A + X 18

a+x 18Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing A + X 18, originally released March 28th, 2014.

Patrick: There was always going to be something artificial about the A + X conceit. For as much as it feels like they’re all good guys, so they should have no problem teaming up for a little BAM-POW superhero adventuring, there’s just too much baggage to sustain it for very long. As the series comes to close, it appears that A + X was a promise too heavy to be supported by such a fluffy, carefree experience. The final issue seems split on this opinion, simultaneously expressing how similar the two groups are while stubbornly refusing to find common ground between the two.

What do we really want from these stories? Frivolous fun without consequences? Insightful character sketches? Gerry Dugan and Jim Krueger put forth a surprisingly unified thesis statement in their pair of otherwise unrelated stories. Krueger’s story is a Kitty Pryde / The Vision adventure where we naturally assume the heroes have been paired off because of their most obvious shared trait: intangibility. We’ve seen this sort of thing before — remember when Domino and Scarlet Witch made probability their bitch in issue 10 — so as an audience we’re well-trained to start thinking of ways their shared intangibility can lead to some wacky adventures. By the end of the story, it becomes clear that a third party (in this case, an artificial intelligence worried about its potential for destruction) has brought these two together specifically.

Krueger is letting go of any kind of organic meeting between the characters in favor of putting an all-powerful intelligence behind their pairing. In the context of this story, both Kitty and Vision are plugged into a VR simulation of the real world, which means that everything they experience is 100% up to the AI’s whims. That intelligence is quite literally the writer of their adventure, putting the most emotionally resonant roadblocks in their way. For Vision, this means his parents, and for Kitty it means a sampling of X-Men. There’s no time to mess around with subtlety, the AI — and by extension, Krueger — only has 10 pages to trigger the strongest possible emotional response.

It’s also telling that the AI is trying to trick Kitty and Vision into destroying him, and in so-doing destroy the virtual world he has constructed for them. It’s a direct comment on the way ending a narrative results in a kind of destruction — a little world has to be sacrificed when we bring the curtain down on the stage. Perhaps it’s another comment, then, that Kitty and Vision refuse the AI its release. No one gets off that easy in superhero comics — these guys will be published in perpetuity forever.

But it’s precisely because of that long publishing history (and publishing future) that Kitty Pryde and The Vision are in this situation in the first place. Playing against our expectations, the AI requires the assistance of these characters because of who they are, and not what superpowers are listed on their playing cards. They have perspectives that would make them sympathetic to the AI’s conundrum.

why kitty and visionAnd that’s where the real value of A + X lies — not in the comparative or complimentary powersets of these characters, but in their perspectives. The Vision and Kitty Pryde have these compatible perspectives, and that’s why they are able to work so well together in this story. Meanwhile, Gerry Duggan’s Captain America and Cyclops story places a similar importance on perspective, but ultimately shows that the standard bearers of each side have perspectives that are so incompatible that we can recognize this whole team-up as something of a pipe-dream.

Aw geez, I had totally intended to just touch on the first story and then spend some quality time digging into the Cap ‘n’ Clops conclusion, but it looks like I’ve gone on at some length about the first one. Drew, I’ll hand it over it over to you with just a few observations about the second story. Most of what we’re seeing here is wrap-up from a story that was largely completed in the previous issue. Like, at this point it’s all a matter of punching and denouement (Punching and Denouement — the title of my memoirs), but it’s interesting that Duggan continues to introduce more Avengers and more X-Men into the mix. The lesson seems to be that for each secret weapon that one side has, the other side has someone with comparable abilities. So when Eva shows up to freeze Cap in time, Dr. Strange is right there for the unfreeze. But even more heartbreaking than that is that there doesn’t appear to be any bad blood between Strange and Eva. In fact, they’re almost buddies.

Eva and StrangeSo is the gulf between A and X really all that great? Or is it just that the gulf between Rogers and Summers is irreparable?

Drew: Actually, I think the answer to both questions is that the gulf between the Avengers and X-Men is entirely artificial. For me, that means that this series hasn’t ever really been about any kind of idealogical divide between the groups — issues have felt more like pulling action figures out of the toy chest at random than any kind of nuanced point-counterpoint. This series has always been about goofy punch-em-ups and wacky buddy stories, and I never expected more, but I think you’re absolutely right that this issue ultimately aims to define the edges of Avenger/X-Men relations.

