Review: Avengers and X-Men: Axis #4

“Sadly, while Remender is usually in top form—his X-Force run remains in my top five favorite X-series of all time—Axis #4 very much has the feel of a filler issue.”

Avengers and X-Men: Axis #4

Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Leinil Yu
Release Date: Wed, November  5th, 2014

If you read my review of The Amazing Spider-Man #9 (and if you didn’t, you should, because I’m a shameless self-promoter), then you noticed my bit on something comic book readers refer to as Event Fatigue. Event Fatigue doesn’t have to do with the damage done to the body after running marathon after marathon; it’s something far less badass and something far geekier. The term refers to comic readership being mentally and financially drained by the increasing frequency that publishers march out big event storylines that tax readers’ patience and wallets.

However, as noted in my Amazing Spidey review, Event Fatigue probably isn’t as big a deal as comic book fans would have you believe, as sales clearly suggest that someone out there has to be buying these books. No matter how much any of us bitch and moan about yet another comic book crossover—and I’ve been guilty of it, too—many readers will still pick up an issue or two out of sheer curiosity. We do that knowing that while a publisher may proclaim that “nothing will be the same after this story,” comic book characters live in a universe that, while malleable, always has to allow for change based on the whims of the company, the preferences and prejudices of editorial, and the changing demographic of the readership. What really matters about a comic book “big event” story, then, is how entertaining it is for us to get from point A to point B, not whether the changes will stick in the long term.

Which brings us to Avengers and X-Men: Axis #4. Marvel has been promoting the Axis event for months, as publishers are wont to do, gearing comic book enthusiasts up for the Next Big Event. Axis spins out of writer Rick Remender’s work on the series Uncanny X-Force and Uncanny Avengers, acting as both a culmination of his past several years of stories in those books and a springboard for Marvel’s stories going forward. The short of it is that the Red Skull grafted the departed Professor Xavier’s brain to his own to leach the telepathic powers of the former X-Men headmaster and leader. When Magneto tries to stop the Skull, the result is the unleashing of the psychic monster known as Onslaught (now Red Onslaught), who sets up mutant concentration camps in the island nation of Genosha. The combined efforts of the X-Men, the Avengers, and a gathering of villains assembled by Magneto manage to curb the Skull’s machinations, but at a price: the personalities of those involved have been inverted by the ripples following the destruction of Red Onslaught. The benign become more aggressive, the villainous soften, and so on. (Hence the play on words of the title of the miniseries. What you knew has been flipped on its axis, the Red Skull used to be part of Hitler’s Axis, and so on.)

Comics, everybody!

In Axis #4, we get to see a glimpse of the effects of that inversion. The Falcon as Captain America wants to snuff out the Red Skull, who the Avengers have prisoner, despite the fact that Professor Xavier’s mind might be able to be salvaged. Meanwhile, the X-Men, in response to the Avengers shutting them out of a decision that affects their former mentor, are united for the first time in years, turning the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning into a militaristic nation state, rallied behind a reborn Apocalypse and dedicated to the threat they feel the Avengers now pose to their very existence. And something very odd is happening to the Hulk: the sadder he gets, the angrier and more threatening he becomes.

The problem that many of these Big Event miniseries is that there are inevitably what feel like filler issues—that is, installments that are solely written to keep up the page count for when the series is collected in trade paperback form. Sadly, while Remender is usually in top form—his X-Force run remains in my top five favorite X-series of all time—Axis #4 very much has the feel of a filler issue. Readers keeping up with the mini knew that we would have to see some sort of fallout from issue #3 and how Red Onslaught’s destruction affected those in his wake, but #4 plods along, with more tell than show. Half the exposition for the book could’ve been cut to hammer home the idea that the heroes and villains are acting wonky. Instead, the beats that the issue hits are few and far between, and those that are present land clunkily at best.

That’s not to say that there are a few highlights to the issue. Spider-Man’s bewilderment that Carnage is actually saving lives instead of taking them feels authentic and gives us at least one entry point to connect with our own confusion to what is happening. Writers tend to use (and use and use again) Spider-Man as the everyman in these types of stories for readers to relate to and, to Remender’s credit, it works well here. Further, Tony Stark’s move in pulling a U2 and sharing his Extremis app so that all of San Francisco can achieve human perfection has an eeriness that rings true, yet at the same time has the air of something Stark might do even if his personality weren’t inverted. Yet, these highlights are overshadowed by the over-the-top inverted characterization of Captain America/Falcon and Luke Cage, reading more as parody and fan fiction than anything else.

Unfortunately, the art doesn’t do the book any favors, either. Leinil Yu is a great storyteller, as he knows how to take a script and make it flow in a dynamic, cohesive way. However, I don’t know if it was his art, the inking, or working on a deadline, but the linework feels sketchier than even his normally scratchy work. The story and the art do not marry well, serving to yank me out of the story more than once.

Avengers and X-Men: Axis #4 is clearly going to be a springboard for a new status quo at Marvel (however temporary that might be), achieving, among other things, a change in the dynamics between the various X-Men once again and giving Tony Stark/Iron Man a new outlook, personality, and mission. While that in itself isn’t a distraction from the story—again, comic book publishing is a business to get readers to buy books—there are ways to execute such overarching tales and keeping them fast-paced and interesting. As much as I normally love Remender’s work, I think he needs to take a page from what Dan Slott is doing with Spider-Man and the Spider-Verse story arc.

Writer Rick Remender, who usually kicks so much ass in books such as Uncanny X-Force, seems to fall prey to having to create a filler issue in Axis #4 for the page count for when the miniseries is collected as a paperback.
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