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ComicsAlliance Vs. AvX Round Eight: Wakanda Fool Am I?

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti, it’s the eighth installment of ComicsAlliance Vs. AvX, our unofficial scorecard for Marvel’s big summer publishing event, Avengers Vs. X-Men. Hickman and Coipel took us to the brink of an Atlantis/Wakanda war last issue. Now Hickman hands over to Bendis and Coipel tags in the last lead artist on the series, Adam Kubert.

The story so far: The Phoenix Force has taken five X-Men as its hosts, and they’ve used the power to save everyone and solve everything. The Avengers are suspicious of this and are hoping to train Hope Summers to take the Phoenix Force away from them. (I can’t find a way to write that down that doesn’t sound douchey.) In order to make the Avengers’ position look viable, Namor has decided to drown an entire country.

Round eight! Don’t bless the rains down in Africa, because it’s about to get all kinds of wet on the grasslands.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #8
Story: Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction
Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Adam Kubert, John Dell, Laura Martin, Larry Molinar

Opening Score: Avengers 76 / X-Men 232

First of all, sorry I’m late with this update, but I went to Las Vegas to recover from San Diego Comic-Con and it turns out that’s a terrible idea.

Before we get caught up on the main Avengers Vs X-Men series, let’s check in on the Versus tie-in book. Issue #4 delivered blond on blonde with Thor versus Emma Frost, and the blind beating the blind (recovered) as Daredevil took on Psylocke.

In the battle of the two ninjas, Rick Remender did a good job boiling down the conflict between the two teams: the Avengers have good reason to be concerned about the X-Men’s cultish superhero enclave, and the X-Men have every right to resent the Avengers’ failure to protect them. That’s succinct. I’m not sure Daredevil makes sense as the voice of the Avengers’ position here, but then I’ve never subscribed to the idea that the Avengers should be an all-star team with characters like Daredevil shoe-horned in. Does Captain America consult the Diamond sales charts when deciding who to call on during a Kang attack? “This guy has a solo book; let’s see if he can find a time-tossed tyrannosaur.”

Psylocke ambushes Daredevil by making herself appear vulnerable — a solid strategy — but DD uses this willingness to play dirty to make Psylocke question the X-Men’s ability to wield power. Basically this is one ninja trying to guilt another ninja for using deception in battle. It makes a kind of sense when you remember that Daredevil is a ninja in a bright red suit. He’s the ninja least likely to get hit by a car on a dark road.

The book calls the contest a draw, but let’s be clear: Dardevil ran away.

Current Score: Avengers 76 / X-Men 236

Kaare Andrews wrote and drew the Thor/Emma Frost fight, and the art is great, but I had to read some pages twice to follow the storytelling. Still, I love Andrews’ character work, I love his layouts, and I love the use of Ben-Day dots throughout the story. My biggest reservation is the sex.

This is a story with strange sexual politics. The leads are visually summarized as “guy who does battle with giant monsters” and “gal who puts men in ball gags and strokes their faces with a whip.” It presents their conflict as one of male confidence versus female domination, with Thor talking about how he’s more than a man and how he doesn’t like to hit women, and Emma demanding submission and calling him a dog. The next page focuses on Thor’s weapon, Mjolnir, as if to say, “this is what’s at stake.” They’re fighting for Thor’s manhood.

If you think I’m reading too much into it, consider what happens next. Emma directly calls Thor’s masculinity into question, not only calling him a “girlish”, but asking him if he’s ever wanted to get down on all fours and have a woman… well… get behind him. Thor responds by smashing his hammer up between Emma Frost’s legs and shattering her to pieces.

No, for real, that’s what happens. He hits her so hard in the groin with his hammer that she falls apart. For all he knows, he actually killed her with his phallus because she questioned his masculinity.

