Thee Comic Column #105: AXIS

uncannyavengers4f-onslaughtGenerally, I try to stay away from Event books. That’s not very difficult with DC as I’m largely unfamiliar with the subtler points of their history and I don’t read any of their regular books on an ongoing basis – never really have. With Marvel however it can be tough. The appeal of massive, world-changing events always draws me in at least a little bit, and over the last decade or so the House of Ideas seems to have become dedicated to the creed that there should always be an Event happening. Secret Invasion, Fear Itself, Original Sin… the list of shake-ups to the Marvel Universe is endless and mostly, in the long-run limp. I always follow from afar and yeah, these stories almost always sound interesting, but they also regularly fail to deliver at the moment of truth, i.e. the ending. Things never change as much as the situations would seem to dictate and everything more or less goes back to normal. And yet despite my bias against Events, when I first caught wind of Rick Remender’s Axis I knew I’d be breaking my “No Event Book” policy and diving in head first. Why?

I’ve been a rabid fan of RR’s for about three years now and I am extremely invested in the seeds he has planted with meticulous care since his time on Uncanny X-Force. That book led to Uncanny Avengers and with both Mr. Remender was able to carve out a really nice playing field for himself within the Marvel Universe; he pretty much has his own little pocket wherein he does what he wants with whatever characters he wants, and all of his stories continuity seems to rest solely on what he’s done before and not what’s going on in the MU around him. Sure, he references the bigger things, but for the most part its his sandbox and the stories – all long-ball arc stuff very reminiscent of Chris Claremont’s heyday – while a barrier to the uninitiated, is an absolute joy to those of us who have followed since the beginning (or in my case almost the beginning), wondering just how far he would take things and where the hell all of this is going.

And now, with Axis, we’re going to find out.

That image above? Of Red Onslaught and Charles Xavier’s shambling corpse with an open skull – that’s from Uncanny Avengers #4, which hit the stands in April, 2013. It was a flash forward we’ve been waiting to reach fruition since. In the interim we had the payoff on an even older set-up, that of the Apcalypse twins Uriel and Eimin, seeds planted back in 2011/2012’s Uncanny X-Force. So now, as we get down to brass tacks, to the point where all of these seeds Mr. Remender has planted are about to pay off you will believe me when I tell you that I was already psyched going in, and after reading Avengers and X-Men: Axis #1 I have to say, I’m ecstatic, because this book was a full-on pleasure to read!

But…

That’s not meant to be a contrarian conjunction, simply an excitement-check for myself. Events Books are the children of Crossovers and I’ve talked repeatedly in this column about how I checked out on those a looong time ago. I still hold that INFERNO is top to bottom a masterpiece, primarily because it was the pay-off to so many seeds Claremont had planted over the course of his run (Madeleine Pryor, baby Summers, Mr. Sinister, Illyana’s presence in Limbo, etc). But after INFERNO things didn’t get better, or even hold at an even keel. Instead, they got worse as we had a bunch of story lines that were presented as mega-game changers but in reality were anything but.

Extinction Agenda? Pheewww!

X-Cutioner’s Song? Meh.

Phalanx Covenant? Don’t make me laugh.

And even as the story-engineering of each subsequent event suffered, the marketing ramped way the hell up and Marvel really drove a spike between those of us interested in truly innovative approaches to ongoing character development and the kind of empty promises each successive Crossover saturated the landscape with for three months a year. Unfortunately that marketing worked, because eventually the Crossover mutated into the Event Book and as I said at the outset of this piece, open a Previews any month of the year and you’ll no doubt have some form of an Event in solicitation. This mutation to Event-based continuity arguably began with the most popular, high-profile Event Book to date, Civil War. And while Civil War is definitely a fantastic example of ‘wide screen’ comics storytelling that starts out awesome, it’s also a story that builds its hype to near cataclysmic levels and then whimpers out, status quo more or less regaining control by the time it shuts its doors*. And that fact right there is why I’m trying to keep my excitement at issue #1 of Axis in check; because these things almost always start out great. And an ending is a hard thing to land, especially when playing with characters that are essentially a mega-corporation’s toys – the guys in the $3000 suits aren’t going to let anyone do anything too drastic to their little money makers.

But they may not need to for Axis to be a success.

Marvel-AXIS

Will Axis have the lasting ramifications it seems to imply at the outset? I’d argue now that it does not matter. You see, this is what I love about writing this column, because I always discover something along the way. And what I think I’ve just realized is that what I’ve outlined above with Chris Claremont’s INFERNO is the key here – the idea that you don’t need to have long-standing shake-up to the status quo if your Event or Crossover is the payoff on long-planted seeds. This is why the constant Event Cycle usually falls short – payoff isn’t nearly as satisfying when the events paying off only began at the beginning of said Event. Mr. Remender is definitely from the Claremont school of writing these types of characters and he’s created his own taut little continuity that has all sorts of promises tucked away in its nooks and crannies, dating back years now. And that is why I’m chomping at the bit for more Axis – because I’m invested. This probably means if you haven’t been reading Mr. Remender’s Marvel books all along you might be left a little bit in the dust at the outset, but your loss is our gain – our as in RR’s fans. And make no mistake, while Axis isn’t actively working to alienate those who do not count themselves among our legions it also isn’t about to kowtow to them – Axis is very much a payoff on Rick Remender’s continuity and that, to me, makes this the best Event Book since… well, since INFERNO.

And that’s saying something!

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** Okay, I’ll definitely give it that the one Event I had absolutely no interest in from the start, Avengers Vs. X-Men, has had the longest lasting impact yet, because Chuck is still, thankfully dead (may he stay that way) and the various factions of X-folk are still at odds with one another as a result. Also, it should be said that I know I am very alone in my opinion on Civil War, and that I recently made a promise to myself to dig it out and re-read it, just to have the perspective of distance.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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