Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing A + X 16, originally released January 8th, 2014.
Patrick: We quiet, sensitive nerds at Retcon Punch tend to bask in the more intimate, honest moments in our superhero beat-em-ups. It’s not that we don’t also love a good fight or car chase or explosion or whatever, but we savor those moments when the characters stop to catch their breath. Its in those moments where the characters actually distinguish themselves, not in between punches, but after when all their precious training and superpowers can’t assist them. A+X 16 tells two such stories, neither of which have easy answers and both show the real mettle of our heroes.
The Amazing Spider-Man + Psylocke
Patrick: I haven’t even started writing about the story, and I already have something to say! Check it out – this is the Amazing Spider-Man we’re reading about here, not the Superior Spider-Man. Already, we know that we’re going to be dealing with a more vulnerable and childlike version of Spidey. Now, I loves me some Doc-Ock-in-Spider-Man’s-body, but this story goes out of its way to establish our hero as classic Spider-Man — indeed the rest of the issue will take advantage of the time period during which this issue is taken place. I’ve gotten used to the occasional Marvel title that just pretends Peter Parker never died, but I’m glad this one picked a slice from earlier in his life – you know: back when he was alive.
So anyway, Spider-Man is alive and well and web-slingin’ his way across New York City, trying desperately to remember what he’s supposed to pick up from the store (bread, milk, butter), when he happens on a commotion. It appears that Psylocke is attacking / being attacked by a group of men in suits with samurai swords. Spidey’s quick to lend a hand, but not so quick that he can prevent one of these goons from dropping a grenade in the room (and then presumably escaping with his cohort of goons, we don’t see them at all after the explosion). Then the aftermath: powerless to really do anything else, Spider-Man comforts Psylocke as she apparently dies. Cyclops and the X-Men show up to spirit her body away and pointedly not thank Spider-Man for his trouble.
This is a weird one. It’s a ten-page story, and four FULL pages are given over to the action-less business of Psylocke dying. In fact, Peter makes like he’s going to go and get some help, only to be called back by Psylocke. The one action Peter does try to take is extremely ill-advised: can’t move a body when it’s impaled by rebar. In that moment, she doesn’t need a man of action, she needs a friendly face – even if it is behind that mask. And that’s something that Peter can offer here that Otto would not have been able to provide.
The whole thing is kinda mysterious though. Or, at least, that’s how it reads to me – it’s possible that someone with more knowledge about Psylocke’s past will be able to fill in the blanks for me, but this looks like a normal encounter that took an unfortunate turn. Even the X-Men showing up in the final pages has an air of mystery to it – they don’t seem that broken up about Psylocke’s condition – do they know they can bring her back? Do they even like her? Ultimately, I feel like a bit of an outsider reading this story, which is exactly how Spider-Man views this experience. Taylor, did you find this to be a moving little story or distracting oddity that just made you forget the third thing you were supposed to pick up at the store?
Taylor: Oh jeez, Patrick, I think you and I read this comic in very different ways. Whereas you think Psylocke dies, I think she gets rescued in time by the X-Men and presumably is nursed back to health. The main reason for my belief in her not dying is that when the X-Men arrive, Peter asks Cyclops if Psylocke will be alright. Kind of an odd question ask about a dead person, but then again, the Marvel Universe is an odd place. Still, I think it makes sense, narritively speaking, for Psylocke to survive a scrape with death.
As you mentioned Patrick, writer Sean Ryan goes out of his way to establish that this is Peter Parker Spider-Man in this story. Not only is he Peter, but he is a young Peter, one who’s still learning the ropes of the super hero business. This being the case, he’s learning on the fly and not necessarily prepared for a lot of what happens to him. In this case, he has no idea what to do when comforting a dying person. How does a person hero try to win a battle that is already lost? He briefly considers going for help but then realizes the best action would be to stay and usher Psylocke into the next life. It’s a moment of growth for a young hero and he seems appropriately thrown off when the big-boys, the X-Men, arrive to save Psylocke. This makes Peter seem feel an amateur when it comes to being a hero – he can’t even save a life! However, we all know you can’t when them all, and when Peter decides to stay by Psylocke I think he recognizes this and learns an important lesson. Again, since he’s young Spidey, it’s all part of the learning process and a time of growth.