If that were the end of the fight you’d probably hear a lot more about this story, but thankfully Emma rains on Thor’s parade, pulls herself back together and smacks Thor into the dirt. Emma’s victory means this is ultimately not a story about a man getting away with murder because a woman said he had a small winkie, but good lord does it ever sail close to those rocks.

Current Score: Avengers 76 / X-Men 240

Enough supersexual violence. Let’s get back to genocide. Comics aren’t just for kids any more!

Last time around I said I’d be perfectly happy if this issue was one long fight between Namor and Black Panther. I should have been more specific in my wishes; I just wanted Namor and Black Panther. No-one else was invited. Unfortunately this issue has a whole bunch of other Avengers getting in his way. I feel confident that if Panther had pushed Cap and the other Avengers through the portal to K’un Lun and tried to deal with Namor on his own, he’d have got it done in about half the time and with a lot less property damage.

By the way, does anyone else think Namor looks silly with flaming bird wings? He’s always had silly wings, of course, but like the great Rob Liefeld, I just pretend his ankles don’t exist. A water guy having fire wings looks preposterous, especially given that we’re told in the Versus book that the fire gives off real heat. Shouldn’t Namor be attacking Wakanda with steam?

But what Namor is doing with lake water (and an army and some monsters) is quite nasty enough without any steam. In fact it’s the second worst thing to happen to the place since Marvel cancelled Christopher Priest’s run on Black Panther. With this attack, one of the X-Men finally moves conclusively into “villain” territory.

Current Score: Avengers 76 / X-Men 190

Meanwile, in K’un Lun, Wolverine and Hope Summers land in some snow and wonder where the polar bears are.

Cap, by the way, seems a little gloaty about the fact that Namor’s attack “proves us right,” and wrongly attributes the attack to Scott Summers, because there is nothing Cap hates more than uptight boy scout superhero team leaders in blue costumes. Panther says he doesn’t give a damn about Scott Summers, and slaps Cap across the face.

OK, he doesn’t slap Cap across the face. But if someone could photoshop that Panther-slaps-Tony Stark image so that he is slapping Cap across the face, I’d appreciate it. Actually, a whole book of Black Panther Slaps the Marvel Universe would be pretty welcome right now. Cap is especially deserving if he only now thinks he’s been proved right, given that he hasn’t exactly been hedging his bets on the X-Men before now.

And while Namor is now the villain, he’s not wrong to point out that the Avengers responded rather churlishly to the X-Men’s attempts to save the world, but it’s a point of etiquette better made when not bringing down a cataclysm on the heads of thousands of innocent people. You don’t get the moral high ground by drowning everyone on the low ground, Namor.

Oh, and then Namor turns into a pig for some reason.

Is Namor always ugly in Brian Bendis comics? Remember Alex Maleev’s off-model mole man Namor?

That was an actual Namor! In an actual comic! This never happens to Shanna the She-Devil.

Thankfully T’Challa is here to balance out the ugly with a gratuitous butt shot. Thanks, T’Challa!

In case the butt wasn’t enough, Black Panther also distracts Namor with his clever use of “talking” to “buy more time.” (Namor has never heard this one before, because cliches can’t surviive the intense pressures of the deep), and a bunch of other Avengers turn up.

For one fleeting moment Namor remembers that Jean Grey never had to punch anyone when she was the Phoenix (all right, all right; when the Phoenix was her), and he can just use the awesome destructive powers of the Phoenix Force to sweep everyone away. But then he forgets again and everyone smacks him in the face.

This leads to my favourite moment of the issue; Namor breaks Red Hulk’s arm.

Good. It’s about damn time. Red Hulk represents the worst instinct of comic writers to try to give new characters credibility by letting them beat up old characters. It’s like they have Dungeons & Dragons character sheets for everyone, and they look at all the stats and give their guy +1 on everything to make them cooler. I know it’s tough to establish new characters, but I don’t think the answer to that problem is to put a kettlebell in the toy chest. It’s just going to break the other toys and it’s not nearly as poseable.

