Does Whatever A Spider Can: Avengers Vs. X-Men #9 Reviewon August 2, 2012 at 8:58 pm
If you are a Spider-Man fan, you will find Avengers Vs. X-Men #9 to be about the most satisfying issue of the crossover event so far. It hammers home his philosophy of “With great power comes great responsibility” without actually saying the words for a change, it plays to his strengths as a character, and it allows this street-level hero to have a distinct and concrete impact on a cosmic-level story in a way that is true to the character, and satisfying for people who love him.
It also has a marital collapse. And it sets up the savage beating of one of the biggest douchecanoes in modern superhero comics. So there’s not a lot of downside here.
This issue shows The Avengers reduced to conducting assymetrical warfare against the Phoenix Five (Well, Phoenix Four now), doing hit-and-run missions against the X-Men via the mystical portal in and out of K’un Lun. Hope is still in training to do… something; no one’s real clear as to what that is yet. Tony Stark has been locked in a room trying to figure out how Scarlet Witch’s and Iron Fist’s powers tie together to take down the Phoenix Force, and so far has only been successful in determining just how much he can fill his armor with pee. And every time The Avengers return to K’un Lun, there are fewer and fewer of them, with the prisoners being taken to some unknown location. In the meantime, some of the X-Men are starting to notice that working for the Phoenix is kind of a shit job, while some of the Phoenix Four are learning that having a Galactus-level power riding shotgun in their brains can totally harsh your mellow.
The defecting X-Men plot point leads into the biggest spoiler of the issue: where Black Panther decrees by royal fiat that his marriage to Storm is over. From an individual story and character standpoint, this makes total sense: Namor has made Wakanda look like Rwanda, Storm has aided and abetted the Phoenix Five, and nothing kills the ol’ marital duties boner quicker than your wife helping to lay waste to your neighborhood (except maybe if she gains 30 pounds, but this is comics; the only way Storm is gaining 30 pounds is if Liefeld jumps back to Marvel from DC and starts drawing her boobs).
Black Panther is angry, and this decision makes total sense to anyone who’s ever felt betrayed by their significant other. However, from a plot standpoint, this feels like a Macguffin; The Avengers need to find out where the X-Men are keeping their prisoners, so the writers need someone to switch sides and feel they need to atone for something. So what we get is I Divorce You / I’m Sorry, I Want To Help / Let’s Have A Rescue, all in the space of three panels. While I can buy the sequence of events, it feels too rushed from something this momentous, and it makes it feel less like an organic story point than a bunch of people trying to write their way out of a corner. It is, frankly, the weakest part of the issue.
The strongest part of the issue is Spider-Man, who at face value has no obvious place in this battle of cosmic titans. Sure, he eked out some turf in the also excellent New Avengers #27, but the question in this crossover for me has always been: what’s a dude who can climb walls gonna do against a power that can eat suns? Well, writer Jason Aaron hits it out of the park by knowing the character: he’s gonna piss them off.
In this issue we see Spider-Man trying to keep Hope calm by referencing his Uncle Ben, as he did in New Avengers #27. But unlike in that issue, the magic “With great power” line is never spoken. Aaron trusts us, and our knowledge of the character, enough to know that we will understand what referencing Uncle Ben means when he has Spider-Man take on two of the Phoenix Four on his own to help The Avengers escape. Aaron shows him as outclassed in every way except one: his sense of responsibility, and his big fucking mouth. Sure, Spider-Man takes a horrific beating… but his brains and his cleverness allow him to take out two of the Four, in a way that makes complete and total sense. If you are a fan of Spider-Man, you will love the back quarter of this book.
The pencils by Adam Kubert are, in one sense, my favorite of this event so far. Unlike Romita Jr.’s, well… Romitaness and Olivier Coipel’s 90s X-Tremeness, Kubert gives us highly-detailed, yet generally no-nonsense, comic book art. For large stretches of the book, the panel layouts are simple and well-paced, and when things get to more action-packed and fast, his panels go from standard grids to off-kilter angles, which accentuate the confusion of battle while often not being confusing. Where I have a problem is that he does a lot of double-paged layouts with the panel borders often just about on the page fold. As I’ve stated in the past, this kind of shit drives me fucking nuts. If, as a 36-year comic reader, I need to stop and analyze the page to determine if I need to look down or look right, you have dragged me out of the story and convinced some new reader who wandered into a comic store and said, “Cool! Avengers fighting the X-Men!” to put the book down and never buy another one. This book looks good, but forcing me to stop and figure out how to read it on at least six pages loses big points from me.
This is arguably the best issue of Avengers Vs. X-Men so far. Sure, it has some moments that should be, well, momentous that instead feel like a way to get out of a plot hole, and sometimes the art is simply Goddamned confusing to follow. But the treatment of Spider-Man alone makes it well worth the cost of admission for any fan of the character. This is an issue that shows that, while Marvel might have some more compelling characters than Spider-Man, under the right hands, they have no better hero. Check it out.