I should add I love the old school artwork by Goran Parlov. My favorite panel consists of the ol’ henchman head-bash maneuver by Spider-Man. That is all.
Captain America + Cyclops
Taylor: The second story in this issue is a weird little diddy that in many ways confuses. Mainly, I have no idea who the Skrulls are, so Patrick or kindly reader, please feel free to enlighten me. However, from what I gleamed from this story they are some green alien guys, who are currently living as cowboys. The reason for this occupation is that their home world has been destroyed so they decided to give Earth a shot. Oh, and Reed Richards turned some of the Skrulls into cattle, so some have been eaten by humans. The Avengers show up to capture the Skrull but upon learning they want to be left in peace and protect their cow-people, they decide to let them be.
I’m not to wild on this half of the issue. Part of this is due to the depth of knowledge the reader is expected to have of the Marvel Universe. One has to be on the up and up with the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four to really appreciate the meat of this story. I’m not against such requirements for readers, but I’m looking for something a little easier to pick up in my A+X issues. This is what’s really at the heart of my distaste for this story, I suppose. I’ve always enjoyed the A+X issue because they’re usually quirky, often funny little vignettes that while candy, are highly enjoyable. I don’t need grand mythologies or pathos. Just give me Wolverine and Captain America fighting giant ants and I’ll be happy.
That charm is sadly absent from this section of the issue and I think it suffers greatly for it. Instead of a quick and fun story, we are thrown into a war that has lasted for some time and which has seen the destruction of entire worlds. Also, the story is not self-contained, as the “to be continued” at the end of issue forebodes. Again, I’m fine with these in a regular series, just not in the context of this title. I must say though, if we get more panels of robots self-combusting, my objections would quickly fall silent. DOOOOOOOM!
Patrick: Ah, Taylor, I see what happened here! I haven’t placed you on A+X in the last 5 months (issue 11 – it looks like you and I wrote about it together). Since issue 13, one of the two stories in each issue has been this on-going adventure of Captain America and Cyclops tracking down a group of “Mutant” Skrulls, who were trained by Professor X and dubbed Cadre K. The “what the fuck is this about?” page at the beginning of the issue makes a sort of half-hearted attempt to warn you that there’s some of the C word in this issue (“continuity” – get your head out of the gutter), but I think you just demonstrated the fundamental flaw this strategy: A+X has trained you not to expect to have to tune in every month. So when you missed a few issues, you can be forgiven as the issue impatiently taps its foot and asks “where the fuck where you the last three months?”
But even if it’s not the spirit of our favorite one-off-happy series, I’d encourage you to read the first three chapters of this Cap ‘ n’ Clops story. It has focused on the animosity between the First Avenger and the Most-Hated-X-Man-In-The-World as they are tasked with bringing this renegade group of Skrulls to justice. Just prior to this issue, we discovered that the Skrulls — former aggressors of Earths — had been running a chain of fastfood joints in the American Southwest, and Cap and Cyclops assumed there was something devious about this. Why else would our enemies be trying to control our food source? This issue flips that script on its head, and reveals that the Skrulls are actually protecting cattle that have Skrull DNA inside them. Basically, writer Gerry Duggan recasts Cadre K as the victims / quiet heroes of this story.
I loved this reversal, and it speaks volumes about the integrity of Captain America that he’s able to double-back on his aggression so quickly. There’s already kind of a connection between Cyclops and Cadre K – they’re both genetic abnormalities trained by Xavier, so it’s not a surprise that they’d find common ground. But Cap has been beating the anti-mutant drum for a couple of issues now, sometimes it’s very pointedly anti-Scott-Summers, but even he has also been more generally insensitive toward mutants – remember when he suggested the X-Men carry ID cards? It takes the Skrull leader invoking the promise of America to make Cap quietly see how he’s been kind of a dick to characters he just wasn’t understanding. Duggan doesn’t let Cap talk about his feelings, but artist David Yardin’s rendition of his 100-yard stare broadcasts the epiphany loud and clear.
Now they’ve all got an enemy that they can work together to take on: Doctor Doom (oh and maybe Reed Richards – what an asshole, right?). I enjoyed seeing the cast balloon to include Hank Pym and Emma Frost (+ Stepfords) in the last two issues, but Cap’s cry to Assemble the X-Men, the Avengers and Cadre? That’s got my fist pumping in the air like a goddamned lunatic.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?