Thursday, 23 October 2014

New Beginnings - Avengers And X-Men: Axis #1

by Matt Puddy

This week we have a new main arc from Rick Remender and Marvel – Axis – and aside from the ambigram of a title on the cover it’s a fairly hefty comic for a first issue. This is partially due to all that’s packed into it but also all the history that it pulls on as well.

As stories go this is one that you where you have to pay attention to keep up. First of all this issue alone has a massive cast combining X-Men, Avengers, the Avengers Unity team from Uncanny Avengers, and then a few extra people to boot. It also helps to be aware of current and impending events in the Marvel Universe. Wolverine is no longer in ANY team and the Captain America baton has been passed onto Falcon. Even the Hulk is now known as Doc Green (currently waging war on all gamma-powered individuals) seems to be subdued and part of the gang. 

Remender has also built from a wealth of Marvel stories from the archives. The original Onslaught saga is a huge reference given that Red Skull is now dubbed Red Onslaught, after firstly receiving Xaviers’ brain (and subsequently his psychic powers) and then being killed by Magneto. Which is also the main crux of the plot. 

In his more human form, the newly awakened clone of Red Skull was always driven by the same motivation to create a new Nazi-styled utopia with the Übermensch taking wait he saw as its rightful place at the top. I’m sure you can imagine that given the immense psychic prowess of both Xavier and Onslaught, it's going to prove quite a large problem and one that will bring all of mutantkind together to stop the threat trying to wipe them out.

All of this was sparked into action by the most powerful psychic outburst that any of them had seen, creating outbreaks of violent acts all over the world. The hate and anger simply pouring off Red Onslaught in waves prompts action from Steve Rogers, directing his team of heroes into action from his afar, now too frail to enter the field.

Red Onslaught is huge, imposing and deadly. Reacting quickly the Scarlet Witch is influenced and taken to his side as a vessel, which doesn’t help things (although it is a convenient loophole to remove the main threat from the fight for him), and so the battle begins. The introduction of the X-Men as well rounds the group off well, only to find that their troubles have only just begun. On top of gaining access to powers beyond his station, Red Skull also gained information. Information that Tony Stark held on them all in case he needed it, and now the Skull then weaponised it (very similar to another millionaire playboy from DC), leading them to face the most powerful and developed Sentinels the world has ever seen.

The story that Remender has written is fairly straight forward, but for all its length I kind of found it a little irksome. As well as taking stories and ideas to build on from the past, it seems that a certain style has also been lifted. The whole comic kind of felt that it was a flowing piece from one fight into another to a sub-fight past in-fighting and via petty, poignant or brotherly conflicts. There’s a lot of fighting in there and not a whole lot of character development.

Page taken from Axis #2
Artistically, to support the battlefield, you have Adam Kubert who is well known in comic book circles like his siblings and father. He has put a huge amount of work into this comic to live up to the energy level of the story. With so much going on and so many characters to maintain this can’t have been an easy task. A lot of referencing has to have been done too; whether it is the new Cap or the Mjolnir-less Thor, keeping a great sense of continuity across a universe of characters - so hats off to him!

The style results in being full of work, images and ideas, but that does mean on occasion detail does have to give way; that is kind of understandable. There is also a good use of dynamic frames, away from the more conventional layout system, which keeps your eyes working throughout without necessarily being overwhelmed by all the information.

Put all together and this shows some real promise, but I think it does need to calm itself down a little and not simply be a continuous running battle. Equally the rare moments of Walton-esque family gathering and heart strings being tugged need to have some tempering as well, but the premise is still a good one and kind of keeping in line with all the teasers of Marvel reviving a lot of past storylines in 2015 (for example Civil War and House of M) making this is a front runner for further madness.

Matt Puddy doesn't quite get the whole American obsession with Halloween stuff.

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