The fact that Kitty can work with Vision or Eva can get along with Strange (and indeed, much of this series) demonstrates that there’s no inherent animosity between Avengers or mutants (further evidenced by the presence of mutants like Wolverine and Scarlet Witch on various Avengers teams). Effectively, the animosity towards mutants that remained after A vs. X has been so compressed or back-burnered, or even outright ignored by so much of the Marvel universe that it’s easy to forget that there’s any reason they shouldn’t get along. Except, of course, when it comes to Scott Summers.

I get that killing Charles Xavier is worse than just some random guy on the street, but as my LCS owner is always quick to point out, Captain America has no problem with Wolverine, who has killed WAY more people. Like, an estimated 4-5 orders of magnitude more people. Heck, Wolverine has killed seven of his eight known children. Anyway, Cyclops wasn’t even in control of his actions when it happened, which makes his status as fugitive number one of the Marvel Universe seem somewhat arbitrary. This issue introduces an interesting wrinkle to that narrative, though.

YOU call ME fascist?!What? Cap doesn’t think Scott’s guilty? How is there still animosity between them? Oh, right: Scott needs to stand trial for a crime Cap doesn’t think he’s guilty of…just because. By that logic, shouldn’t literally everyone have to be tried for every murder, ever? I’m pretty sure we tend not to arrest people/try them with crimes unless we think they’re guilty. I get that this is somewhat judgement call-y, but again, how many times has Cap arrested Wolverine for all of the people he’s killed?

The point of this isn’t to dump on this issue — I actually enjoyed it quite a bit — but to suggest that this particular editorial mandate might require more awkward contortions than it is really worth. There are bad mutants out there — unlike the Avengers, there’s no moral qualifications to being a mutant — so it seems strange that everyone is focusing so hard on one of the good ones

Sorry to get so focused on plotting, but I think the awkwardness of that thread illustrates what Patrick was talking about — the range of A/X interactions runs the gamut from causally (and naturally) friendly to totally contrived antagonism. I’ve never understood the appeal of having your favorite heroes fight, but the Cap/Cyclops animosity feels like a slow motion version of the “let’s you and him fight” trope (which is weird, because that’s basically exactly what A vs. X was). But like it or not, that is the state of modern A/X relations in the Marvel Universe.

I personally think this series has done a great job of mining that range for a surprisingly diverse 18 issues. I didn’t necessarily love every story, but the series as a whole felt very free to explore that range, delivering everything from mindless frivolity to nuanced indictments of its characters (sometimes both at the same time). It was that openness — and the storytelling potential it represents — that made this series stand out amongst other anthologies out there, and is definitely what I’m going to miss the most about it.

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?

7 comments on “A + X 18

  1. As excited as I was to see the Cap/Cyclops story dealing directly with current continuity, it was kind of weird. The other issues have all played very fast and loose with that kind of continuity stuff (costumes, attitudes, alignments), defaulting to some kind of platonic ideal of the characters. I suppose this issue solidifies the current state of Scott Summers as part of that platonic ideal, which may be why it’s so weird to me — like, I always figured that this would blow over eventually. Two years later and I’m still waiting…am I alone in thinking this has got to be a short-term change?

  2. I thought this was a very good issue mainly because of the first story. I thought it was touching and the perfect story for comics to tell. I also like playing with the pairing by way of powers but then having it actually about personality. This is what great comics stories should do. You come for the crazy powers and costumes but you stay for the humanity and interpersonal relationships. I thought it was story well told by bother story-tellers writer and artist. Speaking of, neither of you touched on it but I thought the art in the first story was also pretty top notch. The series left with a good taste in my mouth which is how it should be.

    The second story was fun and I enjoyed it but as mentioned by Drew I still can’t get behind this shoveled in animosity between Cap and Scott. Marvel has never been able to justify this to me because it flies in the face of who these characters are and their experiences. So I liked the story but Marvel needs to grow up and realize with this fake rift they put in place you need to earn animosity not just manufacture it. Still I chuckled that they pulled in the old Skrull cows once again.

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