An Endorsement: Avengers vs. X-Men

Spider-Man joined the Avengers? Spider-Man joined the Avengers. The movies would have us believe Spider-Man spends his days crying and becoming Spider-Man over and over, but he actually evolves as a character in the comics and signs up to join Captain American, Iron Man, and the gang. (This would seem a nice step up for Peter Parker, from scraping by as a newspaper photographer to getting in on that sweet, supple taxpayer tit. The Avengers get paid by the U.S. government, right? Please leave a comment below if you know the answer.)

In the absolutely amazing “Avengers vs. X-Men” series (2012), Spider-Man tells Hope Summers “One thing I’ve learned about being an Avenger. . . your moment will come. It’s a big group. Lotta moving parts. Lotta big awesome people doing big awesome things. They don’t always have time to stop and take a knee and explain to you what the heck is going on. You learn to follow the guys who always seem to know where they’re headed. And you wait for your moment. Doesn’t matter how many gods or super-soldiers or Hulks they got on the payroll. [!] Once you’re an Avenger, it never fails. . . Sooner or later the time comes when it’s your turn to step up to the plate. You just gotta make sure you’re ready.”

Spider-Man’s moment does come in this violent, world-altering war between superhero teams. He holds off a Phoenix-possessed Colossus so the other Avengers can escape, and pays dearly: Web-shooters crushed. Spine beginning to follow. Mask full of blood. Legs feel like they’re made of melted cheese.

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The Phoenix is a fire bird who soars through space. Phoenix power means complete annihilation—the idea is that life can start over anew, growing from the ashes of destroyed worlds. Phoenix power means end-of-the-world time, and Capt. America’s not gonna abide that. It has a connection to mutants, though. It can possess them. The mutants it takes over on Earth believe it’s the key to saving their race. Invariably, they think they can control it.

Tony Stark is tasked with figuring out how to stop the Phoenix-infused X-Men, once and for all. He holes himself up in his lab to study the Phoenix, analyzing whatever data he can get. But he also keeps being called into action. Thor, Hawkeye, Hulk, Red Hulk . . . like Spider-Man says, each has his moment. The Phoenix had intended to take over only one host mutant, and instead wound up inside five of them (thanks partly to Stark’s failed attempt to destroy it with a space-shuttle Iron Man suit). The adversaries it creates appear, for much of the story, to be unstoppable.

Both sides suffer spectacular losses, and a whole city is destroyed.

Phoenix power means you can do almost anything. It’ll really mess with your mind. Cyclops, leader of the X-Men, is so sad and damaged. Stone-serious, he lost his wife Jean Grey to the Phoenix many years ago. What Cyclops does at the end of this story is insane and terrible—dramatic killings of crucial characters. Yet he keeps his soul, and feels the pains in others as he’s inflicting it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even the most noble succumb.

Wolverine is on the Avengers too, though he and Capt. America clash and, in one scene, fight. (Cap wins because he’s smarter.) Wolverine appears to almost enjoy going against his old teammates on the X-Men. His skin gets burned off repeatedly.

The beats and pacing of “X-Men vs. Avengers” are perfect, old-school storytelling. Big scenes and little scenes all stack into this amazingly exciting superhero story with huge stakes and heroic moments. This graphic novel would adapt into the greatest comic-book movie ever, but of course there are many reasons we’ll never see it. Ownership of various properties, for one, and that fact that studio executives want us moviegoers to get exactly what we’re expecting. (The next Spider-Man movie villain is Shocker, played by Jamie Foxx. Whatever.)

I borrowed “Avengers vs. X-Men” from the Santa Fe Public Library. It was so much more interesting and compelling than anything that happens to the Avengers or Wolverine or Spider-Man in these movies they keep making.

Superheroes are so much better on the page. Your free public library is awesome.

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