teams being juggled around, it's hard to even blame Remender at this point - he was given way too many characters to even attempt to put into any coherent story, and that's even with the cheat of doing away with all the wild cards thanks to Pym Particles. (Don't ask. Suffice to say, it was kinda sloppy.) The result has been a lot of characters punching each other, almost like a cameraman trying to film a rave - Remender will zoom in on quick beats featuring as many characters as he can, and while there's a popcorn movie kind of thrill to it, there's no follow-through - and definitely no impact.

But with the concluding issue of Axis, the pacing is even more frenetic and hard to follow - we'll have a panel with Spider-Man fighting Luke Cage, then a page with Sabretooth and Mystique, then a heartfelt talk between Deadpool and Apocalypse. Given the way Remender usually paces his fight sequences and dialogue, you get the sense that there is plenty of thought that went into this narrative - in particular, a moment where Loki wields Thor's own hammer against him is the highlight of the book - just not enough time or space to get to them all. Sometimes that scattershot pacing just dampens the impact of what could be some big moments - although that all said, it's hard to have a big moment with little to no setup, like the blink-and-you-miss-it character assassination of Havok - but by the end of the issue, there are some storytelling choices that are downright confusing. Who's on what side again? Are there still villains as heroes? And why would they take the rap for the carnage that was so clearly perpetuated by Marvel's so-called "heroes"?

I've spoken a lot about Remender's role in this, but honestly, he was never done any favors by the inconsistent art team involved. This is the main peril of a semi-weekly book, particularly one as overstretched as Axis. Marvel may have struck gold with the zombies during Avengers vs. X-Men, but I still maintain that a consistent look is crucial for a series, particularly an event book that they want to keep evergreen, to print on back order again and again and again. This final issue might prove to be the perfect microcosm of the general malaise that affected this series, as this comic had no less than 10 people working on the visuals.

Jim Cheung provides the lion's share of the artwork, but his work shifts in quality on a page-to-page basis based on whoever is inking him at the time. Sometimes his work looks like normal, but in other pages the inks are so scratchy and ill-defined. While Cheung's panel layouts don't really carry the flow of this story, he does provide some striking moments, particularly one of Remender's best beats in the book, where Tony Stark stands over the Red Skull, bragging about how he plans to market the mutant menace. "You hear that, Charles? Stark Sentinels marching in the streets!"

The rest of the artists, unfortunately, fare a lot worse. Leinil Yu is allegedly in this book as a penciller, but if he is, he's completely unrecognizable here. Superstar Adam Kubert, meanwhile, looks like he's relegated to one scratchy page where the mystics undo the battle, and Terry and Rachel Dodson are too cartoony a fit to be given the villain-centric epilogue. Of course, a lot of these attributions can only be described with qualifiers, and that's not a good thing - with so many pencillers and inkers on one project, the quality of this book fluctuates wildly.

At the end of the day, I think the lesson to take out of Axis is the kind of insurmountable odds faced not by our heroes, but by their writers and artists. It's one thing to try to reinvent your own Civil War - that's admirable, and if done right, it's lucrative and additive to these characters' shared universe. Axis, in case you were wondering, isn't any of that. What else could you expect, trying to throw together 30 characters in one book - and then make it weekly? The result is a book that I'm sure is not much more fun to write as it is to read. With this many moving parts, a slower, methodical approach would have almost assuredly led to a unified artistic vision and a much better product - as we've seen with Remender and his other titles, particularly his work with Stuart Immonen in All-New Captain America.

And that's the real tragedy behind Axis. It's not about good versus evil, or the sacrifices made to change the status quo. Marvel wanted Avengers vs. X-Men Part 2, and they got it - and this is more of the same haphazard, rushed storytelling and cog-in-the-machine visuals that flat-tire even the strongest writers and artists. You can't help but wonder if that's why Marvel has been lacking in its event game the past few years, even when it's thrown superstar writers like Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis at it. You can't expect organic, coherent comics when you're stacking the deck against your creators like this. And that's a shame, because at the end of the day, Axis likely began with the best of intentions. But as they say, good intentions are all the road to Hell is paved with.

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