Avengers & X-Men: Axis is Marvel’s current mega-event, pitting Magneto and the Uncanny Avengers against the dread might of Red Onslaught amidst the backdrop of World War Hate. What does the second issue portend for the future of the Avengers and X-Men?
AVENGERS & X-MEN: AXIS #2
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Adam Kubert
Color Artists: Laura Martin & Matt Milla
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover Artists: Jim Cheung & Justin Ponsor
Editors: Tem Brevoort with Daniel Ketchum and Wil Moss
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Previously, in Avengers & X-Men: Axis: The Red Skull has gained psychic powers through the theft of Professor Xavier’s brain. Establishing mutant concentration camps in the ruins of Genosha, Skull and his S-Men also captured Magneto and the mutant members of the Unity Squad. Killed by Magneto in an escape attempt, Red Skull resurrected as a giant, demon-headed tentacle beast stuffed into the old Onslaught costume, becoming Red Onslaught. Broadcasting a telepathic message of rage to start World War Hate, he also summons two adamantium Sentinels, of subconscious Tony Stark design, to finish off the heroes fighting him on Genosha.
START MAKING SENSE
Avengers & X-Men: Axis #2 is mostly a fight scene, focusing on Magneto, Havok, Iron Man and a hodge-podge of other weird heroes (Quentin Quire! Medusa! Doctor Strange! Nova) trying to take down Red Onslaught and his amped up Sentinels. Through most of it, Tony Stark provides the POV, mixing up the fisticuffs with ruminations on his arrogance as an inventor and as a hero. Stark’s pride allowed the Red Skull to psychically influence him to create unstoppable Sentinels, based on files he drew up during Marvel’s Civil War storyline. Guilt is a major theme in his issue, as Tony feels angst over his paranoia and pride, and Havok muses on the guilt his brother must feel over Xavier’s death. Thematically, this is a strange idea. Red Skull is a great antagonist for Captain America and Magneto, but for Iron Man and Havok, there’s not much resonance. Having them as the focal point for this issue is an odd choice. An exploration of hatred as a toxic emotion which only makes Skull stronger is the supposed through line of the issues leading up this, but in Avengers & X-Men: Axis #2, the focus is on guilt, with no exploration as how guilt might relate to hate.
There are huge narrative problems as well. Since the Sentinel designs were drawn up from Stark’s Civil War files, a major plot point is that the Sentinels can only target heroes, making Magneto immune to their snares. This… makes little sense, since Magneto has been allied with the X-Men several times in the past, even leading them on occasion. Secondly, a good number of baddies ended up in Stark’s employ during Civil War, so why wouldn’t Stark have files on them? It all leads to the big reveal on the final page, which is an interesting swerve, but I’m not sure how it will possibly make sense. Rick Remender is a writer who is best when he is playful with the nonsensical conventions of the superhero comics he writes. It was evident in the gleeful insanity of FrankenCastle, and in the way he found gold in the twisted depths of 90s X-continuity in Uncanny X-Force. It’s a shame that Axis feels so deadly serious, when that tone is at odds with the ridiculous trappings of the story. A towering, octopus-tentacled, devil-horned Red Skull in Onslaught armor is an over-the-top construction in anyone’s hands. Frequently, Remender has been able to blend the ridiculous with the heavy, but his usual deftness is missing in Avengers & X-Men: Axis #2.
The battle is fought entirely in the muck and mud of Red Skull’s Genoshan concentration camps, during a rain storm. It’s a dull setting for a fight. The colorists do a good job punching up the action with fluorescent colors for the heroes’ powers, but the monotony of the setting still underscores the slog of the story. Adam Kubert is mostly on-point with the action sequences, although there are a few moments where I was not sure quite what the heroes were doing. He also provides plenty of detail, which does liven the setting somewhat. And I hate the character design of Red Onslaught – the demon horns and tentacles are just too much and inexplicable from a character standpoint. The Stark Sentinels are neat, though. The art as a whole ends up being a mixed bag, not enough to drag anything down, but it doesn’t redeem the lackluster story either.
BOTTOM LINE: SO FAR, NOT FEELING IT
I’ve been burned by the last few Marvel events in a bad way. Original Sin, Age of Ultron, Fear Itself –these all had good starts that fizzled out with unsatisfying endings. Avengers & X-Men: Axis isn’t starting out so hot. So maybe it will buck the trend and end up on a high note? This issue suffered from a plot structure that did not make thematic sense, but it ended with a cliffhanger interesting enough to hook me into the next one – if only to see if it can be resolved in any sort of sensical manner. I am a big fan of Remender’s work and have been enjoying the pages of Magneto and Uncanny Avengers from the start, but unless there’s marked improvement in the next issue, I will probably cut my losses. Avengers & X-Men: Axis #2 does not yet live up to the hype promised by the build-up.