Four points for butt shot, five points for the Black Panther generally, and five points to Namor for breaking Red Hulk’s arm.

Current Score: Avengers 85 / X-Men 190

Meanwhile, over on Utopia, we re-encounter some of the other people in this book. You will recall that there are five Phoenix Force X-Men: Piotr, Emma, Namor, Illyana and Scott. For convenience we shall refer to them as P.E.N.I…

No, never mind. We’ll stick with the Phoenix Five.

Anyway, the other four members of the five are still at home, having cocoa, watching TV, hanging out with Magneto, when they belatedly notice that one of their members has gone to war with the Avengers. You’d think a group of psychicially linked cosmic-powered beings would be quicker on the uptake on this, but no, they’re the last people in the world who still get their news from TV. You should get a Twitter account, Scott.

The Phoenix Five decide to head to Wakanda, where at that very moment Thor is KRAKABOOMing Namor, just pages after Iron Fist FAKABOOMed him, and a little before Thing KRAFOOMs him. Thor’s attack opens the way for Scarlet Witch to take Namor down using her “taking down people with the Phoenix Force power,” which she got from an ancient mystical artefact called the Plot Necessitus, which I think they found in K’Un Lun’s Temple of The Waving Hand.

The remaining members of P.E.I.S. turn up, and Namor’s share of the Phoenix Force goes to them, causing them a moment of pain and allowing the Avengers to retreat. I think. Or Cap does something with his Iron Man wristwatch that forces the power to leave Namor and go to them? Or Cap just uses the wristwatch to reopen the portal to K’un Lun? But if that’s the case, what was the secret weapon Iron Man told Cap to use? An escape hatch is not a secret weapon.

I’m really not sure what’s happening here, but it may have something to do with Iron Man’s Phoenix Tickler armour, which I’m told in the recap pages was the reason the Phoenix Force split in the first place, but… I don’t know. It’s always tricky to make a clear point about the nature and limitations of cosmic power when the whole thing is made up and no-one has told you what the rules are. It may yet turn out that the whole crisis will be averted if Agatha Harkness spits on a Morlock.

Credit where it’s due: the Avengers took down a Phoenix and got out while the going was good.

Current Score: Avengers 110 / X-Men 190

The issue ends with something that’s been a long time coming. As I’ve said before, what bothers me most about the Phoenix Five’s messianic plans is that they’re not interacting with the other X-Men. They’ve effectively replaced the X-Men in this book without recognizably behaving like X-Men. So I was pleased to see the original X-Man himself, Professor Xavier, step in to call Scott Summers out on his arrogance. I didn’t expect Charlie to play a role in this story, but I welcome the presence of his giant spectral head if he’s going to be the voice of reason. I don’t think Namor’s actions indict the rest of the Phoenix Four, but if those guys want to be heroes, they need to stop acting like swaggering self-righteous authoriatrian doucheholes. Because that’s Captain America’s job.

Oh, and there is one sign of redemption for the Phoenix Four. Cyclops is no longer visibly wearing a thong. Look! Crotch shot!

No thong means no thong penalty. And ten points to Professor X and his floaty head.

Final Score: Avengers 110 / X-Men 200

MVP: Professor X. I’ve learned not to expect much from a secretive pervert with such a pronounced dark streak that it’s been known to wander off and kill people, but hey, any port in a storm! I just pray his solution to all this isn’t, “put together a new team of X-Men and go pick a fight.” But that may be the only idea in his playbook.

Analysis: Hear me out: Black Panther and his bodyguard racing through the secret tunnels beneath Wakanda trying to activate his city’s defences while Namor tears through the royal palace trying to catch him; that would have been a pretty good issue, right? But, sure, Namor as a piñata, lots of unspeaking cameos of people throwing punches, that’s an option too. I get it. That’s a comic too.

Come back next week to see if the Plot Necessitus falls into the hands of the mad cosmic manipulator known only as Thirdactus the Resolver.

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