Wednesday, August 7, 2013

train kept a-rollin' 004: what if? avx #4

What If? AvX #4 (Marvel)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Jorge Molina, Gerardo Sandoval, Norman Lee, Carlos Lobos Cuevas, Rachelle Rosenberg

'What If? AvX' is probably the most cohesive companion 'What If...?' story to ever come out. It presents a story that bears little resemblance to the events of 'Avengers vs. X-Men' yet stems entirely from the event in such a way as to reinforce one of the dominant messages of the event. Namely, Captain America is always right.

'What If? AvX' is the worst case scenario that the Avengers try to prevent in 'Avengers vs. X-Men' when they go to Utopia and ask Cyclops to hand over Hope so they can take her away from Earth as the Phoenix approaches. They fear that she is unprepared and that the Phoenix possessing her will result in the destruction of the planet. While the planet is not destroyed in the final issue of 'What If? AvX', the entire population of the world is killed*. Hope is made the host of the Phoenix, she is unable to control it, not mature enough to wield its awesome power, is corrupted, and helps set into motion a chain of events where Magneto is made the new host and, in his dying moments, kills everyone else in a final act of spite.

(* It doesn't fit into my piece here, but the ending of this story is the one place where ambiguity exists enough that it’s almost interesting. Wolverine kills Magneto while he’s the Phoenix and, as he dies, he explodes in blinding white light. Wolverine is saved by Jean Grey who has returned and they become the Adam and Eve of Earth as they look to rebuild humanity, hopefully better this time around. What’s not explicit is whether this is what happens or whether this is all in Wolverine’s head. Did only he die and this is the afterlife? We don’t know. I like that one more because of what it says about that character. It’s more personal and less cheesy if it’s all in his head or stems from his desires. If it’s what really happened, then it’s pretty laughable.)

'What If...?' stories providing “worst case” scenarios is not a new concept. However, rarely (if ever) have they existed almost for the sole purpose of justifying the morality of characters that, honestly, wound up looking like the bad guys by the end of the story. No matter how many times characters throw the death of Xavier in Cyclops’s face, it doesn't change that he was right and that Captain America made a bad situation worse by refusing to trust in his friends. In 'Avengers vs. X-Men', Cyclops went from a crazy cult leader to the man who brought about the salvation of his race, all the while being vilified by a man who thought it best to continue trying to hit beings with the power of a god instead of working with them as they used their powers to make the world a measurably better place. So, here, we have the evidence: had Hope gotten the Phoenix immediately, the world was fucked.

Captain America was right.

Captain America was right.

Captain America was right.

This was an idea that I kept circling when writing about 'Avengers vs. X-Men'. “Captain America was right.” It wasn't my contention, of course. I always said “Cyclops was right.” But, what I wanted to say was “Captain America was wrong.” Fuck who was right just so long as that character was wrong. Part of it is my natural chaffing against unimpeachable authority figures who have authority because they have authority because they have authority, a trait that always seemed to sum up Captain America to a large degree. He’s right because he’s right because he’s right. It’s one of the laws of the Marvel Universe. It’s lazy bullshit. It allows for simplistic writing that ignores the reality it’s creating simply by saying it isn't true. Why was Cyclops a villain? Because Captain America was in opposition to him. No wonder people thought I was stupid for reading all of those comics...

There’s something both rewarding and incredibly grating about reading a four-issue alternate reality story that seems to exist to justify the original story’s core message. Four issues that could basically be a briefing by Captain America to the president on what he believes will happen should the Phoenix be allowed to possess Hope. As I said before, it fits nicely into 'Avengers vs. X-Men' in a thematic, conceptual way. It will sit there as a quick reminder that, while Cyclops seemed like he knew what he was talking about, Captain America was really right to intervene and delay Hope’s encounter with the Phoenix, so there. It supports the original story in a surprising and completely unsubtle way. It also feels cheap. This was the implied depiction of events should the Avengers fail. Why in the world did it need to be given four issues? This story already existed within 'Avengers vs. X-Men' and just needed a reader with a slight imagination to bring it forth. What happened to 'What If...?' stories that actually challenged readers and delivered something far outside their expectations? Because this wasn't that. This wasn't Spider-Man can’t shake the Symbiote loose, so it uses him all up and winds up possessing Thor and the Hulk until Black Bolt kills it, ending with Peter Parker as an old broken man (I really liked that one). This wasn't even the by rote Wolverine is the king of the vampires or “What if the Age of Apocalypse had not ended?” (turns out, it didn't...). It was “Here’s the story that was heavily implied, so give me 16 bucks, asshole.”

I always come back to that story in 'What If? Civil War' where Captain America and Iron Man stop fighting, talk things out, find a compromise that works for everyone, and the story ends with them overseeing the superhuman community together, happy that they made it okay. Civil War was one long “Captain America is right” story (where he had an actual point, I’ll admit) and that story was a big “fuck you” to the original story, undercutting its central premise, while pointing out that both sides were wrong. I don’t know why, but I really like that. I guess I’d rather read a story that tells me the official version was crap than it was for the best. It seems less like hype and advertising that way. 'What If? AvX' is an ad for why 'Avengers vs. X-Men' was better than you thought and it makes you pay for the privilege of reading it.

Captain America was right.

I’m a fucking idiot.

And the gravy train keeps a-rollin’ on and on... 

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