This past week marked the release of Marvel’s Avengers & X-Men: Axis, which collects the main nine issues of the event. Despite mixed reviews following the event’s initial release, Axis is still one of Marvel’s most important stories in recent history, and affected the universe as a whole. Is it good?
Avengers & X-Men: Axis (Marvel Comics)
For those unfamiliar with Axis, it was an event in 2014 that was headed by a creative team featuring Rick Remender, Adam Kubert, Leinil Francis Yu, Terry Dodson and Jim Cheung. Following the terrible evolution of Red Skull, all forms of superheroes and even some infamous supervillains must unite to take down The Red Onslaught. However, in their attempts to defeat him, morality is flipped on its…wait for it…AXIS, making our beloved heroes turn violent and the despised villains see the light. The event is set up to be a classic keystone within Marvel History, but unfortunately it falls short. Very short.
The problem is not the event itself, but this collection. While it does contain all nine issues of the main storyline, you miss a great deal of the plot without any of the tie-ins or the buildup to the event itself. There are a couple recap pages in the very beginning of the book that are enough to make this collection new reader “friendly,” but halfway through the first issue you feel like you’re late to the party. Without the context of Red Skull’s transformation into Red Onslaught, the initial battle against him feels less meaningful as he just becomes another baddie people have to team up against and you’re simply not able to appreciate what’s taking place. The storyline also introduces some plotlines that are expanded upon within the tie-ins, but without those issues being included, the story appears choppy. I mean, the event as a whole is considered very messy, but when you only have these nine issues to go off, it’s both messy and incomplete.
I’m usually a huge fan of monumental Marvel events; in fact that’s mostly all I read of the publisher if I need a break from my usual DC series. However, the X-men, Inhuman, Avenger crossover wasn’t enough to make up for the mediocre writing which relied on clichés and convenient situations when wrapping up the end of the story. At face value, Axis is a mildly entertaining story with a lot of action that gives you a potential answer to the “What if…” question of superheroes being bad. The story involves most of the heavy hitters, what seems like half the cast of the Marvel Universe, but rather than creating a more impactful story, the cast of characters stretches the plot line as sometimes feels like a battle for panel time. Once the influx occurs, the limelight bounces around to ten-odd storylines that are taking place and none of them are able to really grip you.
While the issues have some quality art (save the finale which involves way too many different inkers and artists present a consistent aesthetic), the plot teeters from predictable to anticlimactic and leaves you feeling, in the words of 10 Things I Hate About You, “whelmed”. You’re not underwhelmed, you’re certainly not overwhelmed, you’re just…whelmed. The whole concept of the event could have been presented in a much better way if they decided take the characters’ transformations to a deeper level. The writers could have described what traits of the heroes were being altered, the motivation behind their new uncharacteristic acts, how this related to their insecurities and fears presented in previous storyline, but instead they resort to the hokey premise of slapping the generic label of GOOD on the villains and BAD on the heroes and calling it a day. The story’s gimmick level reaches a climax when Carnage literally explains to Spider-Man not to be scared because, “I’m a good ‘un now, son.” Really? Okay.
Credit to where credit’s due, there are some good moments throughout the story: Onslaught’s army which is thanks to Stark, previously unimaginable hero/villain team-ups, Zenpool, and as previously mentioned there is some really good artwork with equally impressive coloring. If you go into this with no expectations, you’ll come away questioning it, but still consider it entertaining. There’s a ton of action that will keep you reading, but it’s the clichés and nonsensical plot that will make you roll your eyes.
Is It Good?
Several years removed, it may be a good time to reexamine Axis, especially now that it’s collected in an affordable paperback. However, before you revisit the event, or read it for your first time, temper your expectations and be prepared for a great deal of “just go with it” moments.