by Chad Nevett
What If? AvX #2 (Marvel)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Jorge Molina, Norman Lee, Rick Magyar, Rachelle Rosenberg
So utterly dull and uneventful a comic was 'What If? AvX' #2 that the only way to amuse myself at this point is to imagine the parallel universe that goes along with this comic where this is the actual 'Avengers vs. X-Men' event done on fast forward and we have just hit the follow-up issue to Wolverine killing Storm where Magneto, by blowing up the Avengers’ big aircraft, kills Falcon and Colleen Wing. Can you imagine? A Marvel event where the first three deaths are a black woman, a black man, and an Asian woman... and all are there for the sole purpose of shock value? Hoo boy... I would not want to be alternate reality Jimmy Palmiotti.
Thankfully, for the Jimmy Palmiotti that actually exists, this is Real World 616 and no one gives a fuck. But, should they? After all, what is the difference between the senseless deaths of these characters here and in the real 'Avengers vs. X-Men' besides some concept that one story “counts” and the other doesn't? These are all fictional constructs that live and die on a writer’s whim (or editor’s or editorial team’s or... you get the idea). Hell, they’re the same characters, really, with only a somewhat absurd conceptual caveat dividing the outraged from the apathetic (or unknowing). If those characters get killed in the exact same fashion in 'Avengers vs. X-Men' #1 and 2, then people lose their minds, but, they get killed in 'What If? AvX' #1 and 2 and nothing? I both understand and don’t understand, if that makes sense. And it seems a little strange that I actually understand this to a degree.
Really, I’m not trying to criticize the online writers who usually write about deaths like these, they simply present a convenient example in the dynamics of superhero comic readers on a larger scale. Last year, 'Avengers vs. X-Men' #1 was the biggest selling comic of the year to that point and, this year, how many people even know 'What If? AvX' is coming out at all? Part of that is down to hype and marketing. Part of that is the lack of big name creators. But, mostly, it’s that 'What If? AvX' “doesn't count,” so people are inclined to skip it. Having read the first two issues, that seems like the safe bet to keep eight bucks in your pocket, except the decision of those readers to not care was not made after seeing the issues released so far. It wasn't even made when the project was first announced. It was made long ago when they decided to not care at all about 'What If...?' and other comics like it. There’s one group that “counts” and another that doesn't, and the latter isn't limited to extra imaginary stories like 'What If...?', it’s any comics that don’t drive forward the main thrust of the shared universe it inhabits. Quality has nothing to do with it. Content only does in the most superficial sense. And none of this is news to any of you...
So, why does 'What If? AvX' exist? Why is the gravy train still a-rollin’ one year later? The AvX brand is barely remembered, the creative team is C-list at best, and the total cost of this futile exercise is $16 when few would probably shell out one quarter of the cost for a more compact version of the exact same story... No one cares.
They should, though. Because there is no difference between Storm, the Falcon, and Colleen Wing dying as they did here or in any other comic. There isn't. It’s still a comic where those deaths happened in a meaningless manner meant to rack up a tiny body count and create the illusion that the stakes are high all of a sudden. Who cares if it “counts?” These are fictional characters where any story can suddenly “count” or be forgotten and cut out of the history books, by the publisher, by a writer, by an editor, or by the fans. There’s no such thing as “counts.” Go to my old blog and take a look at my 'Avengers vs. X-Men' Reader Order where I put the entire event into a logical, readable order, and scroll right to the bottom where the last two entries are: 'A-Babies vs. X-Babies' and 'What If? AvX'. If they’re part of the reading order, they count. For me, at least. To skip anything on that list is to skip part of the entire 'Avengers vs. X-Men' story. It’s not like there weren't massive, glaring contradictions before having to reconcile the original event with its alternate reality version. Who cares? Is it so hard to hold contradictions in your head, see them there, recognize them, and, yet, not have any invalidated? If 'What If? AvX' was a better story than 'Avengers vs. X-Men', would I seem strange if I preferred to think of it as the “real” story that “counts?” I have said many, many times that I absolutely love the second story in that 'What If? Civil War' one-shot that Marvel published where Tony and Steve talk things out and no one dies. That feels more like the characters that I have read all my life than the actual Marvel event. It feels more “real.” So, in my mind, it is.
Except when it isn't, because it doesn't count.